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Education Empowerment Through Collaboration

Watch this JNUC session in its entirety.

In an effort to bridge the gap between IT and educators, Shawnee Heights School District made a thoughtful and purposeful point to involve teachers in their decision making process. In today’s session, Blair Anderson, the district’s technology director, discussed how everyone benefitted from open, collaborative communication.

Anderson started by reviewing their hiring process, mentioning credentials aren’t necessarily what’s most important for their IT staff. Instead, he recommended getting staff that’s coachable. This leads to a cohesive group that’s willing to make students or educators their number one priority. “Without students and educators, we don’t have a job,” he said.

As the needs for technology within their district progress, the responsibilities within IT grow. Some of their responsibilities now include managing devices for 3,500 students and 475 staff members, but also include managing their phone systems, time clocks and security cameras—essentially anything that plugs in! However, with these growing needs and responsibilities, they are faced with common challenges, such as:

  • Inadequate IT staffing to integrate technology into the classroom
  • IT departments don’t grow (or sometimes shrink) despite the rise in IT assets and responsibilities
  • Aging systems and software

So how does Shawnee Heights face these challenges? First, they always keep their students at top of mind. Additionally, they keep users and data secure, are always available and don’t focus on being in the spotlight. Finally, they’re proactive by empowering their educators.

At Shawnee Heights, the curriculum and IT departments collaborate on ideas and come up with solutions to find out what is required to support, implement and fund the right technologies for their needs. Anderson believes communication is key when it involves technology and that district administrators, principals, librarians and educators should become your best friends. After all, they typically have the best insight into what is needed at each specific building.

In addition to IT building relationships within the curriculum department, it’s also important that IT begins to give up control of technologies and give access to staff, and in some instances, even the students. Some examples of where Shawnee has given access outside of their department include:

  • Jamf
  • Read 180
  • PowerSchool
  • Apps to control mobile devices in buildings/classrooms
  • LMS

By allowing access to some of these systems, IT is able to remove themselves as the middle man, and students and staff members are able to more easily get results. Anderson also believes they will give additional access as they become more familiar with these systems.

Anderson also mentioned the importance of user choice for staff, as well as having the right technology available for students. Over the summer, they allowed their staff to chose whether or not they wanted Windows or Apple for their laptops - 90% chose Apple. Additionally, with their 1-1 program, they also integrated fourth generation Apple TVs into every classroom and conference room, a way to provide the best learning experience for their number one priority - students.