“As the face and demands of the classroom change, sadly the mentality of many persons involved in the education sector remains the same…blackboards are converted to whiteboards, but not necessarily smartboards!” – Kandi-Lee Crooks-Smith, Jamaica
Even for the most seasoned of educators, wisdom can come from unexpected sources, and at unexpected times. “I once had a group of students, who, after a science lesson, tried to challenge me by drawing the male and female reproductive organs on my classroom door,” says Kandi-Lee Crooks-Smith, principal at Allman Town Primary School in Kingston, Jamaica. “I was quite upset at the intention they had, but my husband, Oniel Smith, looked at me and told me that I was a great educator, so rather than becoming upset, do what I do best, facilitate learning! I went to school enthused the next day, and with a smile I labelled the drawings on the door. All the students went to see the addition I made to their original artwork. A quiz given the following day had almost a 100% pass rate! I now use the ‘Facilitating Learning’ principle in my daily life.”
For Crooks-Smith and her teachers, facilitating learning takes many forms: one being the KidzHub Media Network, which allowed Allman Town students to broadcast live on the radio from the 2012 Penn Relays in Philadelphia, among other events. Most recently, Crooks-Smith’s students are taking part in the Global Enterprise Challenge, and it has proven to be a welcome addition. “It allows students to have the freedom of thought, feeling, and imagination,” says Crooks-Smith. “This therefore requires that they act more independently, more critically, more responsibly and with more insight, yet acknowledge the need for collaboration.”
What’s more, Crooks-Smith and her staff have seen their students grow not only in knowledge and self-confidence, but they have also made new friends and have identified talents and strengths of schoolmates and classmates. “There is a new sense of comradery, and a bonding that is taking place as they come together and share ideas and create samples,” notes Crooks-Smith. “This, for our students, is priceless!”
Enjoy todays’ Daily Edventure with Kandi-Lee Crooks-Smith!
What inspired you to become an educator?
I was influenced to become an educator by my aunt, Ms. Hazel Gray (she died in May 2014), who was a teacher for 36 years. I remember watching her when she came home from work and college at night, and she would teach my relative to read. She made teaching aids for him as she would for the students she taught in the day, and never gave up on him. He then went on to earn a placement in a prominent high school. I admired her patience, her dedication and her confidence in him. I therefore realized how important dedicated teachers were. It never occurred to me to do anything else, I wasn’t interested. I wanted to impact lives and give each child I came in contact with a fighting chance to be the best he/she could be. I began my pursuit to learn how to become a good teacher, like my aunt.
What was a defining moment in your career when you felt proudest to be an educator? One of my proudest moments as an educator was in April 2014. Our school is a part of the KidzHub Media Network. As such, we have a “Media Club” and online radio station at our school, home to the first-ever radio station in a primary/elementary school in Jamaica West Indies. It allows a space where students can get immersed in all things technology. We were invited to participate in the Jamaica Teachers Association’s Best Practices in Education International Conference.
To the surprise of the organizers, my students were the presenters, photographers, producers and assistant engineers for our presentation. They interviewed the adult panel of conference planners as well as their own peers. They showcased their audio/visual segments that ranged from sports commentary, a collection of short stories, research on nutrients found in the foods grown in the school’s garden, science facts and a commercial they created for an environmental competition, all while broadcasting live from the location. Even I felt honored to be interviewed by my own students.
Their parents, the school community, and alumni locally and abroad listened to them live. Stakeholders were overjoyed to know that these were the students from a school in the inner city, now having and owning a global voice. They were professional in their presentation, and received a standing ovation at the end! Sometimes I am brought to tears just listening to the students recall their experience from the conference, and the fact that they never thought they were that important to be the presenters, especially to adults, on a global stage.
They have since been invited to other events of the same nature (showcasing best practices and innovations in education), and are booked to present at a conference hosted by the Alumni of Central Connecticut State University in early January 2015.
Why do you feel passionate about innovation and technology in the classroom?
