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Leading and Learning for a Successful Digital Transformation

Steve Webb

Superintendent of Vancouver Public Schools
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Education, like so many other aspects of our society, has been undergoing a digital transformation. Accepting this reality is inevitable. Embracing it would be wise. But my district has chosen to go a step beyond that as we strive to lead the transformation.

Digital transformation in Vancouver Public Schools (VPS) began with our second-generation strategic planning process, which we call Design II. Launched in January 2007, the process engaged hundreds of staff and community members in shaping the future of our district.

Flexible learning environments for the 21st century emerged as the strategic goal area for Design II, challenging us to think differently about the use of time, space, and technology to maximize learning potential. VPS approached this challenge from a "whole systems" perspective to ensure that our digital transformation would be executed in the right way from the very beginning.

Fostering Adaptive Skills

"Going slow to go fast" is about researching best practices, learning from trailblazing peers, and developing iterative cycles of inquiry and adjustment. Here is what we've learned through our experience:

  1. Digital transformation takes time. VPS is in the sixth year of a long-range plan, and we're in the second year of scaling mobile learning devices to students in our schools.
  2. Starting small is OK. Districts should begin by making strategic investments in infrastructure, well-placed pilots, and capacity-building among staff and teachers.
  3. Focus on high-leverage, high-yield strategies. To prepare students for their future, we must prioritize giving them access to the learning tools and resources that will promote success in school and beyond.
  4. Learning from peers is important, but off-the-shelf solutions don't exist. Ultimately, each district's approach is unique to its vision, culture, and resources. And culture trumps strategy every time.

As we work systemically to provide students with personalized access to devices and digital resources, our participation in the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools is invaluable. We don't have all the answers, and we can't do this work alone. The League provides a community of practice for diverse educational leaders to advance toward a shared vision of success for every student in America. To realize this vision in our district and across the country, we must develop collective thought leadership around the best practices for improving student achievement.

That's why innovation is not just about the technology. It's about the adaptive skills our graduates need to thrive in a globally connected economy and world. To get this right, educational leaders need to think about digital transformation from a whole-systems perspective and build a culture that encourages ubiquitous leadership and fosters innovation. The goal of creating flexible 21st century learning environments is much more attainable with insight, support, and guidance from peers.

The Fruits of Collaboration

It's also important that what we learn is backed up by what we do. Our collaboration with other League member districts and partners is enhancing our digital transformation, weLearn 1:1. The following are illustrations of how we've leveraged opportunities to learn by networking with colleagues.

Personalized Learning Environments

Our friends in Mooresville (North Carolina) Graded School District helped us design, implement, support, assess, and scale up personalized learning environments that will enable all students to achieve college- and career-ready standards. The district's approach to professional development, instructional technology support, content curation, learning management systems, and resource management have been integrated into our digital transformation. Above all else, Mooresville showed us the magic that can occur in a culture of learning, love, and leadership.

School Launch

York County (Virginia) School Division connected VPS to the Buck Institute for Education. That relationship assisted us in launching Vancouver iTech Preparatory, a grades 6-12, STEM-focused school of choice co-located at Washington State University Vancouver. It also influenced our plans to develop a school for international studies at Fort Vancouver High School in partnership with The Asia Society.

Libraries Reimagined

Our district is fortunate to have innovative leaders among our teacher-librarians, who are an essential component of our professional development ecosystem. That's why we've partnered with Mooresville, Lincoln (Nebraska) Public Schools, and Follett on Project Connect, a national effort to reimagine the role of the teacher-librarian to lead the digital transformation.

Blended Learning

Through the League, we're also participating in research that examines how teachers are using technology in middle school and high school, and we're visiting West Ada (Idaho) Schools to observe blended learning models at the elementary level.

Vancouver Public Schools is committed to ensuring that every graduate in our community and across America is future-ready. That is the shared vision of the League of Innovative Schools.

Is your school or district future-ready? What steps are you taking? Please tell us about it in the comments below.

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Comments (12) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

Steve -

I loved hearing about your school's journey. A couple of questions that emerged for me after I read your blog and perused your sites/resources:

1) How much effort did it take to apply to participate in Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools? It seemed like it'd take a significant amount of time. How did you know that this was going to instrumental to your success?

2) I LOVED your website: weLearn 1:1 - It's easy to navigate and speaks to parents, teachers, and students well but how do you begin to start small with building out something like this to support your efforts and initiatives?

Thanks and looking forward to hearing your thoughts,

Eloorn's picture
Eloorn
A online Learning & Teaching Platform

I enjoyed this piece of writing and got a lot know how to do digital marketing by using modern techniques. I appreciate this sharing.

EdTechJimmy's picture
EdTechJimmy
Business Development - Education Technology

Great to see our local district doing so much for Blended learning in the country.

Victor Small Jr's picture
Victor Small Jr
9/10th Grade English Teacher from San Jose, California

I've been involved in blended instruction for now, my fourth year.

Feedback from and supporting teachers in this environment is vital. The more adept to their environment they are, the more successful the transition will be. In this situation, not only will teacher need to teach students their rules and procedures, they will also need to teach the students how to use the technology in their classroom.

Also, digital platforms and programs can't be a one-size fits all approach. Teachers in different grades and subjects will have different needs and want different types of supplemental material.

I hope all goes well. Good Luck!

Abhay Shankar's picture

The article clearly indicates the transformation of education with the advent of technology. It goes on to emphasize the importance of collaboration and illustrates how we've leveraged opportunities to learn by networking with collegues.
Although mobile learning environments are considered, with the boom of hand held devices more emphasis need to be made on collaboratively learning using mobile devices.

Shweta Maheshwari's picture

I loved the idea of your school that has brought a digital transformation in the education in your district. I completely agree that collaboration is a great tool for learning. Learning is an ongoing process, kids and rather adults learn from others through their experiences, discussions and other activities.Best lessons of life are learnt from experience and mistakes. I really appreciate the fact that you laid so much emphasis on collaboration.
Bringing students closer and making best use of technology to foster will go a long way.
I would also like to add in here, that if a lot of attention is given to feedback and use of mobile devices, it will help efficient utilization of resources and time.

Akshay Patil's picture

This article provides a strong strategic first step for academicians in transforming their traditional organizations to digital and ushering into the new age of education. Leading by example is often the best way for others to come out of their inhibitions and accept new and emerging things. The authors have done the exact thing.

The VPS connected to Buck institute for education - A platform for potential large scale collaboration among students and faculty as well. A great way to facilitate exchange of ideas.
Blended learning - This one complements the above feature by engaging the teacher-librarian role, analyzing their part int the digital transformation and assessing their responsibilities.
Definitely a good read for people who are planning on embracing the new and emerging technologies in education.

Chaitanya Yaddanapudi's picture

I do agree with your idea that collaboration plays a major role in learning. I also liked the fact that it helped the education in their district.
Feedback plays a major role as it motivates the students to learn more and achieve more. Mobile learning plays a major role in online learning as almost every student or organization can afford atleast a cheap multimedia mobile which they can use for learning. This helps them learn the unknown topics from any place at any time and at any pace.

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