Category Archives: Leadership
Relationships are always a work in progress. Kayne and Kim. Will and Jada. Beyonce and Jay-Z. Carl and Renee. The list goes on and on. Some couples make it, others end in divorce. While every couple has its own unique circumstances and situation, there are some common tips to make their marriage more successful.
Over the last few years, more and more, I feel like a marriage counselor when it comes to the couple known as “IT & Curriculum.” This relationship is a tricky one, because there is no way to opt out. While my district has what I would call a very healthy relationship between the two, it wasn’t always that way. And when I go out and speak with other districts, there seems to be some common problems that arise between curriculum and IT.
Last week at #TLTechLive event in Boston, I had the honor of being the opening keynote to address this topic head on. And while I won’t recap the entire presentation, I found some interesting insights over the course of our one hour “counseling session” that I thought I would share here.
Like any marriage, there need to be a set of agreed upon vows or standards. During my session last week, I donned some preacher robes (actually a graduation gown) to deliver the vows between IT and Curriculum. Here’s an abbreviated version:
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate this thing called….Learning.
Curriculum – Do you solemnly swear to check interoperability standards before purchasing an application?
IT – Do you solemnly swear to being open to new ideas, as long as it furthers the learning of our kids?
….in sickness and health, through printer errors and slow wifi, until death or the end of public education do us part….may I have the ringtone?”
As I recited the vows on stage, I realized that wedding vows sound an awful lot like Acceptable Use Policies.
Patient #1 – Dealing with Insecurity
With all the new applications or online textbooks being purchased almost daily it seems, our schools have many points of vulnerability when it comes to data. The IT side of the relationship wants to be open to these new programs and applications, but also is concerned about security and data privacy.
While there is no magic bullet answer to this relationship issue, many districts and states are moving toward a standard agreement when it comes to the use of student data. In fact, in Massachusetts, there is a Student Privacy Alliance which connects districts across the state to leverage the collective power in getting companies to agree to their student data privacy agreement.
With all the recent news with the Zuckerberg testimony to Congress and the subsequent avalanche of companies changing their terms of service when it comes to user data, this issue in the relationship between IT and Curriculum could soon be going away, allowing the happy couple to finally go on the honeymoon they’ve always wanted.
Patient #2 – Spicing things up…in the classroom
If you’ve ever been a teacher and attended some state-wide or national ed tech conference, there is almost always some app or tool that you learn about that you want to try. However, when you get back home, IT says “no” before you even attempt to pilot it with your students.
The truth is, there is more than just IT that needs to vet new tools. I’ve seen many an app out there that is really just students mindlessly tapping on screens and not vetting in any type of research. In our district we have a workflow for requesting new apps for students (the app store isn’t on their iPads) as well as our League of Innovators – a group of early adopters that are willing to try and test new software or hardware. What mechanisms does your district have in place for trying new applications or tools? Is there a process for piloting new ideas?
These questions can sting an unstable relationship as it gives IT the impression that you are happy with what they are offering and your eye is starting to wander. However, a stable relationship has an open dialogue and a process for getting new ideas, if effective, into the hands of students.
Patient #3 – Feeling out of sync
After the honeymoon phase, typically a couple decides to purchase their first house. In the case of IT & Curriculum that could be in the form of a Learning Management System (LMS) or perhaps a large online textbook adoption. This new purchase has many needs and requires the attention of both sides of the relationship.
For IT, there is nothing more frustrating than finding out that Curriculum has purchased a new adoption that either doesn’t work on the district’s existing devices OR requires a lot of heavy lifting to get student data into the system. The good news is, there are more and more platforms moving to a Single-Sign On (SSO) approach and with the One Roster standard from IMS Global becoming more widely adopted, the issues of data uploads via .csv files may soon go away.
Patient #4 – Worried about our kids
At some point in a relationship, kids enter the picture. With IT & Curriculum, they are there on day one. The focus of both ‘parents’ in this marriage should ultimately be the students. Many times, districts purchase expensive software or applications in the hopes of enhancing student learning. But how do we know if that’s actually happening? How do we measure the effectiveness of the programs we are using?
For me, it means pulling up usage statistics of over 40 applications or online resources. This process can take more than a week and the data comes in a variety of formats which is rarely longitudinal in terms of usage. Again, the good news here is that there are now tools in development to help with this efficacy of use and ultimately, learning. One company I’ve been advising with over the past year that does this very thing is CatchOn. Their motto is simple – “Simplify the evaluation of Ed Tech usage.”
Once you have the data you need at the touch of your finger, the next challenge becomes those hard conversations in the relationship around budget. Maybe curriculum is spending too much or IT is too much of a penny-pincher, whatever the case, once you have the usage data you can make better decisions for your “family” around whether to cut a program or keep it and provide more professional learning around it.
How do we save this marriage?
Through all of the issues between this couple, the keys to an effective relationship sound eerily similar to that of an actual marriage:
- Better communication
- Empathy and understanding of both sides
- Being open to new ideas
- Working together, not separate
And ultimately…we need to stay together…for the kids.
Editor’s note: Looking to learn more? Check out my book Mobile Learning Mindset: The IT Professional’s Guide to Implementation which includes an entire chapter dedicated to the marriage between IT and Curriculum.
I am lucky enough to work with amazing students every day in my district. That said, every now and then, some of them really stand out as change-makers in the world. This post is about a pair of brothers and their inspiration approach to educating the world in the realm of robotics using a low-cost way that “up-cycles” existing everyday materials to build their creations. Please enjoy and share the information below so we can help these guys make their dream come true!
I first met Rohit and his brother Sidharth a couple of years ago after they won the Student Start-up Competition at SXSWedu. They are both Westlake High School students and, for the past several years, taken their love of robotics and combined it with an altruistic desire to help educate youth all over the world in a low-cost way. My first impression was that these boys seem wise well beyond their years and I had to keep reminding myself I was speaking to teenagers, not adults.
