One of the greatest challenges within any digital transformation is bringing about systemic change. Many schools and districts, including our own, have pockets of innovation where teachers are creating learning environments and opportunities for students that push toward personalized learning and meaningful uses of technology. The challenge is to scale up these pockets of innovation to become the norm within the system.
After analyzing a variety of data, we discovered that many technology enhanced learning opportunities fell within the “enhancement” half of the SAMR model. What we want for our learners is a variety of activities across the SAMR spectrum. We needed to figure out how to move our teachers to creating more learning opportunities that fell within the “transformation” half of SAMR.
Having identified this gap in our practice, we needed to identify the questions we wanted to answer before designing an inquiry process..
- What are the critical factors of success for our teachers who are creating transformational learning experiences?
- Which identified factors of success can be fostered and how?
- What role do teachers have in fostering the factors?
- What role do building leaders have in fostering the factors?
- What role do district leaders have in fostering the factors?
What we did…
We embarked on an action research project that consisted of several phases. In the first phase we interviewed 6 teachers identified by principals as having a level of comfort designing transformational learning experiences. As a result of these interviews, six factors of success emerged.
In the second phase, we shared the six factors with a group of 15 elementary and secondary teachers. The focus group was set up to provide an opportunity for input that would either confirm, refute or expand the original list of factors and also provide additional data including perceptions of how leadership (district, building and teacher) could support the development of the critical factors formally and informally.
What we learned…
The data from the focus group confirmed the following 6 critical factors of success supporting teachers in designing transformational learning opportunities:
- Social Networking – connecting with colleagues using social media such as Twitter, including participating in Twitter chats.
- Peer Networking – connecting with colleagues in face-to-face environments, including conferences, Edcamps, and department/team meetings; experiencing the synergy of being around people who enact change; tapping into different expertise in departments/teams; participating in peer teaching; connecting with other teachers in local districts.
- Professional Learning Opportunities – providing teachers who want to expand their learning with the time and resources to do so, including conferences, Edcamps, district sponsored Summer Academy, and technology sharing in faculty meetings.
- Safe, Risk-taking Environment – affording teachers autonomy and creative control in designing learning opportunities; leadership sending the message that risk-taking is acceptable and expected; teachers feeling high levels of trust in school leadership.
- Internal and External Motivation – demonstrating a proclivity toward experimentation and a knowledge of available technology tools; comfortable problem-solving best uses of available tools; willingness to constantly learn/be reflective, exhibiting a growth mindset as highly reflective practitioners; willingness to invest personal time to learn and grow through professional reading and collaboration with other educators.
- Personal Teaching/Learning Philosophy – designing learning opportunities starting with the student experience – What do students currently do/know and how can teachers turn that into an academic experience? Technology use cannot be forced; designing instruction on a solid foundation of inquiry – setting learners up to ask and answer their own questions; less focus on preparing students for tests and more focus on developing skills such as creating/publishing for a digital audience; shifting role of the teacher as facilitator and guide.
What we’re doing with what we’ve learned….
1. Action Plans: In a third phase, district and building leaders have identified context specific questions they have taken back to their building leadership teams for further discussion. The following questions have guided the development of context-specific questions:
- Which factors are most important in moving instruction into the “transformational” half of SAMR?
- Which factors are less important in moving instruction into the “transformational” half of SAMR?
- How does the data support or refute what you see on a daily basis?
Here are some examples of questions that have emerged around the various factors::
- What if students were posting/making (more) “real world” connections on social media?
- What if we flipped faculty meetings, providing teachers the opportunity to share what and how they’ve accomplished something with their students in the classroom?
- What if we encouraged more teachers, teacher leaders and administrators to present at conferences?
- What if the physical learning space was more conducive to risk-taking?
- How does administrator/peer feedback foster or deflate teacher motivation? How do we create more opportunities for administrator/peer feedback on “uncommon” thinking?
- How do we move to a system of competency-based, personalized learning?
School leaders will continue to engage building-based leadership teams in question development and conversations supporting the 6 critical factors of success. In conjunction with the district’s efforts this spring to articulate a set of belief statements and a vision for teaching and learning, school leaders will be proposing action plans for supporting the development of the 6 factors in all teachers in an effort to move transformational learning opportunities beyond pockets toward a systemic level.
2. Innovate Salisbury: In an effort to create a professional learning model reflective of the 6 critical factors of success, the Innovate Salisbury Team was instituted for the 2015-16 school year. This team of teachers has been collaboratively exploring educational topics such as personalized learning, genius hour, inquiry-based learning, assessment and others to assist in defining our future vision for teaching and learning.
As part of the learning process, teachers have been reading professional resources, many resulting in published podcasts with the authors. Teachers have been sharing personal and student learning experiences through social media and regular face-to-face conversations and presentations. Most notably, the participating teachers have had the opportunity to further develop each of the 6 critical factors of success, enhancing their skills to develop transformational learning experiences for their students.
3. Leadership Professional Development: Monthly lunch and learn sessions with the administrative team focus on developing leadership skills in change leadership practices as well as a deeper understanding of innovations that will become part of the future vision for teaching and learning.
The transformation we seek in instruction will take time and support, but through the organic identification of the 6 factors through the action research process, the road to systemic transformation is being approached through thoughtful inquiry and reflection.
Look for future blog posts on our action plans, Innovate Salisbury Team projects and leadership professional development.
Learn more about our work at TL2020 and TLTalkRadio.