February 14, 2014

Bright, Shining Collaboration

The crazy weather in Austin, Texas in late January and early February — which went from ice storms to 70 degrees in a short time period — reminded me of working in the world of education: stormy and lots of change, but followed by sunny optimism.

And that was the story at the back­?to­?back educational conferences: TASA (the Texas Association of School Administrators) and TCEA (Texas Computer Education Association). At both conferences I saw a renewed enthusiasm for not only education this year, but also for what technology can bring to the table to help kids and learning. I believe that the deep level of collaboration that went on at both conferences makes deeper commitment (and success) possible.

At TASA’s Midwinter Conference, Jan. 26-­?29, teamwork was everywhere. The same thing occurred at TCEA. I couldn’t help but think how fitting that is.

Collaboration Amplifies Thinking

As everyone knows “collaboration” is much more than a buzzword in education now. It’s critical. Students working together (as well as with teachers) in building their own skills for problem solving and life­?long learning are expected in our Common Core world. The educators proved at the conferences they own collaboration in the right way.

At TASA, where I attended a workshop that was focused on evaluations of teachers and principals (another major focus this year), I was asked to partner with people around me to contribute to the conversation and the problem solving, even though I am no longer an educator (but now serve the market with tools).

Everybody was asked to put their heads together in groups of people near where they were sitting, to amplify the thinking being expressed by the main speakers. For a moment, I felt like I was back in school, in a differentiated learning environment. It was great fun, that gave me a greater sense of power working with like?minded people. It sparked many good observations and ideas from the different groups.

Another thing that seems to be trending is a renewed connection among the administrators in Dallas ISD. There are many more administrators visible in the schools and in the classrooms today than in recent years. Apparently where each director used to be responsible for dozens of schools, today, in many instances, an individual director is responsible for only 6 to 12. It means that there is a greater awareness by administrators as to what’s going on at the school level. That’s giving them opportunities to collaborate more directly with the teachers and the students they care about.

Federal and State Funding Were a Common Thread

At both conferences, a common thread was talk about Federal and State funding and what grants were available (a sign of the times). But that didn’t dampen the spirits of the attendees. And attendance was high, like the enthusiasm!

One of the things, across the board, educators seemed excited about and “owned” was technology. Educators now know that technology is a must. Besides the flattering interest they showed in the products that I know the most about (Lightspeed’s) there was evidence everywhere of just how much using technology not merely in classrooms, but in educator’s daily lives, is here to stay.

At TCEA, for instance, educators discussed using Skype in the classroom, helping kids write better using digital tools, how technology tools can better serve school librarians and their patrons, becoming proficient in 3D and game design, and so much more that is cutting edge.

The most striking evidence of how inseparable tech is from the attendees was driven home to me when a teacher stopped by the booth to see our new Flexcat product. When we were finished talking, she took out her tablet, opened the TCEA app, and touched the visual representation of our booth with her finger marking it off. “Of course, I’ll remember being here,” she said, “but isn’t it cool I can see everywhere I’ve been today on the map on my mobile device.” I had to admit she was right. I shared her excitement, that she was able to integrate tech so helpfully and easily into her life, to improve her experience.

I think if we can collaborate to create a better, more meaningful experience for students with the technologies we provide them, there will definitely be sunny skies ahead in teaching kids.

Freda Ward

Freda Ward

Freda, formerly a teacher and a school board member, has spent nearly 30 years serving education. She has also served proudly on the boards of such groups as the Texas Tech Parent Association, and advisory and president’s councils in education.

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