For Mary Rochford, Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the necessity for change in education is obvious. And even if she isn’t the most “tech-savvy,” she relies on her Director of Technology Nancy Caramanico to carry out her vision.
“We are all in this together,” she said. “We need to be better at connecting and collaborating. I am seeing the leaps the world is taking, and they are not minor leaps. We need to take advantage of opportunities, and bring our students in it, or we will find ourselves being left behind.”
One of the ways the Archdiocese is doing this is in their relationship with Powerful Learning Practice. A natural fit seems to be Virtual Institutes, a way to enable many teachers and administrators to experience online learning and collaboration. With 68,000 students, 3500 elementary teachers, and 900 high school teachers, Mary and Nancy realized having flexibility to learn would be key.
“We looked to the virtual academies as an innovative means to meet the needs of a large number of teachers spread around large geographic area,” Nancy said. “And all the sessions are archived so people can access them anytime.” Nancy said it’s clear that teachers are taking advantage of these online webinars to learn for themselves, and they are inspiring teachers to see the potential for their students as well.
As they visit schools around the Archdiocese, evidence in the success of the programs shows up in nearly all of them.”This challenges the traditional way of teaching students; using technology empowers them,” Mary said. “On a daily basis, I see students more engaged, more motivated to learn. This lends a level of excitement to education we haven’t see in a long time.”
Recently she visited a school where she had not expected much change to occur. Yet, from last year to this, she saw “an entirely new group of people there, tech-based, and even using technology in their presentation to me. I thought I was going to fall on the floor,” she said, laughing.
The program, too, has pulled non-PLP teachers into the program, “like a magnet,” she said.
Nancy agrees. “The teams have worked together, have become energized and anxious to share with other teachers. As new practices start to emerge, other teachers become eager to try.”The Virtual Institutes, designed specifically for the Archdiocese, focus on a variety of topics, but the ones on Common Core and 1:1 classrooms have been particularly popular, with teachers then going back into the Ning as a follow up to discuss their learning.
Modeling this blended learning means teachers see the possibilities, Nancy said. “If I can learn this way, then I can see the power for my students.”
Susan Carter Morgan
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