“Don’t try too many things at once. Find one thing to do, do it right, and start small. If it is successful, it will grow.” – USA

Sometimes, a slight change in perspective can create a spark. For Beth Varsho, that spark came when she changed from her over 20-year career as an educator to the Instructional Technology Integration Specialist for her school district. In essence, Varsho helps teachers integrate technology into their curriculum and meet the needs of 21st century learners.

Under Varsho’s leadership, her school district has made some pretty big changes. From integrating iPods into classrooms to adding wireless connectivity in all of the district schools, Varsho is ensuring her teachers, students and schools have what they need. And the difference access to technology can make is becoming apparent. “Teachers have become open minded and embraced technology,” she says. “They are willing to take risks because they know they have support and they don’t have to do it alone. Because of this, students are given opportunities to use technology to enhance their learning. I have worked with teachers who are uncomfortable with technology but willing to try new things because they know it engages and motivates students.”

Varsho’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. In fact, she won the Intel Inspiring Educator award for 2010. Yet, Varsho remains quite humble about her work, and the impact it has had on the teachers and students it benefits. “I merely generate ideas and offer suggestions; it is the teachers in our district who take chances and make a difference with their students–they are the change agents for our students,” says Varsho.  “I simply supply the tools and resources to make it happen.”

I hope you enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Beth Varsho.

What have you seen change in education as a result of your efforts?

I can only attest to the changes I have seen in my own district. I went to a conference when I first got this position and received some great advice: “Don’t try too many things at once. Find one thing to do, do it right, and start small. If it is successful, it will grow.”

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

I must admit that the first two years in this position, things moved slowly. I came from a high school teaching background into an elementary setting. The teachers didn’t know me—I didn’t know them. The best advice I can give someone transitioning into a position like mine is to go slow and build trust. My slogan (and I carried it around with me in my pocket the first year) was “Let it go.” If you see something that you know needs to be changed, make a mental note of it, but don’t act on it right away. Get to know your teachers first and foremost.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work? 

This is our second year piloting iPod touch devices in two second-grade classrooms. We were really looking for ways that we could “measure” effectiveness. What we came up with was a video diary. I interviewed students throughout the year and posted the videos on my website. My highlight reel even won a first prize at ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) last year!

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

I think everyone faces the issue of time. We want our teachers to be innovative and try new things, but often times they are not given enough professional development time to plan,
analyze, and reflect on the effectiveness. This is why our district created my position—it is my job to do the “homework” and find resources that fit seamlessly into our curriculum. Teachers just simply do not have enough time.

What is your region doing well currently to support education? 

This is a pretty loaded question depending on whom you ask in Wisconsin. Many teachers would say that the dismantling of the union was a step backwards for our state; however, when it comes to educating our children—union or no union—we are all still professionals. I am proud of the teachers in my district who have been able to put politics aside and focus on the needs of the students.

What conditions must change to better support education?

I would like to see less emphasis on standardized testing. I would also be in favor of year-round school. We spend a lot of time “catching up” in the fall.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

I think there are opportunities every day to be innovative. For many teachers it’s just a matter of making the choice. One of the things I appreciate the most in this era is the willingness of the “experts” to share their experiences, knowledge, perspective, and resources online. There are numerous opportunities to “join” conferences online and so many great innovators to follow!

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

The best advice I can give a fellow educator is to not be afraid to try new things with students in the classroom. Sometimes this might mean stepping out of your comfort zone.

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

Our district has made a big push to get more teachers to use online collaboration tools professionally and with students. One of the things this has allowed is for the kids to collaborate on written pieces. Students are very excited to know that they can start a project at school and continue it at home and be able to “share” with classmates and their teachers. The trend that is getting in the way (from what I’ve heard) is putting technology into classrooms but providing no professional development so it either sits there untouched or is used as a classroom management tool.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

I do not believe that there is one tool that fits the needs of every child. Thinking this way seems backwards to me. Educators should be thinking about what we want students to learn and be able to do and then find the tool that meets those individual needs.

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About Beth Varsho

Birthplace: Marshfield, Wisconsin
Current residence: Kimberly, Wisconsin
Education: UW-Eau Claire, Marion College, Fondulac, Wisconsin
Website I check every day:  Just my email. I have many subscriptions via email, and go to different websites every day to check out new things.
Person who inspires me most: My mother. She never stops learning.
Favorite childhood memory: Playing touch football with my three brothers in the front yard. Won every game with two plays: Fake Short-Go Long and Fake Long-Go Short.
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Would love to go to Hawaii someday.
When was the last time you laughed? Why? Within the last hour. It’s important not to take life too seriously.
Favorite book: Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Her positive attitude is infectious; her perseverance is admirable; and her temper/stubbornness reminds me of… well…me.
Favorite music: Country or Oldies

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