Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Wearing Two Hats is Hard Sometimes

I spent the last 2.5 weeks troubleshooting an ailing school network. The outages in one school morphed into outages at two other buildings after the first outage was fixed. Tests were run; equipment was replaced; outside opinions were enlisted; and eventually the mystery of the very strange network behavior was solved. During that time it was hard to take off the techie hat to wear the student learning hat.

I've always been a huge proponent of educators being in charge of technology in schools, both as integrationists and as techies. It's hard for someone who has spent no time in a classroom to understand the special needs of teachers and students, and those of us who learned the trade of "techie" after being a teacher have some very unique job experiences that just teachers or just techies don't have. On the other hand, after a couple of weeks like I just had - and I even have two technicians and a part time teacher that work with me - I'm more certain than ever that if we want to really integrate technology in the best educational way possible, we better do three things:
  1. Hire enough people to support the technology and the education.
  2. Make technology a part of every educational conversation and decision that's ever made in the schools. Don't visit the EdTech experts as an after thought after the decisions are made.
  3. Provide vast supports for teachers when it comes to technology for learning. It's time-consuming, and it's easy to superficially use technology with students or to avoid its use altogether if you don't have help and support.
Long gone are the days of a computer lab or two in each building where students come for their only technology exposure in school. Instead we have technology scattered everywhere, available for student learning all day long - Literally thousands of devices, programs, apps, users, and varying training needs. I've got my learning/integration hat back on this week - but I sure didn't 90% of the time the two weeks before.

How about you? Does your school have technology integrationists to support classroom teachers? Or, do you have someone like me who wears both hats?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Let Me Introduce Myself, Fellow Staff Members

Let me introduce myself, fellow staff members. Since I am the District Technology Director who works with all of you on occasion, the vast majority of you think you know me, but you probably don't. Not really. I serve over 350 staff members and over 2400 students, and my duties are so diverse that I spend very little extended time with any of you. I hop from:
  • Providing advice through email to a building administrator to
  • Providing an outside consultant access to our hourly employee database to
  • Climbing a ladder to install a wireless access point in a newly refurbished classroom to
  • Visiting on the phone with a vendor you referred to me to
  • Inventing and organizing district professional development for teachers to
  • Updating our student information system to 
  • Checking up on the network health and the state of our backups.
If I spend five minutes with any one of you during my workday, it's considered an extended time. I work when everyone else does to be available for any technology needs that come up during work hours, and when I need to, I work when no one else does, so services aren't interrupted. Furthermore, in case you misunderstand, I do this work willing and happily, because I love my job. It requires many different hats - sometimes changing hats at the drop of a hat.

Let me introduce myself:

I grew up in Sturgis, South Dakota, graduated from high school there, and no, I have never owned a Harley. I attended college at the University of Wyoming, the University of South Dakota, Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, and Boise State University. I have three younger sisters, an active mom and dad, an amazing teacher husband, and seven grown children. I felt like I won the lottery when I most unexpectedly found out I was pregnant with my triplets. I'm proud to live in the school district I work in. I pull my strength from the out of doors, and I walk for exercise - sometimes a lot! I have three dogs who will scare you if you come to my door and a cat who lives on the second floor. I knit. I write. I read voraciously. I lost my first husband one morning when he got up and dropped dead at 22 years old, and I lost my 10 year old nephew from a freak injury on a football field. I love to go out to eat. My spirit place is the Black Hills of South Dakota. And, in many ways, I think of myself as the luckiest person alive. All lives have ups and downs, but my life has been truly blessed, and I wake up every day anxious to get to work to "do what's best for kids." It's my mission, and I am thankful for the oppotunity to do what I love.

