Sunday, November 24, 2019

Round 2

I hope you enjoyed Round 1 and took some time to do a
bit of reflecting. For another perspective on the benefits of
reflection, take a listen to John Maxwell and his take on
reflection turning experience into insight. Enjoy round 2!

Communication Systems
Usually the answer you hear when someone poses the
question how can our organization be better, is
communication needs to be improved. It is important to remember that communication is a two way street. You can't force someone to listen to your communication, but you should do your best to provide communication in a number of ways
that reaches your community.

The GPS Marketing and Communication team is a small 
but powerful group that has put in place a number of tools 
that allow the district, departments, and schools to 
communicate with stakeholders on a large scale. Besides 
a newly implemented website that is constructed to be the 
one source of truth for the parents and community, it also 
includes a messaging system that disseminates information 
via e-mail and text to parents and guardians. Each school also has tools to distribute site information through online newsletters and teachers can directly communicate 
via e-mail with parents and guardians through the district 
student information system. Each school has the ability to 
use these tools as they choose and decide what works best 
for their community.  From an IT perspective, the biggest challenge with any communication system is parent and guardian support. It is challenging to assist these groups on devices not owned by the district. The schools and Technology Services do their best to assist so that these communications reach them. Our help desk staff is also great at assisting with most issues.

Data Governance
Data governance is a very relevant topic at this time with protecting
user data from unauthorized access, proper data agreements with
third party resources, and educating users on the importance of
protecting their information from non trusted sources.

User data for any organization should be protected using best practice methods and continually reviewed for any needed adjustments. Districts should not hesitate to work with outside consultants for assistance in maintaining these best practices and configuration setups. Staying connected with cybersecurity organizations for the latest information on know vulnerabilities, updating all systems, and educating end users is critical for staying protected from threats. 

Data Access
The GPS Accountability and Assessment department works closely with all GPS schools in assisting them on how to best use collected data to guide instruction and improvement. District and state-level assessment information is reviewed in the department, presented at the Cabinet and school leadership level and used as a tool in discussion around increasing and shaping possible strategies for student improvement. Our Technology Services Information Systems team has built an internal database that assessment data can be imported along with other student demographic information. We have recently begun using a data analytics tools to build visualizations based on the needs of stakeholders. This allows for years of data to be looked at in a visually pleasing format and easy studying of trends based on different areas of selection. 

Ethics and Policies
One very notable piece of federal legislation passed in 2000 by Congress 
is the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). “CIPA imposes certain 
requirements on schools or libraries that receive discounts for Internet 
access or internal connections through the E-rate program – a program 
that makes certain communications services and products more 
affordable for eligible schools and libraries. In early 2001, the FCC issued 
rules implementing CIPA and provided updates to those rules in 2011.” 
GPS takes part in the E-rate program and provides content filtering to 
protect our students as best we can. 
The GPS Technology Services team feels we have an obligation to provide a Digital 
Citizenship curriculum to all students in GPS. We have partnered with 
Common Sense Media to provide an extensive curriculum for our teachers 
to use with our students K-12 and it is an expectation that this is done each 
year. Technology Services has also partnered this school year with the 
GPS K-12 Prevention Coordinator, who oversees the district 
social workers and counselors who assist our schools with the digital 
citizenship program. We feel as a district that the social and emotional 
well-being of our students is a priority and aspects of technology including
social media can often play a part in that area. 

Promising Technology Ahead
I always find the what's the next big thing question difficult to answer, so I
did appreciate this heading.

AZ Computer Science Standards-this will provide the roadmap needed for actual implementation in K-12 schools. The challenge, although not insurmountable, is teacher understanding and development and how computational thinking can be used across the curriculum. 

Learning models-It still seems there are struggles with different learning models due to the structure of the school funding system. GPS Global Academy is being creative with a couple of unique blended learning models and the outcomes are promising. The structure of bell schedules and traditional practices are still somewhat of a barrier in my opinion.

Artificial intelligence-AI and machine learning have crept into most 
aspects of our lives when it comes to determining our next purchase 
or what political flavor society falls into. It remains to be seen how 
this technology will benefit the K-12 learning environment so 
we can catch areas of needed remediation or enrichment for our 
students. This topic will also continue to bring into the spotlight the
ethical questions behind the technology.

