“We keep a laser-focus on why we’re here.”
OETC Board Member Tricia George, who serves as Executive Director of Technology and Information Services for North Clackamas School District, was recently named one of the Top 10 Innovative School District Technology Directors by Education Technology Insights magazine.
Tricia chatted with OETC about the moment she realized technology could change education, keeping innovation at the forefront of her mind, and footbag (AKA hacky sack).
Answers are lightly edited for clarity and concision.
OETC: When did you first notice the impact technology can have on students, particularly those who might be learning in different ways or be ELL? Was there an a-ha moment?
Tricia George: I noticed the impact on students when I was a classroom teacher. I taught 4th, 5th and 6th grade. Back then, we had one computer in the classroom and people were curious about it. I thought it could be a good tool for the kids to express themselves.
I noticed my students who weren’t the ones always raising their hands or the most comfortable socially, they were the ones who were really interested in getting into it and making their digital presence.
I had a particular student who was non-verbal. He was Hmong, he didn’t speak English; he didn’t speak at all. He was a self-selected non-speaker.
They would present their digital portfolios periodically, with topics like ‘Who am I? What do I love?’ And he presented! It was an amazing experience because after he finished, the boys in the class, I remember it so vividly, jumped up and hugged him. He was smiling, and it was a big deal. We got to know him. He didn’t say a word, but he played us music, showed us pictures of his family and used digital words to describe himself. And that’s when I realized … this gives people a voice.
OETC: It can be really transformational.
TG: It truly was! We’ve come a long way since then, and I could wax philosophical about all that, and what it means to give people a voice. For the students, it really made a difference.
Now, everybody has a device, and our voice is amplified exponentially … The audience that our students have the potential for now is amazing. It used to be just the teacher and now it’s anybody.
That’s the challenge and the excitement of teaching now — helping students understand what it means to put things out there, because the audience is so much wider and not as controlled. If I put something out on Twitter, it’s not coming back.
OETC: Which means that digital citizenship is now something you have to teach.
TG: Exactly! So the way that we talk about technology and how students give rise to their voice, and what that means in the digital age‚ it’s a really big deal. So I’m always excited about the ways kids can share now. When I wrote an essay as a student, my teacher was my audience, that was it. And now I can make anyone my audience.
What are some things you’ve done or worked on recently that you’re especially proud of?
TG: As we’ve moved to 1:1 — and we’re nearly there in our district — our next question is how do we make this technology available at home for students?
Some students don’t have internet at home, and others, it’s not high speed or reliable.
We’re working with the One Million Project, it’s a grant that we applied for and received to provide internet access to all of our high school students at home, in the form of hotspots.
Right now, I’m sitting on hundreds of hotspots that will go out to our students to give them 10GB internet at home.
OETC: How else can technology prevent kids from slipping through the cracks? What does the tech do for them once they have it?
TG: The bottom line is, we want to make the educational experience as pertinent and directed to the student as possible; technology can help us personalize learning for students.
And that’s our next challenge — how do we make technology not only available, but how do we leverage what we have to make a personalized learning experience for each of our students? How do we include interactions with parents, with teachers with other students? We can build collaboration and creativity into the learning experience.
OETC: How do you make innovation a central value in your department?
TG: We keep a laser focus on why we’re here. Every single person in this department, regardless of their role, knows we’re here because of those students in the classroom. We want to make sure we are in the planning for professional development for teachers from the very beginning so it’s not ‘Hey, let’s add some technology to this!’
At the executive level where I live, it’s got to be part of the constant conversation in our instructional meetings — how are we being good stewards? What’s our long-range vision of what we want students to be able to do?
We have to keep an eye on what’s happening now, but we also have to keep an eye on the horizon. Not just looking at it, but talking about it and planning for it.
OETC: So on a completely different note — and you don’t have to talk about this — I’ve heard you’re an extremely gifted hacky sack-er?
TG: (Laughs) Yeah, I still play twice a week.
OETC: And do you happen to hold any records or notable achievements in this field?
TG: Yes, I do!
I have four Guinness World Records that are still standing. The two biggest ones include a record 132,011 kicks with a partner. It took 23 hours and 40 minutes before we dropped the footbag.
I also hold the record for most consecutive footbag kicks by a pair in ten minutes at 1,415, which is about 2.4 kicks per second.
In her 22 years with the North Clackamas School District, Tricia has worked as a classroom teacher, a learning coach and an elementary school principal on a multiple intelligences-focused campus; she also introduced the first mobile technology into the school district.
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- Q&A: John Peplinski of Beaverton School District
- Silverton kids get hands-on — and paid — with IT
- How Salem-Keizer’s Bob Silva thwarted a $1.5-million phishing scam
- Q&A: University of Oregon CISO Leo Howell
- Newberg Superintendent Joe Morelock uses data to find invisible problems — and surprising solutions