Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

A Learning Transformation Guided by Teachers: Surrey Schools Is the Winner of the 2015 Sylvia Charp Award for District Innovation Because It Stopped Just Handing out Technology to Its 125 Schools and Instead Asked Its Educators to Share Their Ed Tech Ideas-And to Put Them to Work in the Classroom

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

A Learning Transformation Guided by Teachers: Surrey Schools Is the Winner of the 2015 Sylvia Charp Award for District Innovation Because It Stopped Just Handing out Technology to Its 125 Schools and Instead Asked Its Educators to Share Their Ed Tech Ideas-And to Put Them to Work in the Classroom

Article excerpt

To get there, the district would have to buy hardware and software, train its teachers, revamp its infrastructure and take myriad other steps. Through careful planning and budgeting, involving key individuals, and the realization that both schools and administrators thrive when they have the flexibility to make their own decisions, this large district has exceeded its original goals and is now moving on to new projects.

Site-Specific Learning Plans

About five years ago, Surrey Schools decided that its days of simply distributing new hardware to its 125 K-12 institutions and hoping it all went to good use were over. Instead, said Director of Instruction Elisa Carlson, "We started asking schools to develop their own site-specific hardware and learning plans. We wanted to know how they were going to use the technology to transform learning."

Concurrently, the district began encouraging teachers to form groups and use a "collaborative inquiry process" to explore key teaching and learning topics. Those groups, in collaboration with their principal, would then develop the learning plans that the schools submitted to the district. "We got all of the teachers around the table together," said Carlson. "That allowed us to embed the professional development right [down] to the school level and tie it to the technology."

The outcome of those exercises was an "innovative learning design" strategy that Surrey Schools started using in 2010. According to Carlson, the grassroots model enabled transformation from the ground up, based on commonly determined guiding principles. These principles invited innovation grounded in professional, teacher-to-teacher inquiry that could happen in workshops, through blogging or on social media. That last piece was "really significant," said Carlson, whose team gave instructors the opportunity and freedom to experiment and play with the new technology --rather than just throwing it at them and expecting positive results.

"We encouraged teachers to blog about their use of technology and share their insights via social media like Twitter," said Carison. "That really helped to propel change across the district; it was a key to successful diffusion strategy."

A Focus on Creation Versus Consumption

To officially "brand" its refreshed, shared vision for education, Surrey Schools recently named the effort "Learning by Design" or LbD. Describing it as an innovative philosophy that distinguishes the district, aligns and empowers stakeholders and supports planning and classroom design, the district divided the initiative into three distinct themes: learning, structures and tools.

LbD is focused on embracing technologies, innovation and connecting learning to the community, Tech initiatives to support learning are spearheaded by a District Technology Advisory Committee (DTAC) that includes Carlson, Director of Information Management Systems Dan Turner, Superintendent of Schools Jordan Tinney, Deputy Superintendent Rick Ryan and Assistant Secretary Treasurer Patti Dundas. And while Carlson and Turner are accountable for policy, planning and implementation work tied to the appropriate integration of technology to support learning, the process is highly collaborative in nature and focused on building capacity within the district's 125 schools.

Tinney said, "Our goal was to use the technology to really transform the nature of the learning experience for the student. That guiding mission has been central to our work. As part of that goal," he added, "we've really tried to encourage teachers to use technology not for consumption but for creation."

Carlson concurred, and said the district went beyond simply using digitized flash cards or e-readers in the classroom by encouraging teachers to create entirely new forms of learning and understanding. "We want teachers to engage in their own knowledge creation," she explained, "and to collaborate with others using multimedia, social media and other 21st century tools. …

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