Here are a few other things you might not know:
  • When I don't get a job done as quickly as you would like, it's because I was getting someone else's project completed, and trust me, your job is on my list and waking me up at night.
  • When your four year old device is showing its age, and it won't be replaced until it reaches the five year mark, it's not because I want you to struggle, it's because that's how the budget works.
  • When I recommend a device for student use, I do extensive research; I test the devices; I share the devices with people in the district and ask for input; and I consult with my colleagues who share their district exeriences with the various student devices.
  • When I organize professional development for district teachers, whether in small groups or districtwide, I plan carefully to promote what teachers should be doing in classrooms. Every detail has been scrutinized. Why did I use that program? Why did I allow for independent work? Why did I make teachers read research and reflect? Why did I make teachers interact with each other online? Why did I require teachers to have something to share at our next EdTech PD? Sit down and visit with me, and I will explain the answers to all those questions.
  • When I tell you that you should be active on Twitter, it's because I can't imagine my life without my regular contact with all the experts who offer me resources, advice, and support. I could not do my job without those contacts, and I know how much better you would be at your job if I could just sell you on social media's benefits for both you and your students.
  • When I research a project and provide you with the information, I've deeply researched the project and provided you with the best information that was available to me at the time. When you ask me to do the same project again later, I drop what I'm doing and do the research again, truly hoping that things have changed and that I can provide you this time with the information and solution you want to hear.
See, it's easier to belittle the work of someone you don't know:
  • She didn't recommend your favorite device? She didn't do her homework.
  • She won't let you put your personal devices on the network? She's a control freak.
  • She took charge of EdTech PD and provided participation expectations and guidelines? She's overstepping her authority.
  • She won't replace the old computer you talked her into keeping two years ago? She's selfish and mean.
  • She writes a blog post that's too close to home? She hates us.
The bottom line is that you and I both want what's best for kids. The expertise I bring to the table is technology, and if we work together, schools and student learning will be better. I guarantee it. I have no hidden motives, no bones to pick with you, and no need for recognition or fame. My only need is the opportunity to provide my EdTech expertise to help drive instructional strategies in classrooms.

Maybe, just maybe, we should get to know each other, so we can trust each other. Disagreements we have do not need to be relationship breakers - if we have a relationship. Come to my office for a visit. Let's have lunch sometime. When you participate in EdTech PD, engage me in conversation. Get to know me, and let me get to know you. I am an open book, and . . . I'm going out on a limb here . . . I think we're going to like each other.

Let's get to know each other. I know our school will be better for the relationship we build.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ask Forgiveness?

I've been trying to catch up with work today before teachers are back in the district this week and Toby Keith's song "Get Got" came up in my playlist. There's a line in there that catches my attention every time I hear it:

"Ask forgiveness, not permission."

See, the reason it catches my attention is because I've heard colleagues say it, and it bothers me just as much when I hear it from them as it does when I hear it in this song.

While I try very hard not to make a move without first asking what's best for kids, and while I sometimes I think I'm right when others are wrong when it comes to how to answer that question - The thing that grates on my nerves is the audacity of purposely doing something in a school that, had you asked permission, you most likely would have been turned down for.

To me it flies against every lesson I've learned about collaboration, about shared leadership, about group decision-making, and about respect for others. What it says to me is:

"I am right, and anyone else who disagrees with me is wrong."

Yep, I really hate it when I hear that line.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Teachers, Just Do It!

Whenever I go to these conferences, I contemplate my journey to being a District Technology Director. From a BS in Psychology and Communication; to a return to school later to finish the hours I needed to teach; to ten years in high school classrooms teaching English, speech, and computer classes; to enough frustration in my computer lab that I taught myself to fix computers and run a basic network.

With the exception of one week long workshop on Novell networking of all things and a few conferences with snippets of learning here and there, no one has offered me PD on how to be a computer teacher, to integrate technology, or to do the tasks of a Technology Director. Many years ago I saw a need in my students, in my classroom, and in my school; and I looked for the personal opportunities to learn what I needed to know.

My point is that I just don't understand teachers who use the excuse that they've never been given enough professional development to integrate technology effectively. Really? With social media and access to the Internet, there is just no excuse for not learning what you need to know to integrate technology. None!

I don't have a special EdTech gene that magically got me here. I'm just a teacher who saw the value of technology for learning and who saw the value of Twitter and other social media for networking with those who know way more than I do. Paraphrasing what Kevin Honeycutt said yesterday: I am smart, but all of you together are brilliant - One firefly is a speck of light, but a jar full of fireflies will light up the night.

I just don't buy the no PD argument. Nor do I buy the "I don't have time" argument. If you have the needs of your students at the forefront of your thinking, then you will learn this stuff and do it. The resources are at your fingertips.

Contemplate deep down what your expectations are for your students. Then contemplate your own learning journey - your own behavior. Are you taking responsibility for and modeling lifelong learning, or are you waiting for someone else to hold your hand and choose your direction for you?

You are the educational expert. Learn what you need to know. You can do it. I did. Get your students connecting globally, solving real world problems, creating, and publishing. Do it today!

