Contributed by Robert Dillon
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The urgency to implement 1:1 programs in schools has reached a fever pitch. Schools are putting more and more devices in the hands of students for the purpose of leveraging the potential of a technology-rich environment. All of these programs are well intentioned, some of them are well planned and organized, and the best are effective in bringing greater engagement to learning and empowering students to grow in deeper ways.
As these implementations take place, many schools are avoiding the same mistakes as those that have blazed the trail, while others have struggled to avoid the pitfalls of implementing a 1:1 program. At the top of this list of pitfalls are two issues: not having the necessary infrastructure to allow for success, and poorly executed professional development to support the teachers, support staff, and students as the learning environment evolves through the addition of devices.
Exceptional education and exceptional 1:1 opportunities for kids are only possible with a well-organized program, dedicated leadership, and an attention to the details that help to maximize successes during the initial launch of the program. But digging deeper, we find the true special sauce for excellent 1:1 programming. It lies outside of the actual program; it is found in the culture of the learning organization that is built before, during, and after the 1:1 program is conceived, developed, and implemented. There are three key components:
- Building a culture of YES.
So much energy is sucked out of education by colleagues, leaders, and shadow rules and procedures that prevent new ideas and fresh ways of doing things from being brought to the table for cultivation. This culture of NO happens when a leader is presented with a new idea, and the response is something similar to “let me check with my boss to see if it is OK,” or giving the innovator a pile of bureaucracy to complete before moving forward with the idea. In other moments, it is a subtle non-verbal that shows little support for the idea through a lack of listening or failing to give credit where credit is due as new ideas emerge. The culture of YES provides energy, support, and an intensity around removing the barriers to success.
- Acting swiftly to remove the leftovers clogging the system.
At the beginning of many 1:1 programs, there are legacy issues surrounding the systems that inhibit technology integration from reaching its potential. Sometimes this is old hardware or leftover work orders. In other scenarios, it is old computers and printers that need repair or wiring that remains a mess. No matter the issue, before starting a fresh initiative around technology integration, it is essential to build good will and trust by visually removing old issues. This can’t just be handling things from an office or items that can’t be seen, as good will and momentum is built through those actions that can be seen and that impact the daily user experience. The future of the next project lies on the back of the last project, and this is the low hanging fruit that builds a culture of excitement surrounding an excellent program.
- Having a culture responsive to the real needs of the end user.
Deep empathy as part of a technology department is a rarity, but with a culture of service, technology professionals judge their success only on the success of the teachers and students. In order to make this mindset a reality, technology support personnel must put themselves in the shoes of others and begin to think about how to support as though they were the user of the new tools. Having technology that works is no longer an acceptable threshold, because technology integration is only successful when users understand the potential and begin to use technology as a tool for engaging, empowering, and energizing their classrooms. When it comes to finding the right way to nudge a 1:1 program forward, insist that a culture of service lies at the foundation of the work.
Dr. Robert Dillon serves the students and community of the Affton School District as Director of Technology and Innovation. Prior to this position, he served as a teacher and administrator in public schools throughout the Saint Louis area. Dr. Dillon has a passion to change the educational landscape by building excellent engaging schools for all students. He looks for ways to ignite positive risk taking in teachers and students and release trapped wisdom into the system by growing networks of inspired educators. Dr. Dillon has served as a fellow for the Martin Institute based in Memphis, and is currently the Secretary of Innovation for Connected Learning, a Saint Louis based organization designed to reshape professional development to meet today’s needs. Dr. Dillon has had the opportunity to speak throughout the country at local, state, and national conferences as well as share his thoughts and ideas in a variety of publications. His first book, Engage, Empower, Energize: Leading Tomorrow’s Schools Today, is now available. He is supported by his wife and two daughters, and spends the remainder of his time running and cycling.