#BuildingCapacity In The 21st Century: A @TDSB Cross-Panel ICT Leadership Conversation

This article has been developed as a collaborative effort between 2 Toronto District School Board (TDSB) teachers/ICT Leaders, who both hold Positions of Responsibility (POR) at their respective schools. The Elementary Panel is represented by Joseph Romano, with the Secondary Panel represented by Brandon Zoras.

The TDSB is on the verge of change through the innovation and development of learning spaces, teaching strategies and definitions of Education means in the 21st Century. We have considered these shifts, as outlined within the video below, and as a result have developed our practices along models of 21st Century Communication, Collaboration, Creation and Critical Thinking.

The goal of this article is to share effective practice of technology integration within the schools we work and through the experiences we have had. By no means is this article meant to act as an exhibit of “best practices”, but rather, acts as an auto-ethnographic means of sharing and display.

We hope that we are able to shine light on some of the ideas we have had that have worked for us, within our schools, to support our colleagues and students. We welcome any comments, questions or like in the appropriate section below.

Who Are We?


Joseph Romano, OCT, BFA (Spec. Hons.), B.Ed., M.Ed.
ICT Lead Teacher & Junior Division Position of Responsibility (POR)

Golf Road Junior Public School


Brandon Zoras, OCT, Hons. B.Sc., B.Ed., M.Ed.
Science Teacher & Assistant Curriculum Leader of Science
Cedarbrae Collegiate Institute

Teaching has always been my (Joseph Romano) career aspiration, a goal which led me to the Concurrent BFA/B.Ed. program, and later to the M.Ed. program, all within York University’s Faculty of Education. I am currently teaching ICT and am the Junior Division POR at Golf Road Junior Public School, at the Toronto District School Board. My teaching practice is rooted in my belief in students. I strive to promote the worth of all students by capturing and directing their intellect in ways which foster their holistic growth.  Overall, I hope to build upon my own leadership capacity through the support of others in the development of their own culturally relevant and responsive technologically-driven pedagogical practices, to ensure that the educational experiences of their students align with authentic 21st Century strategies and skills for successful teaching and learning.

Starting off working in the community programs during my teens, led me (Brandon Zoras), naturally into teaching. During my undergrad degree in Biochemistry, I entered the Early Teacher Project at U of T Scarborough. I continued with my B.Ed. in the Inner City Education option and then pursuing my M.Ed. program in Curriculum, Teaching and Learning in the Urban Education Cohort at OISE/UT. I am currently teaching secondary science within TDSB and in the POR Assistant Curriculum Leader of science at my school.  I believe technology can be used to increase engagement and close the achievement gap when used properly. Teachers need the tools and leadership to integrate and utilize technology in their classrooms.  

Our Research Interests

My thesis and research is centered around Urban Education and Science Education.  Specifically what is causing urban (inner city) boys to stop taking sciences past the mandatory grade 10 course. Many factors came into play regarding teacher trust and relevant, hands on activities and experiments. Another large factor was integration of technology. Students felt more engaged and enjoyed activities and assessment which involved technology. Technology from use of netbooks, virtual simulations, collaboration on a wiki, global collaboration and video conferencing.

My research interests are centered on explorations of Educational Technology, specifically the Virtual Worlds. Currently, I am continuing my research focused on Virtual World Pedagogy (VWP) and the impact it may have on the transition from conventional practices of teaching and learning towards contemporary digital teaching and learning spaces. In researching and developing this pedagogical design structure, Jenkin’s Participatory Culture and Lessig’s Read/Write and Remix practices generated a Constructionist framework. Through developing my own Learning Management System (LMS), I was able to uncover the process involved on the part of the teacher, and what those actions meant in terms of designing authentic, meaningful and relevant learning experiences through the use of Web 2.0 spaces. To learn more about VWP, please visit my Research page.

