Sunday, December 18, 2011

To The Extreme

Not That One
courtesy of Jim Crossley-raindog
If you thought that I was going to break into a Vanilla Ice song after reading the title to this post, then I apologize. I did however find it a little humorous that the line "collaborate and listen" was in Ice Ice Baby, maybe Vanilla was a bit ahead of his time. But on a serious note, I have been pondering lately why everything seems to be to the extreme, education reform, leadership style, politics, couponing. Rarely these days do you see push, pull, "off balance on purpose" situations that challenge and take staff to the edge, but not completely push them off the cliff. I would argue that disruption, innovation, pushing adults and students can take place with great results without an entire staff/class ending up at the bottom of the canyon.

Off Balance
How many times have you heard that to much of any one thing is not a good idea? The pressure to perform in the K-12 arena seems to push ideas to the extreme and one giant weight is dropped on the balance scale, with no hope of returning to the off balance place that is desired. In Dan Thurmon's book, "Off Balance On Purpose," he writes:

courtesy of
When we experience imbalance in our lives, we often overcompensate by throwing ourselves in another direction. We think that it takes bold, dramatic action to create change. Sometimes this is true-we reach moments in our lives when a huge shift in thinking or action is completely necessary. But usually when we find ourselves in that predicament, it is because we missed many previous opportunities to make smaller adjustments that would have prevented, or at least softened, the crisis. Often an attempt to overdo it, providing to much force in one direction or another to quickly, will only exacerbate the trouble. -Dan Thurmon

The same thought can be applied to organizations that are struggling to be successful and looking for the magic bullet of change. Instead of looking at the foundational issues within, a bold, dramatic action takes place that results in the scale being tipped completely over.

Technology Balance
I think we often tip the scale to the extreme with technology initiatives as a silver bullet approach, missing the foundational pieces that will truly make using technology in our classrooms relevant. Take a look at all the 1:1 initiatives that have struggled over the years because the focus was on the shiny new object and not:                           

-Good teaching
-Professional Dev
-Digital Citizenship
-Parent involvement

An example of going to the extreme in a 1:1 environment would be piling up every book on campus and having a giant bonfire to celebrate every student having a device. Sure this would afford the ability to eliminate certain texts and some paper use that is not necessary, but a successful 1:1 isn't measured by walking into a classroom and every student having a device open in front of them. We need to think about being off balance enough to sustain meaningful change, without pushing the entire group to the bottom of the canyon for the sake of a photo op. 

Welcome Change
I enjoy change and new things, maybe that is why I don't like riding the same exact trail every day on my bike, or listening to the same music on repeat for a year at a time, I even enjoy clipping a coupon now and again. Speaking of coupons, before creating a stockpile that turns into an episode on hoarding, ask yourself if you are off balance or just going to the extreme for that photo op.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Administrator Superhighway

I wrote this article for the ISTE Sig-Admin Winter Newsletter, and thought I would put it in my blog as well.

Have you ever driven on a freeway system that is so confusing due to the complex looping off-ramps, the over and under, and super high speed lanes that require exotic foreign sports car to navigate? Even with GPS I seem to add a few extra miles onto each destination when I venture out of AZ and into other states with more freeway twists and turns than I am accustomed to. As an administrator in today’s K-12 environment, there are many different off-ramps and high speed lanes to choose from when considering your leadership goals and how it will influence your organization.

Visionary Leadership ISTE NETS for Administrators (NETS•A): Educational Administrators inspire and lead development and implementation of a shared vision for comprehensive integration of technology to promote excellence and support transformation throughout the organization.

Sounds simple enough, right? Any successful organization probably has a leader that can inspire, create vision and put practices in place to reach a goal, but how many other “leaders” are influencing that person? In my position as Director of Technology, in the Apache Junction USD, I feel the Superintendent has created an environment that allows departments, school staff, and students to collaborate, share, and influence the direction of the organization. Let’s take a closer look at a few areas that support the road to visionary leadership.

Fear of Failing
There are a number reasons why people are afraid to change, try new things, and influence others around them. Two specific reasons that come to mind are:
  • The fear of failure itself
  • Staff members are not encouraged to fail
The end result of the fear of failure can lead to a stale environment and innovation will be put aside for sustaining old practices. Learning how to fail while maintaining the confidence to adjust and move forward is essential to creating a successful learning environment. I want to share an experience that Tracy Watanabe, Technology Integration Specialist for the Apache Junction USD, shared with me about failing.

“Early last summer, I was asked to do a presentation in a short webinar. I had never been involved in a webinar before, but figured it would not be very different from all of the professional developments I facilitated every week. Boy was I wrong. My computer froze 10 minutes before I was supposed to start, and my backup computer did the same. I was so nervous by the time my computer was rebooted, that I didn't remember what I said, how fast/slow I was talking, and couldn't read my audience, which is something I rely strongly on. I felt like I let everyone down. I was ready to write off webinars as something that was not for me. Luckily, I'm surrounded by others who believe that failing is just a milestone on the path of improvement Fail, Learn, Try Again. When I shared my webinar experience with my boss, and other peers, their feedback was encouraging and inspired me to try again. Recently I facilitated a webinar as part of the Edublogs Serendipity webinars. It wasn't perfect, but that didn't seem to bother anyone, including myself because it's part of the learning process. Next time is an opportunity for improvement. Isn't that what it's about? You see, to grow and improve is like a journey. Failures along the way are just milestones on that journey. Failures aren't the destination, and a journey without failures means you're not traveling far from the safe zone. It takes venturing out of the safe zone to grow and improve.

Good Teaching vs. Shiny Object
Digital-Age Learning Culture ISTE NETS for Administrators (NETS•A): Educational Administrators create, promote, and sustain a dynamic, digital-age learning culture that provides a rigorous, relevant, and engaging education for all students.

Building and promoting a digital-age learning culture can be difficult with the rapid change of technology. Every week a new shiny device is released and it can become distracting from the educational goals of a district, unless the focus is on good teaching and not the device. The device type will continue to change, but good teaching must remain constant and use whatever tool best meets the needs of their students. Take the time to collaborate and create a foundational plan that will guide good teaching practices that support the learning goals. The “College Readiness for All” is our foundational guide in the Apache Junction USD.

