STAFF SPOTLIGHT: Digital learning specialists bring the ‘aha moment’ to students and teachers

By BELLE BRUNNER

Concord High School Senior

For any classroom teacher, watching a student’s eyes light up -- the “aha moment” as it’s commonly called -- brings them joy. 
For Concord’s digital learning specialists, helping teachers realize their own “aha moment” with technology -- and knowing that “aha moment” is going to go from that teacher to the 25 students -- is what keeps them motivated. 
In August of 2018, Tyler Stevens would have been entering his classroom to meet his new students for the year. Instead, he was stepping into the role of a digital learning specialist. He wasn’t the first in this role, but at the time, teaching teachers about how to use technology in the classroom was something fairly new.
“(It’s) all about the learning and then (asking) how can technology support the learning,” Stevens said. 
Five months later, fellow Concord teacher and technology specialist Kelly Weldy joined Stevens in this role. 
Together they continued to help teachers and students all around the Concord district integrate technology with the curriculum.    

INSPIRING CONFIDENCE
As Concord graduates, Stevens and Weldy were familiar with the district and chose Concord as the place they wanted to teach. They began their careers in the classroom, where incorporating technology was fun, but not required. 
In the past, a classroom would have been full of textbooks and pencils, but today’s students see computers and online documents. Students using these devices today are thriving. Weldy has noticed this, and says, “Kids will just try anything, and aren’t afraid to use technology. They have the confidence to try new things.” 

The use of technology in classrooms has also shown how some students who struggle a little bit more than others, often learn to be successful with these tools. 
As teachers, Stevens and Weldy loved incorporating technology into their daily lessons. So when Concord created the position of digital learning specialist, applying seemed like a natural fit. 
A digital learning specialist is a new role for many school districts. Digital learning specialists are not part of the technology department, but work alongside them. They focus more on the learning side and fitting technology into that, and not so much the devices themselves. 
Stevens, who left a teaching position at Concord East Side Elementary, joined two other digital learning specialists in August of 2018. Weldy, who was teaching second grade at Concord Ox Bow Elementary, then joined “Team DLS” in January of 2019. Both enjoyed their time in the classroom and made technology part of everyday learning, and loved watching their students grow and personalities develop over the year. Stevens described what makes them successful in that role as having technology “street smarts.” 
“Technology is always changing. Street smarts is what it takes.”
   
ALL HANDS ON DECK
At the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, Stevens and Weldy were busy planning for a rollout of 1:1 devices across the district.
And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Overnight, their efforts to incorporate technology went from important to critical. Or as Stevens said, “Our immediate need to help the teachers went from 0 to 100 in a short matter of time.”
“(Devices) had just gone 1:1 for (grades) K-6. Teachers were just starting to get comfortable with using the devices, and then the pandemic hit. Now it wasn’t ‘you get to use it when you feel comfortable,’ it's ‘you all have to use it,’” said Weldy.
At first, Team DLS felt like a “help desk” where they had to respond to immediate needs, and all of the questions the teachers had. As the pandemic continued on, they started to focus more on how to get students to come and engage in these virtual activities. 
When it came time to help students, it was all hands on deck. That’s something that Stevens says is special to Concord. “You hear that, but I think it is like when there’s a need, people show up.” 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Belle Brunner is a senior at Concord High School, where she is actively involved in golf and swimming. She is serving as an intern for the spring semester and will be writing stories about students and staff at Concord Community Schools.