“I look forward to the day that teachers stop thinking of technology as another ’thing‘ that they have to deal with and it truly becomes a tool that is so integrated into teaching and learning, that it becomes invisible.” – USA
“Although my job title says ‘technology,’ it isn’t really about the technology, it is about good teaching,” says Sonja Delafosse. For the past six years, Delafosse has worked as the Technology Integration Specialist for the Lake Washington School District in Redmond, Washington. In her time away from the school district, she also is a teacher trainer with Microsoft Innovative Educators Program. She works with teachers of all grade levels and content areas, and with administrators on integrating technology and best practices to develop high-quality instruction.
Delafosse specializes in facilitating learning that is focused on the integration of technology to most impact student learning in the classroom. Her professional development focuses on dimensions of 21st century learning and how to ensure that the work that students do is meaningful, relevant and appropriately rigorous. “Technology is a tool that allows teachers to engage students more deeply and to differentiate to meet the needs of each learner in the classroom,” she says. “I work on a team of six, and together we have worked with teachers on developing lessons that allow them to leverage technology in order to do both of these things.” Here, Delafosse takes time to share her insights on why any teacher at any level can use technology in the classroom, and why it is of the utmost importance for students today.
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
I have spent the last six years as a technology integration specialist working to help teachers take risks and try new ways of teaching. We have encouraged the use of blended learning so that students can access learning at any time. We have worked with first grade teachers on using OneNote so that students can record their reading and improve their reading fluency, with 4th and 5th grade teachers to have students use Live Movie Maker and PhotoStory to document the process in a science project, and more. The teachers we work with are doing amazing things. This past school year, we rolled out carts of netbooks to all 30 elementary schools in our district and provided countless hours of professional development so that all students (K-6) had regular access to netbooks for content learning. Here is a link to our Mobile Access for Students Session that we led at NCCE in March 2012 (there are tons of videos and multimedia that show what our teachers have done with the technology). Outside of my district, I have been a Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) Trainer for the past year and half. This has allowed me to work with teachers all over the US and the world. I co-facilitated two Partners in Learning Institutes. The first one was in July 2011 and was an exciting week of professional development with 50 educators from over 30 countries. In November, I
facilitated another Institute that was part of the Global Forum in Washington D.C. The feedback from the participants in both Institutes was incredible. I have also facilitated MIE trainings in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Mountain View and Bellevue. These have been invaluable and although I am a facilitator, I walk away with so many new ideas from the incredible educators with whom I work.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
I have had countless teachers share with me their students’ culminating projects and it has been exciting to see the results. I look forward to the day that teachers stop thinking of technology as another “thing” that they have to deal with and it truly becomes a tool that is so integrated into teaching and learning, that it becomes invisible. Here is an example of an email that we received from a teacher about our work:
From a 1st/2nd grade teacher:
“I just wanted the Tech Integration team to know how valuable the netbooks have been in my room. I was able to have 10 netbooks a day, everyday, all day, which allowed students to use them effectively. Yesterday, I was putting together each child’s collection of presentations that they have done on a disk, which made me realize the knowledge that they have gained. This was mostly possible by their use of netbooks. They were able to research, gather information, organize and create PowerPoints, videos, and word processing documents, which allowed them to share their knowledge of their learning. We also have Skyped, which has been fun and valuable for the students. We also used netbooks to create stories that we have published and have held a “Read In.” For some, they have become proficient with keyboarding skills and for others, they are showing amazing growth.”
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
When working with teachers who are reluctant to try something with technology, I always begin with identifying a concept or objective that is being taught. I ask the teacher to tell me about how students struggle with the objective.
Then I work with them to find a way to integrate just a bit of technology that will engage the students. If they are really nervous, I offer to come in and help facilitate the lesson with kids. Frequently, the biggest obstacle to technology integration is fear of the unknown. Fear that the technology won’t work and that the lesson will go up in flames are the two biggest roadblocks. By helping the teacher design the lesson and by offering to be in the class to help troubleshoot, these fears are addressed, and within weeks, the teacher is branching off beyond where we started and coming up with innovative lessons on his or her own. With teachers of older students, I remind them that they don’t need to know the program or technology very well at all.
Our students today are so used to being put in front of new technology that they aren’t afraid to learn on their own. Once teachers hear that piece of advice, they are willing to let go and let the kids take control over their learning. The end result is generally something pretty spectacular.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
Our team has used OneNote as a tool for the past five years as a way to track our meeting notes and decisions, but also as a way to deliver our Professional Development curriculum to staff. It is a beautifully flexible tool and has so many options to meet the needs of various learners. Also, we have worked to model a blended learning classroom by creating class sites for each class that we teach that contains everything we teach as well as more resources for learning more. Very few people can learn something to mastery in just a few classes. Blended learning environments provide the ability for learners to come back and re-digest the information as they are implementing the learning in their classrooms.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
Honestly, the biggest obstacle is getting past the mentality that teachers need to prepare students for state and national testing. Too many people put their curriculum on hold to do test prep. Additionally, traditional testing excludes too many students from demonstrating whether or not they actually understand something or not.
The beauty of technology tools is that students have so many creative ways to demonstrate their learning. In addition, I truly believe it is our job as educators to teach students how to filter all of the information with which we are inundated and then how to combine the knowledge into a unique product of some kind. Problem-based learning is learning in the real world and is something that I wish more of our schools and classrooms would embrace.
