With more than 20 years of experience in the New York City Department of Education, Lisa Nielsen has been a longtime and relentless champion of technology, progress and innovation in schools.
Nielson, the department’s director of Digital Engagement and Professional Learning, excels at bringing together educators, students and parents to integrate technology and education in effective, forward-thinking ways. For example, in 2012 she spearheaded new student social media guidelines to better align with student, parent and teacher needs. She also was deeply involved in leading professional development projects to help ensure teachers, schools and students were “well Googled” and comfortable using technology to communicate, learn and connect.
Most recently, Nielsen created an online community of about 1,700 educators interested in innovation. Through the community, teachers are able to connect about issues and ideas and can easily share, live stream and learn from each other in a cohesive way. “It’s been unbelievably transformational. These teachers who felt like they were by themselves now not only have a huge community of peers, but we also invited employees at companies that have products we use as well, including Microsoft and Google,” she said. “This digital engagement piece has been really powerful — all our teachers are connected and they share issues and instantly there’s a whole community there to help them.”
Nielsen has successfully motivated teachers to take advantage of professional development opportunities through peer-to-peer training. The Innovation Partners Professional Development program, which works with companies like Google, Microsoft and BrainPOP, helps develop “expert teachers” who can facilitate training and advice to their colleagues on commonly used tools and technology.
“That’s helped us scale a lot of programs across the city,” Nielsen said. “We are empowering our own teachers to be the experts in these tools that they know and love. We also help these companies make better products. The camaraderie and relationships that have been developed are super exciting. In my career, I never have experienced so much excitement across a district.” —Julia McCandless