Friday, January 10, 2020

A Letter to Future School Administrators

I have been completely out of touch with blogging the past couple of years. I've been more involved in some of the educational aspects of our school district than I was in the past, and in my opinion, it's been productive for both me and my district. With technology being so entrenched in education, employment, communication, research, publishing, creating, and day to day living, it only makes sense that a Tech Director's time be divided between working on/planning for/deploying tech AND figuring out how best to use that tech for learning and to work. That being said, there are things I hope future administrators will think about.

First, my nightmare scenario is a technology roll out of some new technology with a headline focusing on the hardware or the software. In my opinion that's educational malpractice. The reporting should emphasize the learning initiative and the way the new purchases will affect students. How many times have you seen a headline declaring that a district has spent several hundred thousand dollars on Chromebooks/iPads/Computers or on some software suite only to have no plan for how it is going to change education for the better long term? How many times have those initiatives completely failed, because no one looked past the shiny new toy feel of the purchase and planned for the success of the initiative?

Second, vendors are there for one reason: To sell you things. If they go behind the back of your tech department or try to keep the tech department out of the meetings, beware. All of them will promise you the moon, but their products always need to be vetted and compared to other products before you make a decision as to what to buy. Your tech department can help you with that. It's what they do.

Third, it's easy to follow the trends for the newest shiny toy every couple of years. It allows you to publicize the new stuff, but it keeps your staff and students from having to really learn how to use a tool well for learning and for your students to reap the benefits. Be careful with the term "engaged" and how you use it. Remember that the excitement over the new things does not equate with better learning.

Fourth, with rare exceptions (which is a whole other problem/story), the tech department is not your enemy. They are there to work with you to improve education in the district. There are far better paying jobs out there for tech people. Those who stay (and who are any good) are there because they truly think they can contribute to a better education for kids. Welcome their help. Seek it out.

And finally, I am convinced that only you have the ultimate power to make technology a powerful learning tool in your district. Tech Directors can provide the stuff and train the staff and play cheerleader for the learning tools. Individual teachers can shine on their own. However, to transform a district requires a dedicated administrator. You can learn how to use technology. You can use technology to do your job better. You can model technology use in PD. You can highlight your people and your students with social media. You can make robust technology use a part of your walk through and staff evaluation criteria. You can give your tech department time to educate staff members. And, you can reward the teachers who use technology effectively thus pushing others to follow suit. The bottom line is it's important that you take a look at the ISTE Standards for Education Leaders and take a leadership role along side your Technology Director.

What these things all have in common is teamwork. My advice is that you make the tech department an important part of your team and work together. If you do, your students will benefit. After 23 years of doing this, this is one of the few things I am absolutely certain of. Trite as it sounds, we're better together.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Tornado Pride

There was no logical reason for my applying for the job of District Technology Director for the Storm Lake Community School District twelve years ago. I was a late comer to education, a HS English teacher of ten years who spent most of those years also teaching technology classes while learning to manage all the technology needs of a small private school. For some reason I thought it was a good idea to shoot for the moon and throw my resume out there to a much larger school, and for some reason the Storm Lake Community School District said, "Why not?"

There have been many moments over the past twelve years that have made it clear to me why I am so very happy that the universe brought me here. Today was one of those moments.

Dakota Caldwell's presentation to the high school student body about the importance of technology to the quality of his life was inspiring. I met Dakota in my office a couple of months ago when he had some questions about a project he was working on. I was impressed with him then, and I was impressed with him today. He is well spoken, self assured, and intelligent. His message of encouraging more innovation was just what our students need to hear in this world of ever changing job markets and societal needs.

Dakota's presentation was followed by a group of student dancers who showed the rest of us grace, beauty, and the results of hard work and dedication. The athleticism that dancing had to have taken was phenomenal, and the pride in culture was apparent.

Both of these performances were awe inspiring, but there was something else that put me into that special place of "there is nowhere else I would rather be." That was the reaction of the entire student body. Both groups received rapt attention from the crowd. There was laughter. There were tears. There were appropriate whoops and hollers. There was complete silence. There were lit cell phones in appreciation of the dancers. And, there were spontaneous standing ovations for both of these performances. The appreciation of the talents of their peers was evident and palpable.

I don't know why I was so lucky as to have the universe align in some strange twist of life events to bring me to Storm Lake twelve years ago, but I do know this. Our schools are a model for the entire country. We are a community of learners who although far from perfect, as human beings are, come together over and over and over again in respect and caring for one another. I've seen and felt it a million times here at SLCSD. Today was one of those days.

#SLChangeMakers

Monday, December 10, 2018

Vote Yes for Kids

Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities,
because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled,
can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.
--John F. Kennedy


Think about every problem, every challenge, we face.
The solution to each starts with education.
--George H. W. Bush


Tomorrow Storm Lake voters go to the polls to vote on supporting the building of a new early childhood facility to accommodate our growing numbers of students.

If the question is:

What's best for kids? - Then you will vote yes.

If the question is:

What's best for Storm Lake? - Then you will vote yes.

If the question is:

What's best for society? - Then you will vote yes.

If you have any questions, take a look at this website.

http://www.slcsd.org/bond

But then I urge you to vote yes on both ballot measures. Our kids deserve it.

#SLChangeMakers

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Fight for What's Right, but See the Good

My father died in August. I've mentioned him in this blog before. He retired from practicing law in his sixties but then proceeded to do pro bono work for Legal Aid for many, many years. His mission was to fight for the rights of the little guy, the person in poverty, the person whose life had led to desperate life situations. He fought for what was right, and he saw the good in people in all walks of life. He believed strongly in the right of every person, old or young, rich or poor, right or wrong, to legal representation, and he lived those beliefs working tirelessly and for free practically until his dying breaths.

