Four Simple Steps to School-Wide One-to-One iPad Success

In my most recent post, I outlined how I was I finally convinced that iPads really are all they’re cracked up to be. I briefly mentioned, though, that the true benefit of iPads lies in a one-to-one roll-out — that is to say, one device for every student.

Obviously, one-to-one devices are always ideal. But I would argue this is especially true in the case of tablet computers. The real power of tablets is in their mobility — they can replace notebooks, textbooks, cameras, microphones, calendars, encyclopedias, dictionaries, calculators, science probes, trade books, computers, compasses, maps and much more, if students are allowed access to them at all the times and in all the places where they’d need access to these other resources. In my experience, the more one-on-one time students spend with the devices, the more effectively these kids will use them.

So if you are convinced, and if you think it’s fiscally possible for your school to purchase 1:1 devices*, how do you start?
*If this last issue is a sticking point, check out my Make It Work post, where I lay out some lower-cost solutions. This is, after all, Stretch Your Digital Dollar.

These may seem like common-sense steps but, too often (especially with technology), administrators get excited and roll out new hardware quickly with very little support. This virtually guarantees that the devices will be extremely expensive failures. So if you’re going make the financial investment in iPads — or any one-to-one device — it’s of paramount importance to roll them out right.

This will be difficult. But if you start by respecting your staff as professionals and moving forward as a team, it can make a world of difference. No matter what, always focus on the kids — is this what’s best for the kids? If so, let’s do it. If not, it can wait.

1. Invest in buy-in.

There’s a reason this is number 1. If you don’t have buy-in, just quit now. Seriously.

Rarely will every teacher on a staff be fully on-board with anything, but you need a critical mass to not only be on-board, but to be excited. And the others have to recognize the value of this new change and be willing to give it a try.

So how do you get buy-in? One of the benefits of Apple iPads, as opposed to other similar devices, is that they’ve got street cred — every teacher I’ve given an iPad to is immediately excited by it, even if they’re not sold on tech integration. But this excitement will wear off and can turn to frustration. So start with some targeted professional development where teachers are encouraged to have honest conversations about 21st century skills, their goals for students, and technology’s place in it all. I’d suggest using some of the PD resources on this blog, specifically the “Did you know?” video and/or the Sabertooth Curriculum to get a staff-wide discussion started.

Depending on your staff, you might want to set aside one or two staff meetings for teachers to have these discussions. It can seem slow and unnecessary, but I guarantee, if you put in the necessary time here, giving teachers permission to voice their concerns and really winning buy-in, it will be well worth it in the long-run. When I began working in my current position, I inherited thousands of dollars worth of technology devices, which sat in corners, unused, the majority of the time. I learned that was because staffers were given the devices and mandated to use them with students, with no discussion as to why or how it could help them become better at their craft. Before the next round of equipment was purchased, I invested in buy-in, with long discussions and meetings focused on the why. I spent a lot of time really listening to staff members’ concerns, which helped me develop appropriate development to meet their needs. And three years later, my co-workers preach the benefits of tech integration to nearly everyone they know.

So often, we want to jump straight to the “how.” But I learned that if you invest time in fully answering the “why” first, everything else will be a much smoother ride.

Before you move to the “how,” it’s important to communicate clear expectations for staff. This can take the form of a collaboratively created ed tech mission statement or a contract that lists administration’s expectations of teachers AND teacher’s expectations of administration. It’s of paramount importance that this feels like a collaborative endeavor — something everyone is trying together and, thus, something that everyone has a voice in. At the same time, it can be made clear that, as a staff, this is where we’re going. You can get on board or you can leave. And if you get on board, we will support you as much as you need.

2. Invest in people.

Hire a full-time ed tech specialist — your iPad plan will succeed or fail based on the competency of this person, so choose VERY carefully. Don’t just offer the position as a reward for a teacher near retirement — this person should expect to work harder than anyone else at your school. You want an organized perfectionist (to track hardware) who is a good teacher (to train students and staff) and has an educational technology philosophy that fits with where the school wants to go.

Going one-to-one with any devices (and ESPECIALLY with tablets) requires teachers to re-invent how they teach in many ways. It’s not about asking “how can I use this iPad in the lessons I already do?” It’s about asking “how can this iPad best help my students reach their objectives?” You’ll need a full-time ed tech specialist to help your teachers start re-imagining their classrooms.