ICT Leadership In Action

Currently, our ICT Leadership is focused on the development and implementation of the new TDSB MCS 2.0 Initiative. With this, we are focusing, across panels, on addressing teaching and learning from a perspective that supports the development of 21st Century teaching and learning skills. We have developed leadership opportunities and have built capacity by focusing on:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Creation
  • Critical Thinking

Mobile Computing Strategy 2.0 (MCS 2.0)

A. Overview (via Increasing Access to Technology at the TDSB)

Nearly 18,000 laptops have been delivered to more than 360 schools across the Toronto District School Board. The laptops are being used by students from Kindergarten to Grade 12, giving [students] access to technology that will transform the way they learn and help prepare them for how they’ll use technology in their future careers.

Working with Metafore Technologies Inc., the TDSB is leasing the laptops over a three year period as a cost effective solution to purchasing technology, which changes quickly.

Schools submitted proposals exploring the ways they would use the technology to engage students and the laptops were distributed based on these submissions. The laptops are being used by students in a wide variety of classrooms, including Kindergarten, Math and Special Education.

HP 3115 Laptop

B. The Proposal

After a review and diagnostic assessment of which areas of our SIP (School Improvement Plan) needed more attention and could benefit from the direct integration of technology/ICT, a colleague and I developed our Proposal that considered the development of 21st Century teaching and learning skills across teaching and learning.

Building capacity was key, and we aimed to do so by focusing on a tiered ICT integration platform. First, we considered the school-level by aiming to target specific goals from our SIP. Next, we looked to the board-level to focus on the TDSB ICT Standards. With this, we focused on “Critical Thinking & Problem Solving” as well as “Communication & Collaboration”. Finally, we sought an external reference through our inclusion of Project Based Learning (PBL), based out of the Buck Institute for Education. With this, focus was paid towards technology as an essential tool for learning and towards the development of self-management and project management that encourages collaboration in some form.

PDF: Golf Road Junior Public School – MCS 2.0 Proposal

Already having one mobile cart due to the Nelson Digital Pilot, a second cart for the department would be an asset. Two science teachers and I put together a 10 minute clip of all the ICT strategies we embed into our lessons. We successfully were granted a second cart.  

C. The Roll Out

Technology is only as good as the person using it. Simply rolling out the carts into the schools with little to no PD would lead to lack of use or at least to not at the full potential.  Will teachers just have students typing up assignments or using them to connect and collaborate on a global scale?  

Within the school that I work at, we are currently developing a “Culture of Innovation & Transformation”. With this, our focus is on Professional Learning and developing our skills as educators within an increasingly challenging and changing world. Our focus is on building capacity and ensuring that teachers are able to not only work with ICT tools, resources and practices, but are also able to support students along similar endeavors through teaching and learning.

D. The Implementation

Key to the success of MCS 2.0 Initiative at the school-level, in my experiences, is consistency and creativity. Working through the vision described within the “A. The Proposal” section and through the support(s) of a variety of Professional Learning opportunities, we have implemented the laptops within our classroom quite smoothly and without major issues. Our success is most likely linked to our preparation and common goals in planning the effective use of these technological resources.

School-wide, our laptops are set to facilitate the development of 21st Century skills that may be integrated across subject areas. Within an Elementary setting, this is critical as subject-specific content may not always drive the effective use and merit of implementing any type of technology. Here then, teachers within our building continually strive to complement and support the subject areas/topics they are teaching by lacing their program with ideas, opportunities and connections relevant to Communication, Collaboration, Creation and Critical Thinking through ICT.

My two greatest use of netbooks involves the creation and collaboration of knowledge using wikis.  Students can create fluid documents that can be shared and updated throughout a semester. Participating in the Global Teenager Project allowed students from around the world to collaborate on wiki. We posed questions regarding environmental sustainability with schools in Toronto all the way to Kenya.  We looked at local issues that have a global impact and saw what other students are doing around the world. The highlight involved using Skype to collaborate with the Chavakali School in Kenya on sustainable environmental practices.  A second use involving video conferencing is Virtual Researcher On Call. Through their Experts On Demand program we were able to do video conferencing with researchers and professors on a variety of topics. Students asked top researchers in their fields questions on ethics, educational pathways, enriched science and the importance of research.  

