It’s hard to believe we’re only 5 days away from the end of the first semester here at YIS. The first year in a new school is always busy, and this semester was no exception. Despite the non-stop action, the most exciting part of this first semester in a new school has been how much we have been able to accomplish in such a short time. Not just on the individual teacher level, either, much of the work I have been focusing on has an impact on the whole school. As I said to Stephen (my fantastic tech director) on Friday, it really feels like we have made a big difference in only a few months. We’re clearly in the right place at the right time.

Here’s what we’ve been working on:

Enhancing and expanding our Learning Hub blogging portal for student eportfolios: Already every middle school student has their own blog, and most are writing regularly either on their own or for the English, Humanities, Art, Drama, and Tech (yeah, that’s me) teachers who are expecting them to share their learning via their blogs regularly. About half of the high school students have blogs and our upper elementary students are getting ready to be collaborative authors on their classroom blogs.

Creating a Sharing Culture: Along with student bloggers, I’ve been working with many of our teachers to use their individual Learning Hub blog as a classroom website. Previously our classroom websites were behind a password (only provided to parents and students at YIS), which made it difficult for our teachers and students to connect and collaborate with others beyond our immediate learning community. Using the pre-existing Learning Hub (set up by Brian Lockwood and Colin Campbell) has really helped teachers in our elementary, middle and high schools see the value of the read-write web and the possibilities for connecting beyond their individual classroom. Plus, we’re now posting the daily bulletin here (no longer sent via e-mail to teachers only so students can see) and most of our admin team are blogging as well.

Transitioning from FirstClass to GoogleApps: Thanks to the amazing work of Genki and Stephen, we have had a seamless transition from the astoundingly clunky and outdated FirstClass (for email, shared calendars, teacher forms & bulletin boards) to Google Apps for Education (for all that and more). What a difference! It took a few months to get everything sorted, but the end result is pretty impressive. As I keep saying to our teachers and admin during training sessions, one of the best things about fully using the entire Google Apps for Education package is that we get to take advantage of all the new features Google rolls out regularly. Who doesn’t love priority inbox? Or calendars that can be overlaid to find ideal booking times, or documents that can be shared, private or public? And this doesn’t even take into consideration the recent announcement that all of Google’s features will be enabled for Apps users (hello Google Reader and analytics for teachers and students! Now blogging is going to be even more powerful.)

Supporting Teachers: This is the first time that YIS has had a Technology Coach (or facilitator or coordinator or teacher) in the secondary school and I think (hope) it’s really helping teachers use technology more efficiently, effectively and authentically. I regularly offer after school technology training (every week on Tuesday afternoons), work with departments at their request on specific needs – like this blogging Scope and Sequence project for our English department, co-plan, model, co-teach in classrooms from grades 4 – 12, create and manage our school’s subscription accounts – like VoiceThread and Edublogs, and generally just am available to answer questions whenever teachers have them. I’ve also been doing my best to regularly post interesting ideas, videos or resources for teachers on our IT Department blog.

Raising Awareness of Technology Resources: One of the challenges with technology resources is that if teachers aren’t aware of them, there’s no real way to “see” them – they’re not like chairs sitting unused in a room, they’re basically invisible. After a few weeks at YIS, I realized we were/are paying for lots of great resources that teachers are not aware of (not sure why), so I’ve been making an effort to share ways that those (well-chosen) resources can be used in the classroom. Now we’re almost at our limit of VoiceThread accounts, the number of teacher and blogs are growing every day, students and teachers are sharing media on our SmugMug and Vimeo accounts, and more and more teachers are taking advantage of the full suite of Google Apps.

Formalizing Change: Lucky for our tech department, we are in the midst of our ten-year accreditation with ECIS and NEASC. Although the process started last year so we were not able to form a specific tech committee, we were able to add several questions to the self-study process specifically about academic technology. (If you haven’t noticed, it’s absolutely shocking the way the current accreditation process does not include any questions about educational technology.) The resulting discussion based on the questions we added allowed committees to formalize both areas of need as well as areas of strength for technology at YIS – without those questions, the discussion never would have happened.

Prioritizing Professional Development: Knowing that YIS has not had someone in my position in the past, I’ve been really making a concerted effort to highlight the importance of professional development in a variety of formats. Everything from job-embedded PD in team meetings, fun tool-focused sessions after school to build comfort level and general understanding of what’s available, an in-depth weekend workshop with Julie Lindsay to develop deeper understanding of the power of global collaborations, on-site focused meetings on specific issues relevant to our school with attendees from around Asia, sharing external professional development opportunities, to representing YIS by presenting at conferences.

Facilitating Committees: Although not quite so glamorous, I’ve somehow managed to volunteer myself to facilitate a number of committees. All of which have been valuable opportunities to collaborate with staff and ensure that everyone’s voice is heard on topics important to teachers and students. We’re looking at designing the Classroom of the Future, re-thinking our parent portal, and how to best implement a 1:1 learning environment. In the new year, when a lot of the work on these committees will be wrapping up, we’ll start a formal Technology Committee as well as a 1:1 Steering Committee both involving students, parents and teachers.

Engaging the Parent Community: Last week Brian Farrell, our Head Librarian, and I held our first Parent Technology and Literacy coffee morning. What an astounding success! We had at least 40 – 50 parents in attendance (for a school of 700 students, that really is incredible – we never had that many in one session at ISB, a school of 1800) and the discussion was so positive. As we saw at ISB, parents are hungry for information about technology, literacy and digital citizenship. It’s clear that we’ll be having not only more of these morning sessions, but also specific topi-focused and hands on sessions later in the year – and we’ll need a bigger room! Plus, we’re taking advantage of our Learning Hub to share the big ideas from all of the different parent education sessions (math, literacy, middle school life, etc) on the new YIS Community Learning blog – authored by all of the YIS admin and curriculum leaders.

And, um, one last thing:

Planning for a 1:1 Learning Environment in Grades 6 – 12 Next School Year: The biggest success we’ve had already has to be the Board’s approval of our Connected Learning Community proposal two weeks ago. Considering Stephen and I are both new, and we have a new Headmaster (though James is not new to YIS), it’s pretty amazing that we have the green light on such a huge project so quickly into the school year. Tons of work to do between now and then of course, but at least we know where we want to go.

Final Thoughts

So, it’s been a busy and very rewarding few months. In less than a week, we’ll be on our way to Kerala, India for our semester break. I’m already looking forward to coming back refreshed and ready for more! My list of to-do items is growing as we speak…

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