Thomas C. Murray is the state and district digital learning director for the Alliance for Excellent Education. He works alongside the US Congress, the US Department of Education, and state departments of education, corporations, and school districts throughout the country to implement digital learning. He is also helping to lead Future Ready, Project 24, and Digital Learning Day. Murray’s experiences in K-12 digital leadership, which include implementing a 1:1 program, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), blended learning, and a K-12 cyber school where he served as the director of technology and cyber education for the Quakertown Community School District in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, have been recognized nationally. He is also the co-author of the recent release, Leading Professional Learning: Tools to Connect and Empower Teachers, and serves as a school district consultant for digital learning planning and implementation.

How did your educational trajectory and past professional experience shape your current work?
From a young age, I've always had a heart for children, particularly those that are less fortunate. Starting my college years as pre-med, I quickly decided that I wanted to work with children on a more regular basis—not just a few times a year or when they weren't feeling well. As it relates to technology, 15 years ago, as a first-year teacher, my mentor modeled for me that when technology is used with a clear purpose, students are engaged, and with structurally sound pedagogy, great things happen!

Although the classroom technology of 15 years ago was in its infancy compared to today's standards, I learned an incredible amount and was excited about the possibilities of access and connectivity—two things that, years later, remain on the front burner of my passion for student learning. After 14 years as a public-school teacher, principal and tech director, I moved to the Alliance for Excellent Education in Washington, D.C. to serve our nation's children as the state and district digital learning director. Now working at the federal level, I see the primary role of what I do is to support the students and educators that I worked alongside of for years—as I understand classroom, school, and district level needs.

Currently, what keeps me doing this line of work is the opportunity to work with school leaders nationwide and support them in the digital transition as they redesign teaching and learning in their schools to better serve the needs of our nation’s children.

How do you hope your work will change the learning landscape?
First and foremost, the work that I do centers on high quality teaching and learning. Although much of my work revolves around educational technology, the premise behind its use is to empower both teachers and students to provide more relevant learning experiences for all. Overall, my hope is that the work I do supports district level leadership in creating systemic implementation plans before they purchase (instead of purchasing without a plan). In our current landscape, we see districts buying incredible amounts of technology and devices and once in hand wondering, "now what do we do with it?" Much of my work centers on working with district level leadership to help them think through the transformation of all areas of digital learning, such as curriculum, instruction, and assessment; professional learning; data and privacy; community engagement, etc. These areas are the foundation of much of the work for Future Ready Schools, which can be found at futurereadyschools.org.

Additionally, I’m working at the federal and state level to help transform the structure of professional learning. For years, the top-down, one-size-fits-all approach of hours-based, "sit-and-get" professional learning remained paramount. In this system, teachers are often left feeling like professional development is something done to them, not something that they are a vital part of. In my book, Leading Professional Learning: Tools to Connect and Empower Teachers, my co-author and I lay out the case of transforming the current reality of professional learning for many to one that is engaging, relevant, and owned by all. Another aspect of my work deals with leadership and culture in schools. School leaders will either be the greatest creator of a culture of innovation in their schools, or the greatest roadblock. In all of the school turnaround stories that we’ve seen, there is always a dynamic leader at the forefront, who is empowering his/her people to do great things. Shifting the culture in schools to one of empowerment and shared ownership is a key to the success of our nation educationally.

Simply put, my hope is that my work empowers teachers, supports leaders in creating dynamic schools, and flattens our world for all students, especially those that are traditionally underserved. As a nation, we can, will, and must do this for generations to come.

What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?
From flipped teaching, to project-based learning, to makerspaces, to STEM and STEAM, each year brings with it a new acronym, or for some a silver bullet as to how teaching and learning should be. Although I think these things are certainly good, they all have one main characteristic in common—a more student-centered learning environment. I believe that with today’s technologies and those that are forthcoming, combined with additional brain research on how we best learn, schools will continue to move to a personalized approach to learning. Classrooms will continue to move to a focus on higher-order thinking skills, as opposed to the lower level regurgitation of classrooms past. I believe that adaptive technologies will continue to be blended into learning experiences for kids, helping to meet their individualized needs. However, what will NOT change is the fact that the single largest influencer and important factor in student growth will be the classroom teacher. Therefore, we need to continue to support educators through personalized professional learning so that they can be dynamic in the classroom, providing relevant, unique experiences for each child.

What are you currently working on & what is your next big project?
Currently, my work is focused on Future Ready, a combined effort between the Alliance for Excellent Education and the US Department of Education, to help transform schools into ones that better prepare students for college and career through a more personalized, technology-infused, student-centered learning environment. Our work is based on the Future Ready District Pledge and Future Ready Framework, which provide districts with a comprehensive overview of transformation, including leadership and culture. Our Future Ready Dashboard provides comprehensive self-assessment, gap analysis, strategies, and customized resources to support district leaders in the digital conversion. All aspects of Future Ready are free for district leaders.

Through our Future Ready Summits I’ve had the opportunity to work with over 1,500 school leaders in the past few months on leadership, culture, and creating cultures of innovation in our schools. From schools like Houston ISD, which serves over 210,000 students, to schools that serve only a few hundred, my focus has been on leadership so that they can transform school culture and empower both teachers and students. Simultaneously, the work around connectivity and access for all students has been a major undertaking in this endeavor.

On the horizon, I will be working on innovative learning spaces, student data-privacy, and a long term plan for creating schools that are future ready nationwide.

Who are the most interesting people you are following on Twitter?
Twitter is an incredible tool that provides anytime, anywhere learning opportunities for educators. On a daily basis, educators are connecting to grow and collaborate around teaching and learning. Although I could easily provide a list of hundreds of must-follow educators, I’ll narrow down to these three as a starting point:

1) Jimmy Casas is a national speaker, author, and dynamic high school principal from Iowa. Jimmy provides incredible insight to student-centered learning, creating a high school environment that works for kids, and transforming professional learning. Jimmy is a highly respected educator and engages in meaningful conversation with educators daily.

2. Erin Klein is a well-known teacher of the year and a go-to for innovative learning spaces, student voice, and student-centered, blended learning environments. An incredible blogger and one of the top-known keynote speakers, Erin is one of the top respected educators and someone I learn from daily.

3. Eric Sheninger is one of the top known names on social media, a best selling author, and a go-to for school leaders, as he focuses on leadership and transforming schools. Consistently named one of education’s top bloggers, Eric shares incredible resources for educators.