Learning Counsel Discusses EdTech Challenges and Solutions with Education Leaders

Event News
Troy Starr, Learning Counsel Writer

Learning Counsel held our 3rd Digital Transition Discussion of the year in Charlotte, NC on February 1st, 2018. At the event education executives listened to presentations from leaders in the field about hot topics in EdTech. Also, during the event a panel discussion was held, facilitated by Dr. David Kafitz.

The panelist speakers were:

  • Lisa Thompson – Instructional Coach, Union County Public Schools
  • Valerie Truesdale – Associate Superintendent, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
  • Tonia Smith – Director of Special Projects, Clarendon School District Two

During their discussions Kafitz posed the question, “How are you addressing the transformation in education as it becomes this culture of constant change?”

Valerie Truesdale pointed out how being positive and supportive of teachers is highly important. She shared, “As far as the technology piece is concerned I always try to be uplifting and try to show the positive points to help teachers to be successful in their classrooms.”

Tonia Smith noted how busy teachers are and how administrations can implement new practices frequently, which can be hard for teachers to focus on appropriately due to their schedules and the number of new requirements coming from administration. She said, regarding directives coming from administration, “We are at the point now in our District where, let’s pick something and do that well before we say it doesn’t work and do something else. The teachers appreciate that because there is so much change, but sometimes the problems that you have, they’re changing too.”

Valerie Truesdale added, “I’ve been doing this business for a long time, over 30 years, and I think it’s the most exciting time ever to be in public education. We are emerging into what is being called the 4th industrial revolution. That is a new wave of total new opportunity.”

 Truesdale, Smith and Thompson went on to share the successes their districts had in implementing 1-to-1 initiatives and how these initiatives were crucial in preparing learners for the future.

Kafitz observed that sustainability has been a big question and concern in the digital transformation. He asked, “Can you elaborate on some of the sustainability issues you’ve had to address and how you’ve overcome them?” 

Tonia Smith shared, “At the school level it really starts at the top. If you’re pushing 1-to-1 and wanting your students to gain 21st century knowledge and you’re walking around with a notepad then the students see that the principal hasn’t even bought into this idea, so why should I.” She highlighted that students and teachers want to see that the school leaders support these initiatives personally. Once the principal and teachers are on on-board, and students have devices, then it becomes easier because the parents start to realize that these devices are necessary and start taking part.

Truesdale noted that Wi-Fi availability was a challenge that her district had to face. In 2017 they received a grant from Sprint and launched 250 Wi-Fi hotspots. Since then the school culture has seen amazing improvements. One reason that the Wi-Fi implementation was so successful was that the Technology Facilitator noted student logins and used it as an intervention. If a student hadn’t logged in for a while the Technology Facilitator would find the student and find out why they hadn’t logged in. Due to the success they have seen, they applied for and received another grant to implement 4,000 more hotspots each year for the next five years.

Truesdale also shared that currently their students leave their devices at school. Mostly due to the limited Wi-Fi access outside of school. However, now that they have made such great improvements in its availability, they will be considering letting students take their devices home with them. A concern was that the devices might not be brought back every day. Smith commented that in her district they had very little issues with students not bringing their devices to school because they implemented a “digital detention” policy. Students who didn’t bring their devices to school would have to be in “digital detention” where their device would have temporary limited access, allowing the students to only access certain programs. This incentive proved very effective.

Kafitz went on to ask, “What’s next? Where are you looking 3 to 5 years down the road to plan for the change and adoption of the true potential for the teaching and learning process?”

Truesdale responded that in her district they reorganized administration and brought on a Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Now that students in her district have access to digital tools, they directed the CTO to scale personalized learning. She shared, “What we are taking a look at is how do we create conditions for our goal, and that is, to paraphrase, that every adult in our school system has the skills, competencies, and confidence to teach and lead in a 21st century learning environment that is personalized and that fosters creativity and innovation.”

Thompson added that in her district they are creating master courses for teachers. Using Canvas software, Thompsons district is having certain teachers develop content for different classes and then distributing these custom courses to other teachers who are interested in utilizing the custom classes. This option saves teachers time by having the content already created. Teachers then have the freedom to use this content at their discretion.

The panelists all shared valuable insights from their experiences as education leaders in their communities. While there are challenges to overcome in the digital transition, the mood was very positive, and districts are sharing that they are beginning to see impressive improvements in their school’s cultures and curricula.


If you would like to attend an event, which is free to educators, check out our Events Schedule. Also, join the conversation online by creating a profile on KnowStory.com, an educational social site, focused on facilitating positive developments and collaborations in the education community.  On KnowStory you can join or create a Learning Group focused on the topic(s) you would like to discuss. Check back in for more updates from the front lines of the Digital Transition!