Educational Tranformation

Setting the table for technology adoption

Technology coaches all know that heading back to school begins a bustling period of activity as we work to support the technology needs of students and teachers. Classrooms that have been dismantled for summer cleaning are wrought with disconnected or misconnected cables, misplaced remotes and adapters, and accompany high anxiety as teachers attempt to get up and running with technology on the first few days of school.  Obviously this is not the high leverage instructional work that tech coaches aim for when working with teachers; setting up technology is simply a necessary evil to truly begin to use the medium in which we help to shape teaching and learning.

For me, this year feels different, though. While plugging in cables and re-connecting cords is a staple of the work, my first few weeks have been filled with really meaningful connections with teachers asking for support in practices that climb to the highest reaches of the SAMR framework. Teachers are asking me to support them as they try to use technology to record student goal setting, offer students immediate feedback, track and utilize formative data from teacher/student conferences, and having students create to showcase their understanding. It feels as if we have somehow turned the corner as an organization and are finally at a point where the question isn't, "What's possible with technology?", but instead is "How do I make my vision reality using technology?" 

While it is hard to pinpoint what the secret ingredients are to begin to make the shift that I am seeing in my district, there are a few key items that we have employed in our district that play a critical role.

Teachers Empowered to Self-Manage Technology

Our teachers update their own technology. They install their own software. They maintain their devices and troubleshoot many of their own problems (with the support of our help desk when necessary). We have created an environment of self-sufficiency for our staff, and in doing so, we have empowered teachers to be self-starters, taking ownership of their essential tools, rather than viewing them as the district's responsibility.

Reliable and Ubiquitous Technology

Our Technology Director once stated, "Wireless internet access should be as reliable for students and teachers as electricity. When we turn on the lights, we are only surprised when they do not illuminate. The same should be true of our digital tools." He has delivered on that promise in many ways throughout our district, and in turn teachers who may have otherwise avoided technology because it is "unreliable" have overcome a major barrier to technology adoption. Further, it does not matter where you are located within our system. The technology is present, supported, and consistent. Learning how to AirPlay in one location on one network is a skill that our teachers can transfer to any location in our district. Apps available in one building are available in a building they transfer to the next year. This creates a sense of stability and reliability that urges use of these tools.

Consistency of Tools

 Holding back the swell of new tools and updates in the world of instructional tech is a weighty and sometimes overwhelming proposition. We have worked diligently to do exactly that, choosing a few high quality (and somewhat costly) tools over a plethora of free or free-for-now type tools that are all abuzz across social networks. The payoff has been a toolset that staff members continually hear of, learn about, and see in action. The consistent messaging around and availability of these tools has offered teachers and students an opportunity to use the tools meaningfully, to get better in their use of the tools, and to apply the tool in new situations for new purposes. The self-discipline it has taken our team to not jump every time we have heard about an impressive new tool is hard to imagine. We get as excited by these tools as every other tech geek, but knowing that consistency is the key to helping teachers achieve their instructional goals makes it easy to say, "Let's hold off on that one for now."

SAMR as a Framework

While Instructional Tech experts can get buried deep in the weeds of frameworks and terminology, the reality is that many educators struggle to develop a consistent vision of how technology can be used most meaningfully and effectively in their classrooms. In our district we have promoted understanding of the SAMR framework with our teachers and leaders. We have done so to provide a common, easy-to-grasp language that helps all educators to define when technology is used well to support learning, and to encourage conversations and questions when it is not being used well. The SAMR framework has empowered district and building leaders, who may not always feel confident in their ability to utilize the wide variety of technology they see in a day, to ask instructionally focused questions (with the support of the SAMR framework as a guide) to determine if the tool is supporting the instructional mission and goal. Having that framework evens the playing field for all educators and re-centers the conversation on the teaching and learning, not on the tool being used. I am hearing more talk about the SAMR framework organically this year than I could have ever imagined. That is an indication that educators in our system are finding it a valuable tool for talking about what we are doing with tech, and that is exciting and powerful!