Role of IT
As we continue down the administrator superhighway we have to ask ourselves what role every department and staff member plays in supporting the foundational plan that is guiding good teaching. As a Technology Director, I feel that the
Role of IT can have a tremendous impact on a district’s educational plan. IT staff spend many hours in classrooms and cannot make it across a campus without being asked a question by staff and students. The days of IT staff just replacing a video card or upgrading operating systems are becoming a thing of the past. I recently asked my Superintendent what his thoughts were on the role of Technology Directors in the K-12 environment and this was his response.

“The Director of Technology can absolutely play a significant role in helping influence change within the district if he or she assumes the role of instructional leader. Many of today’s school systems are technology-rich, especially compared to just ten years ago. But technology in and of itself won’t improve student achievement. Putting computers, Smart Boards, Doc Cameras, etc., in classrooms without first developing teacher capacity to utilize these tools to create authentic, learning opportunities will do little to change our current school systems.

Great technology, paired with excellent teaching, is what will provide students a better opportunity to learn. This is where the Director of Technology can have a huge influence on change. By being an instructional leader, Directors of Technology can help districts keep a balance on first, good teaching, and then second, how technology can be utilized to provide students with quality learning opportunities. Directors of Technology should be instrumental in shaping professional development opportunities for classroom teachers, focus the conversation about how/what technology should be utilized to support quality teaching, how dollars should be utilized when purchasing technology, how technology fits into a school/district strategic plan, etc. By fulfilling this role, the Director of Technology will absolutely influence change in school districts for the benefit of all.”

Put Me in Coach
Excellence in Professional Practice ISTE NETS for Administrators (NETS•A):
Educational Administrators promote an environment of professional learning and innovation that empowers educators to enhance student learning through the infusion of contemporary technologies and digital resources.

Administrators must model the practices that they want to see happen in the classroom, but who can help support the teachers on a daily basis. One Technology Integration Specialist was not going to be able to support 6 schools by herself in my school district, so we turned to the Microsoft Peer Coaching model developed by the
Peer-Ed team. The focus with our collaboration coaches is first on good teaching, aligned to our College Readiness for All plan, with technology embedded in the instruction. If administrators are going to “allocate time, resources, and access to ensure ongoing professional growth in technology fluency and integration” they will need support from departments, staff, and peers to make this happen, peer coaching is an off-ramp worth taking.

The Real Leaders
I hope that you have enjoyed the ride down the road to visionary leadership on the administrative superhighway! The off-ramps I have discussed are few among many that make up the complex K-12 environment in our technology rich world. As long as we keep the real leaders at the center of all decisions, the students, the K-12 landscape will continue to evolve and still be the goal that all others strive to achieve.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Yes, No, Maybe?

The ISTE Learning and Leading publication is a membership magazine that contains great ideas, success stories, and the chance to share opinions. Point/Counterpoint is a regular feature that provides a topic question that readers can respond to. The reader answers yes or no and then gives their reasoning for their answer. It is a great feature that I enjoy reading and on occasion will respond to. Back in August the question was,  "Should students opt out of face-to-face education." This question is featured in the current issue and I thought I would share my response (added a little color) here and see if others have any feedback on the topic.   

Online learning has brought a great opportunity for both students and teachers in today's educational environment. It continues to evolve and K-12 institutions are finding ways to incorporate this medium of instruction in a number of creative ways. Traditionally, opting out of face-to-face and moving online has been associated with credit recovery, illness, participating in a class that their school does not offer, or particular situations that keep students from attending a traditional setting. I think we should be grateful to the online learning options for those situations. However opting out of all face-to-face education  just "because" is not the right choice in my opinion.

Blend It
I believe that a blended learning opportunity can better meet the needs of our students than opting out completely from the face-to-face environment. Blended learning was defined by Michael Horn and  Heather Staker in The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning as,

"any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace"

This definition has been interpreted and rewritten in a number of different ways, however the definitions that I believe will allow our students to be successful in society have a meaningful face-to-face component. We have created this definition in my school district to guide our blended learning opportunity pilot by combining our own thoughts and those of others.

blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part in a Project-based, higher level thinking, brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student
control over time, place, path, and/or pace

"When PBL is done correctly, it engages the students in their learning. They are motivated by an authentic purpose that peeks their curiosity. Learning is differentiated through product, process, possibly content, choice, etc. Various learning styles are met, and student strengths are nourished. Teachers can work with small groups, and can meet individual needs." -Tracy Watanabe

Why Not
I suppose there could also be an argument that PBL and higher level thinking can be facilitated online and not face-to-face, but a productive society still has to interact with one another sometime, so why not blend it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Role of IT

Amazing Group
I am very fortunate to be on the AZ CIO/CTO Conference planning committee, which works closely with Converge (@convergemag) to make the conference possible. The conference is a product of the AZ CIO/CTO group that is made up of CIO, CTO's, Directors, and other AZ educational IT staff. What is so refreshing about the planning committee and the group in general, is the desire to influence change in the classroom using technology as the catalyst. When planning the most recent conference, the discussion was focused on pedagogy, leadership, and how we could share thoughts on innovation with our audience. Yes the techie piece was still a part of the conversation, but a small part in the big picture. You may be thinking what is so great about that, but I would ask you to stop and think about your district's IT department and what their role is in the organization. Do they just manage devices or do they influence change?

Influence Change
The keynote speaker at the conference was Dan Thurmon (@DanThurmon), and his philosophy is based around, "Success in life is not determined by your circumstances, but by your actions." One of the statements that he made was, "you can't always control the situation, but you can influence it." I very much agree with that statement and believe that as technology directors and IT staff, we can and should operate as 360 degree leaders. John Maxwell talks about leading down, up and across in organizations and how you can expand your influence and become a more valuable team member in his book, The 360 Degree Leader. You may not always be able to control a situation, but you can spend time talking with your superintendent, working with principals, spending time in classrooms and leading your tech staff to be 360 degree leaders also. 

