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Who Teaches the Teachers?

No teacher knows everything. That's where Academy graduate student and technology wizard Deatra Lee comes in. As a technology integration specialist for Perris Union High School District, her job is to guide teachers, administrators, and students in using technology to elevate their classroom experience.

When the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly forced education into a digital environment, teachers were thrown into a new educational setting with software most had never used. According to the American Institutes of Research, 44% of school districts reported that unfamiliarity with digital teaching tools became a barrier during the pandemic. But in districts where professional development was already available, that rate dropped to 27%.

Fortunately for her district, Deatra Lee already had experience with these software teaching tools, having trained on them before the pandemic. Lee stepped up immediately to facilitate the transition in her own school district, providing professional development and crash-courses across the district. She met with teachers to assess their individual needs and guided them through the growing pains of new software.

Though the transition to remote learning was drastic, Lee’s step-by-step process helped many of the teachers grow more confident and comfortable with integrating technology into the classroom.

“A lot of times, we think ‘innovating’ and we think it has to be this big huge game changer and blow everyone's mind,” says Lee. “But it really can be something very simple as long as it's well thought-out and addresses the root cause.”

This iterative and user-centric approach is one Lee has learned as a graduate student in the USC Iovine and Young Academy’s online Master of Science in Integrated Design, Business, and Technology (MSIDBT). For Lee, the degree has nurtured a new mindset for a world with rapidly evolving industries. One thing she’s already taken to heart? Small impacts can have as much value as a major overhaul or initiative.

As schools begin to plan their return to in-person education, Lee's role will likely expand.

"My main objective is to empower teachers and build capacity where teachers feel confident using technology in their classroom," Lee explains. "But really most of all, [it’s] moving the work to the students where the students become content creators.”

Lee envisions a learning environment where students gain fluency in a spectrum of tools and can choose among them. Whether using an Adobe program to build a multimedia project, Google Slides to present their work, or even TikTok to summarize and communicate topics in a relatable way, the focus and goal is for students to demonstrate their understanding of classroom material. Improving students' tech skills will happen naturally along the way.

"It's not so much a focus on tech as it is a mindset," says Lee.