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My #NextChapter: Taking the LEAP

Anyone who knows me, knows I always have a soundtrack for different parts of my life. Friends and colleagues have shared with me that certain songs speak to them at certain parts of their lives. For me, the song currently speaking to me for this part of my life is the Talking Heads Once in a Lifetime. As a new school year kicks off, I find myself in a strange place. For the first time in 21 years, I’m not running around trying to help classrooms get set up with their technology, updating iPads, training new teachers, or helping with district-wide professional learning.

And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

About 15 months ago I was wandering around New Orleans and stumbled into a local coffee shop. They had a bookshelf full of books with “Free- take one” labeled on each cover. My eyes were drawn immediately to the cover and title of this particular book:

The title caught my attention because that’s exactly the title we used when we launched our 1:1 program in 2011. Our LEAP program stood for “Learning and Engaging through Access and Personalization”, and while it was centered around 1:1 iPads, what made it successful was the learning. Seeing the subtitle for this book did intrigue me, but when I got home from the trip, I set it on my bookshelf in my personal office and didn’t read it….for almost a year.

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down…

Flash forward to this past spring. As I’ve told many a friend and colleague in person, there are always signs out there for us to see, and sometimes, they have to be banging you across the head to notice them. With some changes coming to both vision and structure in my now former district and increasing requests for my speaking and consulting side-work, I knew a decision was imminent.

While sitting at home over spring break, I began to discuss the possibility of leaving the 9-to-5 (more like 8-6) work as a district administrator to head into the freelance market of the “Gig Economy.” I discussed this with the one person in my life that has steered me right more than wrong, the mother of my kids….my wife.

“Sometimes, you just need to move on. If you don’t do this, you’ll regret it,” she said.

And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife…

That all sounds well and good. After all, I’m the type of person that likes to push people to take risks, yet now, for some reason, I was waffling. Tons of questions swirled around my brain including:

Am I ready to leave 21 years of education behind?

How will I continue to be relevant?

What about private health care? (this one still scares me)

How will this effect my kids who are going to school in the district I work?

I’ve received a monthly pay check since I was 16-years old. How will my family handle the uncertainty of consultant and speaking work?

All of these questions and fears started to creep into my mind.

And you may ask yourself – Am I right? Am I wrong?

To be honest, I still don’t have answers for many of those questions, but in the weeks that have followed, answers have begun to seek me out. Below are some of the main items I weighed before making this decision to take the LEAP:

Time

I think I spent a total of 85 days at my house this past year. From the main work and the travel of the side work, my days and evenings are pretty

Reflecting on what’s important…

well tapped. Late night board meetings, random travel changes, and staying up late to work on a project all took time away from my family. While I know travel will increase some in this new role, I’m excited with the opportunity to spend more time with my kids, my wife, and my parents who live near us. That kind of time is precious and you can’t put a price on it. Too often, we become a slave to daily grind and carry that work home with us. The benefit of time with family was the number one motivator for me to make the decision to leave full-time district work.

Time isn’t holding up, time is after us

Relevancy

I never want to turn into one of those talking heads on stage that hasn’t stepped foot in an actual school in decades. I’ve had the good fortune recently to be hired on as a part-time consultant in a couple of amazing school districts. Having these consulting opportunities in place allow me to both be a part of district decisions and model learning in the classroom with actual students. I always find my energy from the kids, so having these in my back pocket to maintain relevance helped with my ultimate decision.

And you may ask yourself, how do I work this?

Other Creative Opportunities

I’ve built up a very supportive and inspiring network of friends, colleagues, and companies over the years in my role at the district. Many have asked me about collaborating on different ideas and concepts but I simply haven’t had the time. My hope now is that I can devote some energy into those collaborations and seek out some creative opportunities that might have not happened while juggling all the work. In fact, some plans and collaborations are already in the works! In the coming weeks and months, you should start seeing the result of these as I try to impact the larger scope of education across the country.

I’m soft-launching my site this week: CarlHooker.com. If you’d like to seek out my services as a consultant, speaker, MC, event organizer or creative collaborator, go there. I’m excited for the opportunity to connect and collaborate with even more educators across the world now!

Letting the days go by…

Self-care

I feel like there are 5 things that garner the majority of our attention: Family, spouse, work, friends, and self. These things change in order based on the time of year or whatever your current relationships look like. As this blog is all about me being honest, I’ll tell you that the last item on the list has really suffered lately. As my attention focused on the other 4 items, I spent little to no attention to self-care. That inattention has caused increased stress, blood pressure, weight gain, and insomnia. It’s hard to be productive as a father, husband, or employee with my own mind and body falling apart. While I’ll now have different stresses to manage, I feel like I’ll have extra time to manage those with healthier eating habits and exercise, which ironically should help the other four areas that need my attention.

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, once in a lifetime, water flowing underground

 

After my last day at “work”, I found myself behind the wheel of a large automobile as my family and I embarked on a 3-week RV expedition across the eastern United States. Having that gap and family time really confirmed my belief that this could all be possible and might just all work out. The journey ahead won’t necessarily be better or worse, it’ll just be different. I’ll miss many of the great students and teachers that I got to work with in my previous role, but also look forward to the many more teachers and students I’ll have the opportunity to work with in the future.

As a reader of my blogs and someone who’s made it this far on this post, I hope you’ll continue to come along with me on this #NextChapter of my journey and that our paths may cross in the future.

After all, you may ask yourself, where does that highway go to?

What’s the BEST Model to Support Technology Integration?

On a recent OnEducation Podcast episode (embedded at the bottom of this post), the hosts Mike and Glen got into a debate about what exactly is the “right” model of support when it comes to technology integration in schools? As they called out my name in particular, I felt it best to write this post in response.

