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AJ Phillips

Phillips' passion for education is obvious when she talks about integrating technology into the learning process. She is committed to advancing the professional development of each teacher in her district so they can truly leverage technology for improved student achievement.

Across the more than 90 schools in her district, there are more than 40,000 computers, 400 e-readers and an interactive whiteboard in nearly every classroom. Along with this technology comes the need for professional development. “One of the things we focus on first and foremost is preparing our teachers and staff for what the technology’s functionality is going to look like,” says Phillips. As an example, she recently worked with the school board to delay the distribution of tablets among high school students in an effort to ensure teachers would have enough time and training on the devices.

Phillips crafted a professional development process the school district uses when rolling out new technology, regardless of device, school or grade. “Our typical procedure is to sit down with the principals, instructional technology coaches and technology specialists and ask what teachers need to get started,” says Phillips. “We always start with professional development on the device — how to use it and what it looks like.” Phillips and her team determine where the technology will have the greatest impact. All professional development efforts then focus on that particular school, department, grade or class. Once teachers are up and running with the new technology, the coaches and specialists move on to the next group using the same process.

“As teachers get more professional development and are able to see technology as a tool in the classroom and not just something extra, we really get buy-in. Once teachers see they can use technology effectively, they are usually on board,” says Phillips.

Phillips also partners with IT vendors to ensure students have access to the latest technologies. For example, she is currently working with Amazon to provide feedback on its digital book software. Because she works so closely with teachers on professional development, the feedback her district provides is helping Amazon understand how its software can be better incorporated into the classroom.

Through her experience, she’s learned that it’s best to start small and be flexible with plans. And most importantly, make sure teachers are prepared for the new technology. “If your teachers are prepared, they’re going to be successful because they want to use it and they know they have your support on the back end,” she says.