Encouraging collaboration between technology and instructional teams is key to creating a district-wide data culture.
Institutional silos represent one of the biggest challenges to the implementation of new technology in school districts. All too often, districts excitedly invest in a new tech product, only to have the product’s rollout fall flat due to lack of communication. I recently wrote about the need to align district leadership and the technology team (read more here). However, it is also critical to have open lines of communication between the instructional and tech teams. Instructional teams may not understand how to implement and leverage a complex new product, while the technology personnel capable of implementation aren’t attuned to educators’ needs. Each group brings the expertise necessary to ensure a successful launch, and without the proper communication, you may find that the shiny new tool you just purchased sits gathering dust while the outcomes you were hoping to reach with it go unfulfilled.
One school district focused on this tackling this issue is Tacoma Public School District. To understand how the school district is working to change the edtech implementation game, I spoke with Dave Davis, the Director of Instructional Technology and Enrollment for Tacoma. Realizing that data-driven decision-making requires both sophisticated technology and an understanding of instructional best practices, district administrators set out to strategically evaluate which tools would be most effective — and what training teachers would need in order to leverage them.
Davis, who was one of several leads in this process said, “I’ve seen the district’s mission become more aligned with technology training since I’ve started, which has been really exciting.” The efficacy of the district’s strategy was confirmed by the February 2018 vote to renew its tech levy, which at $24 million is now the largest in Washington State.
But those changes were hard earned. As a former classroom teacher himself, Davis is no stranger to the challenges that can arise when aligning district leadership, instructors, and tech teams — but Tacoma’s teacher-first approach to tech PD has helped get everyone onto the same page.
Before developing a district-wide PD program, Tacoma’s administrators wanted to leverage data to identify the instructional practices that made the greatest difference in student success. That involved looking at attendance data, disciplinary data, and overall student achievement data to draw connections between PD and student outcomes.
According to Davis, district leadership was looking for “data that tells that story, so we can stop doing things that aren’t working and start doing things that are.” The district wasn’t interested in “anecdotes or happy stories,” Davis says — administrators wanted “real data.” That drive toward data-driven decision-making is what motivated Tacoma Public Schools to partner with Hoonuit five years ago.
Once administrators are able to identify which PD programs are driving improvement in the classroom, the district encouraged teachers to participate by offering seven hours of flexible PD at their usual per-diem rate. These PD hours are optional, and they can be completed online and remotely through Hoonuit, increasing accessibility and convenience for teachers.
Davis notes that the students themselves are encouraging tech-centric PD by opting to undergo the same training as their teachers, providing extra motivation and inspiration to them. “That’s really exciting, because we see the teachers go ‘Oh my gosh, if these kids want to do this, we’ve got to catch up,’ which encourages buy-in on the teacher side,” Davis explains.
Thanks to his background in the classroom, Davis has been especially dedicated to incorporating input from instructional teams into district-wide technology training. “That’s always part of my lens,” he says. Because of this, his team works with each school to create individualized tech plans based on their particular goals, whether a principal wants to facilitate better communication between parents and teachers, see more technology in the classroom, or use new tools to create hands-on learning opportunities.
At the same time, Davis’s team is encouraging data fluency at every level of the district — from HR to finance to the classroom — and offering technology trainings based on district goals but also tailored to teacher needs. Davis says that their IT team has learned that trainings should specifically focus on one or two topics, otherwise they risk overwhelming teachers and exacerbating resistance to tech. “We always try to leave teachers with one or two action items that they could do the next day,” Davis says, “and then we build and build from there.”
Tacoma Public Schools’ ultimate goal is to do away with fear of technology and equip teachers with both competence and confidence when using tech in the classroom. The district has already seen their approach pay off through their microcredentials program: in the past three years, over 3,000 microcredentials have been awarded in subject areas ranging from Microsoft certifications to alignment with ISTE standards and internal credentials. “It’s gone gangbusters,” says Davis.
Tacoma has also experienced success by creating teacher liaisons to bridge the gap between IT and curriculum teams. Over 80 teachers have become certified as Microsoft trainers, which helps to fulfill two goals: first, it increases collaboration and communication between the teams, and second, it eases the Microsoft training burden on Davis’s 6-person team.
Moving forward, Davis says that the district wants to go beyond “button-pushing” and seamlessly integrate technology platforms across the district. Working with both the instructional and curriculum sides will be even more important in taking this next step. “That would be a pretty exciting venture moving forward,” Davis says. “And Hoonuit will be a big part of making that happen.”