For more information about their company, I asked co-founder Rohit Srinivasan to give me an overview on his company’s philosophy and mission:
Trashbots is a low-cost robotics kit with an artistic twist. Our vision has developed from multiple years of teaching STEM in the US, Mexico, Congo and India where its founders have taught 1000+ students ranging from 1st grade to 12th grade. We observed kids need better problem-solving and creativity skills. STEM kits have been seen as a solution, but have limited impact because they require major infrastructure, and are expensive.
Right away, I love the way he his tackling a problem that isn’t unique to just schools in the U.S., but around the world. Here’s how he’s doing that in an affordable way:
Did I mention these are students? They have been doing this for many years on a volunteer basis mainly using their vacation time to travel to India and help teach kids in orphanages learn how to create and program robots. And by the looks of things, they are just getting started…
Since its founding, Trashbots has spent the last 18 months developing the platform and seen strong validation from students, teachers and education administrators. We have taught 1000+ kids across Peru (at the invitation of Education Ministry), Indian orphanages, Mexican colonias, and in schools in the US in urban and rural settings. We have conducted teacher workshops at TCEA, ISTE, and SXSWedu. Solely from word-of-mouth marketing we have pre-orders for 750 kits from 60 schools in 5 continents. In recognition of this traction, we were honored to be selected as a top 10 2017 Edtech startup by the Global Edtech Startup Association, named one of top 15 innovators reshaping Texas by Texas Monthly, and featured in the Statesman, Austin Inno and Silicon Hills News.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a lot of student ideas and pitches in our student entrepreneur course at Westlake. This is different. These young men came up with this on their own several years ago and have been growing with a grass-roots style of marketing and engaging leaders from all over the world. Their company is driven by three tenets:
As they are tackling this global challenge in non-traditional ways, it’s appropriate that they are securing funding via crowd-sourcing. They are kicking off a campaign on Indiegogo to officially capture the interest in their platform.
Here’s where you come in. The way crowd-sourcing works, the more people they can get “interested” via email, the more likely they will get featured on Indiegogo and get funding. Do me a favor and sign-up (for free) to support these kids and their very impactful dream of providing all students with access to learning robotics and coding.
Please visit their Indiegogo pre-launch page at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/trashbots-low-cost-stem-with-an-artistic-twist/coming_soon or their website at www.trashbots.org. And if you could, share this article with other educators and colleagues that you know would support the great work they are doing (and tweet them at @trashbotsorg!)
From the minds of youth….comes our future. Show them some love my fellow educators!
- An off-site location
- Some sort of team-building activity
- Some time dedicated to goal-setting
While I am , I have never attempted to host a retreat. Sure, we’ve gathered at my house for happy hour or gone out to lunch together, but generally, these are social gatherings (which are necessary from time to time). We’ve also done quite a bit of revamping of our meeting structure to make it more retreat-like (more on that later), but still not technically a retreat. With the pressure mounting on what would be our first ever retreat, I felt that we needed a mixture of the following:
- Appreciating our differences
- Problem-solving in collaborative teams
- Opening up avenues of communication between the team
- Identifying passion projects
Adding those elements into the previous anatomy of a retreat, I had a mission. And since I do my best thinking with others, I brought in a couple of team members, Tim Yenca (@mryenca) and Jennifer Flood (@floodedu) to help build some of the structures of the retreat.
Team-Building Activity #1 – Guess Who
- What is your greatest fear?
- What app do you love?
- What was your childhood nickname?
- Where is your dream place to visit?
Using this information, I printed out cards that read “FEAR” or “PLACE TO VISIT” with their answers on the back. We used this to play a pictionary-meets-charades version of the Guess Who? game. Splitting the group into two teams, each team member took turns either acting or drawing out the answer on the back of the card. The team had 1-minute to guess the answer and if they got it right, they got bonus points for identifying the correct Ed Tech who said the particular item. While there were a lot of cherished moments during this activity, one of my faves was rookie Ed Tech Chris Hanson (@tejashanson) doing a flip to demonstrate the app FlipGrid in charade form.
Goal-setting (Individual & Team)
This team is composed of visionary thinkers and ideators with a wide variety of expertise. While it’s important that we create and share some common team goals, I wanted to use some time during the retreat for the team to reflect on individual goals as well. I set up this next portion to help the team answer the following questions:
- What is something that you want to learn this year?
- What are goals for your campus?
- How do you know when you are achieving these goals successfully?
- What is your BHAG or Passion Project for the future? (could be more than a year out)
We then gathered in teams (elementary and secondary) to discuss our individual goals and using district goals to guide the creation of one or two team goals for us this year. I think that third question above is one that I often struggle with. I love creating goals and ideas, but going back and checking on their success (or failure) is often a missed step. I’m hoping these goals guide each of us individually and as a team, and that at next year’s retreat, we can check in and see how successful we were in accomplishing them.
VIP Tour & VR Room Experience
Creating Avenues for Collaboration
Going on an Adventure!
Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies. For decades, these subjects have been the staple of the modern American educational system. The creative arts and physical education have also been played somewhat of a secondary role in that system. While all of these subject areas play a role in the development of our youth, they are based on career needs of the mid-20th century. According to this Pew Research study on Changes in the American Workplace, there has been an exponential demand on the social and analytical skills.
However, in our schools, we still teach the same “four core” areas and then fill in the rest with other subjects ranging from World Languages to Robotics. What’s interesting is, those original core 4 were considered the staple in preparing students for a 1950’s factory model work force. In this Sir Ken Robinson animated video, he talks about how our schools are designed for the assembly line. One only needs to look at the following graphic of companies that no longer exist to see that the American economy has shifted rapidly since the early 1970’s.
Compare the above with the graphic below which shows companies that didn’t exist in the early 1970’s that are now on Forbes top 200 list.
While there are some mainstays in terms of travel, service and retail companies, there is a huge growth in technology based companies. Now taking these new companies into account, let’s focus on the skills they desire for their future employee and see where schools stack up. This graphic by Tracy Clark (@tracyclark08) has been one that I’ve shared for many years. It’s sort of a “Soft Skills Bingo” chart of things that employers in those Fortune 500 companies look for when hiring.
