The Helping Kind

A dedicated educator brings a big heart, meaning, and joy to learning.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero


CREDIT Matt Ohlson CAMP OspreyMATTHEW OHLSON

Title: Assistant Professor, Educational Leadership; Facilitator, C.A.M.P. Osprey – connecting students with athletes, mentors.

Org: Taylor Leadership Institute, University of North Florida – Jacksonville

Reach: High school students, teachers, education leadership.

Fame: 2017 EdTech Awards honoree

Quote: “To overcome geographic and financial barriers faced by our high-poverty, urban/rural partners throughout the nation, we harness the use of ‘virtual leadership mentoring’ and videoconferencing technology.”

Looking ahead: “Hopefully, this is just the beginning of an educational mentoring network that will connect university faculty and students with K-12 teachers and students to positively impact learning and leadership development.”

Write to: matthew.ohlson@unf.edu 


If you look closely, you’ll see them everywhere: dedicated, passionate people who take immense pleasure in helping others. A 2017 EdTech Award honoree, Matthew Ohlson is a great example of such a person. Through his work with CAMP Osprey, Matthew (pictured above holding his 2017 EdTech Award with ardent supporter UNF Dean of the College of Education and Human Services Diane Yendol-Hoppey) has demonstrated his commitment to using whatever tools he can, applying those to bring others around him up. CAMP (Collegiate Achievement Mentoring Program) Osprey is a leadership-mentoring program in which collegiate student leaders serve as mentors to at-risk K-12 students. To overcome geographic and financial barriers faced by their high-poverty, urban/rural partners throughout the nation, “we harness the use of ‘virtual leadership mentoring’ and videoconferencing technology available on the UNF campus,” says Matthew, who works with a local school district to effect change. “The district is far from the resources of a major university, but through the virtual mentoring program, students are able to meet weekly with their collegiate mentors.”

I’ve made it an extremely effective practice to surround myself with those who challenge, inspire, and make me a better leader. 

The United Way and Jefferson Foundation featured this model as an exemplar for technology integration and community impact. In addition, the data from the pilot program has been presented at SITE, AACE, AERA and UCEA as well as numerous journals. Participants in the pilot program experienced increased GPA’s, increased attendance and decreased school suspensions as well as research presentations at AERA, SITE and UCEA.

Matthew has a Ph.D. in Educational Administration and Policy with a specialization in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Florida. He also received comprehensive leadership training from the New York City Leadership Academy and the Schlechty / Hohmann Principals Academy. His K-12 experience includes roles as a 15-year teacher and school leader in the Boston Public Schools and the Florida Global School. In higher education, Matthew served as a clinical instructor at the University of Florida, Director of the nationally recognized C.A.M.P. mentoring program and leadership facilitator at the Lastinger Center for Learning. Matthew has also conducted comprehensive program evaluation for state agencies and helped to develop the new Florida Education Leadership Exam (FELE). Most recently, he served as an educational consultant with the Florida Department of Education, training educators and leaders throughout the state as they transition to the new curriculum standards.

In this exclusive EdTech Digest interview, he talks about the programs that matter to him, how they help others, who has helped him in his life, the power of technology in learning, and where he thinks it’s all heading.

What prompted to you to found CAMP Osprey?

Matthew: The Collegiate Achievement Mentoring Program (CAMP) idea was developed to create an intergenerational leadership mentoring partnership between collegiate student leaders and K12 students. The CAMP was based on an “apprenticeship” model where college students refined their own leadership abilities while teaching these same college and career ready skills to students in schools throughout the region. The CAMP program, now called CAMP Osprey at the University of North Florida,  has seen significant success in only the first two years of implementation including increases in program participants, increased student achievement and external funding to support on campus experiences for our mentees in grades 4-8. One major barrier we saw during our program expansion was reaching high-needs students who were restricted by time (scheduling) and geography (distance away from campus). The innovative use of virtual mentoring has helped us to expand our impact to mentor students in high-needs rural communities and schools as far away as Miami and Raleigh. http://jacksonville.com/news/2016-04-09/story/more-degrees-and-training-preventing-young-people-finding-keeping-jobs

What does this mean for the students to connect with athletes, mentors? 

credit-matthew-olson-phd-putnam-county-fl-with-unf.pngMatthew: Our hands-on activities and leadership curriculum developed through my role at the Taylor Leadership Institute help to ensure that mentoring goes beyond just making friends but rather, towards a more significant, outcome-based experience. We expected the K-12 to change in a positive way and this has proven true with increased achievement, attendance and decreased behavioral issues. Yet, we never expected the positive outcomes experienced by the collegiate mentors including increased confidence, time management, ability to work with others and empathy.

This mentoring experience also helps to instill a fervent belief that college is attainable thanks to our face-to-face campus trips and our virtual field trips: https://indd.adobe.com/view/1bd595b6-c18a-4b4d-b1be-e914a90c0f6f

Who in your own life has been a mentor or inspiration? how/why?

