Editor's Note: This interview was conducted nearly 20 years ago as part of a project I completed for the UCLA Educational Leadership program. The goal was to understand how educational leaders use computers in their daily lives and how they manage technology's many challenges in their workplace. I am amazed at how well the issues raised by the twelve K-12 leaders and higher education professionals I interviewed have stood the test of time. The hardware and software has changed, to be sure, but the challenge of using technology as a leadership tool still remains. Enjoy! *extra credit if you answer the questions at the end of each interview!
Interview with Ana Ponce, Founder - The Accelerated School
Tell me about your current position.
I’m a Bilingual teacher in a combination class of twenty students. I teach kindergarten, first, and second graders. Most of my students speak Spanish as their first language and have limited English skills. I’m also the bilingual coordinator for the school as well as the professional program coordinator. I have worked at the school since it opened in 1993. I also helped write the charter that enabled us to separate from the Los Angeles Unified School District.
What is the role of technology here at the school, and what do you think is its appropriate use in education?
I think it should be part of everyday life. Its just part of what we do. When the kids come in the morning, I make it part of the normal daily routine to start the computers, get them up and running, that sort of thing. There are always things that are coming off of the printer when the kids arrive. Sometimes they ask “Is this going to be our homework today?” Technology just happens. I remember the first time the kids had seen the printer print. I was typing up materials they had written by hand and then printing them. Every time I pushed the print button, they ran to the printer and waited. They would shout “The dots are coming. They dots are coming!” They waited for their piece to come out. Very motivational. They loved it. I realized then that “gosh, my kids are really not exposed to this.” I mean, its so much a part of our lives, if you know what I mean. But not theirs. Technology is a part of everything. So that’s why it should just be a part of everything we do. When they need to use it they can. I let them come in after school, at recess, or whenever its available.
Now we are doing the FutureKids program here at the school. Its a sequenced program to teach kids different programs, like Print Shop, to make posters, bulletins, pictures, and other writing activities. They use Kid Pix to explore different ways to use the mouse and the menu bars and icons, and they write their name, they have fun. They see me print up cards to give to people.
We love the Windows on Science laser disk programs. They are just fascinated that a CD (laser disk) shows a picture. I mean, the little ones are fascinated by the reflection and the colors of the disk too, so its easy to impress some of them! But it still works after how many years? But you know, even the CD player, they learn how to use the boom box to turn on music. Or sometimes we have group work and I let the students decide what to play. In the library I have a listening center made out of Walk-mans that they learn how to operate. So that they can have their choice of what to read and listen to. Technology is just part of everything we are learning. Its not a foreign thing. Its not separate from what we are learning.
What about how you use technology? Tell me more about how you use it on a day-to-day basis.
I’m learning spreadsheets right now, and databases. So I’m really proud of myself. Yesterday I taught myself how to do Access 97 action groups. I’m at the point where I can figure out most stuff on my own.
I have my files for all of the LEP kids, who needs testing, who I’ve already tested, that sort of thing. I have it all in a spreadsheet. I designed the waiting list and contact sheet for our school. I used Filemaker Pro on the Mac. I had fun learning that, but it was a tough project. You get to a certain point with some software programs and you really need someone to tell you what to do. Sometimes I delegated computer tasks to our office manager too, she is a real help. Having all of the information and being able to update it in a very efficient way is important, so you don’t waste any time. There’s way that a computer can give you information that you wouldn’t have otherwise. For example, a change of address, previous address lived with a relative or something. I think office automation systems for schools will only get better in the future.
For the classroom, one of the things that we use technology for is our bank accounting thing. We use a money system throughout the school to reward academic achievement and to help with classroom management. They get points for attendance, homework, etc. I designed my own spreadsheet on the PC to record and account for the kid’s weekly totals. Once you use it you become more fluent in it. And that’s what its about. Understanding how to use it for your benefit and not to make it more of a problem.
