Imagining the Future and Making it Happen: Philadelphia Panel explores the possibilities of Technology in Education
Weekly during conference season, the Learning Counsel holds events across America. In addition to expert speakers, panel discussions are convened among the area’s top educational technology leaders. Thirty times per year, the Learning Counsel brings together the greatest minds in education to share ideas and to determine what is working now and why. At this year’s Philadelphia event, representatives from the School District of Philadelphia and the Central Bucks School District talked about the future of learning, the digital transition and how the technological future demands some very personal change.
Jessica Ross-White is the Director of Integrated Learning for the School District of Philadelphia, an ethnically diverse system that is the eighth largest district in the nation. She is excited about the intricate role technology plays in student growth and how the conversations her district is having shapes the digital landscape. “Ultimately, understanding the data that from certain programs and platforms and how we use them is not based on just one streamlined process, but depends on what is happening within our districts and what our leadership is doing in our schools.”
Jason Jaffe, Director of Technology and Innovation at Central Bucks School District agreed and said “What gets me out of bed every morning is the class of 2031. I keep thinking about the current class of kindergartners and I can’t imagine what it is going to be like in 2031. I’ll probably be retired, but I am setting a legacy for my students who are in school right now by the decisions I make in my current job. The digital conversation by then will be in place. I’m excited to see what I don’t know yet.”
Luke Bilger, Senior Project Manager of Education Technology at the School District of Philadelphia, added “One of the things that is exciting about the personalization and the digital tools that come with that is the ability for teachers that they’ve never had before to get real-time data, which is very different that standardized testing. The power that they have and the ability that they have to intentionally plan and to intervene, just in time when necessary, really excites me as we move towards our digital focus.” Dr. David Kafitz, V.P. of School Relations at the Learning Counsel, agreed. “We give tests in May at the very end of the school year, and then it’s Thanksgiving before you find out how your kids did last year, so you’ve already shot through a third of the year before you even find out what you need to work on. We hear a lot around the country about standardized testing and people wanting to roll back.”
Bilger says currently, the most important aspect of digital learning for the School District of Philadelphia is teacher professional learning. “It is building the teachers’ capacity to change their roles in the classroom and to be stronger. It’s Implementing a blended learning model that relies heavily on online adapted programs, giving the teacher the capacity to use that program, to analyze the data, to form their own instruction. And what we’ve found is to change teacher practice you can’t just have a PD day, where the teachers come, you talk to them for six hours and they go on their way. What we’re doing now is a focus on job-embedded teacher coaching. There is someone going into the classroom with the teacher, helping him plan, helping him use these tools, modeling what it looks like to change in the classroom. We believe that’s going to be more powerful than any other approach that has happened.”
Jaffe said one of the things he is most proud of is “a lot of my team members are here. We have a lot of people on board that are focused on education – not just technical skills. One thing we are working on now is moving to the cloud. We still have a lot of network drives, local i drives or local z drives. We have a digital transformation committee with stakeholders from the technical side, the principals’ side and our department’s side. We have a plan stepped out in different phases that we can show you. By the end of August,” Jaffe said, “we’re hoping that everything is moved off premises and into the cloud.”
The panel continued to share where their districts were in their digital transitions, what is working well and how they are finding success. Click on the video below to see the entire discussion. You’ll learn about their district strategies and see what you can implement in your own district today to find success tomorrow and beyond.