Thursday, December 13, 2012

Food For Thought

It's Lunch Time
Do you ever notice that lunch conversation quite often is just another opportunity to talk about work stuff. It is tough sometimes to turn off the switch in the middle of the day for an hour and conversation inevitably stays on work. In my post F5, I talked about IT stress, burnout, and it being difficult to shut down at the end of the day, so should we be concerned about lunchtime?


Good Question
It is a good question, but a tough question to answer from a director's view. Often the best time to collaborate is over a good meal in a relaxing setting, so why change the conversation? A couple months ago we were discussing how to communicate the day to day information that is so critical for an IT department. Each day something new is discovered that can improve the end users experience, but often we are busy and don't find the time to e-mail, blog, or just talk about these things.

Make It A Date
A long time veteran of our IT department, Lonnie Trotter, suggested that we get together once a week at lunch time for an informal lunch gathering to chat about day to day happenings. Everyone can bring their lunch of choice, no formal agenda, and share anything that they feel is important for others to know. Since it is a "working" lunch, that hour is taken off the end of the day and another positive layer of communication has been added to the week.

Keep It Simple
You are probably thinking to yourself, so what. Working lunches, morning coffee, there are a number of ways to informally gather staffs together to chat, but how often do those go by the wayside when things get busy. The difficult task is finding the time and staying consistent with promoting positive collaboration within teams. Keeping it simple and not creating a multilayer approach to most situations usually yields the best results in my experience. If it takes rocket science to figure out how to communicate with one another, there may be other issues.

So, how does your team find time to stay in touch with the valuable day to day information that is critical for an IT department. The more collaborating the better, so please share. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Making Connections

Common Ground
Finding common ground with our students and peers can be a challenge for a variety of reasons. It takes a great amount energy to learn personality types, find common interests and quite honestly be around others that are the complete opposite of ourselves. This is part of life however and great leaders, teachers, schools and communities will rise to this challenge and work hard to create relationships that allow them to be successful.

Classroom Connection
Making connections in the classroom with students is something every teacher works on daily. Walking into a classroom and observing a teacher who connects with each student is truly amazing and takes a special person. A high school teacher in the AJUSD where I work, shared an e-mail about her experience with her son while waiting in line to purchase Halo 4 recently.  I wanted to share her experience as it really sheds light into a world of technology that is just one more way to make connections with many of today's students.

Last night I got to spend seven lovely hours with a subculture of humans in a context that I had never been in....I got to camp out in front of  a Game Stop in a line filled with mostly male teens (and some not so young) with my youngest son waiting to buy the new version of a computer game which came out at midnight (we didn't get our copy until 2 AM)..  I fit in with these "gamers" as perfectly as a biker would at a knitting contest. I have seriously never ever played a computer game (unless you count PacMan in the 80's a couple of times). These typical kids like we see everyday, which we have to drag information from and shove motivation into, were gabbing (yes, actually communicating with expressive tones) for the entire seven hours! They were talking about the new game coming out, the new uniforms on the characters, the battles they had fought, the strategies they had used and were planning to use, the levels they had gone through, the goals they had for the new Halo 4, the expectations they had, the disappointments they'd experienced with the last Halo, the manner in which they would change the game if they were the designer, the gamers they had "met" on line, the best gamers, the worst gamers, their "battlefield" experiences, the planets they had visited, the weapons they would design...and on and on.....there were a lot of words and concepts in there that sounded like total neologisms to me.  The words "giddy with excitement" kept coming to mind... However, it hit me that this was their world.  I was being allowed a peak into it.  Then my brain cells must have started functioning again because I started to realize the potential that was in front of us as educators. If these kids were asked to write, debate, publicly share, design, create, explain, read about, plan, goal set or ANYTHING involving their computer games, I KNOW they would do an amazing job's my thought to any of you out there who are struggling to reach some of those kids that don't really seem to have much to say or couldn't care less about the subject matter in class or couldn't care less about anything at all.....maybe you want to try approaching it from a gaming standpoint???  Go into their world for a little bit and see what's in there.  I was truly impressed with the critical thinking that I was hearing while in line but I do think it is worth a try....and as educators, trying strategies seems to be what we do everyday to try to reach some of these kids.