Availability of Support

Support is essential to growth, but it is also expensive. No district ever says, "I think we have too many people supporting this work." However, plenty say, "We do not have enough support, but we don't have the financial means to add more support." While more people may be desirable, improving the support that is available is the only immediate solution. The addition of a truly positive, supportive and compassionate Help Desk attendant was a game changer in our district. The re-districting of the support team that we did have to balance school numbers and staff sizes was a necessary shift. Incorporating tools like Google Chat, Google Hangouts, and Autocrat for speedy automated responses has provided a sense of immediacy to requests when they do come in. We have not been able to grow our support team, but the data we collect in our district suggests that people feel more supported when they use technology. This correlates directly with our intentional decision to improve the support we do offer to staff. And feeling supported is the first step to removing barriers to risk taking for staff members who are nervous to give new tools a try.

 

None of these things on their own were silver bullet solutions to the challenges of technology adoption in the classroom. More honestly, these were slow changes that we intentionally engaged in and supported as a team. Consistency was the larger key, though. These were core beliefs of the technology and coaching teams, and as such we have not wavered in these key tenets. Over time, and with consistency, these are the types of actions that have shifted beliefs, culture, and practice in our district, setting the table for meaningful technology adoption by staff members and students.

Going Public: Yes, people are eager to read and view!

It was not long ago that the only way anybody would know about the powerful, amazing, creative work happening in our classrooms was if they would physically talk to  us.  While face-to-face connections are powerful, the ideas shared in those conversations only spread as far as the humans wish to take them.

 

Many of us have at least signed up for a social network like Google+ or Twitter, but are we really leveraging it to share our work, our students thinking, and our classrooms with the world?  Should we be?

 

A few weeks ago I spoke with a parent that was very impressed with one of the videos she found on an SDW teacher's YouTube channel.  "It is so nice to see what is happening in the classroom."  As a parent myself, it feels like the events of my children's school days are somewhat of a mystery -- 8 hours of school summed up into a ten minute conversation hardly seems to cover the scope of what they experienced throughout the day.  Parents are looking for some insight into what their children experience each day and the important work they are doing. Using these social networks and media outlets to share what is happening in our classroom is just one way we can offer parents a chance to investigate the great things that are happening instructionally.

 

Equally true, educators are scouring these social networks for ideas and examples of what is being done in other classrooms.  I regularly search the archives of Google+ to see how we, as educators, are "going public" with our thinking, using the tools placed in our hands, and giving our students a voice that can be shared with the world.  This was one of the great focal points of our summer institute work surrounding literacy -- giving students an authentic audience to share their thinking (making it visible).  Like it or not, we carry this responsibility.  Our students have plenty of opportunities to share "socially" with the world in informal settings online.  This is our chance to show them how to productively use these media outlets to share academically, professionally, formally, and respectfully in order to make a difference!

 

Finding a new, authentic audience is not as time consuming as it once was -- we no longer have to gather an audience of parents or community/business leaders in advance, or make connections with teachers from across the country weeks before the unit of study.  

 

These social networks are bringing an audience right to us.  The devices in our hands, available in our classrooms, are built specifically with the intent of sharing with these audiences.

 

The question is not about who will read our thinking or view our students' work.  

 

More importantly the question is:  What will you and your students share?  How will you "Go Public" with your thinking?

I Am Tech Fluent. Are You?

In his last post on Getting Tech Into Ed, Dale asked readers when we can stop treating technology like it is an add-on to our work as educators.  The point is well made and has caused me to reflect on why this "tech first" mindset dominates the conversation when we talk about innovation and new instructional practices.

My experience as a student learning Spanish fits well here.  I took four years of Spanish in high school. I even spent two weeks in Mexico surrounded by native Spanish speakers.  Yet, when I arrived to college and realized I had to take Spanish to earn my teaching degree, I freaked out.  I knew very well that I could not understand, speak, read, or write Spanish.  I bombed my introductory Spanish class and narrowly escaped my summer re-take of the exact same course.  (This, by the way, is NOT reflective of my academic story in any other coursework I completed.)

