Through It All; Students Are @ the Centre

Last spring, the Surrey Schools technology portfolio team traveled to The International Society for Technology in Education’s (ISTE) annual conference (this year held in Philadelphia) to receive the Sylvia Charp Award for District Innovation in Technology. We were honoured for our commitment to technology planning being focused on transformative learning with the student at the centre. This month, you can read about our award in ISTE’s The Journal.

Jordan Tinney, Superintendent, Elisa Carlson, Director of Instruction &; Dan Turner, Director of IMS

Jordan Tinney, Superintendent, Elisa Carlson, Director of Instruction &; Dan Turner, Director of IMS

In assembling our submission, I became acutely connected to the 15 (ish) year-long journey that I have been on as a district Partner in Learning alongside changing and diverse education and district leaders. The district’s relationship with technology has of course dramatically evolved, reflected through phases I label; access, transformation and innovation.

The district’s technology portfolio itself – comprising technology, education and organizational leadership – has matured substantially over the years, producing a governance ecosystem to optimize opportunity and resources and to mitigate (and even again, optimize) the natural, if not required, tension that exists between its participants.

Our Technology Ecosystem for Learning places student learning at the centre and aligns to the district’s vision for student learning, Learning by Design. LBD FINAL REV It emphasizes collaboration, capacity-building and engagement within a progressive governance model, integrating five essential components: Leadership, Professional practice, Schoolhouse (schools/classrooms), Technology toolbox and Partnerships.

Within the ecosystem we set vision and direction, establish (and re-establish) priorities, develop policy, resolve issues, envision and prepare for the future and hold each other accountable on all topics. Our greatest and enduring challenge is funding. Specifically, limited funding in proportion to the requirements, expectations and dreams of our stakeholders. Each phase of our journey has produced its own set of funding (and related) challenges.

Each phase in our journey has been critical to our success as a district.

In 2002, Information Management Services (IMS) began our work to ready the system to embrace and leverage the growing presence of technology in daily life. The work focused on identifying and removing technology barriers or reasons teachers and students were not incorporating technology into the learning process.

Execution took place school-by-school, wiring closet-by-wiring closet, classroom-by-classroom, device-by-device, software title-by-software title. 10’s of thousands of person hours and millions of dollars in equipment were invested to deliver the beginnings of a scalable and reliable technology infrastructure. We need to gain the confidence of staff and students to inspire adoption of transformative technology practices.  Technology during this phase was often referred to by then leadership as “a black hole.”

We maintained a goal for technology to be transparent and to “just work” so the focus could shift to one of solely being about learning. The strategic technology initiatives in this category were extensive and were implemented in waves and over several years, beginning with a foundation referred to as the Computer Management Strategies (CMS). This was followed by robust end-to-end enterprise wireless programs, bandwidth upgrades, carefully organized technology and purchasing standards, asset management and refresh strategies and organization of IT personnel strategies to ensure responsiveness to teachers, students and administrators.

The power of the underpinning technology program was in its alignment to the district vision – with the student at the centre. Our job and focus was to build the technology infrastructure so as the organization and practice transformed in theory, they could execute in practice.

Winning the Sylvia Charp award, for me as the Director of Technology, was more than a decade in the making. The technology journey we undertook provided the foundation and opportunity and our ecosystem created the energy and action. As a result, when we considered the approach and topic for our ISTE submission, it quickly became clear that there wasn’t one compelling technology-based initiative, there were many. And our story just keeps getting better.

Note: For more information on the District’s strategic work on transforming learning, check out Director of Instruction – Dr. Elisa Carlson’s (@EMSCarlson) blog at: innovativelearningdesigns.ca/ and Superintendent Dr. Jordan Tinney’s (@jordantinney) blog at jordantinney.org.

The power inside just 1 hour

It’s amazing how just one hour can impact you. How it can reconnect and reignite a passion and vision and how it can drive clarity and purpose.

Laptop and hourglassIn my last post I shared the challenges of getting to the space where true “creative planning magic happens” and when the dream begins to come to life. I concluded the post by suggesting that “the power in the action of technology is starting to emerge from inside our classrooms” – no sooner had I posted, I was presented with an opportunity to spend an hour with Mme Jennifer Rossi’s (@MmeRossi) grade six Intensive French (IF) class at Erma Stephenson elementary.

During my visit, students were asked to focus on reflecting on their latest blog post, reading classmates’ posts and offering appropriate feedback and comments in French. The room was alive. Their blogs lived on surreyschool.ca and their learning tool was a MacBook.

Not to complain, but generally how it goes in Information Technology (IT) is that people only call when something is broken, in need of upgrading or to start a new project. Hence, I am painfully aware of the challenges that come within the IT space: networks aren’t perfect, PLNet can have slow periods, computers and software in general can be “glitchy” and the list goes on…

So after a dozen years with the District striving to remove and mitigate these technology barriers in support of classrooms and enhanced learning, here is where the “magic” started for me. For that hour with Mme Rossi and her class of 30, the technology just worked. It was all but transparent and operating as a utility, as it should! Internet pages were loading, pages from surreyschools.ca were refreshing quickly, MacBook laptops that are approaching five years old loaded quickly and just worked (three had challenges). I couldn’t help but pause for a moment and savour in the experience that was unfolding for this class.

A grade 6 student using ss.ca blogging tool in a creative way!

A grade 6 student using ss.ca blogging tool in a creative way!

The hour was absent of problems and politics, the students were highly engaged in reading, thinking and commenting on blog posts (and indicated they thought surreyschools.ca was “pretty cool”). The experience embodied a great example of the kind of relevant 21st century learning we want for our kids. It also reminded me that we need to continue to embrace the notion of “digital resiliency” as even a single laptop not functioning can be like a student without a pencil. It demonstrated that “we’ve built it and they are coming” and re-invigorated me to keep pushing to remove barriers, to continue to dream and to advocate to go further.

I shared this story at the Information Management Services (IMS) department year-end celebration to not only thank every single person for their individual contribution, but to help connect them to the magic they’re responsible for delivering into Surrey classrooms. The impact they’re making for students is making a difference.

So a sincere “thank you” to Mme Rossi for the invitation and the hour inside their learning environment. An hour full of impact and inspiration.