Teachers should use technology for betterment of students, Barren County tech leader says
By Matthew Tungate
In what has become a familiar scene, Benny Lile was greeted with numerous well wishes from his Facebook friends on his birthday in January. But for Lile, director of Instruction and Technology for the Barren County school district, a message from a former student who works in Centre College’s IT department stood out.
“He said, ‘I still give you credit for telling me how to cut and paste that day in the 6th grade for starting my technology career.’ ”
Lile was in the then-student’s classroom in the mid-1990s, and his teacher didn’t know how to cut and paste on the computer, so Lile showed the boy how to do it.
“He remembers that,” Lile said. “Stuff like that makes you feel pretty good.”
Now in his 13th year in his position, his interaction with students is less frequent – but his effect on them and teachers may be greater. Earlier this year, Google selected Lile as one of only 50 participants nationwide to attend its Google Teacher Academy for Administrators in San Antonio, Texas.
The Google Teacher Academy for Administrators is designed to help K-12 educational leaders get the most from innovative technologies. Each academy is an intensive, one-day event where participants get hands-on experience with Google’s products, learn about innovative instructional strategies and receive resources to share with their districts. Upon completion, academy participants become Google Certified Teachers who share what they learn with other K-12 educators.
It’s a prestigious spot for Lile, who started as a 7th- and 8th-grade teacher 25 years ago in Metcalfe County.
“That was about the time the Apple IIC and Apple IIE were hitting, and I just got drawn into that,” he said. “It was just such a powerful learning tool I saw, so I got very active in getting a lot of computers in my classroom at that time.
“I never was enamored with how many bits of this and bytes of that,” he said. “I was drawn to the power that it had in the classroom.”
That was the same reason he was interested in the Google Teacher Academy for Administrators.
Google employees and trainers showed participants “everything from promising products to new releases to old standbys like Gmail,” he said.
For instance, many people are familiar with Google Forms, a form-and-survey development interface with built-in reporting in Google Docs, Lile said, but the Google Academy takes what educators can do with Google Forms to a new level. Barren County plans to give principals smartphones to put some of their walkthrough information into Google Forms.
“We’re hoping they’ll be able to take this and even come back and teach us things,” he said.
If Barren County can successfully integrate the Google applications, it will just continue a long-line of technological accomplishments for Lile and the district.
He said there are several of which he is particularly proud. The Barren Academy of Virtual and Expanded Learning (BAVEL) would be up at top, Lile said. Students from Barren County and other districts enroll in BAVEL, whose curriculum is provided by the Kentucky Virtual High School, to take core courses and Advanced Placement courses, study foreign languages, accelerate their learning or to make up credits.
The district also has a student-run technology help desk. Students take advanced technology classes in middle school, and then apply for a job on the phone help desk. When they can drive, the students go to other schools to solve technology problems.
“We treat it just like a co-op,” Lile said.
Lile doesn’t directly supervise BAVEL or the student-run help desk, but he helped start them. He does supervise what is known as the V-Team, the district’s technology integration specialists. The two original members’ names started with V, he said, and even though the team has grown, the name has stayed the same.
Michelle Shirley, a 2nd-grade teacher at North Jackson Elementary, has known Lile for 14 years and worked for him as a curriculum specialist. She said the V-Team is a valuable component of the district staff.
“When we, the teachers, ask for help, we aren’t met with why something cannot be done, but ‘How can we make this happen?’ ” she said.
Valerie Stokes, one of the original V-Team members, said Lile is the kind of person who is there when you need him, but he doesn’t get in the way when you’re working.
“He knows that we keep him informed of what is happening in our schools, and he supports our ideas for new and innovative ideas for the future and encourages us to pursue any and all opportunities to help the students of Barren County succeed with instruction and technology,” she said.
V-Team member Melissa Moss said Lile’s background allows him to relate well to classroom teachers.
“By being a forward-looking technology director, he allows us, teachers, students and others around him to explore the different avenues of technology that will enhance the educational experiences of the students in our district,” she said.
Lile said some teachers are reluctant to use technology, and there are others of whom he says, “I could hand them a paper clip and a matchstick and tell them ‘Apple just put this on the market,’ and they’d order it tonight.”
“I am pleasantly pleased with the initiative that our teachers are taking, be it young, old, 30 years’ experience or three years’ experience,” he said.
Lile has seen educators fight technology. Years ago he had a fellow administrator who did not want to let a parent fax missing homework because it was so new and not everyone had access to a fax machine, he said.
“The fax at that time was so new and so different, and now faxes are about obsolete,” Lile said.
V-Team member Jeanelle McGuire said Lile has earned his peers’ respect.
“Benny truly wants what is best for the students and is willing to go to great lengths to achieve that goal,” she said.
Though he is not in the classroom, Lile still knows that what he does matters for students.
“Even though things like student-run help desk and BAVEL are the big deals, every day somebody is leaning over a desk and helping the next IT director at Centre or UofL or wherever.”