What Does a Tech-Savvy 21st-Century School Look Like?

3d Person Taking Class by David Castillo Dominici

What does one expect when about to tour a public school described as innovative and tech-savvy? Classrooms filled with rows and rows of white gleaming tables populated by endless computer monitors under antiseptic white fluorescent lights? Giant wall monitors in the office and all common areas with the day’s activities scrolling below a looping-video of a professionally produced virtual tour of the school given by an smiling young woman? White-headphone wearing students silently gliding from class to class on hover-boards? Up until the last one, I probably had you thinking, “Yeah.” I had the opportunity to visit a very innovative school the other day and you know what I noticed? The place looked pretty much like any school I’d visited where teachers were interacting with students and students were engaged in their learning. In other words, the place wasn’t a shrine to shiny technology, but educators were busy working with their students using technology. Period.

I’d heard about Audubon Park Elementary in Baldwin Park from coworker, Dr. Bedard, who said that it was as an innovative place where, unlike many schools, students were encouraged to bring their tech from home in the form of e-readers and iPads to the classroom. That piqued my interest. Oh yeah, she also confirmed what we’d heard from other coworkers, that many classrooms have students sit at tables in groups of four on yoga-balls bouncing up and down as they do their work. Interesting. So, while there is tech in the classrooms, the place is not a shrine to technology. Educators, beginning with the principal, Trevor Honohan, have chosen to find effective ways to do their job using technology.

Assistant principal Bryan Dolfi told me that the change began over a year ago when Principal Honohan saw how much impact the installation of interactive promethean boards had and began to look for ways to encourage the classroom interaction. Dolfi said that they were fortunate to be located in an somewhat affluent neighborhood and worked with the community and parents of the 1,150 K-5 students to raise funds to add netbooks to the classrooms. I asked Dolfi how the staff of a bit over one-hundred took to the change. I’ve been on school sites that were awarded huge grants with the accompanying radical influx of technology only to have a third of the staff leave because they were asked to use the technology in their teaching and they felt like it was too much to ask. Dolfi took me to look in on a classroom where the teacher was using the Promethean board, standing at the back of the room asking her students items from their science unit. I’ve been on enough school tours to known when I’m watching the technology-dog-and-pony-show for the visitor and when I’m watching something that’s part of the day to day routine and this was the real thing. Then Dolfi added after we left the room that the instructor had been one of the less tech-savvy one’s who had been scared to use the tech only a year ago and now she was one most called upon to help others get comfortable using the tech. Interesting.

Teacher with students in class - Microsoft Office clipart

Teachers set up to succeed, learning how to use technology in the context of their day-to-day job in a way that helps them reach and work with their students, which make the students more engaged, which makes the parents happy, which make the principal and district happy. This isn’t a story about technology but about smart dedicated people taking advantage of the tools within reach (or making it so that the tools are within reach) and then getting to the job of learning and serving their students. No giant screens with intrusive booming messages or hover boards or student/drones wearing white-earphones, just teachers, students, administrators and communities working together (and taking advantage of tech).

Audubon Park Elementary School
Trevor Honohan — Principal
Bryan Dolfi — Assistant Principal
1750 Common Way Road
Orlando, Florida 32814