Developing Teacher-Leaders to Drive the Digital Transition

Discovery Education Partner Stories: Wake County Public Schools (NC)

The largest school system in North Carolina, Wake County Public School System is also one of the best in the country, with an exceptional standard of excellence for students and teachers alike. Of its 11,000 teachers, 2,455 are certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards—the largest number of officially certified teachers of any school district in the nation. Raleigh, North Carolina consistently ranks at the top of the Forbes list of Top Places to Raise a Family, with the remarkable quality of Wake County Schools as one of the major reasons for the honor.

The district serves 150,000 students across 169 schools, which also makes it one of the largest school districts in the country. With so many students to serve, the district faced many unique challenges when it came to transitioning toward a digital learning curriculum.

Wake County has placed a premium on academic excellence throughout its history. According to their website, “by 2020, WCPSS will annually graduate at least 95 percent of its students ready for productive citizenship as well as higher education or a career. This is the goal statement of the Wake County Public School System’s Vision 2020 Strategic Plan. We believe that preparing students for what lies beyond high school includes encouraging them to think about college and careers in the early grades.”

Achieving these goals has included integrating learning technology into WCPSS classrooms. However, making this change is not without obstacles. Frequently, one of the largest hurdles is acquiring buy-in at the teacher and administrator level. Some teachers may be unfamiliar with digital tools. Others may be intimidated that most of their students were raised with a tablet in their hands, while they’ve never used one.

It’s a valid concern: how can a teacher maintain the impact of their instruction in the classroom if they’re on unsure footing? A solution that’s working in Wake County? Teachers are prepared to take on leadership roles to encourage professional development in teachers at every level.

According to Wake County superintendent Todd Wirt, the issue isn’t only felt among the older generation of teachers. In an interview with Discovery at this year’s South by Southwest Interactive conference, Wirt pointed out “the assumption you make sometimes is that young teachers have more experience and affinity for technology, because they use it in their personal life. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s been a part of their schooling, or that they possess the skills to really effectively integrate it…Regardless of young or old, at this point it’s just such a major change, and the tools allow us to do that.”

In order to accelerate and scale the district’s digital transition, Wake County focused on equipping its teachers with a system of professional learning and leadership with Discovery Education Leader Corps, a three-year system of professional learning designed to nurture and develop teacher leaders as they accelerate and scale a district’s digital transition.

The impact has been significant. Using the Leader Corps’ system, Wake County started the program with four teachers and a principal in every school. They were given specialized professional development in digital learning, with the goal of eventually sharing their knowledge with their peers by opening their classrooms for observation and allowing fellow teachers to participate. By using the ongoing support and training available to them through Discovery, teachers were able to achieve a maximum level of comfort with these new tools before taking the step towards transferring what they’ve learned to their colleagues.

In the first year of partnership with Discovery Education, Wake County educators shared real examples of how their classrooms have transformed into digital learning environments as a result of the tools and strategies gained from Leader Corps; a shift that has not only increased student engagement, but has also impacted teacher engagement as well. After two years, the program is seeing results. Teachers are reporting an increased comfort level with learning technology in their classrooms, and are expanding their usage of digital tools beyond the more traditional elements, such as video.

As their commitment to digital learning continues, we expect Wake County Public Schools to easily maintain their spot among the top school districts in the U.S. Interested in learning more about how Wake County empowered its teachers to take a leadership role in their digital learning transition?

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