How is it that I could have invested that much time into learning a language and yet walked away with nothing more than a dwarfed vocabulary of random words and a few notable catch phrases that I probably am not using in the appropriate context?

The reality is I was not striving to become fluent in Spanish. My goal was simply to pass; to jump through the hoops to get to my goal of going on a trip, graduating, and earning a degree.  The Spanish coursework was simply a stepping stone to where I wanted to be, not an opportunity to learn a second language, grow culturally, and open an avenue for communicating with a whole world of people who speak a language other than English.

 

Something in the answer to this question ties closely to my thoughts on why so many educators struggle to move beyond the view of technology as an add-on to educating students.  

Learning to utilize technology for any purpose, including for instructional use, can be a lot like that learning a foreign langague.  In our district we spend a significant amount of time sharing the SAMR Framework with our teachers.  We celebrate movement and growth as it relates to the use of technology to push innovative instructional practice in the classroom.  However, the use of technology for the sake of using technology (categorized as Substitution in SAMR) is not a practice or mindset we encourage teachers to commit to long-term.  Using technology to do things you could very well do without technology is a necessary first step, a place where the journey to more meaningful uses of technology begins. (Kind of like learning to say things to friends in Spanish that I could just as easily say to them in our native language wasn't the real purpose for learning the language.)

It is in the Substitution and early Augmentation phases where users become increasingly "tech fluent."  They start building basic vocabulary, exploring the structure of software and apps, developing confidence, finding some minor successes, and asking questions about what is possible.  They begin to learn lessons of what works and what to avoid when it comes to using technology.  They begin to experience the early advantages of their commitment to become fluent in the language.

This stage of learning a new language or skill set is delicate.  This is where patience, support, and guidance become so important.  It is in these early stages where technology users can gain momentum or lose a sense of purpose entirely.  This is the point where we can help people to see that once they become proficient in their use of technology (as well as their willingness to take risks and try new practices), the possibilities are boundless for them and their students.  It is also the point where we can allow them to flounder, lose focus, and begin to view the use of technology as just another way to do what they have always done.

In this light, I acknowledge that my acquisition of a second language has been stunted in Substitution for well over a decade.  By this point in my journey I should be fluently conversing with parents and students in my district who are English Language Learners.  I should be confidently planning trips to Spanish speaking nations with little concern about a language barrier.  I am not doing this today, though, because I did not commit to meaningfully learning the basics so that I could access the full advantages of being fluent.

In a world where technology has impacted every facet of life, where opportunity and possibility have few limits for those who are fluent in the use of technology, and where the use of technology is flooding academic institutions and experiences across the world, what will your story of "tech fluency" be in just a few years?  If you invest the time to learn to meaningfully use the technology today, what possibilities will exist for you and your students once you have "learned the language?"  It is worth the investment of time and energy today, but not for the purpose of jumping through hoops or fulfilling PD requirements.  Instead, make the investment because you and your students deserve to have all of the amazing educational opportunities that exist (both with and without the use of technology).

In making this commitment, find supportive people who will aid you in your journey.  If you do, I guarantee that  in relatively short order you will become "tech fluent" and you will be able to see well beyond the technology.  You will instead start focusing entirely on what matters and what we all care most about: student learning!

 

 

Quick Turn Around: Already Reaping Key Benefits of Attending Google Summit


 

We were fortunate to send a team of 30 educators from across Waukesha to the Google Midwest Summit 2013.  This talented group, made up of educators and coordinators from across the district, was nominated  by building administrators to make the trip.

 

As always, aside from finding inspiration and adding some new tools to our bag of tricks, the focus is about bringing the message and learning of the power of these tools back to our colleagues and students in Waukesha.  We are so pleased to see this happening already, and we wanted to highlight the headway these attendees have made in the week that they have been back since the conference took place.

