It is inspiring to see the time, effort, and care that school districts put into defining high-level goals for edtech and setting meaningful targets for student achievement. This is essential toward the development of concrete strategies that guide specific courses of action and define how resources can best be allocated to drive success across schools and grade levels, and within every classroom.
But for many teachers, the arrival of a new district goal sheet can be, understandably, a daunting experience. Teachers are the precise point where district vision becomes a practical reality. To be their most effective, teachers need answers to immediate questions such as “how will this affect me,” and, “what is my part in this plan?”
Districts can help increase the value to teachers of their district goal materials by anticipating these questions. Specifically, districts can pay attention to the inherent gap between these documents and reality. Goal documentation typically features high-level language, which carries over into the objectives and activities associated with each goal. Even in more specifically-defined objectives there is often verbiage along the lines of, “implement blended learning initiatives.”
Most educators looking at that statement will assume it only refers to devices, software, and programs. And that interpretation is a fair one. The simple fact is that it’s easier to create high-level goals full of buzzwords like integration, 21st-century skills, blended learning, etc., than to engage educators with specific practices that can help them shift instruction and learning. It takes less effort to highlight a tool’s features and benefits than to develop an actionable plan that describes how students will use the tool to advance complex thinking or innovative solutions.
That is the gap that needs to be closed when documenting district goals. It’s time that we move away from rolling out plans written entirely in the broad strokes language of technology integration and toward resources that engage all stakeholders in the specific details of the skills students need to be successful.
Here are 3 suggestions that can help bridge the gap between district goals and classroom practice.
- Turn district goals into a movie worth watching. District plans go unread because they read, well, like a district plan–a large pdf document packed with walls of text, charts, and bullet points framed in formal, stuffy language. Why not present it in the form of an exciting story that stars all of your stakeholders: students, teachers, parents, community members, etc? Videos, in particular, are effective at tapping into emotions. People are more motivated to act if their emotions are engaged, something that is difficult for facts or data to accomplish. You can still create your district plan in document form, but first frame the plan as a narrative video story if you want the resources to be consistently utilized and referenced. Documented resources and support still have a place, but a video is an opportunity to create genuine excitement over new ideas and goals.
- Detail how specific skills can be reinforced. Many district plans feature language about how learning should be focused on “21st-century skills” or the “4 C’s: Collaboration, Creativity, Communication, and Critical Thinking.” I agree that a focus on these skills is critical, but what is even more critical is how students arrive at mastery of these skills and how educators will know if they’ve been mastered. For example, if a classroom will be using video creation as an instructional and learning tool, teachers should have support on how this tool elicits critical thinking. Teachers should be made aware that video creation allows students to review, analyze, and evaluate multiple sources and perspectives before they create their own perspectives which are then applied and demonstrated through video creation. Provide teachers with resources that show how these tools deepen learning and skills. Explaining the “how” will give credence to the “what” (standards) and the “how well” (assessments). Check out this recent post for more.
- Develop teacher agency in professional learning. District plans often include a support and resources component that indicates that teachers will receive professional development toward specific initiatives. “Receiving” PD is perceived as, and often observed to be in fact, packaged, prescriptive, and involuntary. Just as we promote student agency, i.e. students making their own decisions regarding their learning in order to promote authentic ownership, we should also be creating learning opportunities that empower teachers to choose and have a voice. Providing a menu of options is one strategy, as well as online discussion tools, social media groups, and teacher-paced learning modules that feature automated feedback.
School districts should be encouraged to set big goals and high expectations. The process is critical to helping our students achieve their full potential. It is vital, therefore, that these goals have a firm grounding in reality that eliminates the gap between documented ideals and classroom reality.