I don’t see any of the “core four” subjects listed on that chart. While you could definitely argue that communication plays a role in language arts and critical thinking plays a role in math and science, I start to wonder why we are trying to “fit” these soft skills into our 1950’s core?
What would a modern core curriculum look like? And probably even more importantly, how would we transition from the current curriculum to a more updated model?
Let’s break apart both of these questions so I can attempt an answer.
Future Ready Curriculum –
If we were starting the American school system from scratch today, knowing what skills our students will need, we could change the subjects and not base them on what big-time publishers want us to focus on with our students. Building on some of the great work from FutureReady.org, the ISTE NETS for Students and keeping in mind those most desired future job skills from above, I would propose the development of the following 7 courses for every student:
Collaborative Outreach – A way for students to both serve the communities around them, but also work in teams, plan projects, and practice empathy.
Entrepreneurialism – Thinking “outside-the-box” but in a class form. Many of the ideas from this class could work hand-in-hand with the other courses listed here. Again, working in teams, students create solutions or products with the goal of developing the entrepreneurial spirit.
Communication & Design – Oral and written communication still play a major role in our current system, and by all accounts they will in the future. However, what about visual communication? What about making a visually pleasing presentation to pitch a product or reflect on an outreach opportunity? This course would encompass those skills.
Creative Expression – Having outlets to express yourself creatively and time for passion projects is huge in the workplaces of Google and Apple. The same should be true for schools. This course could be all about an app you are designing or a sculpture you are trying to complete (either by hand or by 3D printing).
Critical Problem-Solving – Much of the curriculum from math and science would fall into this course, although elements would be sprinkled in the other courses (like economics in the entrepreneurial course and science in the Environmental Mindfulness & Outreach courses)
Investigative Thinking – This course takes many of the research skills taught in social studies and applies it with a twist. How can looking back and investigating history help predict future outcomes? Traditional statistics would play a role in this course too.
Environmental Mindfulness – We need to allow time for students to be outside and/or active during the traditional class day. We also need to allow time for students to reflect on what they have learned and set goals for their future. This course takes some of traditional P.E. and mixes in meditation and deeper thinking exercises as well.
Transition to the Future
Creating these courses is the easy part. The hard part would be transitioning our current core areas into the above. It will take me an entire new blog post to outline that plan for this transition, as it involves some heavy change in mindset (by both educators and community). In the meantime, here’s where I feel parts of our current courses would fit in the above new curriculum:
Mathematics – Critical Problem-Solving, Entrepreneurialism, Investigative Thinking
Language Arts – Communication & Design, Investigative Thinking, Creative Expression
Science – Critical Problem-Solving, Environmental Mindfulness, Collaborative Outreach
Social Studies – Investigative Thinking, Communication & Design, Collaborative Outreach
World Languages – Collaborative Outreach, Communication & Design
Fine and Performing Arts – Creative Expression
Physical Education – Environmental Mindfulness
Career and Technology – Entrepreneurialism, Collaborative Outreach, Creative Expression, Communication & Design
If we really want to prepare kids for what’s next, whether that be in a high-tech career or the service industry, we need to transition our curriculum into areas that will help them be more successful in a highly automated future. I feel like the new core curriculum I am proposing does that while at the same time folding in some of the ‘classic’ curriculum models of our educational fore-fathers.
What did I miss? Chime in on the comments below.
Listen carefully! We are a group of individuals that represent a large faction of educators. While we respect the way you have run the training methods of your organization in the past, it is time for a change. As such, we are holding your teachers’ learning hostage. Their learning is safe and unharmed at this time, however, if you would like to release their learning, you must meet our list of demands when it comes to how you provide training for adults. Failure to meet these demands will result in the wide-spread lack of professional growth and lack of improvement in pedagogical practice by your staff.
It doesn’t hurt to spend a little energy and effort promoting professional learning and getting teachers excited for it. Come up with a theme and make it feel like an exclusive “members-only” type event. While some of them may come because they “have to”, it helps start the training off with excitement and energy. One example would be to send out a video or graphic that highlights the training in a fun way. Here’s one that takes a “Point Break” theme to make learning about High Quality Assessments just a tad more exciting:
Building on the buzz and excitement from your promotion, take some time to create an atmosphere for your training event. This can be as simple as having some appropriately-themed music to adding some simple decorations around the tables. When someone walks into your room, they should be excited about being there, not dreading it. Know that many educators are entering your room with the expectation that this will just be another 6 hours of “sit n’ get”, which is why it’s important to create that exciting first impression when they walk in. Have fun activity for them that involves more than just making a name card like “tweet what your first job ever was” or “find a picture of what super hero best represents you”. This will give you as the trainer an opportunity to connect with the attendees as well as give you some material that you can use later.
Research shows that hunger affects the brain and cognitive development. While we know funding is always tight and food is the first thing to get cut, this is a list of demands. If you want your staff to learn, make sure they are not hungry. This doesn’t mean you have to provide a 5-course meal, it can be as simple as a basket of chocolate or some protein-heavy snack mix. Having protein in your diet not only creates better avenues for neurotransmitters to help with learning and retention, it increases happiness according to this study.
And this doesn’t mean have 10 minutes set aside for walking around and adding notes to those giant sticky chart papers on the walls. Take a moment and put yourself in the shoes of the attendee. Would you attend your own professional learning? “Fun” can sometimes be a negative word when it comes to learning and it shouldn’t be. Making learning fun, even for adults, will not only increase engagement in the learning, it will keep them coming back for more.
Having periods of movements or “brain breaks” throughout your training not only provide some much needed breaks from what is being input into the brain, research shows that movement facilitates brain plasticity (essentially the science of having the brain learn something new). Doing a brief improv activity or having your attendees move and stretch increases oxygen flow to the brain as well as this plasticity. A side-effect of doing a group improv activity is that it creates an environment of trust and risk-taking as well as collegiality between staff that might not normally be working along side one another.
