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.