My passion for innovation stemmed from my concern that not enough is being done to meet the needs of diverse learners in the classroom, and more so the boys in our classrooms. I am an advocate for schools making a difference in the lives of students. I have seen where the incorporation of technology in the use of innovative methods have created students who are confident, high achievers and display strong leadership qualities. I am always cognizant of the fact that our students need to be challenged and motivated in the classroom, while ensuring that the activities of the classroom are current and relevant to real life situations.
I did a pilot project as a classroom teacher way back in 2003, using just one printer and a desktop computer stationed in my classroom. Students were introduced to Web quests, and we used the research and project-based approach. They always had a project to work on, and so even if I were unavoidably absent, there was no need for a substitute. They were the ones who prepared the transparencies for the overhead projector (at the time) and did their presentations to the entire class. They were the first set of students in the school to all have email addresses, and were able to correspond with students from UCLA in a cultural exchange. Because of their success, the school received more computers. The majority of that group of students has gone on to university, and have continued to excel. They are among those taking on leadership roles wherever they go.
Today I watch with excitement as a group of grades 4-5 boys are engaged in apps and game development using Kodu and Touch Develop. When I ask them about a particular strand in Mathematics, their numeracy vocabulary is rich with the practical application demonstrated in the programming of the game characters and perfect explanation by the students. In addition, the higher-order skills are brought to the fore. These boys spend their lunch break working on their games whether collectively or individually, and are now seeking to create games to address social issues and challenges in our school.
Whether it’s a day-to-day challenge or larger problem, what’s the biggest obstacle you or your country or region has had to overcome, or will have to overcome, to ensure a quality education for students?
The biggest obstacle that needs to be overcome to ensure quality education in Jamaica is changing the mindset of teacher-centered classrooms. We need to ensure that every classroom is a resource center, equipped to meet the demands of all students at both ends of the learning spectrum. There are times where the technology hardware is provided and training is given, but in most cases the policies and the actual infrastructure/set-up of the classrooms have not changed. It is still an issue to have teachers see that technology lessens work, but I suppose the initial input of information and data seems to be the greatest hindrance.
Another issue is the fact that most teachers do not own their own devices, and although many teachers may have smartphones, they do not acknowledge it as a complete device. Hence, using ICT is not as natural as we assume it should be. As the face and demands of the classroom change, sadly the mentality of many persons involved in the education sector remains the same. In short, blackboards are converted to whiteboards, but not necessarily smartboards!
In terms of education innovation, what are you most excited about for the future? What is your biggest hope for today’s students?
I look forward to the day when students are not limited by a curriculum, but with the availability of the tools they have and will be developing, can access their courses online and at any time they need to – even at the primary level! I am excited about the fact that many university courses and career options that my present students will engage in have not yet been created, and that they will be the very ones to determine what will be current and relevant.
How do you strive to prepare your students for the future with 21st century job skills?
I am on a mission to encourage my students to be engaged in lifelong learning. This must be learning that is holistic in its approach. This is learning that encompasses more than what occurs in the classroom, it is a philosophy that involves the development of knowledge, skills and values throughout all stages of my students’ lives—from early childhood through to adulthood. The implementation of programs that showcase learning as not just an intellectual process, but one that permeates all aspects of an individual’s life, including his or her role in the community, performance in the workplace, personal development and physical well-being.
I am pushing for the establishment of a distance learning scenario in our school at present, as we have had students who are out of school for various legitimate reasons. I would love to see them still actively engaged in the teaching and learning process, in real time where applicable, regardless of where they are. I request of teachers a more intensive use of technology in everyday lesson delivery, in clubs and extracurricular activities, as well as entry in competitions and partnerships at the local and international level. This will place emphasis also on arousing curiosity, allowing students to experience being active in the learning process and the pleasures of research and discovery.
About Kandi-Lee Crooks-Smith
Principal, Allman Town Primary School
Kingston, Jamaica, West Indies
- Birthplace: Kingston, Jamaica
- Educational background: BEd- Primary Education, Diploma in Primary Education
- Website I check every day: Facebook
- Favorite childhood memory: Participating in the various sports, art and music activities, competitions and camps in my church’s youth group helped to hone my talents and build my confidence!
- Favorite book: Collection of Classical Fairytales by Hans Christian Andersen
- Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology? Office 365