As the Program Director of Instructional Technology in the Aldine Independent School District in Texas, Akilah Willery sees herself as a listener, a facilitator and a uniter. A former high school teacher and technology specialist — as well one of the first recipients of a Master’s degree in instructional technology from the University of Houston — Akilah brings a special perspective to her work and emphasizes collaboration, innovation and creativity as top priorities. With a team of 74 technology specialists working in schools throughout her district, she’s always on the lookout for ways to support teachers’ and students’ innovative ideas with the right tools and resources.
When we spoke with Akilah, she shared her vision for her district and her efforts to bring creativity and eLearning tools to all Aldine schools.
Q: What inspired you to start a district-wide Adobe & ConnectED program?
A: In Texas, we’ve always had a big focus on accountability. Now we’re emerging from an era where everything was about numbers, and we’re redefining accountability to include a more holistic view of the child and what he or she needs to experience and attain. Our goal is to create a more collaborative and creative environment that allows both teachers and students to have a voice in defining the learning journey.
Adobe & ConnectED came along at the perfect time. It gives us an opportunity to offer great tools to kids and teachers so they can explore what they want to create. Instead of telling teachers what to do, I can give them a tool and they can tell me how they can use it as part of their curriculum. I also hope our kids will feel empowered to use these tools to create whatever they want, even without guidance directly from a teacher.
Q: What recommendations might you give to other district leaders considering Adobe & ConnectED?
A: Don’t pigeonhole the possibilities by only offering the software to the “creative” disciplines. Make it available to all and gather feedback from teachers to get a sense of what their content areas are demanding, and how you can help them use the new tools to fill in any gaps. Also, take advantage of the free training resources on the Adobe Education Exchange. Free software is great — but the training resources are what will help teachers understand how the software can fit their needs.
Q: What are other ways you’re promoting creativity and innovation in your district?
A: We’re in the process of trying many new things. For example, we’ve partnered with Code.org to integrate computer science tools into traditional curriculum at our K–6 campuses. Teachers are coming up with different ways to use the tools and they’re saying the program is a great way to promote problem-solving and critical thinking. We’ve also been doing some cross-curricular professional development by teaming up our visual arts and science teachers. Together, they’re developing ways visual arts can demonstrate principles of chemistry.
We’re also getting creative about teacher professional development. We offer face-to-face workshops and online webcasts on a variety of topics so teachers can tune in and discuss new instructional strategies. We also support teachers as they explore their own professional learning networks through social media. We give professional development hours for both participating in and hosting Twitter chats with other educators.
I think it’s important to note that teachers and iTechs throughout my district initiated all of these projects. Folks come to me with great ideas and I do my part to connect the dots to make them happen, and then support ongoing experimentation and iteration.
Q: What’s your greatest challenge in your role? How do you work to overcome that?
A: My biggest challenge is maintaining the shared vision. Aldine is a really big district with a large and varied team. Reshaping our district vision means we need to change our teaching practices, and that makes people both nervous and excited. And, as much as we’re asking teachers to step out the box, we’re expecting the same of our kids. We’re creating a culture that makes room for mistakes. We want kids to try and fail and try again until you they get the outcome they desire.
This is an open and ongoing conversation in our district. Previously, decisions were made from the top down. Now we’re reversing it and asking for feedback from our teachers and students. It’s a richer discussion when everyone has a voice. In five years, I think things are going to look really different.
Find out more about the Aldine Independent School District and the Technology and Curriculum Conference (TCCA) in Aldine — the largest free technology conference in Texas.
As part of President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative, Adobe is donating over $300 million in software and professional development services to schools across the United States.
Inside the studio of Project H, a bold sign reads “DESIGN. BUILD. TRANSFORM.” This sign succinctly states the educators’ mission for the students.
Project H offers unique STEAM learning for 6-12 grade at-risk students in Berkeley, California, by collaborating with REALM Charter School and daily integrated core learning through hands-on 3D design and experimentation.
