If you ask educators about the challenges they anticipate for 2018, you’re likely to get a range of perspectives. However, when those are honed to have technology as a consideration, the issues brainstormed aren’t that different than say two years ago, or five years ago, or even ten years ago. That said, more educators are relying on technology than ever before to communicate, collaborate, access, and enhance instruction.
After much outreach to educators here in California as well as nationally, here are some thoughts to consider in 2018 that will affect technological practices, budgets, and priorities in districts.
#1 - Tax reform implications
At the federal level, tax reform was met with mixed perspectives. With the high cost of housing and the large mortgages here in California, the $10,000 cap on state taxes may mean that housing sales slow or values drop in some areas that were able to command top dollar for properties. Time will tell how these impact districts with declining enrollment as well as those growing by leaps and bounds. What we do know is this: families capped at $10,000 in property taxes and income tax could feel less generous when it comes to voting for parcel taxes or bonds. Christine Ackerman, Superintendent in the Chappaqua Central School District added, “the tax changes will be a significant challenge that will impact all communities.”
#2 - Net Neutrality
Although there is currently talk of the Senate repealing recent moves by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), as it stands right now the FCC has repealed net neutrality. This move has implications to impact internet access for school districts nationwide. Under net neutrality, companies that offer internet services had regulations preventing limits to online access and extra charges for services.
As Richard Culatta, CEO of ISTE reminds us, “One of the key elements of the Internet is that it provides immediate access to a huge range of high-quality resources that are really useful for teachers, whether it's videos of science concepts, simulations, and even images from a Smithsonian gallery.” Without net neutrality, internet companies can charge what they want for sites that we use to provide instruction and support to students, and that is a significant concern this year and moving forward.
#3 - Teacher Shortages
With the aging teacher population, teacher shortages are common place in our public schools. The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning reports that a third of the current teaching force is nearing retirement and California will need to hire close to 100,000 teachers over the next decade. From STEM to Special Education, the lack of qualified teachers impacts students in immeasurable ways. What does that mean for the year ahead?
As we head into the hiring months, recruiting and retaining high needs teachers is a priority in all districts. “We have great teachers in our schools. Although we have challenges, the key components are hiring and supporting the best people and providing strong cultures that support a professional work environment,” said Ron Carruth, Superintendent in the Whittier City School District.
#4 - Professional Development
While there is a push to put more devices into classrooms, the time spent working with teachers and strengthening the professional development offerings is key. Dedicated professional development must build capacity and comfort in using online content, building personalized learning practices, and using data and resources in planning. Teachers also need to move from instructor to facilitator of learning, which is dependent on careful training and coaching. “Lots of time is spent on budgeting, school culture, and systems for improvement. However, if leaders don’t focus on the instructional core of curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment, there will continue to be gaps in public education for our most vulnerable and at risk students, especially in underserved communities,” explained Dr Marion Wilson, Deputy Superintendent of the New York CIty Department of Education.
And it doesn’t always need to cost money because, let’s face it. Budgets in many districts, especially those who do not gain additional supplemental and concentration funding from the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), are often not as deep as we might like (but we do agree more funds for professional development are welcomed!) Are there scheduling options where teachers can observe colleagues during prep or collaboration periods? Can site administrators help cover a class for a short segment of time so a teacher can observe a colleague or team teach a new technique on a website or app?
#5 - Mental Health Needs
Janna Chenault, Principal at Rio Rancho Public Schools, agrees. “Mental health is our biggest challenge. We are underfunded, understaffed, and undertrained in how to handle the mental illnesses impacting children. How do we provide adequate services within our current public education structure and aspire to achieve everything else?” Her concerns are echoed from sites and districts across the nation. This opens up an area of opportunity for assessment companies. Many are currently launching social emotional assessment and monitoring systems that can help educators identify students in need, match support with existing resources, and chart the impact of the interventions.