Why So Motivated

I may be generalizing a bit here, or maybe AZ just has the best group of educational IT staff around, but CIO/CTO's and techies in general are not afraid of change. Maybe it is because we are used to the rate that technology changes everyday, or the infinite number of possibilities that can cause a piece of software not to run properly. Whatever the reason is, district tech staff can be innovators and can influence change across a school district, they reach classrooms on a daily basis. What is the role of your district's IT staff, do they just fix devices and manage the network, or do they influence change and innovate?

Innovation Center
There were a number of great sessions at the CIO/CTO conference I mentioned earlier, but one that motivated me to write about the day and IT department was John Miller's session, Innovation Centers. Here is the session description.

Twenty-first century innovation is a symphony of the arts and sciences to design beautiful products and services in new ways. Innovation centers prepare a generation of creators with self-directed teams of students learning through active creation. They are a mash-up of science experiment, art project, music class, multimedia lab and innovation playground. With the help of a trained facilitator, students select, lead and manage their own projects, developing empathy, teamwork, independence and creativity. Evolve beyond the computer lab or Media Center to student Innovation Centers. Transform the digital native to the innovation native.

John truly believes that IT staff can help bring innovation into the classroom and he is working closely with one of his district's elementary schools to create an innovation center that focuses on keeping the creativity in learning. I wanted to end with a picture that John recently shared of the door to his IT department, nice to see department names and titles starting to change to reflect the 21st century.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"Billy" Beane for the Disruption

Like most kids I played baseball growing up, Little League and then Senior League, before giving it up for track in high school. It was fun hanging out with friends, developing rivalries with the other teams, yelling hey batter batter batter.....swing, from the dugout. I have to admit that I don't follow baseball very close anymore, I don't know many players names and only keep up with the AZ Diamondbacks, who are doing very well I might add:-). Despite me not knowing every stat of every player in the league, there are many amazing baseball stories that have inspired countless books and movies over the years.

I recently went to see Moneyball starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, "A story of Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's successful attempt to put together a baseball club on a budget by employing computer-generated analysis to draft his players." Like any Hollywood movie based on a true story, I am sure there were a number of changes to keep things interesting and people planted in the seats, but what I took away from the movie was very simple. Beane brought disruption to the organization. By using sabermetrics to build his team, he caused discomfort to the traditionalist of the game and was quickly criticized when the team got off to a rough start.
Sound Familiar
The wheels in my head were spinning throughout the movie as I kept thinking about how disruption is so difficult for most people to accept and when it happens, how quickly the change is condemned unless there is immediate success. Once Beane had his team together, he used stats to build relationships with the players and it gave them an understanding of the why...sound familiar? I won't give away a few great scenes in the movie where others have their aha moments, but there are a number of them that could be used with staff as examples of how change can be something positive and professionally stimulating.

Final Quote
Like I mentioned earlier, I am not a die hard baseball fan and I am sure there are many arguments by purist that may argue Beane's methods of constructing a baseball team. However I think many scenes in this movie will be used by leaders as examples that disruption is not a bad word and changing the way we have always done things is OK. I will leave you with my favorite quote from the movie, "adapt or die!"       

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Nothing Without It
I recently was having a conversation with someone and the topic of discussion was successful teams/departments and the relationships among them. While we were discussing the qualities of the leaders that have built these great teams, this person said something which I found puzzling. They said that the person didn't really matter to them, just what they had to say. It quickly put things into perspective about this person, but also confirmed for me the importance of relationships when attempting to build a solid team or connect with anyone for that matter. 

Long Term
So what does it take to build relationships that will leave people truly listening to what you are I believe John Maxwell puts it in very simple terms, "In reality, trust is necessary in ALL good relationships. Good marriages, business relationships, and friendships all require trust. Without it, there can be no open and honest interaction, and the relationship will be only temporary". Have you ever watched a group of people follow someone they don't trust, or work collaboratively together, or sustain a relationship that proves successful over a long period of time? Temporary relationships may yield quick outcomes, but not long term growth.


Build Them
Relationships exists at every level within a school district and building them is critical for the success of the organization. Everyone must take responsibility for building them, admin-staff, teacher-student, teacher-parent, the list could go on. If we are to build more than a short term relationship between individuals, we must build trust. I was sent a post by Mike Myatt recently, via @LarryLaPrise, that addressed leadership and presence. One takeaway for me was, "Leadership is about trust, stewardship, care, concern, service, humility and understanding. If you build into those you lead, if you make them better, if you add value to their lives then you will have earned their trust and loyalty. This is the type of bond that will span positional and philosophical gaps, survive mistakes, challenges, downturns and other obstacles that will inevitably occur".

Building relationships, it is the foundation in my opinion, that will allow a successful structure to be built. It opens the door for genuine collaboration, interaction between customer and business, school and students, teacher and parents. And just think, when people are listening to each other, they may just matter.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Teachers Talk ISTE 2011

School has now been back in session for three weeks, and although the AJUSD Technology Department continues to get busier by the day, I was able to present to our School Board this afternoon. I like to share our conference experiences with the board, let them know what was gained from attending and discuss returning the next year.

ISTE 2011
I was fortunate enough to be able to take a wonderful group of teachers and an amazing Technology Integration Specialist to Philadelphia this summer. The trip was great (minus the roller coaster ride on the way there), and all that attended grew as professionals. We captured their thoughts on video about ISTE 2011 and showed that to the board (meeting was during class time and did not want to pull 5 teachers away from their students), but also wanted to share with others. Enjoy!

Thanks to AJUSD School Board, Dr. Chad Wilson, Gina Fraher, Elizabeth Francois, Amber Moore, Bethany Myers, Maryanne Galvan, and Tracy Watanabe.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fail, Learn, Try Again

I believe there are a number reasons why people are afraid to change and try new things. Two specific reasons that come to mind are:
  • The fear of failure itself
  • Staff members are not encouraged to fail
The end result of the fear of failure and not wanting to change can lead to a stale environment. We had a situation recently with our network that reminded of an incident which took place almost 10 years ago now.