Next Round...
Each one of the topics from round 1 and 2 could be stand alone discussions that would easily fill a page. It was a good exercise to put these thoughts down on paper, think a bit deeper about them, and find celebrations and areas that could use improvement. With the intention not to sound like a broken record, I will state again, without taking the time to give serious thought to our daily decisions and practice, improving them will be difficult and the same results will be achieved. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Round 1

If there is one constant over the years that I have found most valuable for growth and improvement is reflection. Without taking the time to give serious thought to our daily decisions and practice, improving them will be difficult and the same results will be achieved.

Over the years I have been asked to answer questions around technology for peers working on their higher education degrees. The questions are usually similar enough that It is enjoyable to look back and see how my answers have changed and also create a blog post out of it, cause why not. I am going to split this one up as it was quite lengthy, enjoy!

Leadership and Vision
The biggest hurdle to developing a shared vision for technology use in today’s K-12 landscape is the divide between the Teaching and Learning and Information Technology departments. Historically the goals of these two areas have not been communicated to one another and the communication breakdown will lead to a lack of understanding of what is important for planning a meaningful and effective path for technology integration and a safe online learning environment for users. 
In Gilbert Public Schools we have an organizational chart that
allows for all-district departments to be represented at the Cabinet-level
including the Teaching and Learning and Information Technology
departments. Having the Executive Directors and Assistant Superintendents at the table allows for each area to be represented, communicate their needs and understand the importance of the IT side to ensure a safe network, protect student and staff data, and provide support to meet strategic plan goals.

Gilbert Public Schools has created a strategic operating plan that has technology e
mbedded to achieve the ultimate goal of, success for all students. Each area of focus, safe and supportive schools, family and community engagement, employee excellence, and financial and operational efficiency all have goals and action items in place that are measured to monitor progress and allow for modification when needed.

Technology is embedded in each of these areas but is only a small piece of supporting our student’s success. Ultimately, it is the relationship between teachers and students and the support provided by leadership that will allow us to measure the true success of the plan.  

Team Building and Staffing The same philosophy that applies at the district level for cross-functional departments is necessary within an Informational Technology team structure. The rapid rate of change that takes place with technology is difficult to communicate at times and does lead to issues with bringing awareness to end-users. In the GPS Technology Services department, there are 5 internal teams to include: IT Customer Care Specialists, Information Systems, Network and Telecommunications, Systems Administration, and Instructional Technology. Each leader of these areas plus a Project Specialist make up the Technology services leadership team. The Executive Director of Technology meets weekly in a formal meeting with the team and daily on an informal basis. This team is responsible for working closely with one another to ensure Technology Services is working collaboratively to support GPS. One example of this would be the leadership team working with one another to coordinate occasional cross-functional team meetings. They create an agenda around issues happening with end-users, ways to address them and share other problems or successes happening in the field. 

GPS Technology Services has also established a userXperience team that meets regularly to discuss and make decisions on existing and future implementations, device functions and features, updates, and other variables as it relates to the end-users in GPS. This group has representation from all Technology Services departments and is important to our end user’s success with implementations and integrations that impact the daily function of staff and students. We have been able to make changes and roll back changes based on the feedback they bring to the table representing each area of the department. 
      Instructional Focus and Professional Development
Bringing awareness to all staff members around emerging technologies and potential issues to protect the network and data is on-going. I agree with the philosophy of leading from the middle and that everyone is a leader regardless of their position. We encourage all Technology Services staff to share ideas, emerging technologies they see and support to everyone around them. Our Instructional Technology team works closely with site Principals to present at staff meetings, meet one on one with teachers, attend grade-level meetings, share a weekly newsletter and any other form of communication that leads to awareness. 

Another example from the department level is our yearly awareness campaign around Computer Science Week. For the last three years, the Technology Services department has provided support around CS by providing professional development activities, meet-ups, video campaigns, and support for our teachers to bring CS into their classrooms. 

There is not a one size fits all approach with learning and the same applies to the technology that can support the educational outcomes our teachers want for our students. 

Round 2
Thanks for taking the time to read a bit on what started as assisting a friend with their doctorate assignment to gaining a little glimpse of how we do things in Technology Services. There is not any secret sauce being served up here, just a good group of individuals working together for students. See you soon for Round 2. 

Friday, June 14, 2019

Wrap IT Up!

There is always buzz at conferences when certain people are scheduled to speak and Cisco Live was no exception. This having been my first time in attendance I wasn't aware of some of the names being talked about at the snack stations, but a couple names continually came in conversation, one being Guillermo Diaz, SVP.CIO of Cisco. The ITM hall was filled when Guillermo took the stage for his "Harnessing the Power of Transformation and Why it's Good for Business and You" presentation. Guillermo is not an overly exaggerated bouncing around the stage kind of presenter, but quite the opposite. He has a very calm demeanor with what appears to be a genuine personality. Change and digital transformation continued to be the on-going topic and Guillermo and his guest speakers provided more takeaways worth noting below.

