First Steps for Districts

Your district has decided to launch a digital conversion or 1:1 initiative that will eventually give each student access to a computing device for their school work. What should you think about and make sure is taken care of as you get started? Learn from the experiences of other member districts about important first steps you should consider to avoid common mistakes and increase success.

Develop a shared vision for digitally-rich teaching, leading with instruction

Before you do anything else, clarify and communicate what you are trying to accomplish in terms of teaching and learning through your 1:1 initiative, and why. Not all instructional uses of technology are equal, and the kind of digitally-rich teaching you want to promote will affect all your other key decisions – from what devices and Learning Management System you want to acquire, to what professional development you will offer.

• LiDA eModule – Developing a Shared Vision for Digitally-Rich Teaching

Leading with instruction – Multiple testimonials

Learn from the experience of others

To avoid costly mistakes, look first at what other districts that are ahead of you have done, and learn from their failures as well as their successes – to inform your own vision and plans. You can start from the information and lessons learned shared on this website, but we also encourage you to arrange for some school visits and deeper conversations as well.

• Check out the Lessons Learned section of this website
• Arrange for some school visits

If we had to go back and do it again, I’d like to draw more detail from the experiences of others. … We went to districts and saw what they were doing, but we did not have the in-depth conversation about “what do you really have to do to get here?
John Abbott
East Irondequoit, Deputy Superintendent

Ensure leadership support

It is critical to have school leaders across the district, starting with the superintendent and the Board of Education, understand and support the shared vision for digitally-rich transformation. If needed, wait to launch your initiative until you can ensure their buy-in! In particular, consider having school leaders “lead by example” – that is, use technology consistently as they run school meetings or provide reports.

• LiDA eModule – Making a Case for Digitally-rich Teaching in K-12 Schools

Katie McFarland – Canandaigua, Director of Professional Development

Establish a “digital leadership team”

Identify and empower a team to lead your district’s digitally-rich initiative from the very beginning – as you will need the combined expertise and authority of instructional leaders, technology experts, finance/ business officials, and instructional technology specialists to make the critical decisions required at start-up, as well as to address questions and problems from various constituencies as they will (inevitably!) arise.

• Check out the composition of other districts’ leadership team in the Member Profiles page
– you can find this information by clicking on the district name in the table.

Joe Sutorius — East Irondequoit, Former Chief Information Officer

Develop a sustainable technology budget

Even if you are taking advantage of a state grant for your initial purchase, it is important that you develop from the start a sustainable budget for your digitally-rich initiative – as your devices and other equipment will need to be replaced on a regular basis, and there will be other recurring expenses. As you prepare this budget, make sure to include items that have surprised other districts in the past – such as purchasing keyboards and cases, building secure storage, providing professional development, and more.

Digging Deeper – How to afford devices by leveraging BOCES aid (video by Ken Forrester, Addison)

John Abbott – East Irondequoit, Deputy Superintendent

Start small – but strong!

How do you roll out a 1:1 initiative? A number of districts have chosen to start with pilots involving volunteer teachers – reporting that this enabled their most enthusiastic and capable teachers to figure out solutions to initial challenges, demonstrate success, and then become ambassadors for their colleagues. Other districts instead chose to start deploying devices to a few entire grades at a time. Either approach has its strengths and limitations – but most importantly, it is wise to start small so you can ensure that the teachers you begin with are sufficiently trained and receive full support as they get started.

• Digging Deeper:
Interview with East Irondequoit leaders on Rolling out a 1:1 Conversion (forthcoming)

Mary Grow – East Irondequoit, Superintendent

Decide which equipment to purchase, and when

Your students’ devices will likely be the biggest hit on your budget – so choose them wisely, benefiting from other districts’ experiences.  Most districts choose to implement a 1:1 initiative in stages, so as to distribute the initial purchase of student devices over a few years. Also keep in mind that students’ devices are not all you will need in order to establish student-centered learning environments – as other teaching tools as well as furniture are also very important.  Most importantly, make sure you always seek teachers’ input when selecting devices, furniture or any other equipment.