 

 

  • Using the YouTube editor, one attendee was able to capture a magical moment as one of our students with unique challenges at the elementary level demonstrated incredible growth since her teachers began working with her in fall.  Through the use of the YouTube editor (learned about at the conference), the teacher was able to pinpoint key moments during the student's performance that highlighted each learning target (something that could easily be overlooked without the context)
  • Inspired by the wealth of digital tools that are available and the necessity to simply put the information learned at the conference to use, one teacher/attendee is making a commitment to attempting the use of Blackboard in several classes as a means of getting started.  This is a risk that the teacher has embraced because of inspiration gained from networking with other motivated educators at the Summit.
  • One teacher/attendee has already set up the first Google Hangout (utilizing Google+) to connect with colleagues across the district without having to schedule an after school meeting and spend time driving across town.  The goal is to gain greater efficiency while staying connected.
  • Using the Google+ social network, one attendee has set up a Google+ community at his school and is actively recruiting teachers in the building to join in order to have a common sharing/social place in which to share ideas, articles, resources, etc.  As educators feel the constraints and demands of time, the use of a community like this maintains our connection with others, develops a platform in which we can share and collaboratively learn/reflect, and does so in a way that is asynchronous, meaning it is accessible to teachers when they are ready to digest the information available there.
  • Several attendees are actively talking about how to share their gained knowledge at upcoming professional development dates to spread the wealth of inspiration and information to a much wider group of colleagues.

This in no way captures all of the momentum sparked by sending attendees to this and other conferences, but it gives us perspective on what becomes possible when people are inspired with new ideas and introduced to powerful tools!  Remember, it has been literally less than a week since these folks have returned to the district.

 

We encourage you to connect with the representative from your building to pick their brain, hear more about the conference, and get inspired.  However, they are not the only source of knowledge.

 

Resources for the entire conference, for nearly every session presented, are available here:  https://sites.google.com/site/gapsmidwestsummit/2013-ses

Midwest Google Summit

We encourage you to take a look and dig in.  These resources are a generous gift provided by the conference presenters to any instructor who may have wished to attend the Summit but were unable to.

Get Connected -- It's Connected Educator Month!

For as many people as a teacher comes into contact with during the day, anybody who has been in the classroom knows that teachers can often feel very isolated from other professionals.


Much of it has to do with the physical design of our school buildings. Much to do with the logistical design of our school day.  Part of it is that so much of our day is spent with and preparing for our students that little time (or energy) is left to connect with other adults in meaningful ways.
During this month, we want to raise awareness, though, that you don't have to go it alone!  Make this the moment when you intentionally reach out to others to connect professionally.  Ask a question.  Share an experience or a practice.  Offer advice, or seek it.  The world is more connected today than ever, and the beauty is that those connections are more flexible and adaptable than ever before!  Connect when you have time or can fit it into your schedule.  There are so many of us who slip these connections in just before bed, or at a late hour when we are up thinking about "educator issues" that just won't let us drift off to sleep.  Maybe that's a moment when you can commit to giving it a try without worry of trying to fit another thing into an already packed day.
Remember the old adage, "Many hands make light work."  Never have there been more connected educators willing to throw in to a fellow educator (albeit an absolute stranger) for the good of the cause.  For those of us who have reached out and started connecting, it's amazing how rejuvenated, supported, and, well, connected you feel to others in your profession, and also, beyond your school walls.  The perspective gained can be empowering and enlightening!

Where to Start?

There are SO MANY great places to start, but being Connected Educator month, one resource I'd love to point out the Connected Educator website.  From book clubs to events to discussion groups, you'll find it all here.  The beauty is that you'll find others who have taken the step forward to become a more connected educator, meaning you'll find people with the same goal of reaching out and trying new things.
On this site you'll also find an amazing tool -- the edConnectr.  After a few minutes of inputting my personal educational interests, areas of educational expertise, and topics I'd like to connect with others on, it put forward a graph of other connected educators I may want to connect with, and as much personal contact information as the person was willing to include. 
Take a look at my graph at right.  

Each pin represents a person or group that I can connect with to start a conversation.  Upon review, I knew a few of these names, but many were local people that I have not yet met.
Perhaps it is time for you to create an edConnectr graph, just to see who there is to connect with.  Take it one step further, and challenge yourself to reach out and connect with somebody, just to try something new and to begin connecting yourself as an educator.

