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5 Ways to Maintain the Continuity of Learning
And How Seamless Integration of Technology Plays a Part

Jeff Gorman headshot

Jeff Gorman, Ed.D, Contributing Collaborator
Entering his 32nd year in public education, Dr. Jeff Gorman currently serves as the Deputy Superintendent of Schools for the Mt. Vernon City School District in Westchester County, NY. Among his many professional accomplishments, Dr. Gorman has been a pioneer in the area of technology integration into public schools.

Now, more than ever, the continuity of learning relies on uninterrupted access to the digital world. And this year has presented additional challenges for school systems large and small. The seamless integration of technology into the work teachers do every day is paramount, but it also means we can meet these new challenges, ensure the continuity of learning, and stay focused on student success.

For Dr. Jeff Gorman, Deputy Superintendent of Mt. Vernon City School District in New York, that continuity of learning is accomplished through five key elements that keep students at the center of his and his district’s efforts to drive student success.

Select the right technology and the right partner.

Recognize the importance of interoperability and integration.

Ensure technical onboarding and implementation goes smoothly.

Make the access and use of technology easy for all stakeholders.

Implement a long-term plan through effective leadership.

1. Select the right technology and the right partner.

Finding educational technology today is not difficult—there are plenty of providers that integrate easily. Beyond the nuanced differences between each platform, what is a primary focus that one should look for when selecting technology? “There are questions that you should ask of all systems, and of course, should look for an easy integration,” says Dr. Gorman. “But the bottom line is it’s not really about the technology, it’s about the people behind the technology and the partnership with them. What can they do for you? How will they support you?”

When Dr. Gorman first visited Discovery Education, he was impressed by the philosophy behind the product and the high quality of the content and resources. “What I value in this partnership are the people behind Discovery Education. They also can be flexible to meet our district’s needs.” Because Dr. Gorman found a strong partnership in Discovery Education, he was able to focus on the successful implementation of one platform, one technology.

So much energy is put into selecting and implementing technologies; it can dilute efforts if too many options are in play. Taking a “less is more approach” can work to your advantage by targeting your energy into one platform. “A proper implementation is about maximizing your usage of one technology well and in the most efficient way. Whatever you choose to implement should serve as a strong foundation to all other resources you choose to use,” notes Gorman. “And once you’ve selected a technology, you can then implement it to fidelity.”

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2. Recognize the importance of interoperability and integration.

The interoperability of all the components to run a school and a district, from managing student data to the daily teaching and learning, and having those components in one place, is invaluable. No longer are we talking about hardware and machines; today’s world is virtual and districts should maximize usage of systems that can operate together in a cloud-based ecosystem and integrate into everything they do.

Integration is the future of educational technologies. Anyone looking at a student information system (SIS) should ask about the level of adoption of One Roster Standards. With this, grade pass-back from the instructional software directly to the SIS becomes possible, saving invaluable time for educators—it’s truly a game-changer and really encourages use. Even systems that claim to have adopted One Roster standards can vary on what that means, so you’ll want to ask specific questions and get your potential SIS vendor to demonstrate what their definition of integration means. Think ARC: Access, Rostering, and Content.

Dr. Jeff Gorman, Ed.D, Deputy Superintendent of Schools for the Mt. Vernon City School District, NY
Joseph McGrath, Chief Information Officer and Technology Administrator for the Mt. Vernon City School District, NY

Gorman integrated Schoology three years ago because he “saw the need for a Learning Management System so everyone could be connected, and Schoology supports One Roster which enables integration with other programs—like Discovery Education—that also support that protocol. Schoology now serves as the umbrella and hub for all our courses, so the easy integration of assessments, usage of the digital content, groups, and interoperability is possible.” Gorman saw Discovery Education’s interoperability as key to helping his teachers: “the suite of content and resources, how teachers can design lessons by standard, grade, topic, subject, how they can have everything all in one place, the richness and robustness of the videos, and the fluidity of the search engines—all these elements drive student success.”

“Discovery Education’s integration also includes the ability for teachers to assign material directly through Schoology,” adds McGrath. “This means educators can assign videos and links to resources within Discovery Education, and students can access assignments and content by clicking through without ever needed to re-authenticate.” Successful interoperability also means supporting a hybrid learning environment, especially since many schools today operate partially or fully virtual. Gorman supports a hybrid environment because “it’s flexible and allows the best of both worlds: face to face and the convenience of virtual, which our technology supports.” Having a platform that works both in and out of the classroom is key, especially if it can connect with each digital tool and resource used alongside of it.

3. Ensure technical onboarding and implementation goes smoothly.

Technology is only as effective as its implementation. Instead of technology becoming a barrier to the fluidity of instruction, it should be the key to transforming it into a highly engaging experience. To accomplish this, focus on strategic implementation, a quick and painless launch, and, most importantly, teacher buy-in.