How many times have we heard that adults shouldn’t lecture children all day? Do we think that what’s best with pedagogy wouldn’t also apply to what’s best with andragogy? Who’s doing the work and talking during professional learning? If it’s more the instructor than then the attendees, you need to rethink how you are engaging your adult learners. When outlining your day for professional learning, try and employ somewhat of a “chunk n’ chew” method to the day. Break the day up into 20-30 minute segments that involving both introduction of a new skill, but also time for attendees to try it out and discuss ideas for application.
Taking into account the demands for engagement, movement, and making things more student-led, you must create opportunities for staff to collaborate on an idea or solve a problem. Providing time for collaboration in your professional learning allows opportunities for staff to discuss best practices around a topic or share strategies around a particular pedagogical problem.
Learning new things and skills takes a lot of cognitive ability. Having a training where all you do is show a series of new tools or tricks can be overwhelming to the brain and makes it nearly impossible to internalize all of it. As mentioned in demand #6, creating “chunk n’ chew” learning opportunities throughout the training will give staff an opportunity to try out the new skill as well as plan for application. Taking time to plan for application of the skill when it is learned, has a greater chance to translate into actual practice in the classroom.
We try to differentiate for learners in our classrooms, why not do the same for staff? Every single person comes into a training session with a different set of prior skills, knowledge, and preferred learning methods. When planning your professional learning, you need to allow opportunities for both the struggling learners and the high-flyers to be successful. This can be as simple as sharing your outline for the day ahead of time on Google docs or a website so that some can go at their own pace, while others can revisit a newly learned strategy.
Our final demand is that you provide some time for staff to reflect on what they have learned. When planning the professional learning experience for your staff, make sure there is time to reflect throughout the day. This doesn’t mean just spend the last 5 minutes reflecting on something they learned that day, but rather actual pockets of time throughout the day where they can reflect in the medium of their choosing. After all, educational reformer John Dewey once said, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”
We feel our list of demands are not unreasonable. Please secure these demands prior to your next professional learning event or your teachers’ learning will suffer the consequences.
The E.B.P.L. (Educators for Better Professional Learning)
I’ve attended every SXSWedu since the beginning. As it’s located in Austin, it’s a great opportunity to learn and share with leaders from around the world right in my backyard. This year, we are sending quite a bit of staff to stretch their thinking and grow as professionals. As usual, Ron Reed and the crew at SXSWedu put together a dynamite line-up that doesn’t disappoint. One thing I created to help guide staff is create a “manifesto” of sorts for those that are either going for the first time or are just needing help not being overwhelmed by all the great sessions in their lineup.
If you are a first-time or veteran SXSW-er, hopefully some of these tips will help you as you make your way towards Austin next week.
If you are with a group, create a Slack channel
Attending a large conference with a group can be engaging but you also can run into serious FOMO (Fear of missing out) on sessions you don’t attend. I invited all of our staff attending to our own district Slack channel. Slack is a great way to share resources and communicate in a group format that won’t crowd your inbox during an event like this. I consider it kind of like a group text on steroids. We will still encourage staff to follow along at the #SXSWedu hashtag, but using a private group Slack can be powerful when reflecting and sharing after the event is over.
Parking can be tricky…and Uber is gone
The days of free parking in downtown Austin are over (unless you are comfortable walking a long distance). That said, most of the parking around downtown is reasonably priced ($10-$15 bucks), but I’d encourage you to car pool if possible. Here’s a map of downtown parking for some ideas of where to find parking. Also, as Uber and Lyft pulled out of Austin since the last SXSWedu, you’ll want to use an alternate ride-share company like Fare or Ride Austin to get around down town. If that doesn’t work, there are always a bunch of pedi-cabs!
Registration is located on the Northeast corner of the convention center (Exhibit hall 5). You should have been sent a badge via email from firstname.lastname@example.org that has your Quickcode to scan when you get there. You can also link your account with the social.sxswedu.com account to upload your picture ahead of time if you don’t want them to take it when you get there.
You can pick up your badge starting at 4 PM on Sunday (advisable if you want to avoid longer lines on Monday).
Lunch places are always changing year to year so check Yelp for some good options. Prices do vary and “rush hour” is generally between 11:30-1:00. Some newer places downtown include Cafe Blue and one of the BEST pizza food trailers down Rainey street behind Craft Pride called Via313 (Detroit-style pizza). One of my favorite burger joints continues to be Casino El Camino on 6th street. Of course, if you are looking for BBQ and don’t want to wait too long in line at IronWorks, I’d highly recommend LaBarbecue (order the rib, it’s pricey, but worth EVERY penny!).
SXSWedu has several events that happen in the evening. There are multiple movie screenings happening throughout the week. One of note is a screening of the movie “Hidden Figures” on Monday from 7-9pm at the Stateside Theater (with a Q&A panel with @RafranzDavis and others to follow). Another event that I am personally involved in is the CatchOn Launch Party on Tuesday at 7:30pm-11pm at Cedar Street Courtyard. It’s a start-up company I’ve been advising on and we have all sorts of fun stuff planned for that evening including a little live band karaoke! Your SXSWedu badge will get you into all of these events.
SXSWedu doesn’t follow traditional conference schedules (1 hour sessions repeating throughout). There are variety of sessions from 15-minute talks, to Think tanks, to meet-ups, to Future 20s, to longer workshops. Be sure to create a log-in before arriving and ‘star’ the sessions you are interested in but also note the start and end times as many overlap. Also, note that with the exception of keynotes, most of the sessions Monday through Wednesday run from 11am-6pm and on Thursday they are from 9:30am-2pm with a closing party to follow. (you can sleep in!)
Sessions that intrigue me
I’m super pumped to see Tim Ferriss keynote on Wednesday at 9:30am. I’ve been a fan of his podcast and books for the last couple of years and I’m excited to hear what he has to say about learning and mastery. Sessions that focus on design thinking, student empowerment, and artificial intelligence tend to draw my interest this year. I’m also all-in on the Breakout EDU concept and I’m excited to see good friend and super-engaging speaker Adam Bellow at this year’s event. This year, not only am I attending, but I’m also moderating an interactive panel called “#AppOverkill: Going Beyond the Buzzwords”. I’m excited to hear from the panel of experts we have assembled and we are also going to be doing some different activities to engage audience in the conversation. Come be a part of the conversation and fun at Tuesday at 11am!