So go on -- give it a whirl, make a personal commitment, and see if you can get connected this month.  
And yes...these resources came to me from people I have connected with in my own Personal/Professional Learning Networks -- and it is THESE relationships that have made getting connected such a value added to my professional life!  Thank you to all of you who I have been able to connect with over the past 8 years!  It has been an absolute life changing experience for me.

You Can't Teach Advanced Use of Technology

In today's world, educators tend to take more than their fair share of abuse from the general public, from lawmakers, and even from parents and students. So, when I get a chance to boast of the talents and dedication of the wonderful teachers that I have an opportunity to work with, I take it.

One thing I have always known about my colleagues in education is that we are among the most resourceful and creative professionals that anyone can imagine.  As a profession, we are tasked to do an incredibly important job, often without the budget or resources to do that job with ease (I'm talking about the budget of an individual classroom teacher here).  Yet, we almost always find a way to get the job done within the budget we are given.  This is just one way we demonstrate how creative and resourceful we are (even though it most often goes unnoticed).

Those two skills, resourcefulness and creativity, are essential tools in all aspects of a teacher's world, including the meaningful incorporation of technology.

 

Last week I started my first session in a three week session on "Advanced Google Use in the Classroom." The name happened naturally and probably without enough consideration.  We have a Beginner's Guide to Using Google course, and we needed to offer the next level of that.  The Advanced Google Use course was born.

However, advanced use is an absolute misnomer.  I have really thought about this, and I just can't come up with a clear definition or an outline of what Advanced Google Apps use actually is.  I can come up with examples of how Google Apps can be used in a more complex way, or for more interesting outcomes, but I just cannot put my finger on what I would teach in a course titled "Advanced Google Use in the Classroom" that would be all that much different than what we are teaching in the beginner's level course.

That is likely a sign of the perfect design of the tool set.  Google Apps (like other well designed platforms) is easy to use.  The skills learned and used in one tool are often closely related to skills you would use in another tool.  That quality is probably at the heart of my argument.  Once I've taught somebody the concept of sharing (which is truly a beginner level skill in the world of Google Apps), it applies everywhere.  Once I've taught them about the auto-generated URLs of all documents in Drive, that skill wraps neatly into every other tool.  The same is true of image manipulation, text editing, and even embedding (perhaps a "slightly" more advanced skill, but even that I question).

However, there is significant difference between the way a "beginning" Google Apps user interacts with the Google tools, and the way a more "advanced" Google user utilizes the tools.  

If the skills needed to function both as a beginner and an advanced user are nearly the same (and yes, I get that somebody who knows how to script in Spreadsheets has a far more advanced skill than we would teach beginners...that's about the best example I can come up with of a truly advanced skill), the delineation between these two uses has to exist within something the user brings to the experience.

Pinpointing what that special something is might not be as hard as it seems.  There seem to be two key elements that a more advanced user has that a beginning user does not.

1. Platform-wide Thinking Related to Product Design

When a user begins to understand how the platform is built, how the tools are inter-related, and how the tools can interact to create a desired "effect," the user can begin to manipulate the tools in a way that they weren't initially intended or that the beginner may not be able to see as possible.

2. Creativity

Once the platform tools are understood, the user can begin to imagine what could be possible, running mental "experiments" on the way tools will perform together before actually developing the final product. In this way, the use is creatively considering what problem needs to be solved or what need must be met, and then developing a way to resolve that issue or meet that need with the

tool set in front of them.

To be honest, this seems to be the advantage that our young people (our "digital natives") have over adults (the "digital immigrants").  They tend to see the inter-relatedness of these products because they have not experienced a world where design wasn't a consideration in the end user experience.  They have an expectation that the tools work together, and as a result, they do not have to put much emphasis on first understanding the platform.

