Friday, February 28, 2014

Making the Pitch

In my very first post, one of the goals I cited for The Pulse was "simply sharing the learning that our team is fortunate to experience." This week is the best example to date.

In January, we launched our application for the Digital Learning Grant - 20 awards of up to $100,000 each for districts launching 1:1's or refining their digital learning initiatives. Despite the fact that dozens of districts could not apply because of grants they have already received from our office, our 2-week window still garnered applications from an astounding 132 districts!

As our team of five pored through the plans written by nearly half of Indiana's districts, this digital movement was palpable. Schools from one end of our state to the other are connecting their learners to the world - with or without this grant.

Easily the most powerful part of the process created by Candice Dodson is The Pitch. The 33 best applicants on paper were invited to the IDOE to tout their plan in person, and for two solid days our group sat across the table from amazing leadership teams who are making digital learning happen. Colleagues in other states have tried to replicate this intense face-to-face, time-intensive process, and districts in Indiana have asked to be a 'fly on the wall' to learn from this amazing experience.

Photos by David Ryan
It is for all of these reasons that I felt compelled to share with you what I learned this week from some of Indiana's finest digital districts. Through the course of the presentations I noticed some common threads among those that were successful and I jotted them down for you along the way. I can never recreate the overwhelming passion and energy that I witnessed, but hopefully these bits of wisdom will help as you navigate your own transition to digital learning.

Lessons I learned from The Pitch:
  • Prioritize - Those who have made this leap have done so by carefully choosing where they invest their dollars. Even cash-poor districts can find money for technology if it is truly important to them. The most amazing of these have consistently done so for more than a decade.
  • Passion - Most districts who have made digital tools available have done so because they have a driving passion to provide opportunities for their students.
  • Pedagogy - The most powerful plans did not center on hardware, they focus on profoundly changing the learning tasks for students, and establishing new paradigms for teachers.
  • Progression - Going digital doesn't happen overnight or even in a few semesters. Successful districts use models like SAMR or TPACK to show teachers a slow and steady path to deeper implementation - and they keep working to get there.
  • Expectations - A digital shift cannot be accomplished unless the change is systemic, and this will be evidenced by clearly defined expectations at every level of the organization. Model districts point to ISTE standards and build these into their evaluation systems.
  • Branding - Having a "laptop initiative" is a lousy way to build momentum. Develop a brand that puts the focus on learning and invest in the communication it takes to get your community behind it.
  • Learn - Successful districts do more listening to others than talking about themselves. Shelf your district pride and be a community of learners. Visit your neighbors and connect digitally to what others are learning around you.
  • Collaborate - If your teachers aren't connected to a larger community of content curation you are simply duplicating work. Digital resources are evolving by the second - join the crowd that is bending them to the very same purposes as you.
  • Pilot - Technology implementations are meant to develop. Don't feel like the plan has to be perfect or that you can't go unless you take everyone. Find those that are eager to lead the way and build a pilot that will teach you about how this works in your environment.
  • Connect - Adding devices may bring enough flash to raise engagement for a time. The deeper gain is in connecting students to the world; genuinely engaging them with real work, real problems and real conversations.
  • Plan - If you are waiting for funding before you map out your plan, that funding will likely never come. Build the idea...paint the picture and you might be surprised who is willing to help you make it happen.
  • Begin - Finally, the thing that became most abundantly clear is that so many schools have already waited too long. Much of your competition has already strengthened their infrastructure, studied the tools, and invested in PD for digital learning. Those who continue to wait for this to be easy are not only losing the competition for grant dollars, they're likely losing the competition for students.