A Vision for a Summit

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CELT Recently Brought Together School Districts, Vendors and Professional Organizations for a National Summit on ‘Leadership, Learning and Technology for the 21st Century’

What began as a lunchtime discussion among CELT (Center for Education Leadership and Technology) Corp. staff about how to positively impact the 2004 presidential campaign quickly evolved into a vision for bringing together top executive-level practitioners in education for a national summit on “Leadership, Learning and Technology for the 21st Century.” The hope was that this summit would create a structured yet free-flowing forum to explore and debate timely issues, as well as to open up provocative and, at times, intense differences of opinion. At the same time, the hope was also to influence the national agenda during the recent political season.

Planning a dynamic summit meant devising an approach that would be unlike traditional conferences. CELT had a vision for using experiences and challenges from participating school districts of various sizes from different parts of the country as the foundation for planning all aspects of the summit. This unique approach was based upon the following beliefs:

The importance of district teams. CELT wanted to invite district teams at no cost. They also wanted to welcome district teams representing all levels of the district to attend the event so that real-time team learning, exploration and collaboration could take place both within and among the teams.

The importance of participatory planning. CELT wanted to create the summit around the needs of the attendees by involving them in the planning via Web-survey technology, using their input to shape both the overall program and specific sessions.

The importance of collaboration among all stakeholders. CELT wanted to invite and involve professional organizations and vendors to participate as partners, providing input to all discussions, serving on panels with educators as experts on technology applications, as well as sitting alongside district attendees during meals and social activities.

The importance of aligning technology and education reform. CELT wanted not only to focus the content of the discussion on the effective implementation of technology for student achievement, but also to focus it on using technology as a planning and collaboration tool.

Implementing the Beliefs

After discussions with prospective attendees and vendors, CELT used four strands to craft and distribute a Web-based survey for prospective attendees, as well as to propose and prioritize topics for discussion and presentation. Those four general strands were:

  1. Decision support and accountability

  2. Learning environments and school facilities

  3. Curriculum, assessment and technology integration

  4. Human resources management and organization development.

Once the Web survey was issued, respondents selected their top priorities and suggested new ones. Responses were used to tailor the summit’s program agenda, panelists and speakers. From the attendee list, summit planners selected participants to serve on panels as moderators, panelists and as leaders of small-group discussions. Panel moderators were selected for their reputations as experts in their field, while panelists and discussion leaders were selected for their role in the district and their area of specialty. This process ensured participation from each school district team, summit sponsor and national education organization, representing some of the most well-known U.S. associations.

A second survey, “The District Technology and Education Reform Profile,” was created by asking district personnel to provide information about the current state of technology within their districts. Questions included: “What are your district’s top five educational reform and/or school improvement initiatives for the next two to three years?” and “What are your district’s top five information technology (IT) initiatives for the next two to three years?”

Responses to these questions showed that among the targeted educational reform and/or school improvement initiatives for the next two to three years, the most common were: (1) small schools and restructuring initiatives, (2) literacy, (3) staff/professional development, (4) curriculum alignment, and (5) student achievement. The major IT initiatives targeted for the next two to three years were: (1) network infrastructure expansion and upgrade, (2) data-driven decision-making, (3) instructional management and student information management systems, (4) data warehousing, (5) single education portal strategies, and (6) enterprise project management.

Again, the program’s agenda was built directly on district input and the prioritization of topics.

Preparation & Paticipation

Essential to every panel presentation and discussion was the impact of technology on 21st century leadership and learning. Prior to the summit, participants were asked to reflect on the following:

  • Since technology changes how, when, where and the capacity to learn, what are the new leadership competencies (i.e., skills, knowledge and behavioral attributes) required to create and sustain a high-performing, team-oriented work environment?
  • What are the leadership/human resource management approaches, information technology programs, infrastructure, and related costs that enable improved student learning, staff development and leadership effectiveness?

To further prepare participants for the summit, readings were selected in advance and sent to participants as a means to prepare for panel and small-group discussions. Web links and bibliographies were also included. Vendor participation was handled in unique ways as well. From the start, vendors were asked to recommend districts to be invited. They were also able to participate in the Web surveys and, prior to the summit kickoff, participated in a half-day sales briefing session with CELT executives.

