Tuesday, April 13, 2010

conundrums

To wrap a very busy day, I had a Happyland PTA meeting last night. Frankly, I was NOT looking forward to it--the agenda was pretty full and some topics could lead to disagreements. I know my mind and vision for the Happyland PTA, but since I can sometimes come off as a forceful personality, I try to quelch myself and bite my tongue. As president, it's awfully easy to get my way--but I don't want to be that kind of leader. The group has to make the decisions, or else they don't get behind things 100% and support our initiatives. If I throw my weight around, resentment and grumbling follow and people won't get involved or stay involved.

Yesterday morning a lady called me (I'll call her Grandma D)--she's a senior citizen working in a classroom in our district. She'd attended her granddaughter's class in another district and fell head over heels in love with the Smart Board they used. She then asked our district's administration to buy some SmartBoards.

In short, the technology situation in Happyland is dismal. I heard from one of the horse's mouths that they planned to buy 3 Smart Boards for the elementary school for next year. Happyland has about 800 students. Clearly the technology initiatives for the building fall far short of the needs. The plan is fragmented and makes inefficient and wasteful use of technology and without a clear vision, the staff training is equally ineffective. The result is One Giant Mess. A Mess that I've dabbled in before and a Mess I'm quite knowledgeable about.

In previous meetings, Happyland PTA has decided NOT to throw good money after bad, refusing to fund any technology for the building because it's such a clusterf*cuk of mismanagement and poor decision making. We have decided to create a committee to advocate for change in front of the school board. It's about the only place where meaningful change can take place.

Meanwhile, Grandma D didn't like the response she got from the main office and went out and charged a Smart Board to her credit card and presented it to the classroom teacher she works with. She didn't want the class to have to share the Smart Board, it was a personal donation to one classroom with a desperate hope that administrators would be SO blown away by technology in the hands of these youngsters that they'd go out and buy more Smart Boards.

Trouble is, Grandma D can't afford the Smart Board. She called me to ask if the Happyland PTA can help her hold a raffle to raise money to pay for the Smart Board. I told her she may use our next event as a venue to sell tickets--but that's it.

There were (predictably) reasonable concerns about this after she pitched her cause at our meeting last night. After she left, I reminded people, "This is Grandma D's raffle, not PTA's. We only promised her a spot for a table and people walking past. We made no other promises. She is in charge of this raffle, it was her donation, this is her cause."

Part of me feels bad for a sweet old lady with a heart bigger than her wallet. Her enthusiasm is awesome. Her methods? Well, that's the problem, isn't it? You can't make a private donations with strings attached and then ask other people to pay your bill. You can't dump technology in schools and expect it to automatically be a good investment. Smart Boards require training--I'm betting the teacher who now has this technology is using about 1/4 of it's potential. It's a fancy toy, but is it enriching curriculum? And then there's the question of technology and curriculum--which should be the driving force? Without a strong curriculum and technology director in place, the result is a hodgepodge of pieces unrelated to one another--and most likely NOT benefiting students. What happens when one classroom out of four in a grade level have full-time access to technology? What happens to these kids next year and the year after when they return to classrooms without Smart Boards?

I'm not against Smart Boards. I do believe it is one of many powerful teaching tools. Yet other gadgets cost less money and provide students many of the same advantages. I'm not against private donations. I do take issue with impulsive donations that haven't been thought through.

It's a muddle, I tell you. But happily, the rest of the meeting went really well and the Happyland PTA accomplished the agenda items on time, with healthy discussion and with clear plans for our goals and visions for the future of Happyland Elementary.
That? Makes me feel pretty darn good.

Spill it, reader. What challenges is your PTA facing? How's your group handling it?

12 comments:

  1. Thankfully we never had anyone go off as half-cocked as that.

    For my money, without extensive training, a Doc-Cam is worth its weight in gold. Does everyone in the school have one of those yet?