Studio H, one of three programs offered through Project H, teaches students to design and build to scale. Students experience the power of creativity, by watching their design move through stages of ideation, experimentation, critical thinking, layout, and construction. Projects that students have constructed include a 2,000-square-foot pavilion for their community farmers market, their school library, and concrete public sculptural furniture.“In our Studio H program, we believe that by giving youth the skills to design and build their wildest ideas, we can support the next generation of creative, confident change-makers. Design can be a powerful medium of personal expression, propelling positive action that will build engaged citizenship and social change in our next generation. We built at an architectural scale so that students feel the collective success of doing something bigger than just themselves,” says Emily Pilloton, Founder and Director at Studio H.
The Adobe Education team has demonstrated support of the dedicated teachers at Project H by providing state-of-the-art creative tools through the Adobe Creative Cloud. Students use the tools to design layouts, collaborate, create, and share their ideas with one another, as well as develop marketable skills and confidence when using the software.
“Studio H is a uniquely dynamic example of how STEAM education allows for students to witness their own creative capacities. The team at Studio H empowers students to go beyond the architectural rendering, beyond the 3D model, to realize their ideas which can then shape the very landscape of their community. We’re proud to support Studio H educators in that goal,” says Melissa Jones, Senior Program Manager, Teaching & Learning, Adobe Systems.
Learn more about Project H here: Project H
Each spring, high school students from around the United States are honored by Congress through a visual art competition. Since its beginning in 1982, more than 650,000 students have participated. Each year, winners from more than 400 Congressional Districts are invited to an awards ceremony in the U.S. Capitol and their works are displayed in the busy hallways beneath the capitol building. Adobe was honored to attend the event and help celebrate students’ creativity and their achievements.
It is particularly important to celebrate creative student work in light of recent study results about the barriers to creativity in education, which revealed that:
– Almost 90% of parents and educators believe that fostering creativity in education will fuel the economies of tomorrow
– More than 70% of parents and educators believe that creativity is not valued by the current education system
As we look to the future, creativity is essential to drive innovation and ultimately to make the world a better place. Innovation is not the sole domain of entrepreneurs, of engineers, or of programmers. Artists create meaning, communicate ideas and help us all see new problems and solutions. To succeed, we must not only invest in STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math – but also in the arts to grow our economy for the future. We need to expand our focus from STEM to STEAM. Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (pictured above), one of this year’s co-sponsors of the event, is also a co-founder of the Congressional STEAM Caucus and has been active in advocating the value of creativity.
These students are already sharing and expressing creative ideas. Their creativity inspires hope and these students will lead the kind of innovation that improves our lives and solves the real problems we will face in the decades to come.
To further inspire self-expression and innovation, Adobe invites students to join the broader creative community by giving each winner a free year-long subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud. I want to extend my warmest congratulations to all of the students who participated and shared their ideas with us. We can’t wait to see what you create next!
Our economic growth and health as a nation rely on our collective ability to innovate. The most successful innovations – across healthcare, education, and the environment – result from the combination of creative thinking, world-class technology, and cutting-edge design. But today’s education system needs to do a better job of setting our students up for success in today’s global workplace. One area we think is critical is around fostering creative thinking. Creativity can no longer be treated as an elective in education; it must be core to the way we teach and learn. STEAM – adding Art and creativity to the national imperative around Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) – is an important step forward here.
In collaboration with the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and a broad range of education and industry partners, Adobe is working to drive awareness and impact in this area. Part of this work will take place at the SXSW Education event next week in Austin, Texas, in the panel session called, “STEM to STEAM: Full Circle from Education to Economy.” I am thrilled to join other panelists such as Ainissa Ramirez (Yale University), Rosemarie Truglio (Sesame Workshop), Matt Goldman (Blue School & Blue Man Group) and John Maeda (Rhode Island School of Design) to discuss how art and design methods can be introduced into STEM-centric learning. We’d like to invite you to join us in one of the following ways:
- Join us at SXSWedu. If you are attending this year’s SXSWedu conference, please join us on March 6 at 1:30 p.m. at the Austin Convention Center Room 16AB. We’re also hosting a STEAM social that night. For more information and to RSVP, go here.
- Join the conversation. Share your thoughts and comments using the hashtag #SXSWSTEAM. If you are attending the SXSWedu panel please share your takeaways using the above hashtag.
- Tweet to Give. For every mention of #AdobeSXSW on Twitter and Instagram, we will donate $1 up to $10,000 to STEM to STEAM. Learn more about our conversation for a cause here.
Jon Perera: @jon_perera