Takeaways and Reflections
Attending an event like this can be incredibly rewarding and energizing to those of us in education. However, it’s important that those that attend also bring back and share their learning with others on campus.
Here is a list of questions to keep in the back of your mind as you attend sessions and look for things to bring back. (Thanks to Lisa Johnson @TechChef4U for curating this!)
- What are the top sessions/topics that you liked?
- What are the top sessions/topics that you would like to take back to your campus to impact change?
- What are the top sessions/topics that challenged your beliefs?
- Who was someone you connected with that impacted you?
- Who are the top people that engaged you?
- What are the top resources you found most impactful?
- What are the top pieces of research or studies you feel are most impactful for our students and/or teachers?
- How will I share my new discoveries from this event with my staff?
While there are many other questions you are thinking about than the ones above, keeping these in the back of your mind while attending SXSWedu allows you time to reflect when it’s all over and also think about ways to share your new discoveries with others when you return.
Do you ever have that moment where there is something you have to do, but you don’t want to do it? Maybe it’s just a menial task like putting away laundry or doing the dishes. In your job it may be something like entering grades or uploading data via .csv files. Those moments happen throughout life unless you are lucky enough to have a butler and not have to work.
But what about those times when there is something you have to do that troubles you because you know it pushes you out of your comfort zone?
Now I’ll stop here and say that the phrase “have to do” would really be more apropos if replaced with “should do.” It’s those uncomfortable moments when you have an opportunity to do something that has some potential benefit, but because it pushes your comfort zone a bit, you decide not to do it. You end up circling back later usually with some regret, expressing how you should have done whatever it was. You end up “should-ing” yourself out of doing things. (Great video here detailing this concept)
A couple of weeks ago my wife and I got to travel to Australia to present and MC the amazing iPadpaloozaGC event taking place there. We decided to make a mini-vacation out of it as I was taking time off to travel anyway and go up a few days early. After traveling 26 hours, we landed in Gold Coast with really only 2 and 1/2 days to explore, the 1/2 day being the Sunday we landed.
My wife had done some research and discovered a place called “O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat” which had a great viewing platform that over-looked the rainforest. The only problem was, it was too far for an Uber ride so we had to rent a car. Now, as you may know, in Australia they drive on the left side of the road with the car seat in the right side of the car. We decided rental was the way to go and as we landed I noticed something strange….I was nervous.
I say strange, because nervousness is not usually a trait I possess. Even before public speaking, you can often find me laughing and dancing off-stage (probably as a way to combat the onset of nervousness mind you). My hands were clammy, my stomach began to ache, and I began to imagine that scene in European Vacation where Chevy Chase is running into everyone in the parking lot as he learns to drive.
I began to frantically look at the cost of an Uber ride. It would be about $300 round-trip, but that cost might be worth it if for no other reason than to overcome the anxiety I was now experiencing. Without really thinking though, we walked up to rental counter to “hire a car” as they say it down under. And so, despite being exhausted and jetlagged, I found myself behind the right side of a car driving on the wrong side of the road. We were off.
We picked up our friends, Scott and Lisa on the way up to O’Reilly’s to share in the horror/experience of me learning to drive all over again at the age of 41. Of course, being a male, I had to hide my fear, but anyone looking at my knuckles on the steering wheel would have noticed they were stark white. As we traveled up the mountain the road began to get narrower and narrower. Eventually, it turned into a one-lane, two-way road that didn’t have any guard rails and a deadly cliff on one side. Here’s a little time-lapse of what that looked like from the passenger seat on the left side:
Needless to say, I was now completely terrified. Every time a car was traveling down the road, I would have to pull off onto a non-existent shoulder with the car teetering on the edge. My wife would dig her nails into my leg as she had a bird’s eye view on what would be our eventual demise. At some point on the drive (which lasted about 45 minutes), I began to have a sense of euphoria overtake me. Had we died and I didn’t notice? Was this what adrenaline junkies refer to as an adrenaline high?
This euphoria I was experiencing was from learning something new. That change and discomfort I was feeling went hand in hand with learning something new. Now, I know this isn’t a break-through in science as many blogs and articles have discussed how you can grow through discomfort, but this experience was extremely visceral for me. I started thinking about my own career and the education of our students. I started thinking about our teachers who we ask to take out of their comfort zones at times with the integration of technology.
As if perfectly timed, the next week I was back in the states (now re-learning how to drive on the right side of the road) and preparing for our first ever iLeap Academy for internal staff. iLeap Academy is an immersive learning expedition of sorts. Tim Yenca (@mryenca) and I train teachers over several days on effective and meaningful ways to integrate technology. We also visit many of our classrooms and let the teachers take on the role of the observer to see 1:1 in action.
This academy isn’t for the tech savvy teachers. It’s for the teachers that have sound pedagogy and content knowledge that are just looking for a way to improve their practice with the integration of technology. Over the course of four days, 36 brave teachers sat down in their seats and prepared to drive down the wrong side of the road and get out of their comfort zone.
They were introduced to boundary-pushing concepts, forced to competitively collaborate in a series of challenges and an Appmazing Race, and even had to endure some of my most difficult brain break challenges on top of learning new tools and ways to integrate them. Like my drive up to O’Reilly’s, I could sense that many in the crowd had some fears or discomfort to some of the concepts and ideas being discussed, but decided to take the ride anyway.
When the week ended, Tim and I went back to review some of the comments from the exit survey. We have done iLeap Academies for other districts, (next one is November 8-10, register here!) but never our own staff. We were both floored by the responses:
Wonderful experience, I feel I am walking away as if I went through a technology boot camp and going to try some of these things next week. Very excited to try all of this in the classroom and can’t wait to see my kids reactions to some of the ideas!