• Check out Member Profiles to see which devices other districts chose
– and contact them if you want to know why

Cory Allen – Spencerport, Chief Information Officer

Adopt a Learning Management System [LMS] from the start

Rather than focusing on what apps to purchase first, invest immediately in a Learning Management System (LMS) – as it will provide teachers with the backbone for all their digital lessons and materials, and enable them to start integrating technology meaningfully in their teaching without having to learn a lot of separate tools. An LMS is also a powerful vehicle to communicate with students and families from the start. Changing an LMS later will be costly in terms of people’s time and good will – so choose carefully, benefiting from other districts’ experiences with available options.

• Learn more about What an LMS is and what it can do (forthcoming)

Check out Member Profiles to see which LMS other districts chose – and contact them if you want to know why

Joe Sutorius – East Irondequoit, Former Chief Information Officer

Secure the needed IT infrastructure

Before you deploy devices to teachers and students use, make sure your Wi-Fi network, hot spots, cabling, etc., are ready to support the new and more intensive use of technology. Consult with experts as well as other districts about what is needed – and what surprises they encountered! – to avoid costly frustrations when teachers and students start to use their devices.

• Digging Deeper: Interview with IT infrastructure experts from R-Options

Randy DeVos and Patrick Cross – R-Options

Set up system to manage the new technology

Equally important as selecting the right devices, LMS and apps, is developing good systems to deploy, charge, store, repair, and keep track of your devices and software – including setting up a “device protection plan”.

Troy Olin – Gates-Chili, Director of Technology

Provide the needed tech support

Technical problems and glitches are inevitable when starting to use new technology in schools – so be prepared for it!  Make sure you have an IT support team that is ready to address these problems as they occur, and makes responding to classroom calls their first priority.  Doing so will address one of the biggest barriers to adoption!

• Digging Deeper:
Interview with East Irondequoit leaders on “Providing Strong Tech Support” (forthcoming)

Cory Allen – Spencerport, Chief Information Officer

Prepare teachers before deploying devices

Even if you have already purchased students’ devices, wait to deploy them until you have provided sufficient professional development to the teachers that will be using them, and these teachers have had the chance to become familiar with the new tools. Otherwise, the devices may not be used in effective and appropriate way – or even not be used at all! – thus compromising instructional effectiveness, and  leading to teachers’, students’ and parents’ dissatisfaction.

Katie McFarland – Canandaigua, Director of Professional Development

Start with professional development focused on instruction

It is common to focus initial teacher training on how to use the new devices, apps or LMS. While this technology training is needed, it is important to embed it in professional development that focuses on the teaching practices we want to improve, and introduces the new technology as a means to achieve that goal.  Taking this approach will help teachers better appreciate the purpose and value of the district’s digitally-rich innovations, and also recognize when and how technology can be best used to support specific learning goals.

• Digging Deeper:
Interview with East Irondequoit leaders on Providing Effective PD (forthcoming)

Parker Ormerod – Monroe BOCES #1, Instructional Technology Specialist

Provide in-class support from expert teachers

No initial professional development, no matter how good, will ever be sufficient to support teachers as they begin to integrate technology in their teaching. Rather, teachers must also be able to reach out for help as needed to more experienced teachers – whether these are instructional technology specialists (ITS) from BOCES, teachers on special assignment hired to play just this function, master teachers, or external coaches.

• Digging Deeper:
Interview with East Irondequoit leaders on Developing and Leveraging Instructional Technology Specialists and Teacher Leaders (forthcoming)

We put teacher leadership in every building, and it was teachers teaching teachers, teachers going into classrooms, teams of teachers working together – it was incredibly beneficial.
Mary Grow
East Irondequoit, Superintendent

Have a plan to develop digital citizenship

Just because today’s K-12 students are “digital natives”, it does not mean that they know how to use the Internet and other digital contents or tools appropriately.  Rather, it is important that schools embarking in a 1:1 initiative develop a plan to prepare all students to be good “digital citizens” – and deploy it upfront.

• Digging Deeper: Check out the New NYS Standards for Digital Citizenship, on pp.49-50 of the 2019 draft NYS Computer Science and Digital Fluency Standards

Barbara Pamper
Dansville, Director of Curriculum, Instruction & Computer Technology