Today’s post was written by Dr. Ramona Best, principal of the Coulter Grove Intermediate School.
Do you believe in love at first sight? I do, because my teachers and administrators at Coulter Grove Intermediate School in Maryville, Tennessee, have experienced it firsthand! Our story isn’t about an immediate connection between two people (although we are a close-knit family, and there is certainly love and caring that exists in our building). Instead, our story is about an immediate connection with a digital tool called OneNote that fulfilled a need and then continued to grow with us so much that we have become inseparable! Now, as our relationship has continued, we have built trust and reliance on this tool. We love it so much we want to share our love story with the world!
Here’s how our school fell in love with Microsoft OneNote!
The Coulter Grove Intermediate School and OneNote love story is set at the beginning of the school year in late July of 2015. I am sure you are familiar with the excitement and anticipation that is a part of each annual startup at schools. There is so much to do and so little time! But we had an additional challenge this year. It was our first year in a full 1:1 digital environment. Sure, we had done the legwork leading up to this challenge. We had piloted laptops with early adopter teachers’ classrooms the previous year, utilized a Learning Management System (LMS) purchased by the district, collaborated and worked to build digital content and honed our digital skills. We had explored digital tools and were each on our own growth path and pace toward limitless learning for our students. But as with any journey, our path had not been smooth, and we had to reroute along the way. As administrators, we were fully embedded in this journey with our teachers, experiencing the bumps and bruises as we traveled and picking ourselves up to ride another day.
Some of our bumps in the road during the previous year had been a way to organize content so students could easily access curriculum in a timely and efficient manner. We found ourselves and our students constantly drilling down folder by folder and restating and redirecting to locate saved content. Also, finding and giving feedback and grading student digital work was imperfect and laborious at best. Additionally, as we were building our content digitally, we worried that our students without internet connection at home would not be able to access content and complete assignments outside of the school day. Would the power of a digital tool at home be lost for our students that needed access the most? Sure, there were plans in place to help including community partnerships for W-Fi access and hotspots available for checkout for home use. But we wondered, would this work? How could we help our students stay organized, access content and submit quality digital work? We and our students loved our tried-and-true interactive notebooks full of notes, diagrams and reflections. What digital tools would work best in our blended learning environment?
Skip back with me to the spring of 2015. Our administrative team attended a regional technology administrator’s conference hosted by our state affiliate of ISTE. We were on a mission to become digital administrators! Two of us signed up to attend a session on “OneNote for Administrators” led by my longtime friend and colleague, Jill Pierce. I had been using OneNote for almost ten years as a personal productivity tool and loved it but had just been using it “my way” and had not kept up with the changes and updates. It was at this session that our OneNote plan developed and that I rekindled, renewed and rebuilt my relationship with OneNote. What I learned about the OneNote Staff and Class Notebooks was a game changer. Our plan was simple. We would use this tool as administrators during the 2015-2016 school year for our staff handbook, for teacher collaboration, and have the teachers experience it as end users.
We thought a few teachers might choose to pilot OneNote during the school year. We knew that it would be a tool that would support our staff as well as a new tool for our classrooms. But we worried that we could overwhelm our teachers if we moved too fast. They already had so much on their plates with the changes and new products. After all, we had a LMS, and everyone had been trained and had built content for a year within that interface. So, we would model the use of this tool, give our teachers the experience as an end user, and they could choose to be an end user or pick it up and use it as a part of their instruction and content development. Perhaps they would be ready for OneNote Class Notebooks in 2016.
On July 21, 2015, our first day of teacher in-service for the year was held. Our admin team members were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to start the year off with a bang. We had built our professional development schedule to ensure success for our teachers. Within our schedule, I would kick off the year with an inspirational message and share our beautiful OneNote Staff Notebooks. We would model the use, spout its praises of automatic saving, everything opening at once and off-line access on various devices. We had a PD time slot on Friday morning for personalized learning that we would build based on our teachers needs assessment. As I closed that first gathering of the year that was themed with a growth mindset and content delivered via OneNote, I felt great about the year. We could do this.
As I dismissed our teachers for a break before our classroom and team collaboration time, instead of breaking, a handful of our teachers gathered and bombarded us with questions. The number one statement and question was, “I need this for my students. How can I get it now?” We promised a “how to” session for Friday and counted it a success. Next on the agenda was our Leadership team meeting. An agenda was set but, in the end, was shortened because OneNote became the topic of discussion. Yes, I was using OneNote for our CGIS Leadership Team Notebook for the year and had embedded content and agenda templates for meetings and shared the notebook with team members.
By the end of the meeting, we knew. It was love at first sight for many of our teachers. On Friday, our entire teaching staff chose to attend the optional OneNote training session led by Mrs. Deana Bishop and, by the end of the first nine weeks of the school year, 50 percent of our teachers had OneNote Class Notebooks set up and were using them with students on a regular basis. By the end of the year, that number had grown to 70 percent. At the beginning of this school year, it was practically everyone. Today, it is the primary tool school-wide for digital content for students and staff. Teachers use OneNote consistently, including special needs classrooms and Encore classes.
Why did we fall in love with OneNote? That answer is easy: It helps our kids. It helps them stay organized. It isn’t internet access-dependent, leveling the playing field for all our students. The old excuse of “The dog ate my homework” is no more. (We almost had a “dog ate the laptop” story, however!) Why do we keep loving OneNote? Have you seen Learning Tools? Enough said! Our admin team feels like the best “matchmakers” in the world, and we are living happily ever after!
—Dr. Ramona Best