And by the way, if you need my help, SLCSD teachers, all you need to do is ask.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Hack Education Unconference

I had the most amazing educational experience all day yesterday at the annual Hack Education unconference. Those who attend come together and build a day of learning based on what they want to know. Then everyone splits off to the group discussions of choice. There are no presentations, just educators sharing and caring about the best way to educate our children.

Here's the agenda we built:


Please note that what you don't see are iPad Apps or Google Classroom or BYOD. What you see are urgent issues facing education, pedagogy questions, and deep reflective topics. I saw laughter and tears. I saw reminders that it was time to move on to the next session when participants were so wrapped up in the conversation that they found it hard to stop. And, I saw small groups of people branch off to talk about topics that had evolved from initial conversations.

This, my friends, is what curiosity, solving real work problems, collaboration, and dedication looks like.

My question is, "How do we bring this thirst to know to our students?"

What an amazing, caring, dedicated, group of educators. If we would put them in charge of educational decisions rather than law makers, our schools would truly be transformed.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

ISTE Conference 2015

I am beside myself with excitement as I prepare to head to Philadelphia to the International Society for Technology in Education Conference and Expo. I missed last year due to still recovering from a broken leg, so I am more than ready to go soak up the learning and the networking with others to bring back ideas for our students and teachers.

ISTE, among many other things, is the organization that established the educational technology Standards for Students that are broadly accepted as what our students need to be doing with technology. The Iowa Core 21st Century Technology Standards are based on the ISTE standards. The exciting thing is that these ISTE standards for students are updated every few years, and this year is the beginning of the latest updating process.

I remember when the standards moved several years ago from a very specific technology skills based focus to a much more robust set of standards that take into account the capabilities of technology to learn and to work. Take a look at what the standards look like today:
  1. Creativity and innovation
  2. Communication and collaboration
  3. Research and information fluency
  4. Critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making
  5. Digital citizenship
  6. Technology operations and concepts

We all need these skills to function in our global society for both learning and working. No longer can we use checklists of technology skills like "insert a picture" or "cut and paste" or "create a graph from data" exclusively as our measure of a student's technology skills. Yes, those things are important, but in a global world:
  • where students can interact directly with authors or scientists or students from other countries,
  • where students can gather maps and original documents and historical photographs at the click of a few buttons,
  • where students can organize massive quantities of data into meaningful arguments,
  • where students can code their own video games or apps,
  • and where students can become published writers and artists and receive feedback on their work instantaneously,
we cannot return to the old school ways of educating where teachers and textbooks are the source of all knowledge, and students are treated like little sponges soaking up that limited knowledge.

I look forward to seeing where the ISTE Standards for Students will evolve, and I get goose bumps when I think about the educators who will have the input as to what those new standards should look like.

ISTE Conference, here I come. I can't wait to learn!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Congratulations, Cody Baker

A huge congratulations to Cody Baker for his first place finish with his Senior Individual Website at the National History Day competition.

And, a shout-out to our TAG teacher, Priscilla Robinson, who spends so much time with our students preparing for competition. These are the experiences our students will remember!

Cody's website is about Alan Turing. Take a look:

As always, proud to be a Tornado!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

It takes all of us focused on students

I took my two district technology technicians to the TICL Conference at Buena Vista University the past three days. I do this, because I never want the nuts and bolts part of our jobs as tech people to overshadow why we are really working. We are here to help students learn, and every job we do in our schools, no matter how repetitive or mundane, must keep that goal in mind. Not only must we keep the goal in mind, but we must also take pride in the part we play in our students' learning journeys.

Ed Zimmerle from Prairie Lakes AEA took a fabulous picture of our two computer technicians flanking our Middle School technology teacher.

Here's to Justin Overmohle, Preston Meineke, and Josh Hayden. Our students are lucky to have you !

Monday, June 15, 2015

TICL EdTech Conference

I am attending the TICL EdTech Conference that is held at BVU each June. It is always great to learn what others are doing in their districts, to start planning for next year, and to spend time with colleagues who believe in the value of technology for learning.

Here is a link to the resources that go along with the sessions:


Take a look. Find something promising, and create a new experience for your students next year.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

ESL Summer School Rocks

I want to make sure I publicize the work our teachers and students are doing in ESL Summer School. They are working hard, learning a lot, and having loads of fun in the process.

Here is the link to their website where they are posting pictures and student writing daily.


