After my technology leadership center, the Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE), and I moved to Iowa State University in 2007, one of my first meetings was with the School Administrators of Iowa (SAI), the state administrators’ association. Soon, we were collaboratively hosting regional 21st century leadership academies all across the state.
Within a few years, approximately 400 Iowa administrators participated in six to 12 days of future-oriented professional learning. Armed with new understandings and commitments – and resourced and connected with each other – they began to move.
By October 2009, the number of 1:1 school districts in Iowa had grown from six to 15, and a dozen districts’ superintendents, principals, technology coordinators and curriculum directors met on my campus for a day of role-alike conversations. The attendees that day in October pleaded for an opportunity for their teachers to learn from each other.
CASTLE agreed to host the event if the districts agreed to fill up the session schedule, and if we allowed other educators who were considering 1:1 initiatives to attend and learn from the early adopters. We reserved the Iowa Events Center and called the event the Iowa 1:1 Institute. Since the institute was completely participant-driven, it was amazing. Our two rules for presenters – focus on the learning, not the tools and no “sit and get” – helped make it awesome.
The following year, the number of 1:1 districts in Iowa tripled to 45, and every year after the total continued to grow: 90, 135, 180, 220 …. Within six years, we had gone from just a handful of 1:1 districts to two-thirds of the state.
The institute became an annual event – exactly six months apart from the Iowa Technology & Education Connection (ITEC) state educational technology conference – and has grown from an initial 660 participants to between 1,000 and 1,300 attendees annually.
I think there are a few lessons from this heartland tale of innovation that are worth sharing. First, no matter how big or small your territory – school, district, or state – you always have individuals and groups who are ready to run. The key is to network those leaders together to form a critical mass of change-makers.
The regional academies, boot camps and annual institutes were enough to begin connecting Iowa’s educational innovators together and start building shared excitement and movement. Our regional educational service agencies, SAI and ITEC, were critical partners with existing networks who helped bring Iowa’s leaders together and connect them to new ideas.
Second, once you have some momentum, keep feeding new resources to the early adopters while simultaneously helping and honoring the next wave that is traveling a similar journey. In Iowa, that happened by strengthening the regional educational technology conferences and by initiating EdCampIowa (which, with five simultaneous locations, still may be the nation’s largest edcamp event).
Early-adopter districts helped the ones that were a year or two behind them. And as districts got comfortable with the technology and began moving from replicative use toward deeper learning, we designed and began disseminating the Technology-Rich Unit Design And Classroom Observation Template (TRUDACOT) discussion protocol to help educators
move their technology-infused instructional units and activities toward student agency, higher-level thinking and authentic work.
Finally, it’s important to enable, coordinate and share the contributions of everyone. CASTLE and I didn’t have all of the answers and neither did the early-adopter districts. But we did have a willingness to support each other, connect ourselves to resources and outside experts, and create what didn’t exist yet.
For instance, the statewide 1:1 map created by Area Education Agency 267 allowed districts to see which devices were being used in which grades and schools across the state, an invaluable resource for connections and questions. Iowa is a fairly close-knit state, with mostly small school districts that are more than willing to help each other. Although individual district capacity may below, the state’s collective capacity proved to be enormous once unleashed.
Today, you can visit almost any district in Iowa and be confident that students have access to powerful learning technologies. Ubiquitous 1:1 computing has allowed instructional conversations to move beyond basic access and toward robust learning and teaching.
Many of the early-adopter districts are now leading the way again regarding inquiryand problem-based learning, standards-based grading, competency-based education, micro-credentialing, flexible scheduling and redesigned learning spaces.
CASTLE and I are proud to have helped facilitate what we think may be the largest grass-roots 1:1 movement in the country.
One community after another, supported by its neighbors, deciding to invest in powerful learning tools for its children even in the face of state-level apathy and lack of support. It was an incredible honor to watch it all unfold and to help nurture the movement along the way.
What can you do to move beyond isolated pockets of excellence to scale?