A high school STEM supervisor shares his winning ways.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
An experienced leader in education dedicated to creating learning opportunities for students, Anthony Emmons (pictured, above right) prides himself in his abilities to connect, to listen, to collect and analyze data, and to make informed decisions.
Since 2018, he has been the Randolph High School STEM and Business Supervisor in Randolph, New Jersey. He has worked to support students and teachers in a variety of ways including increasing access to technology inside and outside of classrooms and upgrading learning environments to facilitate student-centered instruction.
He also served Readington Township Schools as a board member, the Keansburg, Manchester Regional, and Clark school districts as a supervisor. Prior to his career in school leadership, Anthony served South Plainfield Schools as a high school mathematics teacher.
A lifelong learner, Anthony is pursuing his PhD in Mathematics Education at Montclair State University. Engaged in the literature review and study design phases, Anthony anticipates completing his dissertation in the Spring of 2023. His research interests include students’ conceptual understanding of coordinate systems, teacher knowledge frameworks, and curriculum enactment.
Anthony was recently named, Winner of The EdTech Trendsetter Award (“School Leader Setting a Trend” category) as part of The EdTech Awards 2022 from EdTech Digest.
What prompted you to first get involved with education and technology—what value did you see back then in terms of tech’s role in education and learning?
I was motivated to enter education by my 9th grade Geometry teacher Mrs. Goteiner. Not to date myself, but this was 1999. I don’t know that many classrooms at this time had tech beyond maybe an overhead projector.
For me, going into education just meant teaching people math. I did not know I would use technology in any specific ways at the time. Interestingly enough, I’ll share that when I did my student teaching, my cooperating teacher Mrs. Bressman was initially using an overhead projector. There was very limited chalkboard space in the room, so it made a lot of sense. She showed me how to use a particular piece of equipment designed specifically for transferring a printed worksheet to transparency film. The ability to print directly to transparency film wasn’t even widely available. But—partway through, she received a grant for what must have been an early Ultrabook from Dell. It was a touchscreen laptop that folded and came with a stylus. She connected it to a projector and was off to the races. We basically used it as an overhead projector, facing the students, writing on the screen, but no longer needed transparency film or markers, and we could save all of our work digitally!
Looking back, I think from that point on I was always interested in this idea of saving our work not just to refer back to in ensuing lessons, but as a reflective tool to fine-tune my pedagogy. Then as I started my teaching career, in a classroom with plenty of chalkboard space but void of any technology beyond an overhead projector, I longed to get back to a tech-enhanced environment.
As more technology tools became available for my use as a teacher—scanners, laptops, document cameras—I started using these tools to support students outside of school and to consider ways in which students might use technology.
At the same time, smartphones were becoming available, students emailing teachers was becoming a thing.
Fast forward to now where many districts are not just 1-to-1, but with touchscreens on the laptops, many classrooms have interactive whiteboards, I have classrooms with multiple displays and wireless connectivity capabilities.
What prompted you to take on your current role—what are some of the key issues and challenges you face?
I always just wanted to be better. It started out wanting to be a better teacher for my students. Then I got involved with curriculum writing and realized I could help my fellow teachers get better. Not just supporting my students but supporting students throughout the school through other teachers. Then I guess it grew from there.
‘I always just wanted to be better. It started out wanting to be a better teacher for my students. Then I got involved with curriculum writing and realized I could help my fellow teachers get better.’
I realized as an administrator I would be able to better support teachers through not just curriculum development but through scheduling, budgeting, and professional development processes as well.
The key issue is and probably always will be communication:
What are we doing?
How do we know it’s working?
Who is it working for?
What do we do if it isn’t working?
We have to be able to develop our shared philosophies with students, teachers, families, and the larger school community, to communicate and collaborate as we seek out means of improvement.
How are you overcoming those issues and challenges—and what sort of pleasure/job satisfaction/personal satisfaction or team satisfaction do you get from this?
On the communication front, I try to have a presence—in the hallways, in classrooms, via email, at conferences, on social media. I’m not just trying to put the good word out. I’m also seeking feedback. I want to know what people are thinking about our work, what ideas they have, how they think we can better support students, tools they need to do their jobs better. I honestly thrive on it.
I get to then think creatively and come up with solutions that address multiple needs or concerns at once. I think it’s also more engaging and inclusive when you not only listen but also respond by incorporating ideas into the decision-making process.
For me, I’m most satisfied when we receive positive feedback. And this can take many forms. I recently shared with my teachers that enrollment numbers in our elective courses are up next year and have continued to grow during the past four years. That’s what makes it worth it. Knowing we have great teachers who students want to be around, teachers who create and teach courses that students are interested in… that’s what it’s all about.
Congrats on your big win from The EdTech Awards! What does an honor like this mean for you/your team?
It means a lot for me personally and professionally. Personally, I feel like I’ve always just been grinding. There’s some bad and some good with overcoming adversity, with being capable, with being creative, with thinking differently. In the wrong environment, where new ideas aren’t welcome, aren’t considered, aren’t supported—it’s draining. But you know when you’re onto something and you just keep grinding. That’s what this award means for me personally—just keep grinding. Professionally, this is huge for me and my team.