It was excellent, I would recommend it to every teacher I know!
I really enjoyed the opportunity to come and learn about technology even in my 33rd year in education.
One teacher, who was in his 30th year of education, even took the time to write our superintendent to tell him that this was the best professional learning experience of his career. Many of the teachers in side conversations expressed initial hesitation for attending and being a part of this. It was a couple of days out of their classroom which means sub plans, playing catch-up, etc. and it also meant learning about some new ideas. But after the experience and stretching them out of their comfort zone, they went forward with confidence and ready to take a risk.
As Tim and I visited campuses the following day, we saw many of our “iLeapers” proudly wearing their iLeap shirts and more importantly, putting into practice immediately some of the things they had learned.
That sense of euphoria from learning something new can come in many different ways. It comes from trying new things and getting out of your comfort zone. It comes from sharing an experience with friends or colleagues as you travel down a narrow road. It comes from not “should-ing” on yourself and being brave. While the peril that exists on the other side of our choice may not always be a deadly cliff, taking a risk or changing a mindset is still an extremely uncomfortable thing for our brains to do.
I applaud all those teachers out there that continue to try and improve their craft.
So take a chance and drive on the wrong side of the road every so often when it comes to your teaching craft. The pay-off for student learning can be spectacular. Much like the view from the top of a rainforest.
When I started this position in 2010, hiring new educational technologists followed the same lines as all other positions in the district. A group would get together, look at resumes, and basically determine which 4-6 candidates made the most sense on paper to come in and interview for the position. The interview was a standard 1-hour process made up of the typical questions like “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” or “Tell us more about yourself.” While this process had been in place for years, it really didn’t shed much light on the ins and outs of the position itself nor did it give other candidates a chance to participate if they didn’t have what it takes on paper.
Something else I noticed in education (and somewhat in private business as well) is that it’s much easier to hire someone than it is to fire them. If hiring consists of a 1-hour interview and a couple of reference checks, firing takes months to years worth of documentation, discussions, mediations, and even at times, legal involvement. With that background, over the past few years, we’ve set out to make the hiring process much more robust. In December of 2011, I thought I had nailed it by adding a presentation component to the process.
Alas, it was just the beginning.
What follows is the now 9-part process we implement when it comes to hiring an Ed Tech at Eanes ISD. I’m sharing this because other districts may benefit from reviewing and updating their hiring practices and I would also love to learn from other districts that have a more rigorous or innovative process.
Round 1 – Application Score
Looking through the field of applicants, any that match the minimum criteria for the position as posted on the job description make it into this initial round. Putting all the applicant resumes and cover letters in a shared folder, my team reviews each and gives them a rating based on the campus that needs to be filled and how well their resume aligns.To keep consistent, each scoring section carries a 1 to 5 scale for interviewers to score the applicants.
Round 2 – Social Media Background Check
According to Career Builder, 43% of companies now add a social media background check as part of the hiring process. As our position involves sharing online as well as gathering content via virtual PLNs, I individually search each of the qualified candidates on social media. A candidate with no profile online can’t hurt them, but it also doesn’t help them. In some cases I’ve come across questionable material which has caused me to pass on a candidate and in other cases, I’ve seen some amazing digital profiles that could nudge the candidate into the next round if there is a tie or they are below the cut-off line. Based on profiles I either award a single point, a zero, or a negative point to the process. Taking the applicant score and social media background check bonus, we narrow the field down to 12-14 applicants which will then process to the next round.
Round 3 – Video Resume
Those 12-14 candidates that survive round one and the social media check are then asked to create a video resume. This is a 2-minute or less video that highlights the best of the candidate. We encourage candidates to be as creative and to not make the video Eanes specific (more on that later). Usually at this point, a few candidates drop out and some have even claimed they “don’t have time for this” which is somewhat telling. The candidates have 5 days to create their video and submit at which point I put each video into a form to be scored by the interview team. Here’s a mock version of the form (added some of my favorite video projects to protect the innocent). Following the scoring round, we reduce the field to either 4 or 8 candidates depending on the positions we need to fill. Those candidates are then invited to participate in “The Gauntlet”.
No, not that classic video game from the 1980’s, but it is somewhat equally challenging. In fact, at some point during the process I can almost hear the game narrator say, “Valkyrie, your life force is running out.” The Gauntlet all takes place on the same day. The idea is to give each applicant a snap-shot of a day in the life of an Ed Tech. It also optimizes the time of the interview committee. In the traditional interview method (1-hour Q&A with a candidate), reviewing 4 applicants would take 4 hours plus time in between each candidate as well as prep and debrief time. Looking at 4 candidates in this traditional format would generally take up to 6 hours. This process reduces the actual time with the candidates to 2.5 hours and gives us a much broader look at the skills and talents of each candidate. Here’s a matrix of what the day might look like for four applicants (A-D):
Rounds 4-7 – The Gauntlet Matrix
Each candidate participates in these 4 components. They are all done in a different order for each candidate but laid out as such that the interview portion doesn’t back up to the presentation portion, as those tend to involve the most stress. Each component takes 30 minutes or less.
Round 4 – One-on-One time
Each candidate gets an opportunity to ask a previous Ed Tech questions. In some cases, it could be an Ed Tech that was previously posted at the school hiring or one that has retired. Which this seems like a pretty easy step, you can tell a lot about a candidate based on the questions he/she asks. The Ed Tech being questioned returns at the end of the process to report out their view on each of the candidates based on the questions asked.
Round 5 – Interview
This is the most traditional component, but we tried to update some of the traditional questions to make it more modern. George Couros has a great post here that ties the 8 characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset (his book) to interview questions. To prepare the candidates, I email them the general topics around what questions are asked so they can have a story or two in mind. (i.e. Perseverance, handling failure, leadership, etc) Then, each person in the interview room is given a scoring form with each question asked. Here’s an example of what that form looks like.
