Ron McAllister: Technology Instruction Integration
Ron McAllister (@rondmac on Twitter), principal of Kelly Mill Elementary School, Forsyth County Schools, Georgia, is a school leader who knows technology instruction integration. Forsyth County is a school district north of Atlanta with a student population of a little over 40,000 students. Kelly Mill is one of twenty elementary schools in the district. Forsyth County has been known across the state of Georgia, and nationally, for its progressive stance for integration of technology. Connect Learning Today caught up with Principal McAllister for a brief interview. Discover how McAllister leads by example, and inspires educators to take technology instruction and integration to their own next level for enhancing student engagement and success.
Principal Ron McAllister: In his own words
I’ve been a principal for eight years, but opened Kelly Mill three years ago. We were lucky to already have an instructional technology foundation in the district thanks to a wonderful director of technology. That helped us to do great things at Kelly Mill Elementary. I can give you an idea of what worked for us to integrate technology into instruction with staff and students. I believe it can work in other schools and districts, too.
First and foremost, the leadership of a building has to believe in not just the gadgetry, but has to believe in the true impact on teaching and learning that’s required for students to actually be successful. As I’ve shared with colleagues, parents, and civic groups, we as the adults, talk about the gadgets, and it’s the kids who talk about the learning. That tells a huge story in terms of what the focus should really be for us as adults. I know we have to talk about the infrastructure, the capacity, servers, and WiFi, but the reality is that it is more about the instruction in the end. To be focused on that as a leader is critically important.
I shared with my staff that I didn’t hire them to be technology specialists. I hired them to be instructional specialists, who understand that today’s learners must have technology integrated into the learning process in order for the actual learning to take place. That has gone a long way to have educators buy in—to the point they are ready. My non-negotiable as principal was simply that teachers start. I didn’t make a demand, or an expectation that they all use green screen technology, 3-D printers, virtual reality, augmented reality, or have flipped classrooms. I simply said start.
I knew that there were people ready for those more advanced examples of integration, and there were some who were just ready to begin using technology in its basic form. The reality is that for some it simply meant bringing the laptops, and the devices, into the classroom as their first step.
Teachers have remarked that taking that first step helped them buy in, because there was no expectation that they all had to look the same way in terms of showing how to integrate technology. The point is that teachers could grasp that integration wherever they were on the integration continuum. Wherever teachers start is fine, but they have to start. The hook in all was that educators saw their students becoming truly engaged with the content at deeper levels.
At first, the adults were concerned about having the gadgetry, and knowing the app, and knowing the website, and knowing how to use the devices, but what we quickly helped them see was that most students are already the experts in knowing how to use the devices. Students don’t need, necessarily, teachers to help them manipulate a device, but they do need teachers, who can guide them in how to learn using the device. That’s where the strength of the educator comes in—adding the strength of instructional impact. It’s not about teachers knowing the top ten apps—it’s the instruction.
Educators, if anything, are determined to absolutely be the best in whatever they do. I commend them for that, but that can also be something that hinders them if they can’t do something the very best from the beginning. Sometimes they’re hesitant when that happens, and technology can be a perfect example of where that can happen. What we did at Kelly Mill was to give educators the idea that it was OK to start small—but not starting wasn’t OK.
A year before we opened the Kelly Mill doors, I was using social media—Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to promote what our new school could be. We kept sharing that students would use technology to learn, and not just to be entertained. We also shared the types of work and projects students would be doing with technology. That was before I really knew the staff, but I thought if I could get our school community to understand the risk-taking piece, and that it was OK, I knew that I could get that, and then a whole lot more. That groundwork was begun very early—promoting what would happen at Kelly Mill in terms of integrating technology—giving examples from other schools as a point of reference.
We tried to educate parents as to what we were going to do—using technology with students. We promised parents that we would capture in-the-moment experiences, and push that back out to them each day, so that they could see some immediate results—not weeks after the fact, or related to them by their children. We used social media to snap pictures, and say, here’s what your child is doing now in his/her classroom. So parents could see that it was really happening. We, as school leaders and educators, need to be aware of the impact, for success, that piece can have. It really does go back to the vision of the school leader, and the capacity of leadership to embrace things that they may not have seen in actual practice, yet.
Expecting Technology Integration
The importance of making technology integration a cultural expectation across the organization, means not just highlighting one or two teachers, who might be doing those extra things with integration of technology, considered the wow and dazzle moments. It is just as important to highlight those educators, who have taken the initial steps towards integration with initial milestones like experiences in bringing the first laptops into the classroom.
Everything is encouraged and important to the process. Don’t underestimate the power in that. Acknowledge every step in the right direction toward technology integration. I discovered that when teachers started, they took themselves beyond what I’d even imagined. Seeing their students engaged, opened teachers up for having more conversations about the depth of learning kids had while using technology, its resources, and making connections. That last part is really the selling piece.
About the Interviewer:
Ken Royal is a former educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience. He has written at many of the major education publications, including District Administration, TechLearning, and Scholastic Administrator. Presently, Ken is a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.