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Professional Opinion

Nurturing digital learning at school

Empower staff with a shared vision and a culture of risk-taking and trust
Matthew Joseph is director of digital learning and innovation for Milford Public Schools in Massachusetts.
Matthew Joseph is director of digital learning and innovation for Milford Public Schools in Massachusetts.

Matthew Joseph led the first 1-to-1 device rollout in a public school in Massachusetts more than a decade ago, and also spent 11 years as an elementary school principal.

Now director of digital learning and innovation for Milford Public Schools, he is overseeing implementation of the district’s 1-to-1 Chromebook program in grades 3 through 12.

“It is a district on the move, looking to move to a blended learning environment and 1-to-1 setting, and phase that in over time,” he says.

“The skills that I liked to do and had experience in—bringing foresight, vision and backward mapping—could be used to provide the district with active learning classrooms while utilizing the most current education tools.”

Joseph is a featured presenter for the Future of Education Technology Conference, to be held January 27-30, 2019, in Orlando, Fla.

What does a “culture of innovation” look like in a district?

It’s about creating a culture that’s as dynamic as the world around us. It’s providing not just ideas but structures to provide educators with the flexibility to make decisions that best fit their school, and to use certain tools, meaning hardware to instructional software, accordingly.

The second piece is to lead by example—to go in as the school or district leader and model what innovation looks like at the instruction level. If you’re asking staff to create an active learning environment, you must take risks and utilize tools to run staff meetings and communicate.

You talk a lot about active learning. How do you define that?

An active learning environment is collaborative and allows students to have a voice in the classroom. Students should ask questions and share ideas, and interact with content not just absorb it.

Being actively engaged with the content also means students ask questions, collaborate with peers, research information and explore on their own after the teacher plants a seed.

Is there a formula to being an innovative leader?

It can boil down to whether you, as a leader, are creating a culture of trust that allows your staff to take risks in learning so that teachers can try things. This environment allows enhancements in learning to move swiftly. Creating a space where educators can think and then act in a way that best suits their learners, while utilizing the tools they have, is key.

If the teachers or principals don’t have the trust of their leader, they’re not going to take that step.

This is not just about a district leader being tech savvy?

That’s another misnomer. It’s about asking your educators to create a classroom in which students are also thinking critically, and only then can you match the tools with the learning.

How do you get educators to build an active learning environment?

I use the analogy of the highway to represent where teachers and school leaders may be on the spectrum. On a highway, there are slow cars, fast cars and there are the breakdown lane cars.

For me, I see it as if we’re going to be on this highway together. No matter how fast or slow they go, I get it, and I’m going to encourage them to take a step forward every day. I tell them not to judge themselves against the average, just against themselves. I only ask that they go forward, and I’ll be there to support them. 


Emily Ann Brown is associate editor.