Round 6 – Problem-Solving Room
Candidates are placed in a private office and asked to answer three different email scenarios on a Google doc (see example below). The scenarios involve an email from a parent, a teacher, and a principal that pose a problem or concern that needs to be addressed. The Google doc is viewable by the rest of the interview team which are then asked to score them (blindly) based on the candidate responses. (Mock example here) As a wild-card, during this process I walk in wearing a wig (yes…a wig) and different outfit. I’m playing the role of a teacher who’s iPad won’t work as well as someone who questions why we even have iPads in the classroom. As part of this role is constantly getting interrupted for just-in-time troubleshooting and problem-solving, the purpose of this wild-card isn’t to see how they fix the problem as much as how they deal with me. I then awarded a bonus point to the candidates with the best responses.
Round 7 – Mini-Presentation
Each applicant is asked to prepare a mini-presentation that lasts no longer than 20 minutes which builds in some time for set-up and Q&A afterwards. The audience is made up of administrators, Ed Techs, and staff from the campuses that are hiring. The candidates are encouraged to use this time to showcase their presentation/training style while also teaching the group an idea/topic/concept. Following each mini-presentation, the audience scores the candidate using a form like this one.
Following the jigsaw matrix of the 4 rounds above, the candidates are all invited into our main room to participate in the final collaboration challenge.
Round 8 – Collaboration Challenge
Each candidate sits with a team of 3 teachers to help solve a dilemma or disagreement. The teachers are asked to play three different roles: a teacher that is super excited to integrate technology, one that is not, and one that is in-between. They are then asked to choose one of two different blind scenarios and read them aloud. Over the course of the next 20 minutes, we observe how the candidates listen, ask questions, and help mediate the mock team meeting. Afterwards, each group assigns a collaboration score using a form like this one.
Following all the challenges, the entire group meets to debrief. We hear the strengths of each candidates as well as the areas which they would need support if hired. We don’t rank the applicants or ask for a ranking as the scores will bear that out. Even with the scoring system, it’s always good to hear from members of the interview crew. As this group is made up of teachers from hiring campuses, administrators and Ed Techs, they each provide a unique perspective on the candidates and how they can fit with the campus culture. I then ask them to submit their final thoughts on an open-ended form as sometimes, sharing in a group of 16-18 educators can be intimidating and I want to hear the thoughts of everyone on the committee.
Round 9 – Reference Checks
Pretty standard, but necessary. I use this time to ask not only the strengths, but also what supports the candidate might need going forward in our district.
While this is an exhaustive process, using technology helps us optimize time spent with the candidates as well as receive feedback from a wide variety of people. While this is the first year, we’ve implemented the “Gauntlet”, we have done the mock presentation, email scenarios and video resumes in the past. In looking at the blind scores and coupling that with the feedback from the group, EACH time the candidate with the highest overall score also gets the most positive feedback.
Communication is key for this to work. From the moment the applicant applies to the day I offer them the job, I’ve sent them an email with an updated timeline and instructions for each step along the process. I’m doing this not only to inform them, but to also see if they follow-up for questions or respond to let me know they received the instructions (testing their professionalism a bit). In many way, this process begins when that first email is sent.
For those candidates that don’t get hired, I try and give them feedback on things they could improve to earn the position in the future. In some cases, applicants return the following year and get hired based on this feedback and campus match. In other cases, I’ve had candidates tell me they’ve received offers in other districts based on their video resume (which is why I ask them to not make it “Eanes specific”).
Hiring will never be as hard as letting an employee go. I know this process isn’t perfect and we are constantly trying to improve it. One thought from the team is to weight the scores of different components based on importance (like the collaboration or presentation components). Regardless, my hope with this process is that we can be as informed about a candidate’s personality, skill-set, work ethic, and overall ability so that firing will never be an option.
As mentioned in a previous post (Choosing the Next Device), we are moving forward with iPads in all K-12 grade levels but our new model will look and feel much different than the previous one. When we embarked on the 1:1 in 2011, there was really no systems designed to distribute and manage our devices. Workflow was an issue (we used email mostly). While we put restrictions on the devices in terms of age-appropriate app downloads, it was impossible to completely block all “non-instructional” apps without completely locking down the device.
With the release of iOS 9.3 and the subsequent update of our JAMF server, Apple has revamped classroom and technology support of iPads in education. Below are some of the newest features that Eanes ISD will be taking advantage of in order to optimize the use of these tools for learning.
1. Eanes App Store
Some of the feedback our Digital Learning Task Force received from teachers, students and parents was that non-instructional apps were a distraction when it came to learning. While we have restricted some of this usage over the years, we will now have the ability to completely remove Apple’s App Store from the device. Students will only have access to apps that we provision in the Self-Service app (examples below) which will act as a sort of “Eanes App Store”. (see infographic at the bottom of this post) We also now have additional flexibility to give some students, based on learning need and responsibility, access to the actual app store at some point.
Teachers and students will still have the ability to request apps which can be added to this new Eanes App Store. By doing this we’ll also be addressing another concern that was raised in that we have too many apps being used all over the district. This will allow us to better align both horizontally and vertically the apps that we are providing to our students throughout the district.
New Apple Management
The new iOS will allow for better management and deployment which will also help address another issue raised with the DLTF. Many students didn’t receive their iPads until a few weeks into the school year. Since most of our instructional materials are now digital, this caused quite an issue. With the new management software, we’ll be able to deploy devices much sooner, getting instructional materials and digital tools for learning at an earlier date than before.
Apple Classroom is a new tool that was just launched by Apple during its latest announcement on Monday, March 21. This new tool will act as a “Teacher’s Assistant” of sorts in that teachers can glance at all the screens of their students on their own screen to check for off-task behavior. Additionally, the teacher can reset passcodes, remote launch and lock apps on student devices, and select a student’s device to view on the big screen wirelessly.
In closing, we’ve come a long way since that initial deployment in 2011. We’ve seen many things NOT to do and many amazing projects and benefits as a result of having mobile technology in our classrooms. This next phase of our 1:1 will bring even deeper learning as we continue to focus our instructional use and make learning truly personal for all of our students.
