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One leader’s approach to education transformation

4 min read


This post is sponsored by ISTE.

Visionary education leader S. Dallas Dance knows what it’s like to tackle transformation.

Dance, superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS), is leading a multi-year transformation to prepare 110,000 students to graduate globally competitive. Soon after he became superintendent in 2012, he brought the community together to develop a five-year strategic plan focused on improving academics, safety, communication and organizational effectiveness. And he’s leading the charge to shift learning and teaching by emphasizing personalized learning and implementing a 1:1 digital learning initiative.

In other words, he knows a thing or two about getting buy-in, eliminating silos and uniting educators around digital age learning and teaching.

Here’s what Dance has to say about leading this kind of transformation.

How can school leaders evolve toward a high-performing, connected learning and teaching environment?

First, schools need to figure out their own internal diagnostic answer to “why?” Why do we believe this is the route to take? You have to answer the “why” to get buy-in from the community. It’s an easier lift when folks understand why.

We looked at good research from across the country in terms of going to one-to-one and BYOD we found that eight conversions are paramount to ensure all schools have an equitable, effective digital learning environment: curriculum conversion, instructional conversion, organizational development conversion, policy conversion, infrastructure conversion, budget conversion and communication conversion.

What are the most effective ways for the various educators involved in digital age learning to interact?

Everyone has to understand their roles and, for the system to work, everyone has to understand what the system is trying to do. We started with a strategic plan and a process to define what we wanted to achieve. We defined what we needed from every sector. We worked with the every department — business support, transportation, budget, etc. — to get their own professional development and to figure out their role in making it work.

We update the entire organization quarterly around what we are doing with emails and video to keep an understanding of where we are. And we have key performance indicators for every department that show how we are each individually moving the work along.

What approach never works? 

Saying we want devices in the hands of kids and then just buying devices. Never do it all at one time. Make sure you are getting the best return on investment.

We made sure we built awareness and provided training. When you buy the device, something is going to happen. Kids will break the system or get into the grades. You run the risk of the initiative being shut down if you haven’t informed people about what you’re trying to do. Build awareness in terms of “why” first.

When we first started, we spent 18 months talking about what we were trying to do. Communication is important. Unless you build a case for awareness of how technology allows us to personalize learning, people automatically go to the money concerns. You have to build the case.

What we did was start with elementary and we redesigned what the curriculum looked like. Then the kids drove the change. We brought community members in and had students show them what they were learning and they saw the level of engagement the kids were experiencing. Discipline went down, attendance went up and kids asked family members to come to school. We saw this regardless of where schools were located.

What’s on the horizon for getting schools future ready? 

I think school systems just need to remain focused and implement their initiatives well. Where we fall short is doing too much.

It’s all about connectivity – with people. In education, we want to continue to move the work forward. It can get done by connecting to each other.

Want to connect with other school leaders driving transformational change? Sign up for Lead & Transform: An ISTE Town Hall at ISTE 2015. Can’t make it to the conference? Evaluate your school or district’s progress toward technology integration with the Lead & Transform Diagnostic Tool.

Julie Randles is editor of the ISTE member magazine entrsekt.