The “Principals On The Cutting Edge” interview series aims to share some of the thoughts, strategies and influences of the most cutting edge principals in schools today. The series features a number of teaching thought leaders from around the globe, sharing ideas and experiences that can help drive your school forward and keep you on the cutting edge.
Bio: Currently working as a principal of an elementary school in Agassiz, BC, Canada. Previously taught at intermediate and high school levels as a physical education, math, and science teacher. Although I love the field of education, my particular passions within the field include areas of student motivation, assessment, and technology. I am a father of 11 month-old twin girls and loving every minute of it. I tweet using @mrwejr and blog at www.chriswejr.com.
How effectively do you feel technology is used in your school and education in general?
I think for the majority of schools, we have significant progress to be made when it comes to technology. The current mindset of technology often views it as an add-on or a field-trip to the computer lab. Technology needs to be in our students’ hands when they need it. I am not saying we need 1:1 but we do need a ratio much smaller than we currently have in most of our schools. Technology is much more than a tool to consume information; it is part of what our students do to connect, collaborate, and create learning that is relevant to them.
In regards to technology, what difference do you see in students entering school now versus ten years ago?
When I started teaching a little over 10 years ago, most days students would not use technology and when they did, it was primarily for research. Now, students are using technology on an ongoing basis to demonstrate and document their learning as early as primary years. They are connecting with real-time information from people in the field. They are collaborating with other students and creating new ways of enhancing and demonstrating their learning. It is now an expectation that technology will be part of a child’s learning at school, not as a separate course but as a way to enhance learning.
What piece of technology has had the biggest impact on your school in the past five years and how has it changed learning?
Mobile devices have, and will continue to have, the biggest impact on learning. Teachers and students used to be the holders of knowledge and this would be shared with students. Now, much of the knowledge is on their laptops/tablets and in their pockets; the teacher’s role now is more to guide students in the process of learning and help students to learn what to DO with the available knowledge. Educators need to be more facilitators of learning rather than the disseminators of information.
What moment or event convinced you that technology would make a difference in your school?
Seeing people connect. Watching our students blogging and collaborating with each other through their network. Students who previously had little confidence to write all of the sudden were writing reflective posts and thoughtful comments. Students who would not normally connect face to face were “talking” to each other on their blogs. Students learning from students in other countries does nothing but engage our kids.
In addition to student learning, we have used technology to connect with families to try to increase parent involvement and engagement. Through social media avenues such as a school Twitter feed, a school Facebook Page, and a school blog we are encouraging parents to connect with the school and provide feedback on how we are doing. No longer is the school newsletter solely information to be sent home at certain times; it is now a dynamic format that creates dialogue around the events and happenings at the school whenever they occur.
How do you keep up to speed with emerging technologies and how do you encourage your staff to get involved?
Social media is by far the best tool to stay inspired to keep up. By connecting with educators showcasing what is happening in their classrooms, we get to see the technologies being used. Bit by bit, our staff is connecting more not only within the school but also across the globe through wikis, blogs, Twitter, and other social media tools. In addition to highlighting education technology and showcasing student work at staff meetings and in the school, I believe it is important to tap into the leaders (students and staff) we have within our school. We have a teacher-led learning team that is focused helping students to demonstrate their learning through technology. As a leader, I think it is important to model what we believe is important; what we do is more important than what we say. Educational leaders need to be effectively using technology if they expect to see it used in the schools.
What role models or thought-leaders inspire you to make a difference in education? What is it that makes them stand out?
I have connected with people in personal learning networks in my school, district, province and online who continue to inspire me by challenging my thinking. We do not move forward by being in an echo chamber. I want people to help me grow by asking powerful questions and encouraging me by challenging my ideas. I love the idea of “intellectual collisions” introduced to me by Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) after he read the book “Innovator’s DNA”. It is these collisions that we need to drive thinking in education. When I am truly engaged in conversation around education is generally when there is dialogue in which we are pushing each other in a respectful manner. We need more of this online as well as in our schools. We cannot react defensively, we must respond thoughtfully. We need to model ourselves as learners by collaborating with people both online and in person.
For educational leaders, I would start by recommending the “Connected Principals” blog as well as following the hashtag #cpchat on Twitter. Find some people that have similar interests as well as people that challenge your thinking. Become a connected learner.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Johan Larsson