This all comes to mind again this week with the passing of President George H.W. Bush. I watched the reactions of the various pundits, the current and previous Presidents, his political adversaries, and his friends. All I could think was how much I disagree with those who believe we can't honor the good a person does in a lifetime without agreeing with every life or policy choice. I felt the same way as I watched the celebration of Senator John McCain's life. Both of these men, despite many things I would disagree with politically, lived lives of public service and have long lists of good things they did for this world.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with education?

Our schools are microcosms of this political society. They are filled with people from all walks of life with thoughts and opinions as diverse as snowflakes on an Iowa winter day. However, they are also filled with people, staff and students, who are trying to make a difference in this world. We don't always agree on the best way to do that. Sometimes we make poor decisions and stumble along the way. Yet, despite our differences, we are all here learning together. We are committed to one another. Let us debate our educational beliefs strenuously, but let us always see the good in one another, especially the good in our students, and always honor that.


Friday, July 27, 2018

Be Here Now

My word for 2018 has been "mindfulness." My goal is to focus on what's going on not only inside of me but also outside of me in my day to day life. It's far too easy to let the regular days pass by as I wait for the next big event or the much anticipated moment, but in the meantime, miss out on things that are quite remarkable if I just pay attention.


I was musing just the other day about how my dog, Lady, has not only so much love to give that she greets me at the door EVERY time I come home, and she snuggles up close to me EVERY chance she gets; but she also has the most beautiful tail. ❤

What are you missing out on in your day to day? How could we use the concept of mindfulness to improve the learning experiences of our students?

Friday, July 20, 2018

Our Why Needs to be Bigger

I have four grandchildren. Louis will be in second grade. Sarah will be in kindergarten. Scout is almost a year old. And, Quinn is 6 months old. They will always be in the front of my thoughts when it comes to my views on education - And my drive to fight for what's right. They deserve all the best our schools have to offer.

 


However, my why can't stop there. My why must include my friends' and neighbors' children. It must include all the children in my community - The children in my state - In my nation - And in the world. It is not enough that my grandchildren receive an excellent education. It is important that all children receive an excellent education. Our world has become far too intent on demanding the golden ring for ourselves and then blaming others who haven't been so fortunate. This shortsighted selfishness must stop - And it must never be a part of our schools.

Education must be accessible to everyone. Education must teach us to both critically evaluate the facts and also to be empathetic and kind to our fellow man. There is nothing more important than this. Coming from a family of educators, there have been times that family had to take a back seat to the work that needed to be done for others, and that is a good thing. It has created adults who have chosen lives of service and love.

Can you expand your why?



Thursday, November 30, 2017

EdTech Planning and Funding

It's still November, and we've already begun the process of planning for next year's EdTech purchases. In some ways we have it down to a science. What's five years old? Time to replace it. Recycle those things that don't work very well anymore and re-purpose the rest. Then ask for input from administrators and teachers as to what they perceive are their EdTech needs for next year. Compile all of that and then contemplate changes or additions. Then prioritize, knowing funding will never cover everything but wanting to fulfill the most requests we possibly can.

That all seems pretty straight forward, but here's where the difficulties always arise. It's the answer to the email or the form field or interview question that asks something like:

Exactly what are students going to do with these devices or programs? How will the technology increase or at least enhance student learning?

I informally evaluate the state of our instructional strategies in classrooms and the understanding of the potential of technology for learning from these answers, and honestly, it's disappointing some years. Research, reading, mechanical tech skill development, weekly or standardized assessments, canned curriculum, and writing papers aren't very good answers. While yes, students should and do use devices for these purposes, these uses don't come close to realizing the potential of technology for learning. Tech is only a substitute for the same old way of teaching and learning, meaning tech's desirable but not really necessary, rather than tech's a trans-formative way to learn in ways that were never possible before, under which circumstances tech becomes a necessity.

Take a look at the SAMR model that describes a way to analyze how students are using technology in the classroom. Kathy Schrock has many resources related to SAMR: http://www.schrockguide.net/samr.html. While all student tech use doesn't have to approach the redefinition level of this model, some of that use certainly should.

Take a look at the new ISTE Standards for Students: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students. There is almost no correlation from the student uses listed above to the potential these standards provide for student learning. Students collaborating with others outside their town or state or country, creating musical compositions or business models, or contributing to the solution of real life problems are very real, viable, trans-formative things students can do with technology.

Finally, take a look at the other initiatives in your districts. How does technology integration fit in? It shouldn't be an isolated, add-on activity anymore. It should be intrinsic to learning. The excuse that teachers are too busy with other things mandated by the state and the district doesn't fly anymore. Technology is, can be, or should be a part of every other initiative in a district. It's how business is done in the real world, and the real world needs to be reflected in the work our students do in school.

Can you argue your district doesn't have enough technology to easily implement some of the instructional strategies I'm suggesting? You bet. This would certainly be true of my district. However, that becomes a lame excuse when the request for more EdTech is not based on transformation but is based on students doing research, taking assessments, accessing canned curriculum, and practicing mechanical tech skills. Continuing to use traditional and often antiquated instructional strategies may require a certain level of EdTech access, but it isn't a very compelling way to persuade those in charge of funding to prioritize and spend more money on EdTech.

Think about it.