Melissa Mel
Special Education Teacher
Apache Junction High School

At the end of the day we all know relationships will determine how successful we are in the classroom with our students. Finding common ground through the gaming world is just one way, but a different way that often we as adults my overlook or dismiss. Being an educator involves being in touch with what our students are doing outside of the classroom and we must explore their world. I leave you with a quote from Ms. Mel, "Go into their world for a little bit and see what's in there".

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Let me preface the use of "F5" up front by saying that I am using the term in a PC kind of way. Like when you lose network connection on your PC and hit F5 to restore your desktop icons, or when your browser doesn't refresh and you hit F5 to reload the page. With that being said, I am sure that we have all hit the F5 button before at some point, and it actually is refreshing when it does its thing.

IT Stress
Stress in the IT field has been studied for some time and there is no doubt that as technology becomes more infused in our classrooms, the need to keep things up and running increases. Throw in 1:1 programs, multiple types of devices and the need for a robust network to handle the ever growing amount of internet traffic and you have an IT staff that is always on the go. It is the exciting and ever changing landscape that makes being in IT so much fun, but sometimes it is hard to shut down at the end of the day.
Stress Management
A quick search will return 100's of ideas and even a few really strange techniques to reduce stress. Although I would pass on the extreme techniques of reducing stress, I did find a post titled, Stress Management Tips for IT Professionals. It is a few years old and the stress management tips could probably apply to any profession, but felt it was worth including their 8 tips to help reduce stress. To read the full description of each tip, visit the full article here.

1. Change perspective
2. Breathe
3. Meditate 
4. Get a life
5. Manage your time
6. Talk it out
7. Reduce uncertainty
8. Take control

Burn Out
I have always kind of thought the old rock star saying, it is better to burn out than fade away, made sense, but I don't think burning out at work is what they were talking about. With the amount of data coming at us and the need for 100% up time, the IT profession can definitely burn a person out in a short amount of time. Remember that staying on top of your game means staying healthy and there is nothing wrong with hitting that F5 button! 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Get Out!

The Best
You have the best staff ever, great relationships, hard working, solid plan, and you see the great things they do on a daily basis. So is there a need to tell the world how great they are...I say yes. Sharing your staff with your district, community, and others helps build relationships. Communicating the accomplishments and hard work that is going on everyday in my department also helps generate conversation with stakeholders and allows an opportunity to hear their thoughts and ideas that provides another perspective. Here are a few ways that I like to share with others what is happening in the AJUSD Technology Department.

The Board
Sharing information with your school board should be top priority for any CIO/CTO/Director. Support from the school board is necessary for just about everything that happens in a school district and building a relationship with them is important. Often it is only the administration that has contact with board members, so sharing your staff and their accomplishments makes that connection. I understand every districts' procedures and communications with their board is different,
but suggesting a little time at a board meeting to your superintendent may be a start.

Social Media

A little over a year ago I wrote about the "Social Hurricane" and how this medium of communication can be overwhelming, but worth the effort to get into the game. With little surprise, social media has continued to grow, and as a leader you can not ignore the importance of an online presence. The great thing about sites such as Facebook and Twitter is the ability to not only share what your staff is doing, but showcase what the entire district staff is up to. Many districts however are still nervous about jumping into the social media scene, but this is where your influence as a CIO/CTO/Director can lead from the middle. Take the time to research what other districts are doing and present examples to your administrative team. Discuss how social media will allow their schools to quickly disseminate information and promote just how great their staff is by sharing classroom and school events!

#1 Resource
Good leaders know how important their people are to a successful organization, many leaders have stated in a variety of ways that people are a leaders number one resource. One principal that I work with in AJUSD, Larry LaPrise, has a gift for promoting his staff in a variety of ways. Mr. LaPrise is always speaking of his staff and their successes on his campus, he is very aware that employees often leave their jobs not because they aren't happy with their pay, but the lack of recognition. So get out there and talk up your staff today!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Hey Apple!

Good Stuff
I like Mac's as much as I like PC's, each have their strengths and I use both on a daily basis. When it comes to tablets however, my personal preference is still the iPad. I am not going to get all Apple fanatical about it, but there are many reasons I feel they are great devices. However one area of frustration I have had with the iPad is syncing multiple iPads in my school district. We have 18 Bretford Powersync carts that hold 30 iPads each and allow charging and syncing to all 30 iPads simultaneously. The carts are used at 4 elementary and one jr. high school and after a year of use, I needed to reflect and come up with a better plan for the new school year.