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  2. You are right on the question regarding what drives curriculum. I have a Smart Board in my classroom- I have taken many different technology classes in the last two year - 14 credits - and I still don't use it - or other technology enough in my classroom. I work in a district where there are MANY of these boards - the majority aren't used at all - Why - teachers aren't learning how to use them with their curriculum. Part of that responsibility has to be on the teacher.
    Another problem is $ and other teachers who don't understand that technology is the way this new generation learns. This generation like gadgets and techno -but it is a lesson of who has gadgets/techno and home and who doesn't. NO MIDDLE CLASS in this equation.
    There is a fine balance.

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  3. Oof, I‘m afraid I would have told grandma she was out of luck. She made her lumpy bed all on her own. Small, preferential donations with strings attached are problematic. How does the young teacher, well versed in new technology from recent university days, feel about the “gift” landing in another classroom? And, as you pointed out, the kids who go without the next year? And on and on. Yikes.

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  4. I'm a thousand years old, so we used a clay tablet and a stylus. I have no idea what a Smart Board is. BUT. That One Teacher could have helped avoid such a kerfuffle by telling Oblivious Grandma D "O dear! What a wonderful gift! It is such a shame I can't accept it...I'm sure you'll understand it would give the impression of disparity between the classrooms, and if we can't all have a Smart Board, it really wouldn't be right for just this room to have one, would it? It must have cost you quite a lot - I do hope you'll be able to return it. Thanks so much for understanding."

    !

    Next!
    * ; )

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  5. I appreciate the Grandmother's eagerness, but good LORD!!! She bought the silly thing and then expected someone to help pay for it....I'm so glad that I'm not on pta (I wouldn't be able to bite my tongue on that one!) Talk about leaping before looking!

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  6. Okay. Have to agree here that technology in a classroom without the intense staff development is what makes a Smart Board a VERY expensive whiteboard. Indeed, a doc. camera and projector is a sounder investment and requires no staff development required. Truly. Call me. I have resources and preferred pricing. -KST

    p.s. Give a great teacher a slate and they will still be great. Give an average teacher a piece of technology without support or training on implementation they will still be average.

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  7. I know my kids' school has a Smart board because I saw a demostration of it at a PTA meeting a couple of years ago. I believe the 5/6 grade uses it mostly.

    My sister teaches in a very poor district and they have Smart boards. I'm sure they got them through some grant.

    I am surprised Grandma is so up on technology. Most grandmas are somewhat afraid of it.

    Right now our PTA is concerned about having some split-classrooms next year as a result of over crowding.

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  8. Grandma D should have to live with her own decisions and not stick y'all with the cost of the board, despite being told "No can do, honey." Her thinking is part of a larger trend in the U.S. that bugs me.

    Our kids' school is SmartBoard crazy, and, because it's so built into the culture, they're used really effectively. But, first, the culture needs to be in place!

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  9. Our PTA is facing a change in principals; we just learned ours is leaving.
    My elementary school, a building of about 400 students, now has two smartboards. One is in a primary classroom, and one is in an intermediate room. Those two teachers will trade classrooms with anyone who wants to use it. Somehow, it works. As we teachers learn to better use the technology, we hope to get more Smartboards into our rooms.

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  10. It's been a long time since I was involved with a school....now I just work at one! I am very fortunate to work in a district with lots of money...the district where I live just closed a school and laid off 80 teachers. There are always issues aren't there

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  11. she purchased it and can't afford it?? WTH? And wants to get paid back (in her own warped way)? And gave it to a teacher that may or may not have the time or motivation to learn to use it????

    We have one smart board in our whole school. The teacher who has it got a grant and has a lot of training how to use it.

    And the rest of the school... probably would barely use it even if they did have it.

    Are there really 800 kids in the elementary school? that's huge!

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  12. Our PTA is nothing more than a fundraising machine. It would be awesome for them to get involved in helping real issues in our schools but we need to wait until the board turns and terms members are exhausted. I've tried and you can't make the horse drink the water.

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Spill it, reader.