When I began working with Hunterdon Central Regional High School’s 1:1 pilot program during the summer of 2009, I already knew Rob Mancabelli and Don Ginty pretty well. We worked in the same building after all. However, I had not realized the amazing leadership qualities that they possessed. Although Rob has now moved on to Trinity School in NYC<sob>, I had to write about this daring duo of educational technology together. In the past few years, they have led a learning revolution in our school, and here are some of the reasons why I believe they were successful:
- Our teacher tablet program began with volunteers and stayed that way until we had almost 100% participation. Why did it work so well? Because participation was an invitation and never a mandate. They made the tablet/projector technology so seamless and let word spread about its effectiveness as a learning tool through small demonstrations but mostly word of mouth until people asked for it.
- During our 1:1 sessions, they focused on two significant things: changing the way we teach and, more importantly, giving us the freedom from fear to make these changes. They realized that the 1:1 program wasn’t about the netbooks and that it couldn’t start with lesson reform. It had to start with psychology. It took quite a long time, a visit from our superintendent (see Will Richardson’s post, Willing to be Distrurbed), and a lot of support, but they did indeed allow our small group to break through the walls that so many of us construct around ourselves.
- Our 1:1 pilot included an introduction to PLNs and encouraged our participation. In fact, I still remember when Rob compared a librarian’s job to helping students build their own PLNs. Our pilot work could have just focused on project based learning and technology; however, Don and Rob knew that if we were going to encourage our students to jump into the digital world and begin to participate that we had to do the same. Therefore, we spent almost an entire day with Damian Bariexca on ways to connect and grow a PLN and were encouraged throughout the summer keep at it.
- They value the voices of others above theirs alone. They consistently sought out parent, student, and teacher opinions. They invited students to work alongside them; in fact, next year we will have a student tech team and a help desk that will be run by staff and students.
The only thing that I wish they did more was discuss their educational backgrounds with the entire staff, particularly Rob. Since Don had been a teacher in the district, many folks already saw him as an educator but those who hadn’t know him as a teacher were skeptical of him and Rob. When I first heard Rob talk about his time as a history teacher, I was shocked. How could a technology director come from such a background? I wish the entire school had gotten to seem them as I did during the pilot program, and this is a challenge for all administrators, not just the ones in the technology field.
How many times have you heard that a certain administrator has forgotten what it is like to be a teacher? Trust between administrators and teachers is vital to a school’s climate, and Rob and Don were very successful in doing that with our 1:1 pilot group. How can that transfer to an entire staff? How can administrators be seen as passionate learners and educators moving into the fray with teachers? Or is the divide too much?