With that said, it seems apparent to me that our emphasis needs to be on teaching our "beginners" not only how the products we teach them to use work, but how they are designed to work together.  It also seems to me that if we find products that are not designed to work together, we consider if they are a product that is truly necessary in our environment, and if not necessary, we consider removing the product.  As Technology Coaches/Coordinators/Integrators, our systems level knowledge of how tools work together mandates us to help remove the hurdle of poorly designed technology from educational environments for the betterment of all!

Once we help our newest users begin to build an understanding of how tools and platforms work together, I know that we will not have to teach "Advanced Tech Use" courses to teachers.  They will begin to apply skills that most teachers have learned, developed, and honed innately -- their resourcefulness and creativity.  That's the moment I am most excited to see in the teachers that I work with, because that is the moment when all of the frustration and stress about using technology clears and a moment of realization and clarity takes its place.  That's the moment they become "advanced" technology users because its the point where the journey stops being about the technology and re-focuses on teaching and learning!

Taking basic skills and turning them into masterful performances is driven by creativity and resourcefulness.

 

A Teachable Moment: Helping Students to Understand Permanence of the Digital Age

Surprised parents and staff members have been emailing me this week with a concern.  Googling the keywords of our school district's name provides some information about the district along with an image that represents members of our student body, but not in the positive or academic light most of us might hope.

 

While there is a larger issue here of the district being improperly and unfairly represented in the public eye (we are presently working on a solution to this issue as we want the district positively and accurately represented for the meaningful teaching and learning that happens here), there is something we can use in this event to assist in a meaningful conversation with students and families.

 

With services like SnapChat and Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook, sharing with the world is easier than ever before.  Especially with some of these services, but true for all, users often confuse the ability to instantaneously share with the world with the appropriateness of doing so.  Add to that the sense of anonymity, the tidal wave of information that is being shared worldwide (as in "everybody is doing it"), and the false "promise" of the information existing only in the short term (services like InstaGram allow users to post to the world, but in very short intervals, as in 10-15 seconds, before the post is removed).

 

However, as so many of us are aware of, the truth is that once data is captured and posted in a public forum (and the Internet is a public forum), even if only for a few seconds, the potential exists for that data to live forever.

 

This is exactly how the image that presently represents our district in a Google search (not a decision consciously made by anybody in the district, by Google itself, but simply a result of an algorithm written and a change in the way Google presents information for ease of viewing), an image of some young people captured in a dance position while at a school dance that may have made them blush had their parents been present, came to be.  It seems to have been captured and shared online, likely by a student interested in updating others on the fun of the evening.  It probably didn't get much attention immediately.  However, it was picked up in a story by a local news outlet about the appropriateness of student behavior at dances (not just our students...students across the area).  That seems to have gained some traction with viewers, and the image has been viewed many times by many people.  That moved the status of the image up in Google's search rankings.  When the Google Knowledge Graph was created and launched publicly, the ranking of that image, coupled with the search term of our school's name, resulted in the "marriage" of the district's online reputation with a student's behavior at a moment in time.  Something the students likely had not considered or even imagined in that moment.

 

As unfortunate as any of this may be, there is a teachable moment in this.  In a digital world, our actions (both online and in real life) do not have the promise of privacy.  While we may (or may not) disagree with this reality, it is still, in fact, a reality.  This week's headlines about the availability of private digital data possibly available to government entities supports this reality.

 

Students need to hear that message -- in a digital world, our actions (both online and in real life) do not have the promise of privacy.  They need to be engaged in the conversation.  They need to consider how that information may positively or negatively impact them in the present and in the future.  These are all meaningful discussions that we, as educators, cannot be afraid to engage in.  Even if we are not technically savvy enough to know all of the latest digital tools, sites, trends, and methods.  We have life experience enough to talk about the value of students holding themselves to a standard that they (and their families and communities) deem appropriate.  We have life experience enough to talk about how decisions made in a weak moment today can forever impact our futures.  This doesn't require knowledge about technology -- let the kids bring that knowledge and experience to the conversation.  Instead, it takes us actively talking with kids and caring about their lives today, and in the future.  And we do care!

 

That is the teachable moment in this.