Take a look at their work. This is summer learning!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Moving On and Carrying On

It's always bittersweet to attend the annual breakfast where the retiring employees of the Storm Lake Community School District are honored, along with also sending our best wishes with employees who are moving on to different jobs.

As was stated by Supertintendent Carl Turner, the power of our school district is that the goal of all of us who work here is always apparent, and that is:

What's best for kids.

What I know is this: While most days are truly filled with collaboration and teamwork, there are some days when we have to fight to be heard. There are some days when we disagree with how to get where we're going. And, there are some days when we become temporarily disheartened. However, our power lies in that we, as the SLCSD family, are tenacious; and we get up every day with renewed vows to work even harder to fight the good fight for our students and their families. As one of the retirees, Janet Anderson, said:

We are all Tornadoes.

For that I am proud. Good luck to those who are leaving us. Thank you for your many years of service to the Storm Lake students and their families. And, to those who are sticking around:

Let's make next year even better.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Summertime learning

I remember so fondly as a child the last day of school, the relief when I'd been promoted to the next grade, and the exhilaration of looking at so many weeks of summer. Freedom from a rigid five days a week schedule. Freedom from early bedtimes. Freedom from learning.

Freedom from learning? Really? Isn't it interesting that when we look back, we realize our best learning happened when we didn't even know we were learning.


Swimming lessons
Driver's Ed
Camps of all kinds
Library time
Reading anything you want to
Cooking classes
Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts/4-H
Vacation Bible School
Family vacations
Educational TV
New notebooks and journals to write in
Playing with the neighborhood kids and siblings
Arts and crafts
Visiting extended family
Gazing at the stars
Summer theater opportunities
Community Band
Growing a garden

What learning experiences can you create this summer? Does learning have to take place in the four walls of the school? If it didn't back then, it certainly doesn't now. Add to the list above, which is still applicable, the Internet, and there is no end to the possibilities for learning anywhere anytime all summer.

My job is year round, and I still get excited for the opportunities for personal learning that come to me in the summertime. What are you waiting for? Create some personal learning experiences!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Relationships - Relationships - Relationships

"They maneuvered around one another with the absolute confidence of people who have spent huge amounts of time together, who trusted and loved one another and who knew how to show one another off to best advantage and how to curb each other's boring and annoying habits."--The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Never neglect the relationships you develop at work. So many disagreements and heartaches could be avoided if, as my superintendent once said in his opening year remarks, we always treated people like people, not objects. I'd go even further and say that we also have to step outside our own little boxes and look at a bigger picture than what we personally deal with day to day. There are many forces at work in our schools, and sometimes people's actions become very understandable when we look at all the angles. Here's what I'm thinking right this minute.

  • We can disagree without being disagreeable.
  • We can have different viewpoints and still like and respect each other.
  • We can walk a mile in each other's shoes before we criticize.
  • We can relinquish control over the things we don't know enough about or have the time for.
  • We can find the time and places to really get to know the people we work with.
  • We can always give the benefit of the doubt.
  • We can let go of the past.
  • We can buy into the fact that education and experience does qualify those we work with more highly than ourselves in their specific subjects.
  • We can quit gossiping.
  • We can change our minds when evidence supports a different conclusion.
  • We can realize that we all work for the same team - our students, our schools, and our community.

As role models for each other and for our students, we need to work together and respect each other. Always.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Learning About 3D Shapes

   We recently had some 3D printer fun in Mrs. Knapp's second grade classroom. 

The students were learning about 3D shapes.

Technology certainly added a Wow Factor!

There were lots of ooooooo's and ahhhhhhhh's.

There was lots of curiosity.

In addition, the students enjoyed creating their own 3D shapes.

They compared them to the shapes created by the printer.

I think we cemented 3D shapes into these students' memories
and increased their learning.

Don't you?

Friday, May 1, 2015

Making the Impossible Possible

I LOVE this time of year - Putting the ribbon around all the learning that has gone on during this school year and making optimistic plans for how we can be even better next year. My favorite symbol in the whole world is the flying pig. The flying pig symbolizes to me that what at first may seem impossible can often be made possible if we're just willing to figure it out and do the work. It's how I approach education and how I approach life.

It won't shock anyone for me to say that much of my district is still on the fence when it comes to the best use of technology for learning. We've purchased lots of devices, but many have still not bought into the enormous potential technology has to improve education. We make a lot of progress when we regularly offer EdTech Professional Development, but then we slip and slide when we don't. Unfortunately, we still have a tendency to think instructional strategies and Iowa Core are separate from educational technology, and we divvy up our days of professional development and throw up our hands with, "There just isn't enough time." We love the use of social media to keep our stakeholders informed, but we neglect the huge potential social media can bring to our learning.

