Arkansas Department of Education
When John Calaway built his first computer program, he wasn’t thinking about students and learning, but rather about the animals he encountered in the Arkansas wilderness. As a biologist for the State Fish and Game Commission, John used a computer program to log the amount of medicine that was given to sick animals and to track the populations of native species. “Even though my mom, dad, and even my wife were all teachers,” he recalls, “I started out far from the classroom, out in the woods.” But it wasn’t long before he succumbed to the “family business,” and began teaching high school biology, which allowed him to bring his love of nature into the classroom.
Based on his experience in the field, John decided to utilize the one lone computer in his classroom to see if he could make his teaching more interesting for the students. He bought some software that explained biorhythms and human physiology, and he found that the computer really helped make the information come alive. However, it wasn’t until Calaway attended a national technology conference that he really saw the potential for changing classroom instruction. “It really opened my eyes to the possibilities,” he remembers, “I got a vision of how technology could transform education.”
Armed with this vision, John went on to become the principal of the high school where he had been teaching, and began focusing on building the school’s technology resources. He worked with the staff to write a successful grant proposal that brought new equipment, support and professional development to help teachers learn how to use computers as instructional tools. Recently in his role as Assistant Superintendent, he was still intent on making technology integral to the classroom, particularly through professional development for teachers. John has since left Green Forest and now works for the Arkansas Department of Education.
Perhaps it is because he is responsible for professional development for his school district, but John believes that technology will never replace the role of the teacher in the classroom. “The human element is still really important,” he stresses. “Teachers are crucial for helping students interpret what they learn through the Internet. Just because it’s on the screen, that doesn’t mean that it’s good information.”
As a district administrator, John is particularly passionate about the role of technology in data-driven decision making. He led a session with all the teachers and administrators to examine test scores and consider the implications of the data for teaching and learning. The State of Arkansas is also using a new system to manage data, which complements a district effort to enable teachers to dig into their own classroom information more effectively.
When he’s not analyzing data, John can be found in the wilderness near his north central Arkansas home, where a scenic river winds through the property. He loves fishing and hunting, and spending time with his wife and two children. His biggest passion, however, is education, and he misses the classroom now that he works at the district level. “Connecting with the students and building close ties with them—that’s the most gratifying part of the whole business of education.”