Called to Washington as Exemplars

December 22, 2016

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Group photo caption: From left to right, Dr. Holly Atkins, Vanessa Hilton of Pasco County School’s administration team, Dr. Candace Roberts, and Stacie Dunmire, recent Saint Leo graduate and a new teacher

Technology is a powerful driver that can enhance learning.  Dr. Candace Roberts and Dr. Holly Atkins have spoken dozens of times all across the country about using technology to engage students in meaningful learning experiences—but never at the White House, at least not until recently. A group including professors Atkins and Roberts, recent Education Department graduate Stacie Dunmire, and adjunct professor and local school district assistant superintendent Vanessa Hilton, had the honor of speaking at a December White House briefing about the best ways to prepare future teachers to use educational technology effectively in their K-12 classrooms.

At the invitation of the U.S. Department of Education, the Saint Leo representatives were asked to describe the many ways that the Saint Leo Education Department employs “program deep and system-wide” integration of technology to prepare the best teachers for tomorrow’s classrooms. “It’s not about the technological tools,” said Roberts. “It’s about engaging students in meaningful learning experiences. The tools are always changing. We teach the students how to teach and how to make the best use of a variety of tools.”

In a few years, when today’s technology is replaced, the Saint Leo teaching alumni such as Dunmire will retain the capacity and collaborative skills to keep working with peers to find which technologies are best suited for helping school children really grasp the subject matter before them.

By hosting a professional briefing, and simultaneously publishing a report (http://tech.ed.gov) on advancing educational technology in teacher preparation, the Department of Education was calling on programs across the country to adopt the innovative mindset of programs like Saint Leo’s and others.

Dr. Holly Atkins described many different initiatives she has spearheaded at Saint Leo.  As the director of the Teacher Technology Summer institute that Saint Leo hosts for area school teachers, Atkins explained how the institute helps the teachers become confident in assessing and applying technology in practical ways, and in sharing experiences over the course of the year with counterparts. The institute has been expanded over time with the addition of an advanced-level group whose members returned for higher-level project work and to mentor teachers in beginner cohort.

Vanessa Hilton, assistant superintendent for student achievement at Florida’s Pasco County Schools, spoke from the point of view of a district that employs teachers educated at a number of different colleges and universities. Her job is to make sure Pasco finds the educators who are best prepared to help students become successful learners. Hilton reflected that this has been easiest when working in partnership with Saint Leo because of the quality and relevancy of the teacher prep program, and encouraged others to leverage these partnerships in their own districts.  “The most important aspect of St. Leo’s program is that they are good listeners…they ask for feedback and listen to the needs of the K-12 system to ensure relevancy,” Hilton said. “They know how important it is to emphasize student learning over the quantity of technology integration.”

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Second photo: Stacie Dunmire in Washington, D.C.