Since I joined Randolph in 2018, I’ve been pushing technology—hard. Getting teachers laptops, equipping classrooms with interactive boards, replacing projectors, upgrading to HDMI—what in my mind is pretty low level and essential tools of the teaching trade today, but we just weren’t there at the time. After getting the tools in teachers’ hands, then it was about—well, how do we use these tools?
And that’s where we are today, constantly re-thinking how we use available tools and even assessing the tools themselves. But for everyone who has dived in on their own, worked to support a colleague, opened up their classroom, taken a phone call at night, given students the space to run with their district-provided laptops—we knew it was worth it and this recognizes our combined efforts in a huge way.
What key lessons from your past inform your current success?
I think our current success matches my experience in education just at a faster rate. My student teaching experience started with an overhead projector but ended with a touchscreen laptop. I then went to South Plainfield where, by the end of my time there, still only some teachers had laptops and document cameras. Another district that was 1-to-1 where every teacher had a MacBook Air, every student depending on grade level either had a MacBook Air or iPad, and even some classrooms had Apple TVs for wireless connectivity.
Then I moved to another district where neither teachers nor students had devices. Interactive boards in every classroom with dedicated PCs, but they had only started to acquire laptops for standardized testing purposes.
Then onto another district where teachers had MacBook Airs but students had nothing, not even access to school wi-fi so they could use phones or personal laptops.
Then when I landed in Randolph, I was able to put this combined experience together, and with the help of a very supportive district leadership team, get my teachers and our classrooms better outfitted. And now that we are in our first year of 1-to-1 where all students now have touchscreen laptops, we’re really starting to have some fun!
It’s been a wild ride these last few years. Broadly speaking, what is the state of education today? What makes you say that?
Education needs advocates. Student-, teacher-, school-, education-advocates.
Consistent with the great resignation, there are too many stories out there about folks leaving education and starting new careers elsewhere. There are folks who have made a career out of helping educators transition to other fields.
Most of the stories I’ve read about folks leaving—they wanted to make a difference and ran into too many obstacles.
We need advocates inside and outside of education to help students and teachers overcome these obstacles—or just remove them.
‘…they wanted to make a difference and ran into too many obstacles. We need advocates inside and outside of education to help students and teachers overcome these obstacles…’
What’s tech’s role in education? How about your efforts with this?
Tech helps us do more. Create more. Share more. Collect more. Collaborate more. More—and better. Our work with shared digital notebooks via Microsoft OneNote— teachers house course content within class notebooks shared by the teacher and students. Each student has their own notebook shared with the teacher. We can quickly scan through student notebooks to check for completion, or we can look more closely and assess the accuracy and quality of their work.
Outside of their classes, teachers have created separate shared notebooks where they first develop and warehouse course content and then later copy to their class notebooks for classroom consumption. We have a shared notebook as a department, too. It’s where all of our agendas are developed and stored. We’ve used it during professional development activities as well, where teachers will share assessment and student work samples, generating great conversation about course content, assessment strategies, student work quality, opportunities for collaboration, and the like.
All of this content can be revisited at any time. It’s been helpful when teachers have had to cover one another’s classes. They’re able to read through the notebook and understand where the class has been, where they are, and where they need to go at the class- and student-level.
Our main focus has been preserving and sharing student work as a department by creating separate student portfolio notebooks. In these notebooks, every student has a section visible to themselves and not just one teacher, but all teachers in the department. Students copy content from their class notebook to this portfolio notebook, then add written, audio, and/or video reflections.
Then next year, when student progress to the next course, teachers and students can review this content and use it to inform both teaching and learning.
Any advice for other leaders in edtech?
Be flexible. What works here or there, at this time or another, all depends on what students and teachers are ready for. As leaders, we have to be open to and able to support different iterations of edtech. There’s too much variety out there to just pick one iteration and believe it to be the end all be all. Keep your goals in mind and pick the best tool available for the job.
‘Keep your goals in mind and pick the best tool available for the job.’
What’s ahead for education—trends to watch? any you are setting? Anything else you care to add or emphasize concerning education, technology, or the future of learning?
The trend to watch in education is teacher recruitment and support. Talking about technology here, for me it begins with giving teachers the tools they need to do their job. But beyond technology, we have to create the right environment for our teachers where they feel comfortable and supported in using these tools, or even in simply doing their job.
This goes back to communication as well. What policies and practices are in place that teachers can follow, base their many decisions on, and trust that they will not be undermined? What opportunities do we create for teachers to learn and grow, to share ideas and take ownership of their classroom, of their career?
On the recruitment side, I try to communicate these ideas to folks throughout and even before the official interview process begins. Having that presence on social media, at conferences, putting in for different awards and formal recognition helps recruit teachers. Prospective educators are going to have options.
As supervisors and principals, we have to behave as recruiters and hiring managers (which, by the way, are separate positions available in the private sector) and really sell the environment. I make every effort to sell the environment by providing tours of the building and classrooms, I invite candidates to contact teachers, and I try to sell myself as a leader.
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org