Leading the Way

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We are following five school leaders as they lead their school communities through a year of rebuilding after the disruption of the past year and a half. While their schools, locations, and experiences are very different from each other, they share a strong, school wide commitment to social and emotional learning and to supporting student and teacher success. This month one of our leaders shares how her school’s approach to technology has changed in recent months.

Aliza KadishPrincipal Beacon Hill Preparatory School, Miami Gardens, FL

How has your school’s approach to technology in and out of the classroom changed in the past year and a half?

Beacon Hill Preparatory School is a traditional school that uses research-based approaches to help students learn and develop twenty-first-century skills. We focus on use of manipulatives, kinesthetic learning, and projects along with the use of traditional materials including textbooks and workbooks. In 2018, we developed a five-year technology plan that considered budget, teacher learning, student learning, capacity, goals, etc. The first year of the plan happened exactly as planned. In March 2020, with the onset of COVID and the school building needing to close, the five-year plan was sped up due to our needs. We have now accomplished more than the five-year plan called for, just in the past 18 months. In the two weeks immediately following March 13, 2020, teachers learned how to distance teach, use an LMS, use technology as the primary medium for instruction, record lessons, use online platforms for textbooks, and help students and families learn how to access the LMS. We became a one-to-one laptop school immediately and have learned to use online platforms to replace certain materials, to enrich instruction, and to blend learning. “Computer” used to be a class students took once or twice a week, but now technology is infused into the classroom, with teachers teaching the use of different platforms, programs, and skills as the need for them comes up. This integrated method makes learning more effective for all students.

Have parents and educators in your school community shared any concerns or observations about students’ use of technology? What kinds of conversations are you having around digital citizenship?

As educators, we are having much deeper conversations about the use of technology than before March 2020. The topics range from how to help students get low-cost and consistent internet in their homes, to teaching students to use proper vocabulary, spelling, and form when writing an email, to keeping the internet safe for students while teaching them to be discerning and smart consumers of online information, and much more. A topic that has come up often with parents and teachers is how much is too much screen time. At school, we work to balance the amount of time spent on the computer with time spent with traditional materials. We have started having conversations around the use of social media, although its use is not permitted in school and platforms are blocked on the school network. We have noticed that students as young as five years old have their own cell phones, which is bringing up new questions for teachers and the school community.

Have you found any strategies or resources that are particularly helpful to your school community when it comes to supporting SEL skills online and/or teaching digital responsibility?

We have tried to be proactive regarding teaching digital responsibility, and to date, feel we have been successful. We have focused our efforts in grades five and up and need to expand to all students who use technology daily, which includes kindergarten through fourth grade. Although we have only dipped our toes into the Fly Five curriculum, many of the journal reflections address several of these topics and have been great starting points for discussions for teachers, students, and parents.