Assigned seating at mealtimes was used as yet another means to encourage cross talk among participants. CELT mixed and matched attendees at the tables for each meal by assigning seats according to job title, specialty areas, team membership and random seating. In the end, these combinations proved to be the ultimate “icebreakers” for reflecting on summit presentations and sharing ideas among attendees. As one attendee mentioned, “It’s so easy to get acquainted with someone you’re cracking lobsters with.”

Keynote Speakers

In addition to the school district and vendor participation, prospective attendees indicated an interest in hearing what was happening at both the federal and state levels, as well as learning about some innovative approaches to using technology. To that end, CELT invited Timothy Magner, deputy director for the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Education Department, to give an overview of educational technology from the federal perspective, including the Education Secretary’s priorities for the department and an overview of the “National Education Technology Plan.”

Summit organizers also invited Jane Swift, the former governor of Massachusetts, to speak about the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act from a governor’s perspective. As Massachusetts’ governor from 2001-2003, Swift crafted a progressive public policy agenda that dramaticall improved public education, as well as enhanced economic opportunity for families and businesses. She was an advocate for educational reform, as well as for advancing accountability and high standards for schools, teachers and students, while increasing the state’s financial commitment to schools. In addition, Swift championed solutions for providing a guaranteed college education for foster children and authored a report on proposed improvements to Massachusetts’ early childhood education services.

Finally, to highlight an alternative approach to using technology in schools, Dr. Elliot Soloway, CEO and founder of GoKnow Inc., and Cathleen Norris, chief education officer of GoKnow, presented their research and demonstrated how handheld computers can transform K-12 classrooms by enabling one-to-one computing for every child.

Evaluation & Results

The summit format and the variety of interaction was the most important factor in allowing people to share district issues openly with their counterparts from different districts. Many participants emphasized the need to continue this kind of interaction among school districts so that people could see what works, what d'esn’t work, and how to take action. Some valued comparing their districts against others to see where they were ahead, where they were in step with the various districts, and where they were behind. A number of representatives from large urban school districts said that there was power in getting the districts together, and that by doing so they could drive the technology agenda with legislators as well as vendors. This idea was reinforced by a participant’s comment that the best thing about the summit was the opportunity to influence the development and direction of vendor products and services.

Some participants liked how summit discussions reinforced the idea that technology alone offers no instant solutions to district problems. Several people noted that the political forces which they thought existed only in their districts were common to many. One participant commented that “technology challenges are universal regardless of the size of the district or its geographic location.”

By clustering key areas of concern, one can see the common threads of thought that emerged from summit discussions.

Technology Management:

  • the need to be more effective in the management and utilization of technology in the district
  • the need for technology plans that focus directly on student achievement
  • the movement to data warehousing and how most districts face similar struggles.

Technology and Student Achievement:

  • the need for educators to learn how to take advantage of how technology can shape the learning environment, increase student achievement, improve their schools’ operating systems, and reduce the cost of educating children
  • that technology has the potential to accelerate student learning
  • the need to stay focused on what the student needs to be successful.

Technology and Leadership:

  • that significant change cannot happen without bold leadership
  • that district leaders must be innovators with an active interest in renovating the education model to accommodate the new learner
  • the need to make professional development a top priority.

The summit evaluation also allowed CELT to see what went well, what needed improvement, and if the summit was useful and had the potential to be repeated. Feedback in this area showed that nearly 70% of respondents felt that the summit should be repeated annually, while 30% felt that the summit should be repeated biennially. In addition, 30% of respondents felt that the summit was “valuable,” while 70% felt that the summit was “very valuable.”

The summit evaluation also gave CELT important qualitative data about the participants’ thoughts regarding future summits, technology and the needs of educational leaders. The evaluation forced them to think about their district’s priorities, as well as where they are lacking or where they are innovators. These qualitative remarks are helping shape future summits and CELT’s ongoing agenda.

Next Steps

At the summit’s completion, CELT began to build upon the valuable insights and knowledge shared by participants. Immediate follow-up plans include:

  • Distributing selected presentations toall attendees and making additional copies available to the public.
  • Expanding the reach of summit participation by planning the 2005 National Education Summit.
  • Initiating planning for the South Florida Regional Summit on “Technology, Learning and Economic Development for the 21st Century,” which will be held in Fort Lauderdale this May.

Of course, the essence of the summit transcends the two-day event and can be summed up with this final thought from one participant: “I believe that the educational space must focus on what works best for students.”

For more information on CELT and its future events, visit www.celtcorp.com.


Photos from the CELT Summit:


CELT Sponsors

Participating Educational Associations

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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