Sunday, April 20, 2008

CIS 339 Brings Professional Learning Communities Into The 21st Century

I'm always on the lookout for schools that are effectively putting smart teaching and learning 2.0 practices in place. CIS 339 is one of those schools that has become a pioneer in embedding 21st Century tools into the way they do business to enhance education. 

To start, as leadership expert Michael Fullan says, you need to get the right people in the right seats on the bus

The school’s committed leader, Jason Levy did just that by hiring Dan Ackerman, a former technology coach, as his assistant principal. Because of his background, Dan was prepared to support this effort. He also put Christina Jenkins in place as a full-time technology coach who among other accomplishments put a strong online infrastructure in place in addition to providing ongoing coaching and PD support. Additionally he retained Patrick Wagner an ed tech consultant. He also purchased a 21st Century literacy and social studies curriculum from Teaching Matters that includes onsite support from staff developers to support the program. Finally, he worked to secure teachers that were enthusiastic about using 21st Century tools in the classroom and excited to be teaching in a school where every teacher had a laptop, projector and internet access to support instruction. 

Mr. Levy didn't have a miracle budget either. He had the same support on hand as most other NYC schools. He just ensured that the resources and staff he secured and purchases he made had innovative educational abilities at the core.

At the start of 2007/2008 Mr. Levy's dream team got to work fast and have accomplished a tremendous amount in one year. His tech coach, Ms. Jenkins, is a Google Certified Educator and used a lot of this knowledge to integrate Google in the work they do to enhance teaching and learning. Alongside Mr. Ackerman and Mr. Wagner she worked with Google to set up accounts for the entire student and teacher body which enabled them to use the suite of free Google products including gmail for staff and student email, Google Collaborative Docs and Spreadsheets to enhance tracking of student data, Google Groups to share plans and resources, Google talk to stimulate instant messaging conversation and accountable communication and Blogger to provide blogs (that can be translated into multiple languages) for the school, principal, staff and students. 

You can visit their blogs at:
Using Google as a platform was an important choice because it gave staff and students a common platform and a single sign on solving the “I forgot my username/password” issue. They also use wikis for lesson planning collaboration and more.

The combination of 21st Century tools and a 21st Century-minded staff have enabled C.I.S. 339 to develop an innovative online and onsite Professional Learning Community that is embedded in all teaching and learning at the school. The school’s leaders, coaches, and their educational consultant uses 21st Century tools to model 2.0 support for teachers and students that they are able to transfer into their teaching and learning practice. 

In addition to onsite mentoring and professional development, teachers also have access to online support via tools such as Skype (free online voice and video conferencing), gmail, chat, online groups (e.g. Google Groups), online videos, and through collaboration and feedback on Google Docs and blogs. For an example of this you can watch Mr. Wagner’s UStream video message to class 165 in response to the work they are doing as they blog about “The Outsider.” This relationship encourages teachers to adopt these technologies more quickly, and caters to teachers' needs as the improved flexibility means that teachers utilize the mentoring and support services outside of school hours when much of their planning is taking place.

C.I.S. 339 has spent a lot of time this year ensuring teachers are comfortable with embedding technology tools into their work. The more they are embedded in the day to day of how they do business, the easier it becomes for teachers to make connections as to how they can enhance student learning with technology.

This will be a big focus next year as Mr. Levy prepares his school for becoming a 1:1 environment through a Capital funded NYC Dept of Education program. He is also piloting using the low-cost Asus Eee Laptops which have the potential to provide a sustainable one-laptop-per-child reality necessary for successful 21st Century teaching and learning. I look forward to seeing how the C.I.S. becomes a true School 2.0 once they have all the ingredients in place next year.

Click here to read an email from the school's tech coach explaining the process the school went through to put these structures in place.


  1. Michael Fullan did not write the quote, "get the right people on the bus..." It's from Jim Collin's book, Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap and other don't.

  2. @anonymous,

    Thank you for sharing Collin's use of the "bus" quote. To clarify Fullan used it too in the Moral Imperative of School Leadership. I guess it's become a popular way to paint this picture. Other authors have also used the quote.

    The Innovative Educator