In the spring of 2015, our district passed a bond which included over $5 million for a line item called “Student Mobile Device Initiative.” For the past 4 and 1/2 years we’ve been a 1:1 district K-12 using the 16GB iPad2 as our device of choice. With the passing of the bond, we now had an opportunity to not only reflect on the first few years of the program but also to garner input from a variety of sources. This post is an inside look at the process we used and the ultimate results of that process. It’s my hope that other districts will do the same when investing money into devices and also realize that purchasing the device is the easiest thing, it’s changing pedagogy and creating meaningful learning with technology that is the hard thing.
Formation of the Digital Learning Task Force
With opportunity comes great responsibility. Ok, so maybe that wasn’t the exact Spiderman line, but we knew that going forward we needed to make sure we had several voices represented in choosing our next device. Rather than just form a “Technology Committee”, we decided to create a “Digital Learning Task Force” (DLTF). The name was symbolic in that this was much more than just a selection of a device. The task force would be made up of teachers, students, parents, community members and administrators.
In the summer, we publicly posted an application for members of the district community to apply to be a part of a newly formed task force that would ultimately recommend the final device. (Here’s a copy of the application) In September, we gathered some board members and administrators to look through the applications in an attempt to bring a diversified group of parents from different schools in our community. We then did the same thing in choosing our teachers, students and administrators to be a part of this team.
In our first meeting we discussed the two goals of this group:
- Look at what our current reality is when it comes to integration of technology AND
- What do we want our preferred future to be?
The task force then constructed multiple ways to not only gather input from the district community but also to learn and investigate the current state of devices in schools.
Digital Learning Symposiums
In an effort to create more discussions around digital learning, we decided to host several symposiums open to the community as a launching point for these conversations. Each of these were captured via Livestream for those parents that couldn’t make it in person or wanted to watch at a later date. The first one was an expert panel made up of industry experts, university professors and people from the local start-up community. The second was a panel of teachers from across grade-levels and disciplines and included some round-table discussions as well as the panel discussion. The final symposium was made up of students from 1st grade to 12th grade and also included some round table discussions. During the teacher and student symposiums, we asked students to submit their questions via video to the staff. We also had a different person moderate each symposium.
Also the symposiums, feedback posters were placed around the room that correlated with online feedback walls. The four posters asked the following questions (links to virtual walls included)
- What are some things we are doing well with technology?
- What are some things that we need to improve?
- What other things do we need to consider when it comes to tech? What’s next?
- What future ready skills do our students need?
One of the first assumptions from the public community was that iPads were not really being used much at the K-2 area. There was a feeling that we could provide laptops or higher end devices to the high school students if we just took away the devices from the lower grades or went to a shared model. Before any decisions were made on that front, it was decided that the task force visit an elementary, middle and high school campus first.
Though those visits, the task force saw that the in fact some of the most meaningful uses of the devices were happening at the lower levels of elementary. While they had the devices the least amount of time, they actually had integrated them much more fully than even some of the upper level high school classes. It was through these site visits that another recommendation would come in that we need to do a better job of communicating what’s happening in the classroom and which apps are being used district-wide.
As the symposiums were very public, it makes it difficult sometimes for people to share honestly what they were feeling or concerns they had. As a result, we hosted focus groups for students, parents and teachers at each of our campuses and even hosted a central one just for parents. These focus groups provided some great qualitative data as well. It’s through the focus groups where we heard the most about the day-to-day issues with distraction and the need to occasionally have access to other devices when needed. One other outcome as a result of this is the idea that even though we’ve made our final device recommendation (skip to the end to see that), we want to continue to have these focus groups yearly so we can make necessary adjustments on the initiative.
As many on the task force mentioned, not everyone can get to a physical meeting or symposium. We all live busy lives and it only seemed to make sense that since this was all about digital learning that we have an online component. So besides the symposiums being posted online and the interactive feedback posters (via Padlet.com), we also created a Google Community. The community was a place where anyone could join and post questions or resources when it comes to digital learning. We also used the #EanesDLTF hashtag whenever information was shared or posted as a way to gather data. This hashtag would also be used as a way to curate questions for the panels at the symposium.
Survey, survey, then survey again
One of the final methods of data gathering was the use of many surveys. Each survey focused on a different segment of our population and were focused on gathering information on both the current reality and our preferred future. Here are copies of our surveys that your are free to look at and remix for your own purposes.
The results of the surveys were very diverse and gave us a wide range of feedback. We saw a general tendency that the older the students were, the more they wanted to have a physical keyboard or laptop. Here’s an example of some of the data we shared with the school board on that first survey.
As a result of this and a discrepancy at the high school in terms of what students and teachers preferred, we decided to send a follow-up survey once we had narrowed down the device choices. Many of the students and teachers that preferred laptops wanted a high-end MacBook as their preferred machine of choice. As budget for the program wouldn’t allow for a $1200 device and for the uses they had outlined being so varied based on class, we needed to land on a base-level device to use for all classes. We then took the final three devices (Macbook Air 11″, Dell 3350, and an iPad Air 2 64GB w/keyboard case) and made them available for viewing a week prior to sending the final high school survey.
We sent out follow-up surveys to both the students and staff of the high school to land on our final decision.
One thing for certain, was that no matter what the selection, there would be some groups happy and some upset with the choice. After 600 hours of focus groups, discussions, meetings, presentations and symposiums as well as over 6000 survey responses, the task force voted unanimously for the option that gave us the most flexibility, with the best support model as well as ease of integration. In choosing the iPad Air 2 (64GB) for all levels, we are giving students and staff a model of iPad that goes 12 times faster, holds 4 times as much memory and now allows for split-screen multitasking. We also added a keyboard component for upper grades and some options for keyboards at the lower grades. This also honors the work of many teachers who have utilized the iPad to improve student learning in their classrooms for the past 4-5 years. It also reinforces the work we have been doing on the horizontal and vertical alignment of tools and curriculum within our district.
For more information I created this infographic which was distributed along with a press release today. (blog coming later on how I made the infographic using Keynote):