How Connecting a District’s Community Lifts Everyone Up
When Tina Bacolas became the new Supervisor of Instructional Technology of New Jersey’s Park Ridge School District (and now one of our 2016 Administrators of the Year), one of her primary responsibilities was to help educators successfully implement their new LMS, Schoology.
Early on, she recognized the need to train a core group of turn-key instructors. Tina began by working closely with teachers to ensure that the training they received was consistent, reasonably-paced, and supported by the administration and their commitment to adopting the new LMS.
With a successful training strategy in place, implementing Schoology was easier than expected. “Integration went viral,” Tina recalls.
Park Ridge students loved the one-stop-shop for communicating with teachers, submitting assignments, and engaging in online discussions.
The teachers, meanwhile, were thirsty for more. Tina started hosting more after-school professional development sessions based on the blended learning best practices.
“I have the best job in the world,” she says, confident that her efforts are helping to elevate the quality of education across the entire district.
Once they became familiar with the basic functions of the platform, instructors began using their LMS in innovative and creative ways to engage and assess students. Park Ridge staff began exploring new ways to administer exit tickets, practice conversing in foreign languages, and track student questions during lectures.
Tina made a point to showcase the work of exemplary teachers for the rest of the district to follow by featuring them in her blog (example here and here) or asking them to co-present with her during PD sessions. But Tina's efforts don't end with her teachers.
She knew that if Park Ridge was going to see the most benefit from their new LMS, they needed a fundamental shift in district culture starting with how they communicate. They began using Schoology for most communications districtwide between staff, students, parents, and administrators.
“By providing support to student groups, advisors, coaches, and administrators, I finally have everyone on board with with this method of communication and really utilizing all of [the LMS's] benefits,” Tina says.
Tina’s next step was to see how far she could take it.
In December of 2015, Tina began planning what would eventually become a “virtual school day” for the entire district. Students would log into Schoology from home while teachers conducted all their lessons online.
“Our students were excited!” Tina says—so excited that she filmed this short video to share their perspectives:
Once they gained the necessary approval from the New Jersey Department Of Education, Tina’s colleagues used Schoology to assemble virtual lessons and even had a “Virtual Faculty Meeting.” Everyone was so well prepared, “it was a huge success (example lessons here)!” she adds.
About one year into LMS integration, Tina started working with Schoology directly to spearhead webinars and roundtables with schools in nearby towns.
Attendees came together to share tips and tricks on best practices, sample lesson plans, and activities with themes like “Embed almost Anything.” Here’s one video where Tina shares a few less utilized but quite impactful LMS features, including workload planning.
All these elements combined add up to real achievement, Tina says. Next, she's aiming to get staff thinking critically about how they can get a “pedagogical advantage in the classroom" and to seeing that their efforts are "a college and career-readiness advantage for our students, fostering creativity, independence, accountability and collaboration."