  • IT is at the foundation of any business
  • Change will happen by us, with us, to us
  • Change is changing
  • Digital transformation is the #1 thought of every manufacturer in the world
  • 3% of the Cisco manufacturing budget is spent on sustained transformation and experimentation
  • Transformation is not an event, but a perpetual leadership task
Each of the takeaways I have listed above could be broken down, discussed, and written about for quite some time. Take a little time to process and decide what they have in common, how do they relate to you as a leader, and your organization.

Captain Mike
The last keynote for the IT Management group was Captain Michael Abrashoff, motivational speaker and former commander of the USS Benfold. Michael is definitely an amazing speaker with a quick wit and experiences that are very relatable and inspirational. I quickly found common ground when he made a statement about getting caught up in trying to change things not in our control. He used an example that he could have blamed the Navy for giving him command of the lowest ranked ship in the fleet, but he knew that if things were going to change, he had to focus on what was in the crew and his control.
Often when things are difficult or in disarray we get caught up into looking for something or someone to blame things on, instead, look inward, evaluate, and focus.  
  • Transformation is about putting yourself in the right position to control your own destiny
  • Engage people to have the same sense of urgency as you have
  • Provide sense of ownership
  • Stop obsessing over what you can't change
  • No one is a born leader, it's a lifelong journey
  • Excellent without arrogance
  • It's your ship (you'll have to read his book for this one ;)

Cisco Live A++
I had a great week at my first Cisco Live event and have many takeaways from both the product side and the leadership track. Combining both areas and learning about the operating strategies and road map of a 50 billion dollar company was educational and highly recommended. I look forward to the continued partnership with Cisco and our journey in Gilbert Public Schools with the implementation of Webex collaboration tools, transformation in the making. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

World of Solutions

Ask Chuck!
Another exciting start on Tuesday with Chuck Robbins, Chairman & CEO of Cisco Systems, having an exclusive Q&A with the ITM group. Many CEO's of organizations as large as Cisco would shy away from this type of situation, but he did not, and answered all questions directly. His answers were filled with great takeaways, here are a few.
  •  Find some place you love and work there
  • If you want people to believe in the destination, they have to believe in you today
  • Leaders are responsible for making sure the right strategy is built, then reverse the org chart and support the team

Cognitive Collaboration
I'm sure you are wondering if the day two keynote gathering started off with an amazing series of music and lights and the short answer is yes. If every gathering of employees could start off with this same pre-show, your staff morale would definitely improve :). However the light show wasn't the main reason, I was interested in listening to Amy Chang, the SVP/GM of Collaboration for Cisco Systems. One of the challenges in K-12 education in my view is finding ways for teachers to easily get out of the four walls of their classroom and connect with other educators, attend professional development, and collaborate efficiently. Gilbert Public Schools is beginning to implement Webex and the changes and integrations are of great interest right now to provide our end users the best experience possible. Amy is a dynamic speaker, has great energy and provided valuable information on the roadmap for Webex. I appreciated her statement that her team is building bridges not islands, as it reinforces my broken record phrase I like to use with my team, you can not be an island as it keeps growth from happening.   

The Abyss
If you have attended any large conference you have visited the sponsor area that can be overwhelming and often intimidating as you try not to make eye contact with the sea of vendors. I found the World of Solutions to be a nice mix of vendors and Cisco product area demonstrations and talks. I was able to speak with Google about their future Webex integration that will be key for our organization. Being a G Suite for education district, the integration with Webex would greatly enhance the collaboration ability for our teachers and staff. Another area of great interest is with Cisco's Room Kit products and a nice demonstration was done to highlight some of the capabilities. I also walked out with a couple pairs of socks, how can you go wrong!

Monday, June 10, 2019


"You Make Possible"
My first day at Cisco Live was off to a great start with arriving for the opening keynote from Chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems, Chuck Robbins, to an exciting setup using what else but technology to choreograph music and lights to hype the crowd. Shortly into his address, he made the statement, "technology is at the heart of everything", which is hard to disagree with. A  number of top Cisco leaders spoke on different areas during the keynote presentation including enterprise networking, IoT, innovation in DNA center, and how AI and ML will assist with the complexity in our networks.