I was a technology trainer at the time and one
afternoon was working with one of the desktop technicians on an issue that an end user was having. We were running all Linux servers at the time and everything was done through a shell window. We were certain that the problem was a particular file within the etc directory that needed to be deleted. So we typed out the command line and both looked at each other with that uncertain hesitation, then hit the enter button. We were both really happy with ourselves and went about our business. Not long after we walked away from the computer, the phone started ringing and one of our schools was reporting that they were having some trouble. I began hearing our system admin asking the other guys about the etc directory, rm -rf (in plain English that means remove, pretty much forever), who deleted the entire etc directory at SMES? Yep, we deleted the entire etc directory at one of the schools in our quest to fix an issue a teacher was having. Nobody said anything to us the next day, even though they knew we had blown away the directory. Instead they let us sweat a little and then sat us down and went through the entire process of what we had done and where we went wrong. It turned out to be a great learning experience and they were happy we had made the attempt to give it a go on our own.

Try Again
I was not afraid to try again after that incident because we were encouraged, not punished or embarrassed. As leaders we must encourage our staff to be creative, try new things, and know that if they don't work, try again.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Students Speak

Kick It Off
Every year in my district we have a welcome back day for all district staff. It usually consists of some kind of breakfast or lunch, a guest speaker or district admin delivering the welcome back message. It is a difficult couple hours to plan as feedback is always mixed on these type of events, and with tight budgets, outside guest speakers are not an option for us.

The Green Light
Our Superintendent, Dr. Chad Wilson, is a dynamic public speaker, he does a great job communicating his expectations for the district and recognizing successes. One element that I thought would be beneficial for this years welcome back, would be to hear from our students, listen to what they feel is working and what they hope to see this school year. With the go ahead from Dr. Wilson, I set off to figure out how to make this happen. With help from Tracy Watanabe, we gathered a group of students from across K-12, and invited them in for a short two question interview. Their responses were not prompted or edited for effect, just honest.

Coming Together
With all the negativity around public education right now I think it is important to share the good things that are happening out there while not losing sight of the high expectations we must hold ourselves too as educators. Our welcome back day this year had a different feel to it than previous years and hearing from our students and teachers (see Reflections video below), things are coming together. We have a ways to go before all students are college ready by the time they leave us, but we are off to a great start.

Thank You
I want to thank all the AJUSD students and parents for taking the time and allowing their children to share their thoughts with us. They were amazing! I would also like to thank Tracy Watanabe for all her assistance with the project and Dr. Wilson for always allowing us to run with our ideas.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Google+ For the Disruption

The Buzz
Maybe using the word Buzz is not a good choice of words, I know that it is another Google product, but I never really pursued that one. Hype may be better, whatever word you choose to describe the recent (limited) release of Google+ is up to you. What I do know is that is has spawned countless articles, blog posts, tweets, and im's, and everyone seems to have different theories on the what, why, and how Google decided to go all in with g+.

Disruptive Innovation
Clayton Christensen has broken down disruptive innovation in a rather simple idea that established firms fail because they don't keep up technologically with other firms. From my point of view, Google has not allowed themselves to fall into the trap of relying on their existing success, they continue to innovate, and have launched a number of initiatives over the years, some good some really bad. What Google seems to do well is not focus on their failures, but use them as opportunities to push forward and learn from them. So how can K-12 learn from Google or any other successful organization?

Too Simple
Maybe I look at things the wrong way, I try and make them as simple as possible. If something is not working and the results are the same year after year, that is a good indicator it is time for change, simple right? The point I am trying to make is, we in the K-12 arena must be willing to take a look at successful organizations and see what makes them tick. How has their leadership created a culture that allows them to innovate, change, and fail forward. How do their customers (students), hands on employees (teachers), etc., collaborate to create an environment that provides the best possible product (students prepared for a changing world).

All the Google+ media recently made me think a bit, even if g+ is a giant failure when it is is released to the masses, Google won't continue to stick with it year after year. They will learn from the experience, listen to the feedback, collaborate and try something new...seems simple.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Social Hurricane

Where To Begin
With all the social media tools out there to choose from, it can be overwhelming to know where to begin. Just when you think you have chosen the one or three that you want to focus on and get the most return from, another pops up to take its place. Take a look at how Google+ is really starting to create a stir and take a shot at the Facebook crowd! Who would think that anything could ever challenge the giant that Facebook has become. It may be difficult to know where to begin, but the value in using the social platform of your your choice for staying current professionally, keeping in touch with parents, community, and students, shouldn't be overlooked.

Embrace It
It doesn't have to be overwhelming though, just relax a bit, take a deep breath and ask yourself who your audience will be. I am not an expert on social networks, but this has seemed to work for me. I jumped into the mix some years ago like many with:

I enjoyed myspace, it allowed for creative control of your profile and the number of bands using the site to promote was amazing. But the audience I was wanting to connect with were friends that I had lost touch of and current friends. I was able to connect with a small number, but not the number that I had anticipated. As Facebook gained traction, I created an account and started exploring, basically my entire graduating class and many more were quickly friends and we all know what has happened to myspace. My point, if one social network is not meeting your needs, don't be afraid to look at others, take advantage of the many choices available.

The Professional Menu
When Looking at this menu, I have tried to focus on what social network is going to connect me to a peer group that will help me grow as a professional and stay current with the rapid change that technology provides. But more important than that, I wanted to be able collect great resources from others that I could then pass along to the teachers, administrators, and other staff members in my district. Sharing is caring, but I wasn't sure what platform was going to best provide what I was looking for, choosing the appetizer when I really needed the main dish took some time and exploring.

The Plug
My main dish that I was searching for happened to be right under my nose, which is my only plug for a social network that I would recommend everyone spending some time with if you are looking to jump into the game.

