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Developing a culture of learning for educators

By Geri Gillespy, Ed.S.
October 9, 2019
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The Innovator Solutions section includes contributions from corporate sponsors and advertisers representing education organizations, businesses, policy-making bodies and other influencers dedicated to transforming education. This blog post was provided by Microsoft.

In my role as administrator of digital integration, I often have conversations with educators from all over the world. When we discuss the role of technology in student learning, most agree that digital tools in the classroom should enable students to be empowered in their learning as articulated in the ISTE Standards for Students.

Students need opportunities to learn how to use technology effectively to collaborate with their peers, extend learning opportunities beyond the classroom, and be creative thinkers and knowledge constructors to support their own personal learning. However, lately, I have begun to ask myself, “Do we, as technology leaders, give teachers those same opportunities?” 
As educators, we know we need to support and model the learning that we want for our students in the classroom. But we tend to forget that adult educators also need opportunities to become empowered professionals in their own practice to support their students. All staff members who work with students need to use technology effectively to collaborate, evaluate, communicate and extend learning opportunities for their own personal and professional learning. To create a culture and learning environment based on the ISTE Standards for Students, we must also give ourselves the same experiences in support of the ISTE Standards for Educators and Leaders.   

A model of success

Our Digital Integration Department is a mighty team of four who support over 40,000 students and 4,000 staff members. One of our main goals is creating learning experiences for our teachers and leaders that model the ideals of the ISTE Standards for Educators, which support student growth and learning. 

With the help and collaboration from our IT staff, district leadership and professional development administrator, our team created opportunities to help support building leaders with professional development that empowers staff members as professionals, in addition to learning how to use digital tools effectively to extend communication and learning opportunities.  

It is about the learning for all members in the school community, including the adults. The purpose of PD should be reflection and growth that will eventually result in a change of practice to positively impact student growth and success. We’ve seen these types of results simply by delivering content differently using Microsoft Teams, our district platform for communication, collaboration and extended learning. It’s taking our staff to new levels, which is changing practice for teachers in the classroom.

When we share our story with others, they usually ask, "What does it look like in application?" Here are three ways we used this system to foster student success. We:

Developed a system. Since we are a small team, we started by looking at how we could use our resources to work smarter because we were already working harder. After establishing learning goals for our students and staff, we looked at systems and tools.

Our Digital Integration Department first developed blended learning courses for teachers to take college credits. We used the courses available through the Microsoft Educator Community on pedagogy, including 21st century learning design and universal learning, to inspire staff to learn more.

Created online communities. We asked educators to meet online to participate in conversations and share ideas, resources and experiences. After a few weeks, we not only noticed a difference in the way teachers were participating and reflecting online, but also how they were starting to change practice in their classrooms to encourage more student voice and strategies for communication.    
Organized building-level book studies. Our next step was to work with our professional development administrator to create book studies for each building in support of our district instructional model. Because Microsoft Teams is so autonomous and easy to modify based on the needs of the educator and the learner, we were able to create different learning environments throughout the district.

Each of the 55 schools has its own book study team space where they collaborate, communicate, and share ideas about what they are learning individually and as a professional learning community. Staff members can customize their own learning from the book study and then reflect on the application of the strategies in their classrooms. 

Easily connecting with others is key

Teachers are lifelong learners, but the one resource that is always scarce is time. As a working mother and educator for over 20 years, I understand the need for flexibility when it comes to personal growth and learning. Using an online platform that has many tools and applications and also allows me to connect with people in real time is priceless. With Microsoft Teams, teachers are able to meet quickly and easily with a click of a button on their phone, laptop or tablet to discuss ideas, share their screens with examples, and to ask clarifying questions from their peers.

Teachers can share videos showing the strategies they use in classroom and record their reflections and feedback for colleagues. Some educators are even using Teams to reach out to colleagues in other buildings to extend the conversation and ask questions about instructional strategies.

Building leaders have scheduled online meetings with the authors and researchers of the study book to clarify and ask questions. Since this implementation began, we have also seen secondary and elementary teams of teachers reaching out to each other for advice and ideas, which is something we had never seen before.   
Engaging teachers in these learning activities using Teams is transferring into classroom practice. We are beginning to see amazing instructional changes in practice across our district to support the ISTE Standards that empower student learning. For example, some teachers have incorporated video applications in their Microsoft Classroom Teams with students that model the same type of learning structure they experienced in the book studies.

Leveling the playing field

Teachers are using the communication capabilities to hold office hours, create homework clubs for additional support, hold parent meetings, invite guest speakers, and have town hall meetings. 

A few teachers are also setting up student group discussions with other classes both inside and outside of our district and are using local experts in the field to extend learning conversations for students.

To create a culture of learning that empowers students and adults, all learners must have the same experiences and learning opportunities. Using technology effectively to empower learning professionals is just as crucial as empowering students. Teachers need the chance to engage and learn how to use these tools effectively as a professional learning community to support change in instructional practice. Learning for all should really mean learning for all.

Geri Gillespy is the administrator of digital integration in the West Ada School District, the largest district in Idaho. Her digital integration team supports the implementation, training and evaluation of technology integration at all levels. Geri has been in education for over 20 years as a K-12 teacher, academic coach, vice principal, principal and district administrator. She is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert Fellow and Trainer and was awarded the ISTE Making it Happen Award for Leadership in Educational Technology in 2018. She is a member of the T3 Executive Leadership Council and a NCCE professional learning specialist.