"Pace of Change"
As the day has quickly rolled on, the IT Management track fired up and has been filled with thought provoking sessions and speakers. One in particular that I enjoyed was Susan Gueli, SVP/CIO of Infrastructure & Operations and Digital Transformation & Enterprise Applications for Nationwide. She started with discussing the exponential pace of change by using a grain of rice example, which says to take a checkerboard and start with two grains of ride and double every other square and after 64 squares, she threw out a number I can't even pronounce, but let's just say you have lots of rice. It puts into perspective the challenges in front of us as we deal with the rapid pace that technology continues to change our landscape. Another takeaway from Susan's talk that I appreciated was "focus first on what you know, not what you don't know". Her point was to let what you know propel you forward and tackle the "what you don't know" along the way.

Girl Power
A first for Cisco Live was a group of high school girls from Arizona's Paradise Valley School District presenting on cyber security. Their knowledge and wisdom was very evident and one of the girls comments on how it is going to take the perspective from more than just one group of individuals to solve problems was very profound.   

Employee Tenure
The last session I attended today was Leading Talent in the Digital Age, presented by Steve Cadigan, Talent Expert, Collaborated End Users. Steve's a great public speaker and was very engaging in his delivery and content. His shared examples of today's workforce and the challenges with employee tenure were relevant and informative. One of Steve's examples of retaining employees was a company that reversed the bring your child to work day and instead had a bring your parents to work day. Think about that for a moment, he said the companies retention went up.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

First BBQ: Cisco Live

This year will be my first visit to Cisco Livc, taking place in cool San Diego, California! Although the dry AZ heat has not fully kicked in yet, the thermometer has been on the rise and it is always nice to visit any city on the coast. As you have probably already deduced from the post title, this is my first time attending Cisco Live and from what I have been told, it is a fun filled learning experience that should not be missed. 

The Track
Having attended ISTE for many years, another very large conference with more of an educational technology focus, I understand how easy it is to spend time aimlessly walking around lost if you don't have somewhat of a plan. Instead of spending endless hours looking through the session catalog I was given a tip to sign up for the IT Management Track as a starting point. This turned out to be a great piece of advice as the schedule actually fell very in line with sessions I would have chosen. The session filter has also been beneficial in filtering by category and allowing me to find collaboration and security sessions that I am interested in for this maiden voyage to the event. 

Keep Posted
I am going to do my best to post a daily update from the event as a way to do that quick reflection that is key to getting the most out of any event or professional development. With the enormous amount of content being presented this week, it is easy to be exposed to much and remember little, so use a system that works for you. 
In the short time I have been here I have already had the opportunity to build my very own lego dude, that is a sign of great things to come. #clus @CiscoLive 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Password Envy

Marco Verch CC By 2.0

You guessed it, "123456" is the most commonly used password of 2017, followed by "password" in the runner-up spot. SplashData releases their annual list of the worst passwords based on their collection of over 5 million passwords leaked by hackers, according to a Fortune article posted in December of 2017. Although the 2017 list has been out for a while, it hardly changes from year to year and the struggle to educate users on a good password seems to never go away.

How Often?
Another piece of the password puzzle that is open for debate is how often should we change our passwords. A little research will show that best practices have moved over the years from every 30 days to 90 days and most recently in a released document by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, are recommending the removal of periodic password change requirements. Is it better to never require a password change or require frequent password changes that lead to habits that ultimately make our passwords meaningless? We all know the quickest way to retrieve a password in an office or classroom setting is to first check for the sticky note under the keyboard or in the top drawer of the desk. One step better is when the password is written in Sharpie on the bottom of the keyboard, and if there is a requirement to change passwords often, the previous passwords are crossed out with the newest in plain sight.

Passphrase or Password?
Another practice that NIST recommends moving away from is complex passwords with multiple special characters and number combinations. Extending the number of characters to 64 and encouraging the use of a passphrase to make it easier for the user to remember a passphrase unique to them. I agree with the logic behind this recommendation, however, it must be accompanied with some basic rules to ensure that the passphrase isn't easily compromised by context clues around the user's desk or office. A quote on the wall or a sticky note with my favorite animal in the desk drawer can still be a give away for someone physically looking for a password.

CC BY-NC 2.0 Duncan C
Weakest Link
There are numerous studies that show people are the weakest links in cybersecurity breaches. Generic passwords, standard new user account passwords, not having a way to require global password changes, and the lack of password education are all areas that we need to address. Each area has its own unique set of challenges but starting with our organization's users will provide a strong front line of defense in the cybersecurity battle. Don't wait, have the conversation today!