I have had a twitter account for some time, but didn't really understand the buzz and was not liking the celebrity attention it was getting, yes I think you are OK Ashton Kutcher, but I am not interested in what you are doing on a daily basis. But I realized one weekend that I could follow the Supercross race real time, since it was not on TV. It brought relevance for me on the personal side and with the encouragement from Nick Sauers and Tracy Watanabe, I jumped in and started following peers on the professional side. I have to say that this has been the one of the best professional decisions I have made in the last year. The vast amount of resources that I have been able to take in and contribute has been amazing. Check it out!

Game Changers
It is difficult to predict the next best thing that will come along and change the way that social networking is valuable to us. Google may be on to the big game changer in my opinion with Circles, their answer to organizing friends, and how you communicate with them. This seems like a logical way for educators to use social networking tools and keep their personal lives separated from professional, which seems to cause some issues at times. Others may have a similar feature, but Circles is very user friendly.

Social networks are part of our culture and here to stay, just ask your students:-). How we participate will be up to to each individual to decide, jump in feet first and give something a try!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Not the end...

Publish It
I began the final day at ISTE 2011 attending the session, "Writing for an ISTE Publication." I am not sure if people are aware just how many publications that ISTE has in circulation, but I suggest checking them out here, there is something for everyone.

Vendor Row
I waited until the final day to really spend any meaningful time in the exhibit hall. I was discussing with my colleagues the days when we used to attend Comdex in Las Vegas during the height of the tech boom. Vendors had gigantic exhibits, some with live music, showgirls, one company even had people high in the air swinging around like Cirque du Soleil! It really was over the top and hard to figure out what some were even trying to sell. The ISTE 2011 exhibit hall was very nice, easy to get around, and had a nice vendor presence. I was able to make some meaningful contacts with a few of the vendors we use and put a few names to faces.

Wrap up
The closing keynote was amazing and started off with the group Street Beats Group, who performed an amazing glow in the dark percussion piece. Their performance was followed by a well done animation by Youth Voices, "Who Do You Think You Are" (both can be watched in the video below).

Chris Lehmann was the closing keynote, but before he took the stage, he had a group of his students present their poetry slam and that was a very emotional piece that moved the entire audience, I would recommend sharing with your staff and not just teaching staff, but any staff in your district. The importance of my technology staff understanding today's students is monumental in helping to clearly define our role in the organization, I believe this applies to every person working on a school campus.

It is difficult to describe Chris Lehmann's keynote in just a few words, but I will just say that he is very passionate about kids and learning and a great inspiration for all educators. It is very obvious that Chris wants to see our kids not just become 21st Century workers, but 21st Century citizens. Take the time to be inspired and watch his keynote address along with the other closing performances below.

You can never doubt the wisdom of the voices of students
-Chris Lehmann

ISTE 2012
Thanks for following my blog this week and I hope to be attending ISTE 2012 in San Diego. Feel free to follow, comment, and share your thoughts here at "this and that" and follow on twitter @jcastelhano.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Birds-ISTE Update

Tech Commandments
Catchy name for a session led by Adam Bellow, check out the eduTecher blog. He started the session on a good note by saying there would be no

which at that point I figured this was going to be a no lose session. Adam had some great quotes and information he shared, few of them below.

"Training needs to be a priority, but not all about hardware and software"
"Educational technology is not all about stuff"
"I don't like students using cell phones because they know more than me and look things up"
"Any teacher who can be replaced by a robot should be"
"Lies my teacher told me"
"Be like the kids, be stubborn and resilient, don't give up"
"Collaboration is the 21st century skill"

Leading in 3D
This session was lead by Chris Oneal and very relevant for principals and how to be a technology leader by modeling. Check out his wiki, here is a quick question for principals from Chris.

Do you lead by example? Teachers and other instructional staff look to you to demonstrate a commitment to technology through efforts that make sense for your job, yet define the expectations you have for technology use across the board.

I ended the day with a birds session on 1:1 computing and was excited for this one as it was more of a round table discussion. It was interesting hearing about what a district or two in Australia was doing with their 1:1 initiative and others experiences in their adventures to change the learning in their own little part of the world.

Thanks for reading and I will try and post one more time tomorrow as I am running a day behind now!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Set....Go!-ISTE Update

Good Start
There have been a number of additions to the ISTE NETS that are being released soon. The area I was excited about was the profile for Technology Directors and they are also releasing NETS for Technology Coaches.

Open Source
I was very excited for this session as we have been big supporters of open source software over the years in AJUSD. The session did not disappoint as Christopher Craft is an excellent presenter and held the attention of the audience throughout. Chris ran down a top 10 open source list and I wanted to share.
  1. Ubuntu
  2. Moodle
  3. Clonezilla
  4. Gimpshop
  5. Android
  6. Libre Office
  7. Audacity
  8. Stellarium
  9. Tux Paint
  10. Wordpress
We use a number of the open source software listed above and run the apps on +1,000 netbooks running a Lubuntu operating system. They work very well and may work for your environment also, check them out.

Tech-Savvy Principals
Great panel discussion lead by Scott Mcleod made up of a group of principals who have put aside excuses and have embraced technology. Lost of good take aways from this session, and I came across David Truss's blog who participated in the session via Twitter. I wanted to include the quotes from the session that he recorded, big thanks David. Enjoy and check back soon!

“It is not just a tech savvy admin, but the building of teacher leaders that’s needed to become innovative.”

“Let professionals be professionals- good leaders let teachers take the lead and grow.”

“Teachers must be the partners in learning. Let the students use the ‘stuff’.”

“Go with the willing but model for the reluctant or rather the “apprehensive” staff.

“…support teachers learning one item at a time.”

“Not only is it about innovative leaders, it is about leadership in a student centered school.”

“Bad tech leadership? Tools with no training, direction or support.”

“Leadership needs to communicate, collaborate, and create using the technology they expect the teachers to use.”

“Be a learner first. That’s where we want every adult and child in the school to be, so model it from the top!”

“It’s about learning. We need to help teachers understand this is the same for them as it is for the students.”

“I don’t want to see teacher using tech every time I walk in room. I want to see tech in hands of students.”

“Do your schools have a technology integration group made up of teachers, admin, and students that make decisions about learning?”

