Our Beginnings for Instructional Technology
Particularly in recent years, technology has changed from being a peripheral factor to becoming more central in all forms of teaching. Until 2014, this realization hadn't moved into practice for Omaha Public Schools. There were two positions at the time, both traditional trainers, with one of these retiring upon my introduction into the District. Eileen Heller had just started as a trainer in 2013, having previously served as an elementary teacher at Kellom Elementary. As she would find out, it would be a long year ahead of her. There would be an aggressive plan moving forward, driven by the newly developed Strategic Plan.
Eileen's role would expand significantly over the next 6 months. Upon arrival in May 2014, many significant decisions had to be made and actions taken to ensure alignment with our Strategic Plan initiatives. The first decision was choosing a collaboration platform. Up until that point, the district had utilized on-opremise solutions with traditional email-like collaboration functionality. A huge advantage of working in the cloud is the collaboration possibilities it provides. The District made the decision to move forward with Microsoft Office 365, a decision that would lay a foundation of collaboration and change in learning and utilization for each student, staff, and leadership.
The timeline for this was a bit aggressive. The District's previous solution had been in place for twelve years; resulting in ingrained practices and an incredible amount of data, much of it not used or important. In August 2014, the decision was made to begin the implementation with a flash-cut to email in October; we wouldn't move any email over for users - we would start anew.
Our Microsoft Relationship and MIE Program
Through previous contacts I had made, we saw an opportunity to do something different. Microsoft had had a focus to K-12 around the use of Office 365 becoming that central part of teaching and learning. Omaha Public Schools was undergoing a significant shift toward introducing technology into everyday practice. Microsoft and Omaha Public Schools had began discussion around how we could make this implementation purposeful. Much of this is outlined in an Edsurge 50 State Project Book:
Professional Development would be foundational in this adoption. Eileen, being in a 10-month position, came back in August with the task to support the largest technology initiative the district had ever been tasked with. A professional development cohort was designed at the time, by Eileen, to bring our teachers on board with the new tool-set that Office 365 delivered. Helen Gooch, a Microsoft Fellow, was introduced to us as a resource for how we could approach the sessions in a gradual release model, as to not overwhelm our cohort. Eileen would reach out to every building Principal and gather participants for this initial cohort. The cohort sessions would start in October, the same as the move to Office 365, with 6 sessions total that first year. Each session would instroduce a new toolset to the 100 teachers selected.
The Second Year
I am not sure if Eileen believed me when I would continuously tell her the instructional technology staff would grow; it didn't grow at all in year one of the cohort. However, in the start of year two, we added 3 positions to fuel the work needed.
Kelly Means, Melissa Cleaver, and Wendy Loewenstein brought the capacities needed for our year two cohort, where we planned to keep the first 100 and add another cohort of 100 teachers to the mix. The focus was to begin to look at 21st Century Skills and Technology Integration. As you can see below, this cohort is central to our abilities to adopt new tools and devices, model the best practice, and standardize solutions with student, staff, and parent involvement.
This "Innovation Academy" would also introduce digital citizenship with Common Sense Media. Wendy would lead the way as this change in the cohort. It is important to note that more than 100 applied for the second cohort but we decided to keep it at 100. Also, this would be the year we would introduce 21st Century Skills into the Best Instructional Practices Handbook (see below).
The Third Year
For year three, instead of adding to the existing 200 teachers in the cohort, we decided to gain some depth. We began by incorporating a requirement for Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship Certification to this as a vehicle to getting the entire district certified. This would allow us to be aligned with our Planned Obsolescence strategy for introducing more mobile devices into the classroom. Again, the team has evolved:
A focus of building vision and capacity for integration within schools, this team is bringing an evolving trend to the cohort. Minecraft in Education and Creative Coding Through Games and Apps has been introduced, as well as many other technology rich learning trends.
As we begin to look at what next year brings, the cohort will continue to transform. First-year participants will have the ability to re-apply as well as new participants having the opportunity to participate in the cohort community.
If you would like to follow the team:
Instructional Technology Group
Omaha Virtual School Prinicpal