What I Learned About Technology and Rural Education at NREA

Professional Learning Community

How Technology is Transforming Special Education in Small and Rural Schools

By Jennifer Bessette

It’s a brave new world in the classroom. Advances in technology have opened doors many of us only dreamed were possible when we were in school. These doors are opening our students up to the world around them, exposing them to new ideas and cultures. I have had the pleasure of attending sessions at the NREA (National Rural Education Association) Annual Conference over the past few days, and am so inspired about what these advances mean for students and educators in rural communities. Here is just a taste of what I’ve learned at this amazing event.

Opening up new worlds.

First off, if you have never had the opportunity to listen to Hall Davidson of Discovery Education speak, I highly recommend you find an opportunity to do so. Hall kicked off the 3 day conference with a truly inspiring Key Note Address on the wonders of technology. We were able to see how make holograms from CD cases and smart phones, travel around the world using Mystery Skype, and actually journey into a story book as if we were a character in the tale. The excitement and absolute joy in the room was palpable. I can only imagine how students using this technology must feel!

My turn!

I also had the chance to present on Rethink’s Small School Support Program. The support model, which began in July of 2014, focuses on four main areas: cost-effective access to professional development, tools to support successful collaborations, virtual professional learning communities, and easily-accessible classroom resources (especially great for educators teaching outside of their field). I was proud to share the outcomes we’ve seen in the first year alone. Our partner districts are engaged, excited, and utilizing the program better than ever before! I could not be more proud of the amazing work our partner districts have put in. Don’t take it from me, though. Hear a first-hand account from Greenwood School District, a truly wonderful district full of fantastic educators!


Jersey Co Show Choir

The Jersey Co Show Choir spicing things up at NREA


With all of these great tools out there, how do districts support new technology? I was truly inspired listening to Dennis Bagley and Michael Berg of Eastern Howard School Corporation in Indiana speak about their district’s technology support plan. This district has made a true commitment to supporting technology initiatives, and it’s clear to see their efforts are paying off.

The take-home message, and one I could not agree more with, is that one-time trainings on the district-level are not sufficient. While Eastern conducts these type of introductory trainings, they support teachers through ongoing modeling and co-teaching with technology. I couldn’t take notes fast enough, and am so excited to share some of their ideas with our partner districts!

Join the technology revolution!

As part of our commitment to providing ongoing Professional Learning Communities, Rethink will be hosting a half-day virtual conference, Rethinking Rural and Small School Support through Technology, on 10/21. The conference will explore some of the common challenges associated with introducing new technology to small and rural schools, as well as cost-efficient and innovative solutions for ensuring successful technology adoptions in school districts. For more information and to register for this free event, please visit the conference web page. We hope to “see” you there!

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