“Observing for appropriate tech use in a classroom: 1. Tied into learning, 2. High engagement, 3. Assessment considered.”

“It’s not so much about teaching teachers to use the technology, it’s about changing the classroom pedagogy.”

“Manage the present, create the future, and carry the vision. Most leaders get caught up managing the present.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Getting Started

City Life
It was a crazy ride to Philadelphia, the plane was up and down more times than a roller coaster at Six Flags! It took the rest of the evening to stop walking into walls, but this morning I was ready to roll. We spent a little time roaming around the city and taking in some of the historic landmarks and went on a tour of Independence Hall courtesy of Ronnie Burt from Edublogs. Tracy Watanabe and Elizabeth Francois hooked me up with the group and I met some great teachers. Also managed to visit the market near the conference center and there was to many choices of amazing food to take in! I will be returning there everyday to try something a little different.

Checking In
Finally checked in and ready to go, was excited to find a Higher Ground iPad case in our bag of free stuff. Plug for Higher Ground, they make a great case, we use them for our 1:1 netbook program. Took a stroll through the ISTE SIG booths and picked up my Admin tag and waited for the kickoff keynote address by John J. Medina.

This is only my second Iste conference, but there is something special about it. Maybe it's the 1,000's of individuals gathered together that share a common interest, but you can feel the excitement all around you. The electric feeling of sharing ideas and learning from others is something that all educators and administrators should experience. I look forward to jumping into the BYOL I have signed up for and all the other sessions, check back for an update tomorrow.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blogging at ISTE!

Part I
My first visit to an ISTE conference was in 2009, in Washington DC. Not only was the conference amazing for a number of reasons, but it was also my first trip to the nation's capital. I was able to take part in a number of great sessions, listen to amazing keynote speakers, and also get in a little sight seeing as well. Seeing the capital for the first time and meeting the Obama's at the conference, you can see from the picture below I was a little nervous, was a great experience.

Part II
I was not able to attend the conference in 2010, but will be attending this year in Philadelphia in just a few short days. I am again excited for the trip and what makes this trip more special than the first is we are able to take a small group of teachers along! I can't wait for them to experience the week and have them bring back their experience to other teachers in our district, sharing resources, ideas, and general conversation will benefit each of our schools. I have also decided to use the conference planner this year, novel idea right, and should be able to cram in almost everything that I want to attend.

Blog Away
I am going to give it my best shot to blog my experiences throughout the week while attending the conference. Here is my disclaimer, I am not quite sure what kind of random thoughts, resources, or experiences I will end up sharing, but going to try and capture the experience and not just session by session type of info. So check back during the week and enjoy!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Change Can Happen

Recently I wrote about professional development and my district's "Summer Academy" activities. There were a number of district participants and presenters, one being Tracy Watanabe, AJUSD's Technology Integration Specialist. She spent one of her days working with the teachers at CCJH, the district's Jr. High, where we have just finished the first year of a 1:1 program with the 7th grade. Next year the incoming 7th graders will step right into the 1:1 environment and the school will be 1:1 all the way through.

The Growth
There have been a number of amazing transformations take place at CCJH during the year and worth noting, but one of Tracy's activities just grabbed my attention. She had small groups of teachers take the district's "College Readiness for All" plan and make the connection to the

ISTE NETS-S. There was great collaboration between the groups and the way they chose to share their information was also very impressive. They had little time to complete the task and the three groups below all chose different forms of multimedia for sharing.

Culture Change
One short year ago this activity would have not yielded the same results. Not sure how many teachers would have known what the NETS were and sharing would have probably been on a piece of butcher paper or maybe a powerpoint. The culture at CCJH has changed and there are a number of reasons, great teachers, principal, support staff, district support, board support, that can be attributed to this. The overall point that I guess I'm trying to make is, things can change in the K-12 education setting, you just need to be willing.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Great PD or Waste of Time?

Don't Waste My Time
What is the first thing that you think of when you hear the words professional development? I have heard different things from teachers like:
  • training for the latest trends
  • required
  • waste of time
  • I didn't learn anything
  • another top down activity
  • how will this help me become a better teacher
All these points are valid and make great questions when planning professional development activities. If we are going to ask teachers to give up their time, professional development should be aligned to district/site goals, based on teacher needs, and ultimately have an impact on student learning.

Great Week of PD
For quite some time now we have provided a summer academy in our district the following week school is out for break. The week has been well received and the feedback provided has always been positive for the most part. This year's summer academy is coming to an end and there has been many amazing sessions that has allowed teachers to work with their colleagues from around the district. There were 77 individual sessions offered over the course of 4 days and 65 of those were technology based. Ongoing professional development for the 1:1 program at CCJH continued with Tracy Watanabe and Nick Sauers and the first 1:1 training for AJHS was also conducted by these two amazing individuals.

Thank You
I want to thank all that have been involved in making this week a great success and look forward to the continuation of meaningful professional development in AJUSD.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Amazing Technology Staff

Truly great teams are far and few between, sure there have been a few dynasties over the years and every once in awhile you get a team that dominates for one season, but the next year are non-existent. Debating great sport teams always makes for great conversation, but you can simply fall back on their record in my opinion. But how do you pick the greatest tech team of all time....who knew it was a competition? Actually, it's not, I don't need to compare my department to others to know if we are doing a great job or not. Every environment is different and the needs will vary, but I do know that I have an amazing staff in place for a number of reasons.

More Than A Tech
So let me elaborate (brag) a bit on those reasons for a moment. Our district techs have the title of Itinerant Technician, kind of old school terminology, but they do travel from site to site so the title has remain unchanged. These three guys are far more than a geek squad that come in, replace a power supply and then run to the next job. They spend time working with teachers and even students as technology integration is taking place in the classroom. They are not integration specialist (we do have a great one of those also), but they have a level of understanding of our software/hardware that allows them to assist if necessary. They understand that we are here for the students first, and this has allowed the shift from being a repair person to someone who may need to make a repair, but show the student/instructor a few surface layer how to instructions to get them rolling. They definitely need a new job description and title, as do our System and Network Admin. Their job responsibilities extend far beyond hiding in dark offices and they never lose focus of why we are here.

