Sometimes, the best time to innovate is when there are no other choices on the table. In the case of Virginia City Public Schools, innovation came in spades during the pandemic, and the lessons learned were rich and profound.
According to Dr. Sharon Shewbridge, Director of Instructional Technology at Virginia Beach City Public Schools, “When teachers came back and we started to have opportunities for people to be face-to-face and virtual, what did that look like? We had to design some training for teachers to teach concurrently, and we met with the DOT, the department of technology folks. I'm on the instruction side, in the department of teaching and learning, but I very much partner a lot with our department of technology. And so, imagine Apollo 13 philosophy, you know, this is what's in the building. How do we put that all together to make it work for teachers to be successful? And when you're learning something new for the first time, we really felt the simpler, the better.
“We have received a lot of requests for additional hardware that teachers insist would make them successful. And our department has worked very closely with technology to secure what we feel would be helpful both now and post pandemic. Um, we've tested out a lot of equipment that we think would enhance student experiences, but we also wanted to make sure those were going to be for years to come and not just in response to the pandemic. We felt the engagement with students was far more important than being able to manage multiple pieces of technology. So, we've tried to put a pause on just buying equipment for feeling like we were buying equipment for equipment’s sake.
Dr. Nicole DeVries, Director of K-12 and Gifted Programs at Virginia Beach City Public Schools, says “I think when you're in the moment, you're just trying to focus on the moment, but when you have a chance to reflect and you think back at all the things that you've accomplished and done, it's pretty remarkable. So, what have we learned? The first thing is too much focus on the device is not transformational and that's something that when we went 1:1 back in 2015, we really worked with most select schools. And then, spanning that out, across all our schools and school divisions, we really tried to work with administration and teachers to think about how to use devices, how to use technology in a transformational way. It was a purposeful decision. What do we purchase for teachers? We don't want to overwhelm them. We don't want to purchase something that's great for the here and now, but it's not going to be beneficial to us later in the future. Thinking about how do we continue to transform learning for students so that it continues to be moving toward that student-centered component? The other thing that we learned is that we still, despite the fact every student's one-to-one and we have all these platforms, we still have a significant gap in student access. And so, thinking about equity of access, how do we continue down the road that we started out of necessity, providing, opportunities for parents to reach out to us as a school division and say, hey, my child doesn't have Internet.
“And then the other thing, which to me is the most interesting, is this kind of dichotomy of perceptions of instructional practice. As we moved to remote, it really uncovered a lot about teachers and staff's understanding and mastery of technology and the power of it. It either uncovered that there were teachers who were very, very uncomfortable, and it pushed them in a direction at a necessity that they weren't really willing to go before, but knew that now they had to, and some teachers thrived in that environment. It provided them with, gave them a new sense of energy. Some of them thrived in teaching in a virtual environment and realized that’s really where their expertise lies.”
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