Make no bones about it…Technology is a gift with a tail. It’s predicted that schools will spend $19 Billion dollars on technology in schools. This can range from a variety of devices, apps, software and various “STEM” tools but not necessarily servers, wires, and all that stuff in the closet.  Despite this large amount of money invested in technology, the amount of money to support and integrate these tools dwarfs the amount spent on the hardware and software. I’d also wager that a majority of that “support” money is primarily for personnel needed to repair and keep the technology running, not to integrate it into learning.

I’ve been integrating technology in some form or fashion during my entire 20 years in education. A few years ago I wrote this post about how funding support in both I.T. and instruction can affect the level of integration. From that research as well as my work with districts around the country, I’ve seen a wide variety of models when it comes to support. With most models, the two largest determining factors are budget and vision. What follows are the various models I’ve seen employed by districts around the country. Each model is followed by a letter grade that is completely subjective, because, hey, this is for education right?

The “Tech Support Only” Model

In this model, staff and funding for support go solely towards keeping everything up and running. That means at a bare minimum, the technology will work. Will it be integrated thoughtfully? That depends largely on the teacher and the goals and expectation of the principal. I would say a majority of districts and schools across the country use this model.

Grade= C- 

While it’s great that the technology can turn on and off, there’s really no way to know if it’s making a difference educationally without some intense expectations, strategies and vision from leadership.

The “Pay and Pray” Model

No tech support. No Instructional support. Just spend the money on devices and see what happens. Whenever you read research about how technology in schools doesn’t really help, it largely comes from schools that employ either the previous model or this one. Often times you’ll hear phrases like “well, some tech is better than no tech” but in terms of this model, you could almost make the case that this could be worse for students (not to mention the tax payers funding the bill).

Grade= F

No support at all is not an advisable model.

The “Vanguard Teacher” Stipend Model

When I started as a classroom teacher, this was the widely used model I saw for technology integration. The way it works is you have I.T. staff to make sure the technology is running and you add some stipend or an extra amount to a group of teachers or a single “rock star” teacher to help with the integration on campus.

Grade=B-

While the district saves money by not paying for a full-time staff member to support integration, this model puts a lot of pressure on the Vanguard Teacher to not only do their full-time teaching duties, but also support staff on a variety of issues. As someone who lived this role for several years, eventually the vanguard teacher also gets roped into helping with printer issues, projector issues, and everything in between.

The Ed Tech Consultant Model

This model seems to be on the rise as many districts that can’t support a full-time staff member. Having a consultant who’s an expert in technology integration can help build vision, support the Vanguard Teachers and converse with IT staff can be a huge benefit at a fraction of the cost of a full-time administrator.

Grade=B+

This model works best when school and district leadership are on board and match the vision for technology integration with campus-wide expectations. Also, having those Vanguard Teachers or to work with gives insight and boots on the ground so to speak. As someone who consults with schools and districts from time-to-time, I’ve seen first-hand the benefits of this model when done right.

The Full-Time Coordinator/Director Model

While far from ubiquitous, many districts districts land on this model of support by hiring a full-time administrator to help guide the integration of technology in schools. On top of helping with the vision and expectations, this person (also the role I’m currently in) works with all teachers, the community, leadership, and IT to makes sure all stakeholders are on the same page. While it does cost a district a little more, having a full time person coordinating the integration of technology came make a huge difference in learning and usage, especially when compared with the “Tech support only” models.

Grade = A-

The only reason this wouldn’t grade out higher depends on two factors – the amount of campuses to support and how they work with the I.T. Department. If an Instructional Technology Director has too many campuses to support, their impact is minimized as they can really only take a shotgun approach to integration. If they have an over-bearing or controlling IT department, it limits the amount of progress they can accomplish.

The 1:1 Coaching Model

This model involves putting a highly qualified, instructionally-focused staff member on each campus to support the integration of technology. Some schools have used current staff (instructional coaches or library media specialists) to sort of “hack” this model as it does cost the most money of all the models listed above. Others may not be able to have a person on each campus but have a centralized team. Both of those methods are helpful with integration and would grade out highly. However, having a dedicated ITS or EdTech on each campus to coach, co-teach, and lead innovation with technology on campuses can be EXTREMELY powerful. When coupled with well-communicated expectations from campus leadership and vision from the district, I’ve yet to ever see a more beneficial model of integrating technology into the classroom.

Grade = A+

Note: I may be a little biased as this is the model my district currently employs. That said, as someone who has been in the “Director” role for the past 8 years, I can tell you maintaining the A+ Coaching model isn’t necessarily easy. Whenever budget cuts come, as they often do in public education, it’s often the first position to come under the knife which can cause disruption and uncertainness to those in the position. Also, it’s important to coordinate these positions across the district to guarantee some level of fidelity or else risk the role being used differently from campus to campus.

Summary:

You can get various levels of technology integration depending on the vision, goals and budget of a district. I’ve lived through 3 different iterations of our “Ed Tech” position in my tenure and am now going through another “evolution” of sorts. As we’ve had a high level of support for years, we are evolving the position from someone who supports the integration of technology to someone who supports high quality teaching and learning with technology as an embedded part of that.

While it seems subtle, it does change the ideology around support. Removing the word “technology” or “digital learning” from a title implies that this person supports all learning, which is a good thing. That also implies that they don’t exist solely to repair printer issues or help a principal make a newsletter.

Regardless of roles, position titles, and support, without a well-communicated vision and expectation, technology usage will continue to be only substitutive in nature with the exception of a few outliers. If you have a moment, give the OnEducation Podcast below a listen. They start to get into the debate around the coaching and support models right around the 27 minute mark. Drop a comment below too if you have feedback on the models I’ve shared or maybe some I’ve left off.

OnEducation Podcast Episode “Let’s Bring the Weird”

Interested in bringing me to your district? Reach out here.