This is a novel idea, but I believe that Warren Bennis says it best, "trust is the glue that holds organizations together". Trust is something that has allowed our department to grow as a team over the years. Bennis talks more about how trust is earned not given and that is a process that doesn't happen in one day, but over time. I trust each member of our department and know that they communicate with our teachers and staff to provide the best service possible. Their trust for one another allows them to collaborate on issues that one individual may not be able to solve on their own and they push the department as a team to innovate, and work outside of their comfort zone. We are not perfect and continually try to improve, but we shoot for perfection and have fun on the journey.

B's Place
We recently had a get together at Bethany's place to celebrate another great school year together. Bethany Purcell wears a number of hats in the district and one is tech secretary, and also e-rate assistant. She is a shining piece of our team and unfortunately will be taking off her tech hat next year. The good news is she will be close by still and always considered a member of the team! The other good news is Liz Maher will be picking that hat up and bringing her graphic design/webmaster skills to the team, and will be a great fit.

Thank You!
I wanted to take this opportunity to publicly thank every member of the tech department for a great year and look forward to a busy summer in preparation for the 2011-2012 school year. Being part of an amazing team and the ever changing world of technology makes coming to work everyday very easy.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Captain EO

Good Times
Recently I took a few days and went to Anaheim with the family. Traveling with a 7 and 10 year old is still somewhat challenging, but only for me, everyone else seems to not have any issues:-). We spent a couple days at Disneyland, jumping back and forth to California Adventure also. As always it was a great time, weather was nice and cool and even had some rain one of the days, which made for short lines.

The Moment
After adventuring into Tomorrowland I saw that the Captain EO musical, starring Michael Jackson, was open again as a tribute to the King of Pop! My wife and I were both excited and decided the kids really needed to see this, it is in 3D, so that helped convince them it was necessary. About halfway through I did the check on the kids to see how they were liking the show and they were not to impressed. The 3D wasn't that great and the characters were very "baby" looking. They weren't even very impressed by the entire floor shaking! So I figured I would use it as a teachable moment and compare it to today's 3D films and how technology has allowed for major improvements with creating realistic experiences in theatre and compared it to the more modern Bug's Life show....I even tried to bridge the gap to the simulated rides like Soaring Over California and how things change with the evolution of technology.

The Stare
My kids gave me the blank stare for a number of reasons at that moment,
1. Why are we getting a lesson at Disneyland?
2. You know this is boring also, quit trying to make it more exciting than it is.
3. We can watch this on YouTube and could be on the Matterhorn right now.
4. We get how talented and creative Michael Jackson was.
5. The 3D Earth Song Tribute at the Grammy's was way cooler.
6. Your old, we understand things were boring when you were a kid.

The Picture
I think you get how things went with the Captain EO adventure. I chalk it up to a good experience for them, even if they were not impressed. They are dialed into how things were different when I was growing up, doesn't mean they want to give up their iTouch for an Atari 2600, but they understand.

As educators, administrators, tech staff, we need to think about experiences with our kids or students, and step back and ask ourselves if we are creating and supporting an environment that we grew up in, or one that our students today are living in. The picture is different in so many ways.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

7 Layer Dip

Amazing Dish
It is hard to resist getting together to celebrate a birthday, watch a sporting event, or have a barbecue with friends, because you
know someone is going to present their best 7 layer dip. We have all had them, some better than others, but almost all have the same basic ingredients. Occasionally you will get a "new" layer in there, but in the end it doesn't really change the result and you still have the traditional 7 layer dip.

Adding Technology
When we talk about adding technology to our classrooms we can create a new 7 layer dip, by simply adding a new layer to our existing practices, or create an entirely new dish that is nothing like the original. If we truly want to change the way that we currently do business and move towards a student centered classroom, we must move away from the practice of layering technology over our traditional style of teaching.

I recently read a blog post by Nick Sauers titled Message for publishers in which he shares a video he created for the Association of Educational Publishers conference. His video challenges publishers in the same way that schools are being called on to change.

I agree with Nick's challenge to the publishing companies, it is easy for them to simply move their existing textbooks to an electronic format. But simply moving the text to an electronic version will not transform the classroom or better prepare our students for today's world.

New Recipe
There is nothing easy about creating a new dish from scratch. Brainstorming ideas, gathering ingredients, learning new methods of mixing, cooking, and presenting, all are very challenging tasks. But when everything comes together, I believe we will end up with a brand new dish and the end result will be of far greater value to our students. Who knows, before long that old 7 layer dip may be nothing but a memory.

I would like to thank Nick Sauers for his post Message for publishers and the video he created. Also thanks to the How To Cook for Beginners website for their amazing 7 layer dip picture.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Collaboration Coach Celebration

College Readiness for All
The role of the collaboration coach in AJUSD's "College Readiness for All" plan is of great importance.

If we are going to support the above tiles and allow technology to be a disruptive piece of our district's environment that transforms the way we provide instruction, then we need support. It was very clear to myself and AJUSD's Technology Integration Specialist, Tracy Watanabe, that she would not be able to be all places at all times. Having strong, collaborative, respected teachers at all of our sites would be critical in supporting the College Readiness plan and also assist Tracy with promoting technology integration and the movement toward a student centered classroom.

Year One A Success!
Celebrating the end of the first full school year with the Collaboration coaches is something that I wanted to share. Each of the coaches has done an amazing job with integrating technology into their own classrooms, but more importantly, sharing their knowledge with others at their sites. That is not always an easy thing to do when discussing student centered scenarios and adding disruption to a traditional setting. I applaud them for their efforts as well as Tracy Watanabe for working so closely with the coaches, principals for giving the coaches the time necessary for training and sharing, and all Technology Department members for the technical support. Enjoy a few of the coaches creations below.

Elementary Collaboration Coaches from Shauna Hamman on Vimeo.

