In the last two years, educators have had to remake how they teach children multiple times, ping-ponging from remote learning to hybrid models to in-person instruction. Each of these changes have come while school leaders have an eye firmly on Covid variances, local infection rates, and the social-emotional needs of both students and staff.
It’s not surprising that technology has played a major role in helping school leaders make these changes. While all of this back-and-forth can seem temporary, it is clear that these shifts have rapidly—and permanently—accelerated districts’ technology initiatives, according to a new brief from the American School District Panel. The percentage of districts offering 1:1 initiatives doubled for grades 6-12 and tripled for elementary schools, the report stated.
This group regularly surveys public school leaders from 950 school districts and charter management organizations. This new brief, The State of the American School District: Policy Recommendations for the Road Ahead, checked in with nearly 300 superintendents.
One of the biggest findings was that administrators are demanding more flexibility to meet student and family needs both day-to-day and long-term.
Louisiana state education board member Kira Orange Jones summed up the situation succinctly: “I believe we’ve come to a moment where people can agree that things need to change, and structures and systems need to be redefined and reinvented, and therefore there’s a real opportunity to actually address those things.”
Leaders also said they need partners to help them meet the growing range of students’ needs, from social-emotional concerns to healthcare challenges to extended-day programs and summer school.
Al Kingsley, the CEO of NetSupport, says that technology can help schools meet their new missions, or it could hinder the changes leaders need to make. Noting that the pandemic has led to extra funding for schools, Kingsley warns schools against buying new technology that adds a burden for both the IT department and staff. Leaders should ask if the new technology will “become embedded and make an impact” for the schools. Also, don’t add tasks to an overworked staff unless you are relieving them of some previous duties.
On the other hand, Kingsley, the author of 2021’s My Secret EdTech Diary: Looking at Education Technology Through a Wider Lens, says that technology can not only make teachers’ jobs easier, but if they feel valued, it could lead to greater retention rates.
Technology can shield educators from feeling like the school day never ends, he adds, by turning off email notifications after 5 p.m. It can also help teachers who may feel isolated, either through working at home or those trying to social distance in school by allowing them to connect with peers on a personal and human level. “This connectivity is what all social creators need,” he adds.
For instance, NetSupport DNA can help school districts better manage their rapid expansion of technology devices by allowing officials to not only know where each device is, but to remotely manage every machine.
“Today’s day-to-day decisions promise to cast a long shadow on all of us in the future,” says Bob Hughes, the director of K-12 education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “It’s critical that we listen to educators and lend a hand as they navigate the road ahead.”
Wayne D’Orio is an award-winning journalist who’s been writing about education for more than 15 years and writes frequently about education, equity, and rural issues. D’Orio was the former Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Administrator. He is a regular contributor to The Hechinger Report and his byline has appeared in The Atlantic, Wired, Education Next, and Christian Science Monitor. Follow him @waynedorio.