Ideally, this is a trusted teacher on your staff — someone who knows where your teachers are coming from. But this person needs to be taken out of the classroom. I will say that again — this person needs to be dedicated to educational technology FULL-TIME. At maximum, expect your ed-tech specialist to teach a single enrichment or after-school class. (It would be great if this were a math- or literacy-focused class, where technology was integrated seamlessly. For example, I’ve taught film-making classes in elementary and middle schools that focused on literacy skills.)

Why can’t you expect your ed tech specialist to continue a full teaching load? This person will basically be taking on the duties of two other full-time positions: IT specialist and content coach. Plan for your ed tech specialist to be responsible for:

  • creating and teaching model lessons in other teachers’ classrooms
  • setting up and maintaining all iPads
  • setting up and training a student help desk (staffed by students)
  • creating school-wide procedures (what to do if a student forgets an iPad, if an iPad breaks, etc.)
  • repairing common iPad breaks (i.e., a broken glass screen, or digitizer, will cost you $300 to replace through the Apple store, but it can be done with $50 and some patience if you do it yourself)
  • most importantly, organizing regular staff trainings focused on full iPad integration
    • The worst thing that can happen is for teachers to use iPads solely to access the internet. So much more can be done. But teachers need help to see that and to understand HOW they can do it in their own classrooms.
  •  leading a tech workgroup of teachers (this will be an added duty for teachers; I’d suggest offering a small stipend or continuing education credits to teachers who volunteer, if possible)
    • this workgroup can create tech integration expectations for every classroom (so new teachers understand what they need to do)
    • tech workgroup members can offer staff trainings, so it’s not all on the ed tech specialist

3. Invest in infrastructure.

If you have a successful iPad roll-out, that means that, often, every single student in your school will be using their iPad at the same time, and many of them will be utilizing the wifi simultaneously. Can your current wifi set-up support that many simultaneous users? If not, stop now. There are plenty of ways to upgrade. I’ve heard great things about a company called Xirrus that offers re-vamped robust access points specifically designed for schools. But at the very least, call your current provider and ask what you’ll need to support your iPad integration plans.

4. Invest in time.

Give your staff time to feel comfortable using the devices. Ideally, staff would get iPads 6 months to a year before unrolling them to students. To start, assign an iPad to every member of your staff to use 24/7. I would even assign the devices to office assistants and custodians — it will help create a tech culture at your school, and you’d be surprised at the great ideas that come from the most unexpected places. In addition, have one or two class sets that staff can optionally check out to try new things with their students. But the only expectation at this time is to have staff start re-thinking how they might teach.

Offer regular trainings, with deliverables. Have a tech workgroup of teachers organize small, weekly optional trainings on specific apps and integration techniques. But also offer required monthly professional development sessions focused on the iPads. These sessions often are most successful when designed as “make and takes,” where staff members actually create a product they can use with students, or they can use as a model for student projects.

Start examining how giving every staff member an iPad can change how your school does things, like collaboration or Professional Learning Communities. For example, would it be helpful for the staff to start utilizing Google docs and Edmodo?

Encourage staff members to attend free classes at a local Apple store. If you have an Apple store close to your community, the free classes are well worth the time. If you don’t have access to an Apple store, investigate web-based training options. There are tons of free webinars offered every day for teachers interested in tech integration. (It’d be great if these were met with added stipends or CEUs, but that’s not always possible.)

Using your tech workgroup, assign each member a cadre of teachers to meet with regularly to offer guidance or one-on-one support. Chances are your tech workgroup will begin to specialize — Ms. Smith is great at Google Earth, while Mr. Hernandez is good at iMovie. Be sure all the workgroup members recognize these specialties so, for example, if a teacher has a question about iMovie, everyone knows that it might be good to point him/her to Mr. Hernandez.

Once you’ve made these investments, there are a lot of great resources out there for practical day-to-day tips on utilizing the iPads well. My favorite is Jenny Magiera’s blog, Teaching Like It’s 2999. Jenny is a 4th/5th-grade math teacher in Chicago Public Schools who uses iPads daily with her students.

Next time: We’ll never have the $$$ for 1:1 computing. What can we do?

What else do you think administrators and teachers need to keep in mind when rolling out 1:1 iPads? Leave a comment.

Katy Scott

I spent 5 years teaching in low-income districts in Phoenix, where most of my students were English-language learners. There, I taught 3rd- and 4th-grade self-contained classes, as well as 7th-grade resource. I spent a year teaching 5th- and 6th-grade science in an inner-city KIPP school in New Orleans. I did double-duty as a technology integration specialist for the last four years of my teaching career. I am now the Digital Learning Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, where I work to help PreK-12 teachers and students utilize technology to better understand science. I'm a maker, a snorkeler, and a certified Google Education Trainer.

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