The Tech and Media Specialist
Amanda Dawes is a growth-mindset practitioner and edu-tech savvy educator. She has turned the traditional classroom into a 21st century innovative learning environment at Donna Klein Jewish Academy. In 2010, she received her Master’s Degree in Educational Technology from the University of Michigan. She also holds degrees in Psychology and Religious Studies from the University of Miami. During a typical school day, a group of technology students can be found helping with technological issues, such as setting up the student websites or assisting their teachers with technical problems. The teachers know who the tech fellows are and will go to them for assistance regularly. This is the scene at Donna Klein Jewish Academy where Amanda Dawes serves as the Dean of Technology Integration, and enjoys learning with teachers and students about the best blended learning practices with Google Apps for Education.
Naturally EvolveThe experiences and learning with the global program at the University of Michigan masters of arts with an Education and Technology is the foundation for Amanda to start the technology integration. Even though it took her two years to start using technology to its fullest at Donna Klein Jewish Academy, and another year to figure out where its placement was going to be, the result was successful. The grant she acquired in 2013 and the following year helped her to build on the professional development for teachers. “In some ways it was a mindful effort, however in most ways it naturally evolved from the circumstance of environment," Amanda said.
The Push BackDealing with the push back from both the teachers and the students while implementing technology at school was the biggest challenge for Amanda. She has found that many of the teachers feel that they don’t know how to master technology, and if they let the students use technology, they would lose control of their class. Overcoming the fear of the unknown and accepting some loss of control for the teachers is the first step Amanda had to implement. Amanda and another two tech faculty integrators set a Google classroom for professional development where teachers could find tech-teaching resources. She also offered “to be there” whenever teachers wanted her to go into the classroom and co-teach with them, helping them integrate and develop the lesson, and trying out their own devices when holding in-person meetings. Additionally, she coached them through the classroom management about using technology with students. “Communicating with the teachers, finding out what they need, helping them fill those needs and then celebrating their successes are the key to making confident teachers,” said Amanda.
Growth MindsetWhen Amanda’s students suggested her to use new technology tools that she didn’t know anything about, she tried not to say no, and would often “jump right in”. “We were building an airplane while we flew it,” Amanda stated. “Once the kids are invested, I found that it takes on a life of its own, and it’s fun for me to just watch them do their thing.” She thinks it’s a great idea to give students as much credit for telling her what’s wrong with the tool, as for telling her what they love about it. And it’s a chance not only for the teacher review, but for peer review and peer feedback. She also wants students to feel it’s okay to tackle the unknown, and that it’s okay to make mistakes, or to fail. Because learning from the unknown and making mistakes shows that they are learning. She described the concept of learning from the unknown and from their mistakes as a growth-mindset. It’s a process not about just praising the person or the product that they are creating, but about scaffolding and setting up pieces that are individually attainable.
Tech Fellow or SWAT TeamThe Tech Fellow or SWAT team originally came out from Amanda’s history class. In her second year she taught a 9th grade class, she had some students with learning and emotional disabilities, but really great technology skills. Those students were willing to grow and continue developing their technology skills to become tech fellows: they are the students willing to assist with technology (SWAT). From there, they received funding from the National Technological Honor Society. Through the tech team, the nerdy, techie kids from the history class found an official outlet to get school recognition.
Be Organized but Not Overly StructuredAmanda described a lot of students at Donna Klein as “lifers”, where they’re there from kindergarten through the 12th grade. It formed a very strong relationship between those students and the faculty, and also enabled respect and trust among one another. This bond also allows Donna Klein to be very student leadership driven, so the school put a huge emphasis on that the teachers are the facilitators, especially when it comes to Honor Society or clubs, such as the Tech Fellows or SWAT team. “I am there to facilitate the process, but the students come up with what they want to do, and how they want to do it. “We have a government board and it’s not overly structured, because I think creativity is what happens in that space that you leave open,” said Amanda. She suggested organization is a key to run a successful student tech team, but not overly structured. Overly structured, in her opinion, loses the ability of allowing unique things to happen. For her, creating problem solvers is the goal of the tech team, and if everything is going to be predictable, that is not real life.
Learning: through Personal Interaction“I keep learning through the IIE gathering. When you get to a certain level, you need people to get your problem solved because they can take you to another level. It’s about passing on and sharing. I read a lot, and I go onto social media to learn a lot, but nothing compares to that personal interaction and the relationship with the people I meet."
Technology is not something you’re born with but it’s something that you develop through practice and time.Written by: Tanfeng Chu August, 2016