To view more of the coaching chronicles click here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Big Switch

In Trouble
We are nearing the end of our second year with Google Apps in my district and this summer we will be moving our adult users from Outlook to Gmail. I have been teaching classes for the past few weeks now, preparing users for the "big e-mail switch" and doing my best to make the transition as easy as possible for everyone. We are no different than any other school district, most users are open to the change, some a little nervous and a small percentage thinking that a natural disaster is sure to follow. What was interesting in a class of about 25 teachers last week, I asked how many of you already use Gmail for personal e-mail at home. About 15 people raised their hands and at that point, I figured I was in trouble as collectively, this group knows way more about this program than I do.

The Power
The class went on to be a great experience and I learned from them as much as I was able to share with them. The power in the room that day was the contributions and support from each individual. If there was a question asked, someone in the room already had an answer from previous Gmail experience or together, they quickly found the answer. Think how powerful groups of administrators, teachers, and departments could be if they shared their knowledge and strengths with one another. Collaboration is something that seems difficult for adults to do, stepping outside the walls of offices and classrooms to truly share expertise can be a challenge.

Support Change
Back to switching e-mail clients, which may seem tough for some, is nothing when compared to adding disruptive technology into an environment and changing the cultural of a school. Great leadership, supportive atmosphere, think professional learning communities with collaboration coaches, and the willingness to open the classroom doors, is part of the recipe for systematic change.

I am curious to what others have done to support change at their schools/district. If you have a story, please share with a comment. Thanks for reading!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Why Technology

Relevant, disruptive, engaging, efficient, changing....the list could go on. I very much stumbled into technology as a career path after creating a web page for Gold Canyon Elementary during my third year of teaching. It has been fascinating watching how quickly the world has changed and become a smaller place and how every day life is influenced by technology since then. The rate at which things change is what makes coming to work each and every day so exciting. It also makes for a challenging environment that traditionally is slower to accept change. I recently read a post on Tracy Watanabe's blog about the power of vision and she pointed out that cultural change starts with vision. I agree with her statement and would take that one step further and emphasize the need for strong leaders that can communicate the vision to their staff. A strong vision is just words on paper if not transformed into reality.

I want to thank Tracy Watanabe for her blog post "Power of Vision", and support of integrating technology in AJUSD.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Academic Calendar

Arizona State University announced sometime in January 2011, that they will be offering six learning blocks next Fall. Their academic calendars will allow students to take two sessions that are 7.5 weeks in length, as an alternative to the traditional 15-week semester. The summer schedule will offer students two 6-week sessions as an alternative to the full 8-week session. For a traditional college campus to offer this choice is a big shift, and places ASU among a small percentage of schools offering this type of academic calendar. I am certain there will be continued studies that speak to class length and the regularity in which they meet, but I am not sure that it will matter either way, as students want choice.

So how long will it take a non-traditional academic calendar to reach our K-12 schools? I think that is a difficult question to answer, but again, student choice will eventually demand the option. When we talk about choice, it seems like that has already arrived to an extent, public, charter, online, and now the "blended learning" environment. Of all the above choices, the blended learning environment will alter the traditional bell schedule the most. Blended learning can be defined in a number of ways, but simply put, it combines the mashing of different learning environments, with an online component being a key element. What the online piece will do is allow that portion of learning to be done at home, school, library, or any place with internet access. Kind of makes a traditional bell schedule and academic calendar feel a bit restrictive to the individual. As I mentioned before, there are different blended learning environments starting to show up, Carpe Diem in Yuma AZ, San Francisco Flex Academy, each have their own idea of a blended learning environment, and that is a positive piece that promotes innovation and change. I am not sure just yet what the ultimate blended learning environment would look like, but the days of a one size fits all system is drawing to a close in my opinion and personalizing an educational plan is going to be the norm.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wall of Change

How many times have you read the quote from Ronald Reagan's famous speech at the Berlin Wall in 1987, "tear down this wall," used as the lead in to a talk, article, or a number of blog posts? Probably a bunch, but it is affective for engaging audiences as it was a moment in history that brought change and freedom many thought was impossible. It also brought David Hasselhoff, in a flashing leather jacket, singing about freedom a couple years later while standing on top of the wall, but that is a separate issue. There are a number of historical events that led up to the fall of the wall and the end of the Soviet Union, but many will credit those famous words as the point of change. The question I have today is when are we going to hear another speech that will go down in history as the one that changed the face of education in the United States. The speech that defines the turning point to a system that has remained relatively unchanged for over 100 years.

I recently attended the Education Innovation Summit at ASU Sky Song. Twice in one day the question was asked when would we see real reform in public education and twice the answer was something to the affect of when schools financially hit rock bottom, then K-12 will be forced to change the current structure. There are many more opinions on education reform and what or when it will happen, but it causes me concern to think it will take a financial crisis to make meaningful change. One thing I do believe we can count on is that technology will play a key role in the transformation of schools, it will not be a silver bullet, but it will allow the environment to look different and cause disruption that will lead to change.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

That table sure is Smart!

Touchscreen technology has been around for quite some time, with IBM creating some of the first touchscreen devices in the late 60's. Restaurant employees have been using touchscreens for years to communicate with the back of the house and create that bill we all enjoy paying after a great meal. If you ask a student today about touchscreens, they will pull out their iPod or iPad and show us what a multi-touch device is capable of, kind of makes those card games that were placed in bars years ago look a little silly. A few years ago I came across a video on Microsoft's multi-touch table, this video is a little newer than the one I watched, but you will get the idea. About a year after seeing the multi-touch video I ran across the Smart Table at a conference. I quickly thought of the Microsoft table, however Smart (think Smart board) had primary age content loaded on the table. Fast forward a couple years and our district has purchased (with grant funds) 4 Smart Tables, that will be delivered tomorrow to Kindergarten classrooms at each elementary school. The Kindergarten teachers have received professional development on the basics of the tables and have future training scheduled on using the software provided with the tables to create their own content that is transferred to the tables using a usb flash drive. The tables are going to be a great addition to the classroom, and they are a very student centered device, which is where the technology should be, in the hands of the students.