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interview is with Lisa Nielsen. She is the professional development manager for
educational technology at the New York City Department of Education. For over a
decade, she worked with New York City schools and at Teachers College, Columbia
University, in various capacities, including as a literacy and instructional
technology coach, program developer, teacher, librarian and staff developer.
STI: What’s the
career path that got you to this point?
LN: I’ve always had a
passion for innovative and authentic education beginning as a student. This was
also my focus as I was in grad school for my Masters in Education. When I first
began teaching I started a Library Media Left at a school in Harlem. I built a
library of videos and created instruction guides, I secured a donation of about
20 computers and had students connecting with others around the world on the
Internet, and I built a collection of books that were organized in a
kid-friendly way with decorations from the students. From the beginning I never
relied on the school to provide what our kids needed. I forged partnerships with
organizations like Junior Achievement and Power Lunch and I secured a donation
of more than $50,000 from a law firm to update the media left with new books
I also served as a technology staff developer. I always
believed that our students were the real pioneers when it came to integrating
technology into instruction and supporting educators in teaching in fun and
meaningful ways. As a result, I rarely provided instructional technology
professional development without students from the squad I had developed at my
school. It was tremendously beneficial for both student and teacher to learn in
this way. My personal experience running a student technology squad helped me in
my present position where, among other things, I support schools in setting up
student instructional technology support teams.
After working as a library media specialist and technology
staff developer I worked at Teachers College Innovations, Teachers College
Columbia University where I served as Associated Director of Program
Development. There we created and delivered a blended model of online and onsite
support to schools through a variety of programs including the New Teacher
Academy, The National Board Certification Program, and the Small School Support
From there I went on to serve as a literacy coach at a
Teachers College Reading and Writing Program (TCRWP) affiliated school. It was
in this position that I established a relationship with Lucy Calkins who heads
the program and learned a tremendous amount about helping students to read and
write in authentic ways. This is an amazing approach to literacy which resulted
in me seeing students read and write authentically and enjoying it. The audience
for their work was no longer just the teacher. Kids were reading in book clubs
where they took ownership for their work and their clubs and they were
publishing books. One of my favorite parts of the program was that at the end of
each unit students celebrated their work usually with a publishing party. These
parties were true celebrations where students read excerpts from their work,
received literary awards and family, teachers, and community members were
invited to celebration.
My love of literacy and technology then brought me to my
current position at the NYC DOE. I learned that the NYC DOE Office of
Instructional Technology was beginning a program called Mobile Computing
Solutions where all instructional coaches would receive a Tablet laptop and
instruction around using the device to enhance the work they do. This sounded
like a job specifically created for my areas of passion and expertise. Upon
acquiring the position I began working with Lucy Calkins to develop a Digital
Literacy Resource where we determined all the documents a literacy coach might
want and need at their fingertips to be effective. It took a month or so, but we
ultimately compiled a comprehensive and valuable resource for literacy coaches.
As a result, coaches no longer had to do what I did which was lug around huge
books and notebooks. It was all contained right on their Tablets. Additionally,
they also had access to best practice videos giving coaches a virtual video
library to share with teachers for effective just in time learning. Not only did
Lucy Calkins support the NYC DOE with this project, she also bought into it
herself providing all of her staff developers with fully-loaded Tablets as well
as allowing them to model best coaching practices with literacy coaches. We also
worked with the Math Department to ensure all instructional math resources were
on the device including the Impact math text book, instructional videos, and
software like Geometers Sketchpad.
Four years later I am still working for the Office of
Instructional Technology where I have had the pleasure to work on a number of
exciting projects including a program called iTeach/iLearn where we supported
selected schools across New York City to become technology-rich environments
that deliver 21st Century instruction to a program I am currently working on
called the Renzulli Learning System that provides a robust online resource to
enable teachers to effectively differentiate instruction.
STI: Okay, here’s
your chance . . . if you could change one thing about “the educational system”
what would it be?
LN: Involve students in
policy and decision making as well as curriculum creation and delivery of
instruction. All classes should have ongoing evaluations and be modified with
student input based on those evaluations.
STI: I realize you
want to say a tad bit more about that last question. So, what’s the second thing
you’d like to change?
LN: The community would
be more involved in what is going on in schools as well. The village would truly
be a part of raising the child and more real-world partnerships and adoptions of
schools, classes, and students would occur resulting in more meaningful and
authentic projects and instruction. The Schoolwide Enrichment Model is
successful at achieving this goal in many schools.
What’s your take on the state of technology integration in our schools?
LN: While we’ve made
some progress, there is a long way to go. There are five non-negotiable
requirements that must be met. 1-Strong wireless Internet connectivity in
schools. 2-Free wireless Internet connectivity at home through safe school
networks. 3-Every teacher must be provided with a laptop and projector and
opportunities for professional development. 4-21st Century Skills should be a
part of principal observations of teachers. 5-Once 1-4 are achieved, schools
must invest in sublaptops as instructional tools. These will actually reduce the
cost of instructional resources eliminating the need for textbooks, reading
books, paper, and more.
STI: What’s your own
vision for integrating technology in the classroom?
LN: I think a cross
section of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model and a one-to-one environment would
serve schools well. This model supports students in finding their passions and
dreams and teaching to their interests, abilities, and learning styles. Many
students educated in such environments are able to develop and pursue their
passions and learning and turn that into success in adulthood.
STI: What would have
to happen to get us from the current state to your vision?
LN: Schools would have
to be configured for 21st Century instruction which means things would look very
different than the traditional school, and learning would occur in new ways.
Educators and leaders would need to learn how to implement the schoolwide
enrichment model. We would need to redefine, as a nation, the meaning of
“Student Achievement” to move beyond test scores which test outdated and often
educational technology sites, bloggers, or other resources do you depend on?
LN: Ning (Classroom 2.0
and The Innovative Educator), Twitter, Facebook, Wikispaces, Google
STI: What kind of
advice would you give to non-tech teachers who are afraid to get involved with
technology in the classroom, but know they should?
LN: Pick some students
in your class to help you get on board. Have them help you create and deliver
you lessons. Ask for their feedback. Get involved in the worlds of your students
and have them help you set up various accounts in Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and
whatever they say is hot.
STI: When you’re not
working, where and how do you spend your time and why?
LN: Where: New York,
Vermont, and Florida. How: Playing beach volleyball, writing, swing dancing,
salsa dancing, skiing, snowboarding. Why: I love my work. I love my play.
Balance is the key.
STI: Any must-read
books out there for teachers?
LN: A few:
Blink and Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink
Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky
Freakonomics by Steven Levitt
Wikis, Blogs and Podcasts by Will Richardson
are your favorite free tech resources that every teacher should know about, and
LN: There are
many. I write about some in the below posts.