E. Our Work Within Classrooms

I hosted a demonstration classroom with a focus on using technology to increase engagement amongst applied level science students. The mobile computers were used to collaborate on and communicate which power source would be best for a new island in the middle of Lake Ontario. That lesson was later published in STAO (Science Teachers Association of Ontario) online newsletter.  Teachers watched the lesson, debriefed and then planned on how they could implement this lesson with their own twist.

My role as a Position of Responsibility (POR) within my building, has allowed me the opportunity work with a variety of teachers, in a variety of grades, in the development of our own learning with regards to the use of technology within our learning spaces. In this model, I work with willing teachers for 1 period at a time in the development of ICT-related lessons/content during regular instructional time. We work together under these conditions to support student learning through use of the MCS 2.0 laptops, and other technologies. Key here is not the sharing of “best practices” but the development of a culture of sharing and building, where both teachers involved take something from the experience in the support of student success.

F. The Data Collection

We will be monitoring our Data Collection efforts against the parameters we have established within our Proposal. Here, we are focusing on collecting data at 3 separate times throughout the school year, related to the MCS 2.0 Initiative, first at the beginning of the school year, at the mid-year mark and finally at year end.

In collecting our data, we will be tracking student success related to common assessment results, such as Comprehension Attitude Strategies Interests (CASI) & Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA), Grade 3 & Grade 6 EQAO results and Grade-specific Project-Based Learning tasks, resulting in a culminating task(s).

Data driven, proven results need to be acquired to keep ICT initiatives going. 4 years of science course data based on failure rate showed a significant increase since implementation of ICT strategies. We will be testing achievement data again at the end of the school year. Data in the form of student interviews were conducted during my thesis and all agreed technology in science class engages, increases learning and allows them to apply the transferable skills associated with technology to science and vice versa.  

G. The Professional Learning

I have developed several workshop-style Professional Learning sessions that take this framework into account. Within each interaction, staff aim to develop themselves in terms of understanding a particular ICT piece, but as well as the pedagogical merit and design needed through the incorporation of specific ICT pieces.

Our Professional Learning is structured to be fluid in nature, rather an static and “one-off”. With this, we work toward the development of skills and competencies during designated times and in specific spaces, but our learning also transfers to applicable situations and experiences here practicality tests our learning and theories.

Presenting with the Global Teenager Project at the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario’s conference this past fall allowed me to show teachers the possibilities of mobile technology and global collaboration. Furthermore last winter I presented at TDSB Eureka Conference for science teachers. Offering a hands on PD session where teachers got to sit down in front of a computer, create a wiki along with a class assignment was great. Giving teachers time to become comfortable with Wikispaces, tailor my suggested project to their own students allowed for an authentic assignment that was ready to deploy the next day.   

H. The PTAC Meeting

Since our school had a cart for our pilot with Nelson, we had some time to try it out and figure out what works and well and what doesn’t.  Having Principals and Vice-Principals to our school was a great opportunity for them to take ideas back to their own school and offer PD when their cart arrives. Principals got a 101 session from our current dept head and then down to a few teachers classrooms that were using the carts that day.  It was refreshing to see admin ask logistical questions such as netbook safety, wi-fi, that we also were unsure how it would be handled. We also had the admin that wanted to see the maximum we could do with the technology….turns out we still haven’t reached the infinite possibilities yet.  

Final Thoughts

Developing capacity within the scope of 21st Century teaching and learning is indeed a tremendous task.  A critical step in innovation within our board requires nurturing the Professional Learning and opportunities taken on by our staff members – this starts with leadership in our schools.  Through our work, it is hoped that teachers will see our innovations first hand, and will make steps towards implementation that match and support their curriculum. and programing

Our focus on communicative, collaborative and creative efforts supports our teachers and students. In our roles, we are not modeling “best practices”, but practices that have worked within our practices, within our spaces. Each stakeholder in the field of education has the ability to lead through ICT integration and driven pedagogical designs/practices – we must all strive to #MakeWaves by #ShiftingGears.


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