The right team, professional development and buy-in are essential to transformative digital learning, according to leaders of some of the largest K–12 school districts in the U.S. During a panel discussion at 1EdTech’s Learning Impact Conference in Anaheim this summer, distinguished educators shed light on their districts’ digital transformations and emphasized the crucial role of collaboration, professional development and buy-in to ensure the effective integration of technology and curriculum.
Tara Carrozza, director of the Digital Learning Initiative (DLI) for New York City Public Schools, highlighted the importance of upskilling leadership to match the pace of technological advancements. She emphasized that ‘If we want to make informed decisions to sustainably transform education, our leaders must have authentic knowledge and skills in technology.” To achieve this, Carrozza’s district is streamlining platforms, tools and curriculum choices to develop a unified digital learning ecosystem. The district is committed to equipping leaders with the necessary expertise to sustainably transform education.
Reflecting on Chicago Public Schools’ Skyline project, a universal preK-12 digital curriculum, Kara Thorstenson, director of digital learning and libraries for Chicago Public Schools, emphasized the significance of assembling the right team from various departments. Collaborative efforts, interdisciplinary workstreams and unified goals were instrumental in driving progress. Thorstenson explained, “We pulled in different departments, had interdisciplinary workstreams, procurement, e-teaching and learning, and we were all pulling in the same direction.”
Shana Rafalski, chief of staff for Clark County School District, emphasized that despite contextual variations in challenges, the key to finding solutions lies in fostering collaboration among diverse teams. Rafalski stated, “Problems in context can be different, but the solutions are usually the same, and that is finding a team that works together to create a plan, monitor the plan and react to the results.” By cultivating a shared vision, coordinating efforts and diligently monitoring outcomes, educational leaders can effectively address obstacles and achieve desired results. Rafalski highlighted her district’s use of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to invest in a district-wide curriculum while also focusing on analyzing the efficacy of the implemented changes.
Additionally, the panelists stressed the importance of gaining buy-in from educators and empowering innovators to ensure the success of any educational project. Rafalski pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted our collective ability to adapt and embrace change. She emphasized, “The pandemic proved we are capable of change. We all turned on a dime during a spring break weekend. There are always resistors to change, and there are always innovators. We need to empower the innovators to help the resistors get there.”
Carrozza further emphasized the significance of investing time in people, highlighting the importance of “teaching adults with the same pedagogical models and strategies we want to provide for students.” By adopting an experiential and student-centered professional development approach, educational leaders can empower teachers to drive transformative change.
Leverage Technology for Personalized Learning
As districts implement changes, monitoring student success remains a priority for educational leaders. Carrozza emphasized the value of leveraging technology to personalize learning and evaluate student impact beyond standard assessments and interventions. She stated, “With remote instruction during the pandemic, increased technology usage afforded us new data points, outside of standard assessments and interventions, to personalize learning citywide and show student impact.”
Prioritize Transparency With the Community
Rafalski highlighted the use of a comprehensive dashboard to foster transparency and regularly share data with the community, aligning it with the district’s strategic plan. She stated, “We have a robust dashboard that brings information together so we can be transparent with the community. Every month we share the data and how it aligns with the strategic plan. The big question is still, what are the correct measures that will help us get to success?” Thorstenson echoed the sentiment, stressing the need for data that demonstrates how students benefit from the tools and services provided to them.
Looking ahead, the conversation on leveraging technology and curriculum will continue at 1EdTech’s K-12 Leaders Forum and Senior Executive Summit in Atlanta, Georgia, November 13-16. The event will offer two innovation tracks, focusing on technology and curriculum. These tracks aim to facilitate cross-department collaborations, empowering educational leaders to drive digital transformation and unleash the full potential of learners.
By fostering interdisciplinary collaboration, upskilling leadership and empowering innovators, districts can create comprehensive digital learning ecosystems that maximize student success. The ongoing monitoring of student outcomes ensures the effectiveness of these initiatives. Through continued discussions and collaborative efforts, educational leaders can spearhead digital transformations that unleash the true potential of learners in the 21st century.