Today’s Blog post is a cross-post shared by Doug Peterson of Off the Record. The interview took me some time so cheating here and using it in my 21 day event made sense. I’ve had the honour of knowing Doug for some time. Since I came on to teaching actually. He has been influential to so many educators by turning them on to some new tool that invoked critical thought or creativity in students. Want to know what is going on in innovative Ontario classrooms? Follow Off the Record. You will be in the know.
An Interview with James Cowper
I’ve had the pleasure to work with James Cowper in a couple of schools where he has served the Greater Essex County District School Board as an administrator. He’s a supporter of teachers, as you would expect from an administrator, but he also “walks the walk” when it comes to using technology in education. Recently, we met for a coffee to chat and solve all of the world’s problems and that served as a launchpad for this interview.
Doug: Thanks, James, for sharing your thoughts via this blog post.
James: No problem Doug. I am happy to talk and listen with you. I am quite flattered that you wanted to hear my thoughts and stories of days in the schoolhouse working with learners of all ages! I appreciate it. Thanks.
Doug: I recall our first encounters with technology – it seems so long ago that you were involved in a technology project when you were at Mill Street Public School in Leamington. What did you learn from working with students at Mill Street?
James: I learned that kids are kids everywhere you go. I came in on the front end of an ICT project in which recycled computers along with millions of meters of RJ45 (Ethernet cable) were deployed to a 350 pupil K-8 school. The computers had competent capabilities and the staff and students were anxious to use them. What I learned about kids and computers was that it is the creativity that we must exercise with the tools of the trade. Using the computers, funny I don’t even call them that anymore, to drill and kill or surf and turf is just not the ticket. Kids need to create, collaborate and communicate with the technology. I learned an awful lot about what not to do with technology funny enough. Of course we were doing the best that we could do at the time. PL around the high-end use of the devices was not structured or supported in a way that would lead to critical use of the tools. I learned that you couldn’t fool kids. Saying that computers engage kids and then using them as word processors, encyclopedias and digital worksheets only lasts so long. If you do this for too long the kids will video you teaching the class, put it to music, morph Albert Einstein’s head onto your body and post the video for all their tweeps to see. Seriously. It is not the computers or the iPads that “engage” kids. It is the access to the world, the creative quotient and the ease of collaboration that engages them. Those things are not done with a device, a computer alone. They must be married to the facilitation and supervision of a learning teacher.
Doug: Since that time, you have been promoted to Principal at Eastwood Public School in Windsor. During our coffee, you indicated that you’ve been there for five years now. So, a question – if someone is making their first trip to Eastwood – what would they see that would invoke the understanding that this school really has its act together with respect to Technology?
James: Well, we don’t have hover boards and wear silver suits yet. Kids are not glued to screens with robotic teachers. Books and board games is still the best part of the day at first nutrition break so I am not sure you would really be able to see a difference. I apologize for my sarcasm. I mean no offence. Really. If you had asked me what school would look like in the year 2013 when I was in grade 5 I would have said flying in cars and learning from robots! (I think Ms. McTavish assigned that project!) You can feel a difference at Eastwood School. At least that is what almost every visitor has said to me at one point or another. What you can feel is a calm energy that comes when we are all functioning at very close wavelengths. Kids are working at learning and teachers are learning while working. It is symbiotic. The technology that is incorporated into the day and the learning is organic. Getting an iPad is not a monumental event. Students do not run full tilt to the power cart. It sits open and students get them when they need them. There are no more labs. We do not covet our tools in closets or the Principal’s office to gather dust. I would say that the novelty of the device is gone. What is left is a new type of pen and pencil. Kids view them as tools to do the business of learning. It is not the device that has made the difference at Eastwood it is the inherent connectivity that has. The device without Wi-Fi access would be like having a Porsche without tires. You can enjoy the look and the rev of that awesome engine you just couldn’t go anywhere. Kids do walk around with devices. We have BYOD norms. Before you even walked in the door you would recognize we have a pretty substantial online presence. Short of that we have a staff that continue to learn and grow in the area of tech. utilization, integration and content creation. We are as careful as we can be with regards to where and how we spend our limited budget dollars. We also are always looking for innovative ways to build community partnerships. Two years ago we were awarded a reading grant, the first in the district, and we gained the opportunity to spend eighty thousand dollars on learning resources. So as a school that has its act together I would say that we have found the reasonable and appropriate place to infuse technological tools to enhance our learning. I would say that we have been responsible digital citizens. I would also say we’ve lots to learn and much work to do.
Thanks Doug for allowing me to share here. If you wish to read the interview in its entirety please follow the links to Off the Record.
Tomorrow’s post–Hey Principals! Are Those Teachers on Twitter?