Creating a 1:1 Learning Environment

S. Dallas Dance

S. Dallas Dance is being honored as a Connected Educator Champion of Change.

A cartoon that I share in some of my presentations shows a class full of students. Each one of them is fully engaged in an activity – like passing notes, eating, drawing, yawning, whispering – but none of them, in many cases including the teacher, is fully engaged in teaching or learning. This is, of course, not a cartoon about Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS), but it is a cartoon about the challenge before all educators to make learning relevant and effective for each student. The cartoon highlights that the old format of a teacher at a desk in the front of the room and students seated at rows of desks awaiting a lecture is disconnected from who our students are, how they learn, and what they need.

When I arrived just last year to assume the superintendency of BCPS, I was fortunate to join an already strong school district with a legacy of high achievement. More than half of our high schools rank among the best in the nation; our arts and music programs are award-winning; and our graduation rate, among large districts, is second-highest in the nation, according to EdWeek.

But being good on average is not the same as being effective for every student, and we have a moral and social imperative to ensure that every student graduates globally competitive. What I call my reasonable impatience about this has only grown more intense since I became a father. I want for every child the same as I want for my own son, and I realized, as I nurture his growth, that we have only one chance to get it right for our students.

I have focused my BCPS administration on building the collective will to pursue deliberate excellence for our students and putting the physical and programmatic structure in place to facilitate achieving our goals. Through meetings, information sharing, and collaborative decision making, we are uniting the entire community into Team BCPS.

This team helped us develop our theory of action and Blueprint 2.0, our five-year strategic plan, which calls for, among other initiatives,  an instructional digital conversion to a 1:1 learning environment and an expanded world languages program so that our students can graduate fluent in a second (or third) language.

Learning via technology has multiple benefits: allowing students access to more accurate and timely information and to other teachers and learners around the globe; personalizing the pace of learning for each student; providing instant feedback and assessments for students and teachers; supporting inquiry-based learning and the development of 21st century skills like critical thinking, creativity and collaboration; and using the technology in which students are already immersed to better engage them in their school work.

Moving to a 1:1 environment also levels the playing field – which is the role of public schools. All students need meaningful access to technology for 24/7 learning to occur.  Without a 1:1 environment in our schools, there is still a digital divide between those who have access to computers and the Internet and those who do not.  We plan to close the digital divide in our schools.

The other major component of the BCPS theory of action is supporting students in becoming proficient in a second language. We know that this is another essential factor in being globally competitive, and research tells us that students who begin learning a second language before adolescence are more likely to become fluent speakers and to have higher overall academic achievement.

By pairing expanded world languages instruction with 1:1 environments, we will create classrooms that will be the opposite of the cartoon I described earlier – 21st century classrooms where teachers guide students toward higher levels of academic rigor and success.

S. Dallas Dance is the superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools, the nation’s 26th largest school system.

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