Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Technology is no Replacement for the Classroom Teacher

A decade is a long time. But I continue to remind our employees it will pass in the blink of an eye. I just recently finished my first round of one on one meetings with our new teachers, and one of the points they all make is that they can't really believe it is Thanksgiving already. No doubt. They will hardly believe their calendar when spring break arrives in March. Or when day 180 arrives at the end of May. Even when we consider those dark, cold days in January and February; well those do seem like long days! Yet we take solace in the gradual lengthening of the day and the warming of the weather. Even though it just got cold, spring seems like a long way off. But it isn't. 

I've been having these new teacher meetings for several years now, once in the fall and again in the spring. It's a treat for me to have these informal chats with them. To see how they are adjusting to the life of a teacher and seeing their confidence grow.

Once they enter that second year the 'newness' has worn off. The nerves have largely faded into the background and they can anticipate the changing of the seasons and how the students will respond. They understand the rhythm of the school year and have developed lesson plans and units that fit their style. Classroom management is probably still something they are working on, but mostly they have the large concepts mastered. Ten years later, they can't believe they are no longer that 22 year old kid that had just graduated from college.

One of my great joys is watching these young teachers develop into true professionals. Not only that, but I have had the privilege of watching them begin families and now get to see them bring their own children to school! I recently asked those teachers, ones who have been in the district between 6-10 years to tell me how education has changed during their time at Hudson. The answers surprised me!

I suppose my surprise came from the fact that the physical changes that have occurred (and are occurring around the campus) were the most obvious, but least mentioned. The fact is, there was not one comment about these changes. Instead, the most common observation was related to the ubiquitous use of technology in the classroom. This was followed closely by how teaching and learning shifted during covid, and the fact that some of those practices never went away. My observation is the link between the these two points is self-evident. Video conferencing became the norm, and we continue to utilize this type of technology today. The ability to collaborate and share ideas and work product via Google platforms went into overdrive. 

Even though our construction projects weren't top of mind when thinking about how education has changed here in Hudson, I think they are right to highlight technological advances. One teacher wrote:

I think the dependency on technology is profound. The way content is shared with students is now largely reliant on some form of technology. 

But even as technology has become such a critical tool in our instructional inventory, the one thing that covid taught us is that regardless of these advances, there is no replacement for the teacher. We are now starting to see AI become part of our lexicon and are grappling with how this technology will impact the way our students learn. My suspicion is that just like the 1:1 device that came before, it will reinforce the importance of the classroom teacher.

Ironically enough, when I considered the changing educational landscape over the last decade, technological advances were at the beginning stages of a pretty significant paradigm shift in Hudson. Beginning in January of 2013, the board began preparations to move the high school to a 1:1 computer environment. Coined the 'connected learning initiative', we spent a lot of time in our community over the course of that school year educating our teachers, community, and students on what that actually meant. This all culminated in a 'referendum' on the project in September of 2023 when we had the PPEL renewal on the ballot. We were explicit that part of these funds would be used to pay for the computers as part of this initiative. Voters approved that measure in a landslide: 78.7%! 

Here we are ten years later and we are now contemplating our next generation of device to replace the fleet of computers that are being used by our teachers and students. I do believe this will be our third generation of device. Computers are a great learning tool. AI will certainly enhance the student experience, and will likely cause some headaches along they way. But there is no replacement for the classroom teacher!


Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Finding Your Passion

I hold a unique position in the district insofar as I have the privilege of seeing young children turn into young adults. They enter our schools unable to read, sometimes unable to tie their shoes; and when they leave, they are able to calculate math equations that are far more advanced than I can even contemplate. Along the way they pick up hobbies and interests. In most cases they find a passion that enables them to take advantage of the multiple activity programs that are available to them at school. 

Granted, I don't have a front row seat to this magical transformation that takes place with our students. My view is usually from the 'cheap seats'--because all the hard work is really done by our teachers, coaches, and parents. I see their growth and progress in passing snippets. Perhaps during a fleeting moment in a classroom. Or one of those more public and traditional events that are part of the fabric of our school: a concert or a basketball game. Maybe since the junior high/middle school is located adjacent to the central office I have the opportunity to see these students on a more consistent basis that our other students. And let's be honest: It is really difficult to figure out what exactly is going on with that age group most days!

I suppose that is why it is so thrilling for me when they get through that epoch and into high school, because then they really start to figure things out. What interests them? They begin to discover their talent, whatever it might be! The best part for me is seeing these students find their niche, because when they do: they shine!

That is what I witnessed at our musical, "The Addams Family" last weekend. Students who I had watched grow from small children in elementary school, through that awkward phase of middle school, and finally to high school. In a high school where they found their people. A place of comfort and a sense of belonging. With a talent that took my breath away.

Now, I do know a bit about what it takes to produce a musical. The hours are very long for everyone involved (and that includes the parents!). The pace at times can be quite grueling and the volume of details that need attended to can be overwhelming. But at the end, the adrenaline rush of performing for a sold out crowd makes it all worth it. To see all that hard work come to fruition; from the monotonous words of a script to a living breathing thing: well that is really pure magic. The sense of accomplishment that our cast and crew feel at this moment is exhilarating. I can promise that all of those involved have created memories that will last a lifetime. 

So as a former drama director, here is what I really think. The choreography was outstanding and the casting of the show was absolutely brilliant. The vocals were of superior quality and the flow of movement on the stage appeared natural and believable. Little details that may have gone unnoticed by the casual observer were attended to with precision.

I have been in Hudson a long time and as such have seen numerous productions. Furthermore, over the course of my career I have been blessed to direct numerous productions. So it is through that lens that I share this. Without taking anything away from those who have gone before you, either here at Hudson or in my prior career as a director: this was one of the best shows I have ever seen.

Congratulations to the cast and crew of 'The Addams Family'!