Dassel-Cokato High School: A CMLE School Visit

CMLE recognizes that change is afoot in schools and media centers. Change is also happening at CMLE as we have a new strategic plan that includes a refined focus on serving school media centers. Because of this, it’s a perfect time for CMLE staff  to reach out and connect with our K-12 media centers.

This visit by CMLE was to Dassel-Cokato High School [DCHS] on Tuesday, January 2nd. The media program at Dassel-Cokato [DC] is incredibly exciting and forward thinking, and led by non-other than MEMO Media Specialist of the Year, (and CMLE’s former Board President) Paul Beckermann. Paul has been with the DC district for 25 years, first as an English teacher, and for the last seven years as a Media and Digital Learning Specialist.

The first order of business was to set-up a likely day for a visit to the school. With busy holiday schedules, we eventually landed on January 2nd. And, you know what that means, right? … Yes, it was the first day back to school after winter break! Perhaps not the most typical day, but certainly an exciting one! When I walked into the school, I instantly felt the energy of the students and staff. After checking-in, I made my way to the DC Media Center. Already upon my arrival at 7:45 AM, students and teachers alike were utilizing the library – some using computer terminals, others chatting or working quietly by themselves. This was so great to see, especially considering that it was their first day back!

After meeting with Paul in his office, he showed me around some of the office area and introduced me to a few teachers as well as staff members. I really got a sense that there’s a lot of great camaraderie, teamwork, and mutual respect there. Next, we went back to his office, so he could oh-so-quickly check email, and  briefly show me (in his Moodle) what he was about to teach to the 8:10 Journalism class. And, off we went!

Paul and I were greeted by English teacher, Ms. Georges, at the classroom door, and the 22 student class started with the school announcements and the Pledge of Allegiance. Now that took me back! 🙂 Next, Ms. Georges introduced the Journalism project, which focuses on photos and photo editing. Then she turned the class over to Paul so he could instruct the students on using Serif’PhotoPlus for photo editing. Paul explained to me that PhotoPlus is similar to Adobe Photoshop, but is substantially cheaper. What was interesting to me about this whole process is, not only does Paul spend a great deal of time teaching “traditional” information literacy workshops (mostly for English and History), but he’s also the go-to guy for huge projects like choosing software for the district (as Chair of the District Tech Services Committee), and later, teaching students and faculty how to utilize that software.

Paul teaching photo editing to students.
Paul teaching photo editing to students.

And, it doesn’t stop there! Paul is also responsible for instructing five sections of the DCTV [Dassel Cokato TV] course – a class that produces news and announcements for the school in a format similar to a 15-minute news show. This DC news program is broadcast to the entire high school on Thursdays, and is a great example of hands-on learning. The DCTV course is a blended learning classroom, with students working independently through parts of the course while receiving direct instruction from Paul on other skills. Because of the time required to instruct these five DCTV classes (which meet every day – throughout the  school day) Paul (and the other DC Media Specialists) operate on a flextime system, which affords greater opportunity for flexing their “average”  daily schedule to accommodate teaching requests throughout the day.

Of course, the flextime should be good indication as to just how much of Paul’s time is spent teaching. Paul estimated that on average, he spends about a third of his time teaching students, a third of his time teaching/providing professional development to staff/faculty, and the final third working on administrative duties. As previously indicated, Paul teaches five sections of DCTV, provides IL instruction in many classes (mostly History and English), and provides technology/media instruction in still other classes. Beyond his classroom teaching, he, and the other DC Media Specialists, are responsible for providing professional development and continuing education training for their teachers – they teach a strand during staff development days. Also, if Paul goes to a conference, you can bet that the information he picked up there, will quickly and efficiently be passed on to the teachers. Additionally, Paul is on the District Staff Development Committee (some of that administrative work he was talking about), and as such, plays a key role in determining upcoming staff development focus areas. One example of a key focus area for staff development at DC is “best practices for digital learning” – a project undertaken by the DC media team.

Though things are going incredibly well at the DCHS and its Media Center, Paul wouldn’t be the professional he is without some worries. Paul wants “to do everything right”. He mentioned that he feels a lot of responsibility for leading the school in its development of 21st century learning, and wonders about the best way to train staff, and how to integrate technology into the curriculum. Paul emphasized that it’s not about the tools, it’s about learning… and applying the best tools to ensure those 21st century skills are being absorbed and learned by students.

When asked to identify things that are going especially well at his school or in his work, Paul talked about DC’s four-year plan for becoming a 1:1 laptop school. Currently, all the English classes have carts with laptops within the rooms, and each year, more laptops will be rolled out to individual classes, until three years from now, all students should have their own laptop. Additionally, he’s proud to report that their circulation is up 588% over the least 5 years – and is happy that there are so many students interested in literature and works of fiction. He’s also very proud of the whole DC School District’s K-12 Media Program. The Media Specialists work well together and they share common goals for their program. Ultimately, these common goals ensure an easier working relationship between all staff and faculty, and a better flow or continuation of learning for students from grade to grade and from school to school… A flow that was quite evident after Paul brought me to the Middle School’s Media Center (housed within the same building). Like the High School, the Middle School’s Media Center also offers a top-notch and quickly evolving media program, led by Paul’s wife and fellow Media Specialist, Pam Beckermann.

Without a doubt, Paul is a leader at his school, within the district, and beyond. Throughout my time with Paul, so many teachers, staff members, and students sought him out for help and conversation. The interactions were so casual and easy, it spoke volumes to the fact that those at the school are familiar with Paul and his many abilities. Clearly, Paul and the work he does is much appreciated and valued. I felt privileged to have spent the morning shadowing him, and to have learned (at least to some degree) what a “day in the life” is like for Paul.