Slowing Down for Progress

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Geoff Fletcher, Editor-At-Large

The fastest way to incorporate technology into your district is to pause for a thoughtful consideration of what you want to achieve.

WHILE DRIVING through Texas last month, I thought about Sylvia Charp, who was editor-in-chief of T.H.E. Journal from its founding in 1972 until her untimely death in 2003. It wasn't the wide-open spaces between Austin and Dallas that reminded me of Sylvia; she lived in Philadelphia. Instead, my recollection was sparked by the drive to Irving. The Irving Independent School District was the first recipient of the Sylvia Charp Award for effectiveness and innovation in the application of technology districtwide. T.H.E. Journal established the award in 2004, in conjunction with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), to honor Sylvia, an avid ISTE advocate. T.H.E. Journal and ISTE believe, as did Sylvia, that a full and effective implementation of technology at the district level requires courage, risk-taking, innovation, and planning. Recognizing and publicizing district-level innovation can help other districts quickly grow more successful. (For information on the 2006 Sylvia Charp Award, visit www.thejournal.com/ISTECharpaward.)

I had just spent two days in Austin classrooms watching teachers teach in a technology-rich environment, interviewing principals and tech support people, and conducting focus groups with teachers and administrators. It was an exhausting yet exhilarating experience, and I was impressed with the quality of the teaching I saw, as well as the commitment and hard work that went into producing that quality. The drive to Irving offered time to decompress before I hit another high-energy, two-day gathering: a national symposium focused on 1-to-1 laptop programs, with more than 200 participants from 10 states attending the invitational event.

Space does not permit a full recounting of the highlights of the symposium, especially given the robust comments of Angus King, former governor of Maine, speaking to the group via a $120 videoconference camera, and the keynote provided by David Weinberger from the Berkman Institute for Internet and Society at Harvard University (MA). I also heard representatives from the Maine and Michigan laptop projects, as well as individuals from the classroom to the district office, give insights from their experiences implementing innovation.

I want to focus on two points that came through loud and clear from everyone I listened to or spoke with during my week in Texas, from a second-grade teacher to former Gov. King. The first point is that what's at issue is not technology or the notion of one computer for one student; the objective should be to engage students, and change teaching and learning. Separate conversations with Bette Manchester of Maine, Keith Krueger of the Consortium for School Networking, and Bruce Montgomery and Leslie Wilson of Michigan revealed the need to create new terminology to reflect this more appropriate focus.

The second point revolves around giving teachers—and administrators—time to absorb, incubate, try out, and reflect upon new ideas and approaches to teaching and learning with technology. This was an underlying theme offered by the teachers and administrators in my focus groups earlier in the week, and it was reiterated in every session I sat in on at the Irving symposium. This is not a new idea with technology, or even with innovation. In fact, it is a basic tenet of high-quality professional development.

Just as one slows down a golf swing to hit the ball harder, taking time to consider our new experiences with technology in the classroom can accelerate the pace with which we successfully implement it. That’s my lesson from one week in Texas: Slow down, Grasshopper, so that you might speed up.

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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