What is your country doing well currently to support education?
I am glad that schools in my region support the arts and music and emphasize creativity in students. This is an essential part of education that is missed in other regions. I also believe that the American education system is doing better than it has in the past.
Too often we are criticized for graduation rates and poor test scores. Certainly, we need to improve, however, it is now not acceptable for students to drop out after 8th grade, I know that in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, high-school was much more of a sifting facility. It was meant to sort the future blue collar workers from white collar workers and it was successful. Now, all students not only are expected to graduate from high school, there is more and more emphasis on ensuring that our students have some sort of post-secondary education. I know that with the right support in place, that we can see a day in which this becomes a reality.
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
These days, it seems as though all of American politics is against public education. Teachers and schools are demonized in the media and in political rhetoric. I wish that our government could invest in developing high-quality teacher preparation programs that are tied to current research regarding high-quality instruction.
Pre-service teachers should have two to three years of internship concurrently with their program and university instruction and really learn about what high-quality technology integration, 21st century learning, social media and more can do to radically change the learning environment. Too many teachers are still teaching the way that we were taught. It is scary to take risks as a teacher, especially with the emphasis on high-stakes testing. If the government was to fully fund teacher prep programs and then pay teachers an excellent salary, the learning environment would start to change more quickly.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
Social media is a great tool for changing the learning environment. I am saddened every time I hear someone who thinks that these tools only are entertainment and should be locked out of the classroom. When I go to a conference and am learning, I greatly appreciate having a backchannel to ask questions without raising my hand, or having a Twitter hashtag that I can use to add my voice to the learning. I also appreciate being able to quickly look up information if someone mentions a topic that I’ve never heard of. Instead of interrupting class, I can search for it on the Internet, find out about it, and bookmark it for later. These tools allow us to ensure that more voices are heard in the classroom than just the three to four assertive students. Every time I’m teaching a class, I encourage the teachers with whom I work to backchannel, tweet, and use the Internet as they are learning. If they get distracted and become unengaged, then I need to improve my teaching to make it more engaging.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
I would tell them to find some mentors with whom they can partner. Don’t be afraid to take risks, and always remember that is your job to do whatever it takes to help students learn. Watch your mentors teach lessons, and have them watch your teaching. Don’t ever close your mind to new ways of teaching concepts. Find creative ways to engage students, but always stay focused on the objective that you are trying to teach.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
For sure, blended learning is the most helpful trend. Being able to re-access a lesson at any time is so important in the learning cycle. Many teachers talk about the “flipped” classroom, but I believe it is more than just putting a video of the lesson on a website. It is about creating discussion boards, links to resources and giving students the power to teach each other as well. Some of the most amazing classrooms I see have rich class websites in which students can access the lesson each day again and again, and carry on discussions into the evening about what was learned that day in class. Culminating projects are then displayed virtually so that they can celebrate the learning and re-access the learning again later in the year if needed.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
I would give each child a laptop with connection to the Internet. There is an infinite amount of information and knowledge out there. Imagine not being able to access this knowledge. If you want to know the answer to almost any question, it is a few clicks away. Access to knowledge is the first step towards a better life. The next step would be ensuring that each child has access to a teacher who can help them learn what to do with that knowledge. With a laptop and the right software, one can create videos, write blogs, Skype with someone from around the world, and so much more.
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About Sonja Delafosse
Birthplace: Seattle, Washington
Current residence: Kirkland, Washington
Education: BA in Music from Western Washington University, K-8 Elementary Education Certificate from Central Washington University, MA Ed Leadership, Principal’s Certificate and Program Admin Certificate from University of Washington
Website I check every day: Twitter, Facebook, and King 5 News
Person who inspires me most: My parents. They have always cheered me on, supported me and filled me with the belief that I can do anything I put my mind to.
To this day, they come to any music event in which I perform, to my sporting events and more. I can always count on them and I am who I am today because of the beliefs they instilled in me.
Favorite childhood memory: Camping with my family on the Washington Coast (near Kalaloch)
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Summer of 2013, my husband and I are traveling to Tahiti for pleasure. We will stay at a hotel for a couple of days, then we will take a small cruise to a variety of the Society Islands. Since my husband is French, we are excited to travel to a French-speaking country.
When was the last time you laughed? Why? When don’t I laugh? I am always smiling and laughing. Humor makes the world a better place. I use humor constantly in my work and it is definitely one of the ways that I connect with people.
Favorite book: I love all books by Robin Hobb. The first trilogy I read was the “Farseer
Trilogy” and devoured all of her books within a few months of reading that trilogy.
I am a voracious reader in my free time and can easily read a book in just a few days. Fortunately, I have a Kindle and our library system has Kindle ebooks for checkout! In the 1.5 years I’ve owned a Kindle, I’ve read over 200 books (maybe closer to 300). Professionally, my favorite books that I’ve read are “Making Thinking Visible” by Ron Ritchhart, “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard” by Chip Heath, and “Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School” by John Medina.
Favorite music: I love my workout mix from Zune: Hits (2011) Workout album. I listen to it every day while working out and the energy gets me through it.
Your favorite quote or motto:“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” – Ronald E. Osborn
“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” -Albert Einstein