Matthew: My parents, both urban teachers, served as my early mentors and inspired me to become an educator in the Boston Public Schools where I served proudly for more than 10 years. Recently, I’ve had the honor of being mentored by Ms. Muriel Summers of AB Combs Leadership Magnet Elementary (Raleigh, NC). I first met Muriel when she took a chance on a fledgling CAMP (Gator at UF) mentoring program http://webarchive.wcpss.net/blog/2011/03/university-of-florida-gators-help-combs-magnet-elementary-gators/ and created our first multi-state mentoring partnership. From there, I have been able to learn from and with her unwavering support for doing what is best for students. Ironically, another leader who has served an inspiration was someone I am actually mentoring. I have been mentoring Dr. Earl Johnson of Matanzas High School each month and in that time, I’ve learned so much from him about being a humble, determined and servant leader. There are countless others and I’ve made it an extremely effective practice to surround myself with those who challenge, inspire, and make me a better leader.

When we look at ways to create opportunities to make education meaningful and make education joyful, where teacher strengths are touted and student passions are ignited—that’s where education is headed, those are the brights spots ahead.

What is the power of technology in learning?  

Matthew: As a former Principal with the amazing Florida Virtual School, I will never forget our foundational phrase: Any time, any place, any path, any pace. Technology can truly be a catalyst for change and a tool that can overcome barriers. First as a tool to bring the world to students – I’ve witnessed firsthand students from other cultures across the globe learning together in a virtual classroom, college professors from Research 1 Universities  teaching groundbreaking ideas to students in migrant faming communities and urban school students participating in virtual field trips in national parks and landmarks throughout the country. Technology also brings voice to students where regardless of learning strengths or styles, students can learn, share and collaborate in a way that gives every student the opportunity to be engaged and demonstrate deeper knowledge. Moving beyond traditional call and response and fear-inducing public presentations using a script or notecards, students can now use text to speech, animated videos, presentation software and variety if other tools to access, manipulate and present knowledge in a form that is engaging to each student.

Where is education heading? any bright spots ahead?

Matthew: When we look at ways to create opportunities to make education meaningful and make education joyful, where teacher strengths are touted and student passions are ignited—that’s where education is headed, those are the brights spots ahead. Rather than focusing solely on the gaps and weaknesses, we can start to look at the gifts and talents of our students and educators and expand upon them. I believe choice should also be at the heart of the direction we are headed. Are we offering students choice in the learning path, their potential career path, etc.? For example, look at the ways that Flagler County Schools, a small rural district in Florida, has been creating dynamic “Flagship programs” where students can learn specialize in tracts in fields such as Aerospace and robotics to financial literacy and even a firefighting academy. Phase 2 of the UNF CAMP Osprey model will be harnessing this idea with leaders in career fields serving as mentors to aspiring scientists, engineers, artists, educators and executives. The face-to-face and virtual mentoring process and resources are universal and are being piloted in schools where experienced teachers and principals are mentoring beginners in the field to offer support, guidance and the sharing of best practices.

What purposes did you begin with getting into the education field that are now being fulfilled?

Matthew: I wanted to make a difference in the community where I grew up, Boston. As my role expanded and I saw so many needs in the field of education, I felt that pursuing my Ph.D. from a place like the University of Florida would allow me to implement policies and practices that I know would eventually help students and teachers. These dreams have become a reality where I have been able to create a mentoring program at three major universities (UF, UNF and NC State), help leaders in districts throughout the nation to develop a school culture that leads to significant and lasting change and to use technology to bring equity and resources to those students often bypassed in our current system.

Any words of wisdom to other educators out there regarding their impact on students? 

Matthew: With many of the schools I work with, I use a performance framework focused on consistent monitoring of the ways each educator is making a difference in the life of a child. Not vision statements that collect dust or overwhelming evaluation models, a simple process where every week, every staff member in the school takes 5 minutes to document the impact they made: in the life of a child, with a colleague, with a parent/guardian/community member. Each week the theme changes between student, colleague and greater school community member. This simple process serves numerous functions- it build s a strong school community focused on collective impact, it allows for a clear opportunity for positive reflection to show that you are making a difference and can show opportunities for growth when the evidence is not present. My advice always remains grounded in the positive impact you are making as an educator, a school leader and as a policy maker.

Anything else you care to add or emphasize about CAMP Osprey, your work, edtech, anything? 

Matthew: The collaboration between the UNF College of Education and Human Services, The Taylor Leadership Institute, UNF Admissions and our community partners has been instrumental in our implementation, expansion and success. In addition, throughout the semester we embed the themes of leadership, happiness, success and service from  the following videos and empower our participants to demonstrate how they:

Through the power of edtech, we would love to see the EdTech Digest “family” look at ways to expand this replicable model/network of “virtual” leaders.

Excellent! Let’s do that. Alright well thank you, Matthew, and again congratulations on your continued success.

Matthew: Thank you!

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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