It's hard to believe, but we are already halfway done with the school year. Now this year has been especially unique and exciting for a variety of reasons, but one of the main variables has been our one to one Chromebook implementation. I have been both privileged and humbled to be the principal of a large middle school taking on this type of endeavor from its starting point.
Recently, I have found myself being contacted from time to time by random educators asking various questions about how this project has gone. I didn't realize it until recently, but the Chromebook implementation really has become a topic of conversation I really do enjoy discussing. I thought I would take the time to compile a list of reflections and realizations after going through this experience. It would then be easy for me to use this blog article as a discussion tool for other schools who are also hoping to go one to one sometime in the future.
1. Create an implementation SMART goal
Once I knew that I was going to be a part of this process, I wanted to make sure I was never in a position in which a teacher, parent, board member, community member, etc. could ask me how the Chromebook implementation was going and my only answer would be something along the lines of "pretty good I think." It was extremely important to me to establish every objective, clear indicators on whether or not each child having their own Chromebook was having a positive impact. We utilized our building leadership committee to establish targets through collaboration and consensus, and created a SMART goal that included both academic measures and actual teacher implementation goals. Every teacher in this building knew how we would define success and what target we would have to reach to determine this. As of right now, we have not only been meeting the goals established within the SMART goal, but we have been far exceeding our own expectations. To give everyone some idea of the specifics, one indicator that we are particularly proud of has been the drastic decrease in student failing grades.
However, the most positive attribute about having this building SMART goal is that if and when someone inquires how the Chromebook implementation is going, we all have an answer, and it is an answer that is clear, direct, and accurate because it is built upon data.
2. Find experts within your staff and empower them – and give them TIME to help others
I like to think of myself as a relatively tech savvy individual, but living through this process has reminded me that there is always plenty more to learn. I have been extremely fortunate to have a surplus of staff members that are not only very well skilled with Chromebooks, but also extremely willing and eager to share their expertise with their peers.
Upon setting up the necessary professional development to implement our Chromebook initiative, we had some of the more traditional full staff meetings that were both necessary, and probably in retrospect, also not the most successful approaches. However, the realization I made was that my teachers simply just needed the time to become comfortable with these new resources and to be allowed differentiation and patience on when this comfort level occurs. We have been utilizing common work times throughout the day built into our current schedules for teachers to collaborate, research, and learn more from each other. Most of the professional development with Chromebooks was teacher driven and it was better than anything I ever would have been able to provide individually.
3. Address the “one to one perceptions”
The sometimes frustrating thing about working at a school is that sometimes “reality” isn’t “reality.” Instead “perceptions” are “reality.” I cannot necessarily recall where I first heard this, but the longer that I am in education the more this is becoming engrained into me as an absolute truth. Essentially, it is referring to the fact that sometimes what people think isn’t necessarily accurate, but since what they think is so entrenched within them it becomes something that might as well be true.
Most of the perceptual truths that I encountered beginning the Chromebook one to one implementation has been dealing with how well (or not well) students would take care of these machines. I had a lot of concerns and comments such as “students are going to break these” or “they are constantly going to be lost,” etc. However, this perception simply has not been our reality at all. Our middle school is relatively large and contains almost 500 students and at this point we have had absolutely no one lose or completely destroy their Chromebook. In an attempt to also be transparent, we have had some close calls but overall the fact remains that no one has needed a total replacement. Honestly, I can’t decide if this is something that should be marveled or expected. On one hand, we have kids who walk home, ride buses, go to after school practices, live periodically in two different homes, use their Chromebooks in public places outside of school, and so on, but they also always manage to keep track of them and have them ready for school the next day. However, this is also a school that has passed out textbooks for a long time in which students had just as many opportunities to destroy or lose these, but this was never the norm either.
At this point in time, our largest and most consistent issue with Chromebook infrastructure has been the occasional cracked screen. At last check this has been fewer than 20 instances and this is a repair that we are able to address and return to the student usually within 24 hours.
4. Create an online school presence
I could literally write an entire article on why this school is fantastic and how lucky I am to be able to work with this staff each day, but I wanted to see this school also capitalize on the fact that we were becoming a technologically driven school that has gone one to one with Chromebooks for students.
Given that this was my first year getting the privilege to be the building principal here, this was also the perfect time to address and build on how technologically driven we were as a school. Listed below are all of the items we addressed during the beginning of the school year.
- School website: we completely redid our school website and strived to make it as user friendly and informative as possible. Two key components was ensuring that it is constantly updated so that people have a reason to continue to visit it, and we also made sure it was easily able to be navigated on both a desktop and a smartphone.
- Zephyr Report: We wanted to establish a consistent, interesting, and entertaining manner in which to communicate with parents on a weekly basis. In my opinion, newsletters and mass emails are the norms for schools, and while they may be effective, are not out of the ordinary or usually terribly interesting. We instead have different students create online videos on current events at the school and new videos are posted weekly. This has been extremely well received by both parents and students.
- There are too many wonderful, positive things that happen here daily to ever advertise them to a point that would do the staff justice. However, there is no better tool than Twitter to self-advertise everything this school is doing to have a positive impact on both students and the community. We created the hashtag #wearelombard, and in a few short months I have students, teachers, and parents using this to communicate with each other about all of the awesome things about Lombard.
5. A Chomebook is not an instructor or curriculum – it is a resource
If a teacher was awesome before a one to one chromebook implementation, they will still be awesome regardless of their knowledge or lack thereof on technology. Like any staff at any school, teachers will have their individual strengths and areas for growth. However, I have discovered it is imperative that teachers, students, and parents understand that a Chromebook is not, nor will it ever be, a replacement for a caring, passionate, and driven teacher. To put it simply, a Chromebook is simply a tool for educators to utilize and increase student engagement and achievement. Great people make great schools – Chromebooks just allow schools to find whole new levels of greatness.
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we've preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer's own.