“Discovery Education’s approach to onboarding starts at the beginning of the relationship,” says Pete Weir, Chief Product Officer. “We want to understand how technology fits into the district’s strategic plans so we can provide a workflow that enables them to get up and running quickly and securely.”

Dr. Gorman has made it a priority to ensure the professional learning of his teachers not only empowers them, but also implements effective change in their instructional approach using technology as the vehicle. He has identified five simple keys to effective change:

  • Proactive leadership
  • Digestible bites of professional learning
  • Giving teachers choice
  • The process and application of digital content
  • Ongoing and repetitive practice—the right way

“Part of our plan includes short, concise professional learning experiences in the form of one-hour mini-courses. Many of these focus on applications and meeting with peers to share best practices. And we offer them consistently throughout the year for ongoing practice and to help fit teachers’ schedules. You can’t change instructional practice instantly; you need to have touchpoints and repetitive learning to ensure the changes are implemented long-term.”

By focusing on the five keys to effective change, Dr. Gorman has created a long-term strategy that “builds capacity, unifies his teams, and most importantly, gets the ‘buy-in’ from teachers.” But the buy-in doesn’t stop there—students and parents must also see the value in the technology and learn best practices for effective implementation.

4. Make the access and use of technology easy for all stakeholders.

The key to ensuring continuous use of technology is two-fold: recognizing how it is used in everyday life and consistently offering peer-to-peer coaching.

Recognizing how prevalent technology is at home, and how it is used, is critical to successful use of learning technology in the classroom.

In our district, there is an assumption that all students and their families have everyday technology and know how to use it, but it is not true. So, we emphasize the importance of everyone learning the technology, not just a few, and celebrate each success to help them overcome frustrations and fears.

Dr. Jeff Gorman, Ed.D, Deputy Superintendent of Schools for the Mt. Vernon City School District, NY

There is also a dramatic shift in how technology is used today versus ten, five, or even just two years ago. “Technology is not dependent on the device itself anymore,” recognizes Gorman. “Everything is streaming or screen-sharing. If we are not meeting kids where they are, which is in an instant, video-based world, we could fail in the modern classroom.”

Discovery Education sees the progress of educational technology as an opportunity to strengthen partnerships across the EdTech ecosystem. “We want to be easy to work with,” says Weir. “We work closely with key district technology partners and companies beyond management systems to make the value of the content and services as readily available and flexible as possible. It’s a holistic approach.”

If technology providers and key district leaders are working closely together, the peer-to-peer coaching is can be a strategic next step to ensuring teachers buy-in to the technologies provided and use it to their advantage.

Peer coaching for educators is Dr. Gorman’s formula for not just a successful implementation, but also for regular use of technology in the classroom. His district offers a program called “Technology Links” that allows educators to connect with each other on a regular basis and support each other in the use of technology. “Simple, consistent coaching,” notes Gorman, “can lead to positive, long-term change.”

He applies this formula to parents as well, and it works. Mt. Vernon’s Office of School Improvement hired a parent liaison for each school in the district. “We run workshops and the parent liaisons are proactive in getting other parents to attend,” says Gorman. “We average 300-500 parents per workshop with themes and helpful topics such as basics of technology and social-emotional learning.”

Gorman’s successful approach is about giving everyone a chance to have their lightbulb moment. With community buy-in comes the opportunity to implement a long-term plan.

5. Implement a long-term plan through effective leadership.

As you implement a long-term plan, it is critical to remember it’s not just the technology that matters. It’s also about how leadership manages the natural changes that occur with the use of technology. To reference Michael Fullon, a thought leader in educational reform, strongly leading in a culture of change resonates. Dr. Gorman takes this to heart as he guides his district’s long-term plan by focusing on how changes, good and bad, can introduce new best practices.

“This past school year brought challenges we’ve never had to face before, but out of that change came innovative ideas and best practices that maximize the integration of technology to improve instructional practice and student success,” says Gorman. “We were forced to go virtual but learned that it can be highly engaging and flexible. For example, last year one of our teachers paired up with a teacher from Michigan to work on a unit about the pandemic. The work they did was outstanding and could never have been accomplished under previously normal circumstances. Another example is our School Choice Night for 8th graders. Traditionally we would expect about 100 students to attend. This year we went virtual and had 300-400 families attend. A new best practice.”

The long-term plan is only as strong as the leadership that runs it and the technology that supports it. And if both elements are adaptable to the changes that come along, the long-term plan is successful.

Technology is the engine that drives the continuity of learning today. Finding the right technology partner is what makes the engine run. Dr. Gorman found the perfect partner in Discovery Education because, as Pete Weir emphasizes, “we see communication with educators, administrators, and students as the most important aspect of our product development, we are committed to a culture of iteration and to exploring new technologies and their applications.” Technology and the people behind it allow for a paradigm shift from traditional methods, practices, and even attendance. Technology is what keeps us connected to what matters most.

Looking for ways to ensure the continuity of learning through powerful, reliable technology?

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