After installing new technologies throughout Walled Lake Consolidated School District, the district noticed teachers were still holding on to outdated practices and were hesitant to adopt the new technology in their teaching.
The school district developed the iCouncil initiative, a curriculum for teachers that provides technical training and support to integrate new technology, such as the BrightLink displays, into every lesson. As a result, the district found itself better prepared for remote learning during the pandemic.
Merging Curriculum and Technology
Walled Lake Consolidated School District (WLCSD) outside Detroit, Michigan, has always been on the forefront of providing educational technology to teachers and students. But, the district discovered it needed to take an additional step in order to really impact teaching and learning. This led the district to create a new approach to instruction that helped its teachers adopt the new technology in the classroom and prepare for remote learning.
WLCSD has 19 schools and more than 14,000 students. Following the installment of hundreds of Epson BrightLink displays in all of its classrooms, Epson document cameras, and various software and web-based tools, the district was prepared to help augment effective, evidence-based instruction.
The district developed iCouncil, an initiative to ensure both the instruction and the technology being installed in classrooms follows the latest research on teachings such as John Hattie’s research on Visible Learning. This research analyzes the best practices for learning in school – including effective feedback and student-teacher relationships. The iCouncil initiative was also a crucial framework for the district as it had to shift to remote learning in the spring and heavily rely on technology for instruction.
WLCSD wanted to shift away from a curriculum and content focused organizational design and move toward an instructional focused framework. Its iCouncil model established a wellarticulated instructional vision, streamlined district initiatives and focused on effective instruction for all. It helped to establish a district vision, purpose, and goals around effective instruction using technology.
The first step was to ensure that the district’s teachers were using the technology enthusiastically and with student development in mind. The district wanted to eliminate teachers saying they did not have the time or skills to learn new technology. Mark Hess, current principal of Mary Helen Guest Elementary School, and who led the district initiative as the executive manager of instruction, technology, and data analysis at WLCSD, noticed his teachers had no problems using their latest smartphones, so he knew with a little help they could easily become proficient in using the classroom technology. “I see it as a moral imperative,” said Hess. “Students should demand from their teachers the same level of tenacity in embracing instructional technology in the classroom as they do in their personal life.”
To get buy-in for the initiative the district involved numerous stakeholders in its planning. The technology and curriculum department worked closely together with English Language Arts (ELA), Math, and Science coordinators to develop lessons that aligned with industry standards while incorporating technologies like the Epson BrightLink interactive display. Like all technology planning and rollouts, collaboration, communication and hard work were key to developing an instructional vision that formalized the science of instruction, while honoring the art of teaching.
The district also developed building-based Technology Teacher Leaders (TTLs) to improve digital learning at all levels. TLLs support teachers as they use technology in their classroom practice and they model technology integration into lessons.
This involves using the BrightLink to practice a variety of teaching techniques and to engage students with content. Each school in the district has a TTL to help integrate the best technology practices for instructing students and motivating them to learn. This creates a successful learning environment that fosters student-teacher relationships and effective teaching practices.
Prior to COVID-19 related school closures and remote learning, the district was seeing successful use of technology in classrooms. “We’ve been using the BrightLink for several years. They are highly reliable and they are a great tool for incorporating new teaching techniques into the classroom,” said Hess.
Teachers use the BrightLink and Epson document cameras to help engage and inspire the entire class whether they are in person or remote. “The next level is ensuring students are actively engaged,” said Hess. “It’s all about finding ways to maximize the content and involve students by leveraging their interaction with the material in the classroom.” The district also implemented a 1:1 initiative. With the BrightLinks teachers can share documents to the student device or highlight students’ work by projecting it to the rest of the class.
The district also saw the impact of the iCouncil initiative when it outscored most districts on AdvancED’s Index of Education Quality® (IEQ®) evaluations. It is comprised of the Standards Diagnostic ratings from the three Domains: leadership capacity, learning capacity, and resource capacity. WLCSD’s high score of 323.06 out of 400 indicates the institution is beginning to reach the impact level. The score also shows the district is engaging in practices that are sustained over time and are becoming ingrained in the culture of the institution.
Technology during Remote Learning
As the district closed schools and shifted to remote learning, the positive culture toward instructional technology was already in place and led to the district’s early success. “Our technology and instruction teams were already one department, so we were able to quickly come together and make a plan,” said Hess. “We were able to prioritize the curriculum week-by-week and set up our teachers with the technology they needed.”
Each teacher was able to bring home their Epson document camera to help set up their remote learning environment. One AP Environmental Science teacher used her document camera to teach students how to use a soil textural triangle. The teacher was able to use the document camera’s voice recording functionality to have a record of the lesson as she walked students through the process. This content acted as a guide for students who later completed and uploaded their own practice sheets.
Supporting Teachers during Hybrid Learning
Teachers in the district’s confidence in using technology and openness toward instructional technology also helped everyone adjust to a hybrid learning environment in the fall. To help prepare for the school year, the district prioritized professional development. WLCSD moved teacher in-service days up to the beginning of the school year to support teachers in the new learning environment and to ensure any technology questions were answered promptly.
Teachers use the Epson iProjection™ app to connect students’ devices to their BrightLink display to share projects or presentations with the entire class. Teachers also use Epson’s Easy Interactive Software on their laptops to use images, videos, activities and drawing tools to deliver content to the entire class whether in person or remotely. Both resources promote collaboration and encourage active participation among students.
Like many districts, WLCSD is still unsure what classrooms will look like for the long term, but it is prepared for any learning model. “Our teachers have been embracing all of the changes and we continue to do everything we can to support them,” said Hess. “There are still a lot of unknowns, but we have a great team and resources to prepare for anything.”