#6 - Student Cell Phones
For those of us with children who have cell phones, removing them as a form of discipline can be highly effective. Why? Because young people are addicted to their devices. They also have very little self discipline with time management and self control during instructional time if the phones are out and a social media app is accessible.
While cell phones can have their strengths when used effectively, there are other considerations. “I have parents that call their students in the middle of class,” shared Teri Padgett, Dean of Alternative Programs at Asheville High School. The key is balance, and identifying strategies and rules that work at school sites will be a consideration moving forward because cell phones are not going away.
#7 - Educators who are Representative
Do the teachers in your school look like their students? What about the administrators? With the growing minority populations emerging as the majority in California, recruiting educators who are of the same ethnicities as their students needs to be a priority. From having those adults function as direct or indirect role models, or whether able to better understand and connect with parents, that “like perspective” helps our communities be more culturally aware.
The benefits of keeping teachers of diverse backgrounds in the classroom extend far beyond role models. Research as shown that students perform better academically, graduate at higher rates, and stay in school longer when they have teachers who come from the same backgrounds as they do. A diverse teaching and leadership staff can also challenge the thinking and assumptions of its members. Best this challenge be kept on the list and identify as an intentional goal every year.
#8 - Using Technology to Deepen Learning
Technology can easily be positioned to enhance and deepen teaching and learning, but we often need to help staff frame the role of technology. Teaching with technology can deepen student learning by supporting instructional objectives. However, it can be challenging to select the “best” tech tools while not losing sight of your goals for student learning. Once identified, integrating those tools can itself be a challenge albeit an eye-opening experience.
Dr. Renae Bryant, Director of English Learner and Multilingual Services Anaheim Union High School District, "For English Learners at the expanding and bridging levels of English proficiency, technology tools provides greater opportunities for digital/virtual authentic opportunities for listening, speaking, reading and writing to be able to meet the rigorous English Language Development collaborative, interpretive, and productive standards through activities like project based learning, differentiation playlists, virtual presentations, maker spaces, Ted-style talks, and more."
#9 - Positioning Public Education
In our credential programs, I don’t recall a course or even a capsule on “marketing,” whether it was telling the story of our school, sharing accomplishments, recruiting staff, or even explaining new initiatives. But in the era of hypervigilance of social media and the immediacy of communication, both accurate and fake, we have to design multi-faceted communication plans that reach our audiences on the platforms where they live. For some, it is Facebook. For others it is Twitter, eblasts like Constant Contact or Mail Chimp, the district/school website, Pinterest, and the list goes on.
But the rationale goes further than just talking about our schools. What are our districts doing to help serve the community? What are we doing with partnerships that build networks and relationships? In 2018, this is just as important than in the past and probably even moreso. The public has to hear why we do what we do and how it is benefiting the community beyond just graduating students with a diploma.
#10 - Automation
Workflow automation is becoming, well, a time saver. And a resource saver. Districts who have availed themselves of workflow management programs rave about their effectiveness in reducing paper/pencil and monitoring steps of processes more closely and accurately.
Think about the process for hiring a staff member. From the inception of the personnel request at a site level to the checks and balances from the business office to posting on EdJoin, having a smooth, visible process is essential! From a productivity perspective, automation programs capture data accurately, automate workflows, streamline and standardize processes, and communicate seamlessly across departments and the district. They also improve accountability, as staff can see where resources are going, where approvals are being held up and just how long things are taking. Want to boost efficiency throughout your district? Automation is an exciting new prospect and more companies are emerging, further reducing the costs.
We hope thinking through some of these challenges, and perhaps shining a light on those that might not even been a consideration when you look further into 2018, has helped you set some priorities and better frame the rest of this school year and the start of the 2018/19 school year.
If we are truly preparing our students for the future, that future begins with our obligation to incorporate technology as effectively as we can as a tool for learning for students and effective communication for adults. Considering the challenges helps us better focus on technology connections and implications. Here’s to a great rest of 2018!