Data and technology support all that I do in my daily work as a school administrator (and it has for quite some time now). With increased accountability, the ongoing need for technology in schools is tantamount to our success (both teachers and students). In my early days of teaching, I had to fight to get technology into the hands of my special education students—some believing that it couldn’t possibly help ‘those students’, and as technology was new to classrooms in those days, they FIRST had to get them into the ‘regular classroom’. To secure data about my students for the coming school year, I literally had to go through each folder to determine their scores, special considerations, what worked for them, their strengths and additionally what the students needed. Once secured, I then had to decipher a hand-written IEP! Imagine that!
With the enhancement that technology brings to data collection, instruction, and communication, organization, and the dispersing of important and relevant information, it is imperative that teachers utilize all that is available to them, and more importantly, assure that students are aware of all that is possible with technology to enhance student learning, organization and communication skills, especially for our students who learn differently.
As the school year begins, as a ‘best practice’ let’s make a commitment to maximize the use of technology for teaching and learning in a way that assures that students always get what they need. Beginning with data, make a commitment to use the data sources in your school (attendance, testing, learning styles, IEP data, child study or instructional support team data) to get to know your students before they join you, in a way that permits you to let that student know that you understand his/her strengths. In that data find something to celebrate with your students—that’s a real motivator as the school year begins—as many of our students come to a fresh new year, feeling a failure before they have begun—so commit to that data, share the positives with students, and help them to keep track of their own progress with a data system that you can develop together in your classroom. Also, commit to using data to inform your instruction in an ongoing way.
Next, let’s make a commitment to using technology for communication. Reach out to parents, especially with good news as the year begins, perhaps through email (or phone calls if that’s your preference). Opening the lines of communication in a positive way early on in the school year permits parents to trust that you will, in fact, reach out to them, and they will become your partner as you move through the year. Email can be used to share fun things that the class is doing, sent to all parents, or can be used one-to-one to celebrate a student’s success. Reinforce with parents your commitment to ongoing communications in a newsletter or at open house.
Teach students to use technology for staying organized. Show them how to organize their papers into folders on computers, how to keep a calendar, how to email their assignments home (if that’s possible in your school) and how to assure that deadlines are met through practicing organizational skills, that will help them as they transition to the world of college, work, or the service- show them how you do it, then permit them to develop their own system, with your guidance. Permit the use of hand held phones or devices (like iPods or phones) to record their homework either by voice or on a notepad (provided that doesn’t go against school policy).
Teach your students netiquette. Speak to them about the uses and abuses of the world-wide-web. Share appropriate ways to communicate with technology and stay in touch with friends, and be sure to also share the dangers of using online communications. Our students often lack the social sense needed to maneuver these sights, so much communication and direct teaching about internet communication is necessary.
Finally, maximize learning in your classroom by making the commitment to understand your students’ learning styles, and determining those students for whom the use of technology to learn would be important, and make a commitment to use technology to bring your lessons alive for those students. Tactual and kinesthetic learners can benefit from the use of that interactive white board in your classroom, so give control over to those students. Many tactual students can benefit from the use of those computers in the corner of the room, and still others would benefit from listening to a CD or watching a DVD or some online explanation to drive a point home. For those non-conformists in your room, the option of some choice in what they do is always a help!
Have a great year, and celebrate the technology of the 21st Century in your room. I promise it’s a commitment that will make a difference.
Lois R. Favre, Ed. D. is the Superintendent of Schools at the Bridgehampton Union Free School District in Bridgehampton, New York. Before joining the Bridgehampton team, she has worked as an Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, a Pupil Personnel Services Director and a Special Education Teacher. She is well-published in the field of education and has presented both nationally and internationally on topics such as differentiation, students who learn differently, change process, learning styles, leadership and best practices.