Go iPads
The carts are primarily used in the K-3 classrooms and shared between rooms, which opens up the way each school has decided to manage them. The positive of not bringing in the devices and trying to dictate how the devices can be checked out or rotated has allowed each school to be creative with their plans. Initial training with Tony Vincent was a great introduction for teachers to see how the devices can be used for creation and not just as a "station" in the classroom. Our Special Education department has also used the iPads and a variety of specific communication apps to open up opportunities for a number of students. I feel we are in the early stages of realizing what the devices can do and look forward to seeing how our teachers use them again this year in their classrooms.

Train Wreck
Moving from 10 iPads as a pilot to 13 carts in one year brought a number of challenges. The Bretford carts worked great, but at the time there wasn't a way to efficiently sync 30 iPads at once without mass confusion, and the only option through Apple was iTunes. I thought it would be a no brainer to sync all the carts using one MacBook and one Apple ID. Let's just say that if you can do this and your are successful, you are a genius and my hat is off to you. For me, it was a gigantic train wreck that I will spare you the details, but iTunes was created for the individual and not the classroom, so I understand.  The question when reflecting on the situation was how could a more efficient approach allow the teachers freedom to still download apps that they decide are right for their students/curriculum and not have it become a giant mess? It also has to be a solution that can be managed by the teachers and not rely on tech services.

Let's Try It
After many hours of talking with peers, co-workers, Apple, etc., we have decided to use Apple Configurator. Turns out I wasn't the only one banging my head against the wall trying to manage multiple iPads and Apple decided to try and create a solution that would possibly meet the needs of many in the same boat. We have bought MacBook Airs for each of our carts and I have managed to setup 5 new carts with Configurator, ready to roll them out and see how it goes. Each cart will now be shared by a grade level and the 4 teachers will have to colloborate on app management using Configurator after I provide basic training.

Share It
I will definitely make it a point to do a follow up once things are rolling and all 18 carts have been setup with their MacBook and Configurator. In the meantime, please feel free to share any helpful tricks and tips you may have found with multiple iPad syncing, the more collaboration the better!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Iceberg Dead Ahead
Bad Idea
It is probably a bad idea to really compare any situation to the Titanic, cause at the end of the day, we all know how tragic that ended. So let me start with a little different situation that still has to do with water and small boats, not gigantic ocean liners. About 10 years ago my wife and I had a personal watercraft (which I will refer to as a pw from here forward) and our friends had a boat, so on the weekends we would spend time at the lake. One of the best things to do, although not to safe, was to spray the boat and soak everyone with the pw. You could accomplish this by moving quickly at the side of the boat, turning hard and gassing the heck out of the pw. Our friend who owned the boat was on the pw one weekend and was going to pay me back for all the soakings I had dished out. So he came quickly at the boat and we knew we were in for it, but instead of the pw turning at the last second when he turned the handlebars, the pw kept going straight and he ran right into the side of the boat. Luckily nobody was hurt, but I don't think he ever took a turn on the pw again. I will get back to this story a bit later....

Turn The Ship
The Titanic is a great math problem that I just don't have the skills to figure out, but I get the idea that it takes a lot of space to turn something that is so large. School districts, schools, even departments can often feel like a massive ocean liner bearing down on something that they just can't maneuver around quick enough, and once the iceberg is struck, forward momentum is lost. Often I think that we see the iceberg with plenty of time to avoid the impact, but the thought of turning the ship causes many to shut down the engines, take their foot off the pedal. This choice can lead to doing the "same old thing" not innovating, becoming stagnant. Every organization has reasons that keep them moving forward, always seeking new ways to do things, improving practices, creating better learning environment for their students. How does your organization keep forward momentum?

Walt Disney was very big on curiosity leading to new ideas, dreaming big, and always moving forward. "We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new path." Walt Disney
Power On
Every day there are icebergs in our lives that we must maneuver around to avoid a disaster and sitting idol in one place is not going to move us forward. The reason for the long story above about the pw and the boat was to point out that if he had just kept the gas on, he would have made the turn, sprayed everyone in the boat and accomplished his goal. The second he left off the gas, there was no power moving out the back of the pw which is what allows it to make the turn, and the boat became an iceberg. So keep the power on, maneuver around the obstacles and continue moving forward!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Time To Reflect

