I returned last night from the ATLIS Annual Conference in Washington, DC. (Okay, technically it was in Crystal City, VA.) Due to my busy schedule, I was only able to attend one day of the three-day conference, but I still got a lot out of my time there and co-led a session that represented the culmination of a year’s worth of work. ATLIS is the “Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools,” and basically, these are my people. It’s incredibly energizing to be among so many fellow educators who are engaged in the task of thoughtfully employing technology in schools, either as their primary job description (IT directors and technology integrationists) or as a focus they’ve chosen within their work as classroom teachers or administrators.
Before discussing the session that I co-led at 11:00am yesterday, I want to praise the session I attended first thing in the morning, “Digital Health and Wellness: A Cross-Disciplinary Approach.” A school counselor, librarian, and dean from Sidwell Friends School shared what Sidwell has done to create a common terminology and set of goals that are vertically shared PreK-12 at their school. Because Sidwell is a fellow Friends school, a lot of what they have done could be deployed directly at the school where I work with little alteration and it would be a good cultural fit. I appreciate the generosity with which the Sidwell team shared their story and their resources. The session was booked into one of the smallest meeting rooms at the venue, and I’m glad I arrived early since it was standing room only, and there were attendees sitting on the floor everywhere. We might deduce that, even among this very tech-forward crowd, there is a great deal of concern about the health and wellness risks that come with the devices and media our kids are bringing with them to school every day.
Indeed, the session that I co-led with my colleague Howard Glasser (@hglasser) was an outgrowth of our work this year writing a new mobile device policy for our school. Our session, “Mobile Device Policies: Exploring Reasons and Experiences” was nominally a chance for us to share out what we’ve done with our new policy, but as we brainstormed what we wanted to do with our hour, it quickly evolved into a session that was far less about the Eric and Howard show, and far more about sharing the wisdom of all of the attendees in what we hoped would be an interesting meeting of the minds.
To that end, we impaneled an all-star trio of tech leaders, Dawn Berkeley (@theberknologist), Jared Colley (@jcolley8), and John Yen (@johnyen), to bring together a variety of points of view and to help break up the sage-on-the-stage dynamic that might have developed if Howard and I did all the talking. It’s a shame that we didn’t feel confident enough at the start of this process to request a longer time slot. Howard and I held hour-long Skype conversations with our panelists before we asked them to formally present with us, and I wish we could have recorded those conversations and uploaded them to YouTube. We were able to go into greater depth just shooting the breeze in that format, but all three were wonderfully eloquent, thoughtful, and good-humored as panelists. They fielded one pre-canned question posed by Howard and me (“How has your school’s mobile device policy impacted the teaching and learning at your school?”), and then responded to a variety of questions from our audience of roughly 35 attendees. We had questions about addressing poor behavior from students, dealing with rampant gaming, and bringing along reticent colleagues. Overall, our panel and the attendees left me with a sense of optimism that the benefits of mobile devices far outweigh the dangers, and the core beliefs that Howard and I wrote into our school’s new policy were affirmed.
Perhaps the heart of our session was an interactive poll we created as a conversation starter using Pear Deck. We asked the audience to weigh in their minds where their school’s mobile device policy fit on a spectrum from traditional to progressive and then to plot that on a line so we could visualize the variety in the room. Then we asked them to do the same thing regarding their school’s pedagogy (again, traditional to progressive spectrum). Finally we joined those two lines as an x and y-axis to create a Cartesian coordinate map. Here’s what the results look like:
Because the mobile device policy that Howard and I brought to our school’s faculty for approval was accepted, we feel that we’ve shifted our school’s policy from the far left (most traditional) to somewhere in the progressive range. Perhaps our policy is now out ahead of our school’s pedagogy, which is a bit more traditional, but the policy we wrote gives individual teachers the flexibility to determine how mobile devices are used in their classes, so there will be a wide range of choices on display at our school in the coming years. We hope that the Pear Deck activity will empower attendees of our session to go back to their schools with data about where their school’s policy fits into the broader ecosystem, and perhaps to persuade their colleagues that change is needed.
This work of rewriting our school’s mobile device policy is the signature accomplishment of my 2017-18 school year, but it would have never occurred to me to use it as the jumping off point to lead a session at a conference. I owe Howard a great debt of gratitude for dragging me into this enterprise. Howard is a masterful coach; so masterful in fact that he manages to coach me without me noticing that he is doing so! Our session was one of two that Howard co-led at ATLIS, so he is helping to put our school on the map as a leader in the area of educational technology. (The other session was “School Community as a Driver of Change.”) I’m also deeply grateful to Dawn, Jared, and John for giving so generously of their time as our panelists. I know that conference attendees chose to come to our session specifically because of the respect they feel for those three tech leaders.