Because of this reality, I'm always looking for ways to persuade administrators and teachers that technology use by students is absolutely valuable to the instructional process. I'm always looking for opportunities to model effective use of technology for learning - beyond drill and practice games and reading online and simple Google searches to find information. I'm always looking for ways to persuade our people that the world has changed and to think that we can continue to educate the way we were educated is unfair to our students. It does not equip them with the skills they need to live in the online world that they spend time in already, nor does it prepare them for the global society and world of work that they will be a part of not in some nebulous time in the future but right now.

Most of all, I'm always looking for ways to persuade our administrators and teachers that using technology supports the instructional strategies we are already using. It's not something separate or something more. AIW and rigor and Iowa Core and reading, writing, and math instructional strategies can remain on the schedule for our teachers, because they can and should be seamlessly meshed with student technology use for learning. Curriculum, instruction, and technology are inextricably intertwined. They are not separate entities. They hold hands and they support student learning together.

I know these words are hardly new or unique. In fact, I've said and written them myself many times. However, we're getting ready to buy and deploy almost 400 new devices. We're going to spend all summer updating network things that need updated and devices that need to be reconfigured, and we're going to equip our renovated high school with state of the art technology. While we're doing all of that, my mind can't help but race to figure out how to make the best use of all that technology. Fortunately, a very long conversation with my superintendent this morning leaves me with massive hope that we are ready to take some big steps to be where we need to be when it comes to using tech in the best ways possible for learning. I have some great ideas for making the impossible possible.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

We Have to Stop Pretending

I've read Scott McLeod's post and challenge: "When it comes to education, what are 5 things that we have to stop pretending?"

I'm in, although it's hard to stop at five.

We have to stop pretending:

  1. That all kids need to learn exactly the same things.
  2. That standardized tests are capable of measuring what's really important when it comes to student learning.
  3. That simply purchasing technology will change the way teachers teach and students learn.
  4. That all teachers will be successful teaching in exactly the same way as other successful teachers/That all classrooms should look exactly alike.
  5. That co-curricular activities are luxuries and expendable.

This conversation needs to reach epic proportions, and educators from all over the world need to be chiming in. There is nothing more important than the education of our children, and many of our current assumptions are not only misguided but destructive.


What do you think?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

We Love to Learn to Read!

Kara Harder sent me the cutest pictures of her students using technology to improve their reading. It's gratifying to see our students so happily learning. Afterall, that's what it's all about, isn't it?

Friday, March 20, 2015

There is Still a Disconnect

Once in awhile I'm reminded of the disconnect there is between IT and tech integrationists, tech integrationists and teachers, and teachers and administrators. This has been one of those weeks.

And the problem is that when we don't all work together towards a shared vision, we aren't the losers, no matter how uncomfortable we may feel.

The losers are the students. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year.

What will it take for us all to share a vision? To work together? To do what's best for students?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Changing Education - New Ideas

Sometimes it's easier to go along to get along, but as I read the reports from teachers around the nation and the reactions from their students to some of what goes on in schools day after day, year after year, I so often think to myself, "Has anyone considered doing it this way?" Sure, it's easier to keep doing what we've always done, but maybe, just maybe, we could do better.

This advertisement from General Electric has me out of my seat every time I see it, because it is so spot on when it comes to new ideas and change.

I see the blossoming of our schools as well as the blossoming of our individual students. What do you see?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Powerful Students - Powerful Education

A friend of mine posted this picture on Facebook, and I immediately asked if I could use it in my blog. Luckily, she said, "Yes!"

This picture symbolizes all that our Public Schools should provide for our students.

Respect for Others
Teamwork and Collaboration
Hard Work
Caring and Empathy
Common Goals
Individual Strengths
Community Involvement
A Love for Learning

My initial inclination was to write a lot about the picture, but I don't think it's necessary. It speaks for itself - If you will listen.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

High School Renovation Continues

The renovation at the High School continues, and we were so pleased a couple of weeks ago to hook up wireless access points, projectors, SmartBoards, and wired network ports for our new classrooms. Our crowning achievements so far have been our beautiful color coordinated distribution closets. We love them!

The Educational Technology Department looks forward to all the learning improvements that will be a part of this extensive renovation project.