Time Time Time
Time is one of those things that we never seem to have enough of and it flies by like a supersonic jet! Each school year seems to be getting shorter and shorter or maybe it is because I am getting older, I mean wiser. At any rate, reflection is a very important piece of our daily lives and critical to our success. This past school year there has been a number of experiences that I have reflected upon and would like to share a couple. Please feel free to provide feedback on your experiences also, it helps to read about how others are processing and dealing with similar situations.
There are many exciting initiatives going on in my district, but finishing the first complete school year in which our 7th and 8th graders were taking their devices to and from school has brought mixed emotions for me. Educationally, our teachers and students have done an amazing job with the transition and I am looking forward to reviewing this years test scores when they are made available. On the technical side of things, there were a few bumps and even though our local area network connections are robust, our Internet connection is a bit lacking. But those things can be worked on and the 1:1 technician, Mr. Frahm, has done a great job. Not only has he kept the student devices in running order, but the students all know just how important it is to have a great technician on campus to assist them when needed.

One of the difficult pieces for me personally has been the number of devices that have been dropped over the last year. When comparing numbers with other 1:1 programs our overall device loss is within reason, but damage due to dropping seems higher than I would prefer. Here is where I would appreciate some feedback, the devices are not being dropped at school, it is when they are outside the campus. We know this because when at school, the rule is the device stays in the provided carrying case when opened. Little plug for Higher Ground cases, they can pop open the case in seconds and the device never has to be removed, protecting it from a fall. So the question is how to continue working on educating the students to care for their device when away from school?

Collaboration Coaches
Earlier this month a new group of teachers met and began their journey together as the third new group of AJUSD collaboration coaches. Our district's Technology Integration Specialist, Tracy Watanabe, has done an amazing job with building our collaboration coaching program and in my opinion, coaches are key to a successful campus. Watanabe does a great job of explaining how collaboration coaches have worked together in our district to bring 21st century learning skills into our classrooms, click here. A bit of reflection on this topic makes on thing clear to me, I need to spend more time in the coaches classrooms and sitting in on collaboration meetings this fall. Experiencing the relationship building and the sharing of ideas among these professionals is truly inspiring.

Thanks to gbuffet
Take A Moment
Often we become so consumed with planning for the summer or that next big project, we forget to reflect on what we have already done, what worked well, what failed, how we can incorporate prior knowledge into future planning. I only shared two of many experiences that I needed to reflect upon before the busy summer months began, unfortunately time often flies by like that jet I mentioned earlier. Being focused is important, but so is reflection, take a moment, find a quiet place for some inward thinking and call it a day.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Kindergarten Classes Rock!

Big K
What is it with kindergarten classrooms being so warm and inviting? From the moment I walk into most kindergarten classrooms I want to run to all the different areas of the room and plop down on the floor and play.....or should I say learn.

Kindergarten classrooms are setup in such a way that just screams collaboration and student centered learning! You will be hard pressed to find rows of desks or a hands off environment. So why is it that first grade classrooms look a little different and by second grade the rows of desks start realigning and by third grade things are looking more like a high school classroom than the inviting kindergarten classroom that seems to foster creativity and exploration? I am being a bit extreme of course, but the vibe of the kindergarten classroom is definitely missing as our students move through the K-12 system and just maybe the idea of how we setup a classroom can go a long way in creating a student centered environment.

Look At It
I was recently speaking with a principal of a 9-12, 1:1 program, and asked them what they expect their classrooms to look like. Their answer was, "a kindergarten classroom," of course you won't find an ABC train across the front wall, but the open and inviting learning atmosphere where evidence of small group instruction and multiple styles of learning are taking place is what they look for.

Build One
So where does one start in building a learning environment that resembles a kindergarten classroom? Maybe a traditional computer lab, with those 20th century rows, would make a good room for a makeover. The computer lab has been morphing into a more collaborative space since the days of the Apple IIe and with space being an issue at many schools, these rooms are often overlooked as being a solution in building a non-threatening place to promote a modern learning environment. For an example of a lab transformation, take a look at what they have done at Verrado Middle School in Litchfield, AZ.

Straight Rows 
There are times when straight rows may be necessary, they make watering crops easier or quickly finding a particular product in a grocery store more convenient. However rows are restrictive and don't create that warm and inviting atmosphere that make you want to plop down on the floor and learn. No matter what grade you teach, if you have a few minutes, stop into a kindergarten classroom and take a look at the room setup, listen to the sounds, and take notice of all the learning that is taking place.  

