Freshmen at the North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional High School District in Annandale, NJ, had a little something extra to appreciate during Thanksgiving of 2013-every ninth grader was issued a brand new Chromebook during the days leading up to the holiday. The laptops were distributed as part of the first phase of the district’s 1:1 technology initiative.
Since then, the district has issued more than 2,100 Chromebooks to students, and along the way, it has learned valuable lessons about supporting a 1:1 initiative. The district had anticipated that the influx of these new devices would create a variety of thorny issues, so it formed an Administrative Technology Committee to address those potential problems.
The committee knew that administrative support for students and teachers as they became versed in Chromebooks was a top priority, so they created a Technology Resource Center (TRC) staffed by a combination of teachers and students. The TRC is located in the old school store and serves as a place where students could borrow and/or recharge their Chromebooks as well as seek technical support. For teachers, the TRC is a place to receive one-on-one support from peers.
TRC staff members were selected based on their technology skills and willingness to provide support to teachers and students. They were given two days of training on Google Apps and assigned to staff the TRC in place of a regularly assigned duty.
The 1:1 initiative made it possible for the curriculum and instruction within the district to take a huge leap forward. However, this leap did not occur by having thousands of new Chromebooks arrive at the school. It took substantial planning, time, and a clear vision from school leaders to create a learning environment that was able to successfully support a 1:1 setting.
Five Key Strategies
Consider these five key strategies for 1:1 support if you’re thinking about undertaking a similar initiative.
#1. Make the 1:1 program an investment of more than just money.
Funding a 1:1 program is obviously a major financial hurdle, but the real investment needed for a 1:1 program to be successful comes after the check for the devices is written. From the moment the devices arrive at school, they begin consuming one of a school’s most valuable resources-faculty time. Technology staff members need time to set up the devices. Teachers need time to attend professional development training and rewrite lesson plans. Students need time to familiarize themselves with their new devices. Administrators need time to revise procedures and oversee all phases of the program.
For all of these stakeholders, time is a limited resource. For example, if a teacher spends time in a technology session, he is not spending time learning about other topics such as Common Core State Standards or student growth objectives. Keep in mind that supporting a 1:1 initiative is the job of all school leaders, not just the technology department. At our school, the leaders creatively reallocated some teacher duty time to staff the TRC and regularly carved out time to discuss and plan every aspect of the 1:1 program.
#2. Identify and support technology leaders.
At North Hunterdon High School, a handful of teachers were asked to be part of the TRC. These teachers modeled effective 1:1 classroom practice, provided dozens of hours of training to other staff members, and collaborated in developing the standard operating procedures. The identification of these technology leaders helped relieve some of the workload from the technology department and enabled the administration to receive valuable input about technology-related procedures and topics. Most importantly, these technology teacher leaders promoted a culture of teacher-driven professional development.
#3. Embrace change as an ongoing process.
Technology is infused into all aspects of education. Do not accept the statement “I am not good with technology.” Saying that is like saying “I am not good at my job.” If someone tells his/her supervisor s/he is not good at the job, the supervisor should not accept that answer and walk away. Supervisors need to provide support for that teacher.
#4. Create a culture of technology learning.
School leaders must recognize that the needs of each teacher are different. Armed with that knowledge, they should create a variety of opportunities for development to meet those needs. Our school went beyond its long-standing half-day professional development schedule to provide staff with additional “PD in the PM” training, as well as offering links to various webinars and copies of articles pertaining to 1:1 initiatives.
#5. Demonstrate and celebrate growth.
To demonstrate the impact of the program, our school district contracted with a company called BrightBytes to provide the district with an overall quantitative baseline score about technology access and usage among the students, staff, and parents. The initial BrightBytes survey was given at the very beginning of the 1:1 program. A score was tabulated and specific recommendations were provided. The recommendations were addressed throughout the remainder of the year, and another data collection was conducted at the end of the first year and again at the end of the second year. For the district, this provided evidence-based quantitative data to help with future decisions about professional development needs and support. Documenting the impact of a 1:1 initiative is an important strategy to maintain ongoing support from the staff, students, parents, and the community.
During the 2015-16 school year, the third phase of the 1:1 initiative will take place, providing all 3,000 students at the school with a 1:1 device. This will be the first time every student will have a district-issued Chromebook, but it will certainly not be the end of the commitment to this program. School leaders will continue to employ many of the same strategies that were learned in the first year, but with a greater focus on professional development and support for a culture of technology learning.
Greg Cottrell is the assistant principal of operations and student affairs at North Hunterdon High School in Annandale, NJ.