I create handouts and worksheets all of the time. With Word Art I can use those little bubbles and little blobs to make neat little pictures, or highlight things, or put in a certain word like “watch out!”, that kind of stuff. But you have to know how to do it or it won’t work and it will be frustrating. I have to tell you that I saw a new teacher who would hand draw each individual book report cover for her students. That’s such a waste of energy and time! I just did it once on the computer and printed it out twenty times. I just couldn’t understand that.
What about the other teachers here at the Accelerated School, have they been as quick as you to adopt the technology?
All teachers here have a laptop. I really pushed for that, because I was using a computer and I saw the value in having one for every teacher. You really need that level of exposure. At the same time I knew that a lot of people were not using computers, and not having ready access to one became a quick excuse for not having to deal with it. Not having access to equipment became a reason not to use it. The mentality of many teachers to computers is something like “I don’t have to learn it because I don’t have one” or “someone will do it for me.” Providing laptops for all of the teachers at the school is one way, an incentive if you will, to get people to use them.
Is there a minimum set of skills that educational leaders need to know about technology?
Pretty much know how to use everything, and we’re talking about technology across the board. If I am going to support teachers, especially new teachers, I need to know how to use an overhead, a slide projector, film projector, laser disk, etc. In computer literacy there seems like there are two different extremes. Basic word processing, being able to open a document, is at one end of the extreme. When people give you a diskette and ask “can you review this for me,” or “what do you think about this?” you should be able to at least open it and read it. I should be able to access that file. At the other extreme, a knowledgeable person would be able to teach a person who doesn’t know how to use technology all of these other basic skills. One the one hand we are talking basic, minimum competency. On the other, more like a mentoring capacity. Like some of the things that I don’t know - how to connect computer to television, how to repair a computer if it goes down. I don’t understand everything that happens with the network, why it goes down, why I can’t print.
What do you see as the biggest leadership issues and challenges?
Taking the time, not having that knowledge, its not only frustrating for the individual, but also for the people who expect you to do that for them, like the kids or other staff. Everything gets updated so quickly that we have a hard time updating the files, so we can read each other’s stuff without getting all of those funny characters. That would be it. Keeping things updated. Things I used two years ago I have to go through this extensive process to get them to open up again. Its ridiculous. They way that they looked two years ago isn’t how they look now. That is really frustrating.
The network has been a second major issue. The school network, getting it up and running. It wasn’t like America Online, which I found to be very user friendly, but we use Netscape and its different. Not a lot of material for the really young students to use.
And finally, I guess the third biggest issues is that we are transitioning from Macs to PC’s. We had purchased a lot of software to run on the Macintosh that we won’t be using anymore. We can’t use it. The software differences aren’t that big. I learned on one system so its not that big of an issue using the software, but figuring out the windows environment, that was a challenge at first. At first I couldn’t open up files on a PC, it wasn’t as intuitive as a Mac. The screen was different, the files were different. I just couldn’t find things as easily as I could on a Mac. But I learned. And having that Mac experience was really helpful. Using software programs that were available on both platforms helped a lot too.
- Should the role of technology integration in schools vary according to school population characteristics? How do technology needs differ from school-to-school? What approaches might work best in Ms. Ponce’s environment?
- How has the flexibility provided by the charter school environment enabled Anna to determine her own professional development needs? Do you think this has encouraged her or discouraged her from obtaining additional training in technology?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of a pre-planned, sequential technology program like FutureKids as opposed to a purely teacher-driven technology curriculum?
- A common use of computers by teachers is in the creation of customized materials for their students/classrooms. Identify the most commonly used software programs for teachers.
- Anne Ponce describes the need for all teachers to be able to use all forms of technology, including, but not limited to the overhead projector, slide projector, film projector, and laser disk. Do modern schools of education train teachers in the appropriate uses of these specific technologies? How much exposure to technology do teachers in California receive prior to entering the classroom?
- Ms. Ponce introduces the concept of minimum technological competencies. What should the minimum competencies of elementary teachers be in regards to classroom technologies? High School Teachers? Administrators? First-grade students? Should there be expressed standards for technology skills?