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Been A While

Been A While
courtesy of Arndt Nollau
It has been quite some time since my last post, a little over three months actually. I would imagine that is probably a bit to long in between posts, but the inspiration to write has been lacking. In my opinion, it is probably better to take a break than force something that just isn't there. Lacking the motivation to blog is not any different than becoming stagnant with other things in life, even in the workplace, where there are numerous things to keep us busy. So how do we stay motivated, inspired, full of enough energy to keep innovating and moving forward at work or anywhere for that matter?

courtesy of Bjorn Hermans
Get Out...
of the four walls of that office or classroom and start building your personal learning network! The greatest source of inspiration for me comes from others that I am connected too. It can be virtual connections or face to face, but sharing thoughts, ideas, and opinions with others will contribute to your professional development and knowledge. And (not sure that is grammatically correct), we all need support, information in today's world comes at such a rapid pace it is impossible to keep up without a network.

Where Do I Start?

The first step in any new adventure is the hardest part, but let's just be honest with ourselves here, you are not climbing a 500 ft. cliff without a rope, or walking a tightrope with no safety net, you are looking for individuals that share a common denominator. If in a classroom or office, prop your door open and say hi to your colleagues as they pass by, maybe they will drop in and you can talk about what they have planned for the day. Jump into the Social Hurricane and build your PLN virtually through social media. Find a group that is outside of your school walls but maybe local in your state (AzTea, AZ CIO/CTO, @azk12) or venture out to the national organizations (ISTE, COSN, TLN)!

Big Thanks

I want to thank the AZ CIO/CTO group for being a big part of my PLN. The passionate, diverse, thought provoking contributions by this great group has been very helpful in building my professional development and knowledge. The recent activity on the list serv is what inspired me to get back to my blog, thanks all.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Creative Juices

Take A Moment
It is hard to ignore the countless articles, blogs, tweets, etc. about creativity being lost in our school system these days. To some extent I don't disagree we are putting certain practices in place that can be stifling to the creativity that our students possess. But take a moment and reflect on what we have accomplished as a nation and where we are at. Yes we have many issues that can seem depressing at times, but in my opinion, we still have incredible schools, many opportunities, and creative citizens sharing and working with people around the globe!
courtesy of

I am currently participating in a book study with the ISTE SIGAdmin group, reading the book, "The Flat World and Education." There is mention in the book about Singapore's educational reform and their focus on creativity and innovation, what grabbed my attention was a response by one of the SIGAdmin members about this program.

What is even more interesting is that the "training" the teachers are receiving is being done by, (you'll never believe it), teachers from the United States. True! A very dear friend of mine "commutes" to Singapore monthly to work with 240 teachers for 10 days a month in one of their training programs. my friend says that "the teachers are marvelous and "she returns quite inspired each month." -Becky

As a nation, we should be proud that many countries still turn to the United States for training, observation, and ideas, on how to educate their students to become creative and innovative thinkers. But how do we keep creativity and innovation in the classrooms, many think it is already gone others on the way out?

Keep Them Flowing
So where does technology fit into the puzzle with developing creators and how do we keep the creative juices flowing? As I always like to point out, we must keep the focus on "good teaching" and not the shiny object, and I recently read a grant proposal that stood out as an example of this. Robert Jones, a English teacher in Tempe, AZ, is having his students create Android apps that they will use to review and synthesize literature. The students will then make the apps available to download on their Android tablets or other compatible devices. The project has what I feel are all the right pieces that support innovation and creation in the classroom and the English content standards were the foundation when the project based activity was designed.

courtesy of
Another technology device that I am amazed with is the 3D printer. Maybe it is just a shiny object that is distracting to me personally, but it seems like the device has a tremendous amount of potential to be used in schools. What better way to incorporate essential standards into a project based activity and actually be able to build a product, literally have it appear right in front of you. I learned about the Makerbot, an affordable 3D printer, from John Miller, Tech Director at Litchfield Elementary, last year. After showing a video of the device to my son, he immediately wanted one so he could make armies of Lego characters and blocks for stopmotion movies. Can only imagine how I could have used this in the classroom many years ago.

Looking Ahead
Developing creative and innovative students is important for any society to be successful and should be a priority around the world. Great things come from new, success, personal satisfaction, and the understanding that if something isn't working, innovate and make it better. I hope that as a nation we do not lose sight of what has worked in the past, continue to evolve so we are relevant in the present, and develop creators to lead us into the future.