The Power of Partnerships: Part Four

Some of the most meaningful partnerships will take years to fully be realized. In my first year as the Chief Technology Officer in Dublin Unified, I had the opportunity to work alongside the Director of Facilities Kim McNeely. In our first introductory meeting, we immediately hit it off as we discovered that we were approaching our work in very much the same way: a focus on students.

In many districts Facilities departments do not always collaborate with Technology departments on capital projects. More often than not, they rely on outside consultants and contractors to establish infrastructure needs and oversee all elements of installation and configuration. In Dublin Unified for the past 3+ years, this has not been the case.

Within my first year, I was able to participate on a charrettes (brainstorming process) which brought together key stakeholders around the community + educators to set the needs list for a new school. In that same first year we opened an elementary school while simultaneously planning the opening of another school that would be follow within three years. Coming aboard towards the end of one finished project and at the very beginning of another was invaluable opportunity.

I was granted full access to all Facility department stuff to ensure that we could meet Facilities needs in a timely fashion. Cross department budgets were created and followed with procedures put into place guaranteeing no overlap of effort. Ongoing open communication and pathways insured that milestones on the project were met by the Technology department. By having a voice and a seat at the table, Technology department staff were far more engaged and invested as projects progressed.

In the fourth part of the series on partnerships, I believe this example has been the most successful on the topic. If leaders across departments can sit at the table together, learn how to infuse their practice with in one another’s departments, and streamline needs, students win.

Working on tasks toward a common goal are not to be confused with partnering.  In a partnership, key staff will set aside time to build relationships, compromise often, and if really bold, take on some of one another’s duties.  Similar to a marriage right?  In it together, not along side one another.  I encourage you to establish partnerships with all departments in your district to better serve the needs of our very important customers: students.

Advertisements

What’s Your Intention?

I have been a district administrator for more than 14 years. In four different districts, I have been a part of systems change efforts with a variety of teams and skill levels. Every district, just like every school site, has its own unique culture. From office staff, to kitchen staff, noon duty supervisors, bus drivers, teachers, administrators, parents, community, board members, and students, the list of stakeholders can go on and on.

And yet, I have found the most effective way to guide my daily work is to be very clear about my intentions. I try to keep it very simple “Is this good for kids?”

Any member of any one of the stakeholder groups may say it’s not that simple. I have found in the many years wearing many different hats as a leader that for me it works very well. My intentions as I work my way through daily operations in the many special and challenging moments that occur during a school year and summer that being very mindful about who I am serving guides all of my decisions easily.

I work in education for students. That means on any given day my focus might be any member of the stakeholders mentioned above. And if I serve them well, students needs are met. I am a firm believer in the interconnectedness of all of us and our intentions.

Parents may say they have to make tough decisions for the children. There are moments as a district administrator that I make tough decisions for students. Any of the stakeholder may not believe in the moment that that is what is best for students, and yet I do my very best to try to meet their needs with students in mind.

It’s not always perfect, it’s rarely tidy and yet I believe by keeping it that simple that I am making a difference in students educational journey.

If you happen to be one of the lucky individuals that gets to work in education, and I really do mean that, what your intention? I want to challenge you to contemplate and reflect on what adds value to your daily Compass as you walk serving students. When all of us are clear about our intentions to serve students, our schools are highly effective in doing just that. Students win.

Leaders- Step Aside

I am a strong proponent of empowering staff. There are many low-cost opportunities to do just that. Let me focus on staff meetings. Often as leaders, we believe we have to guide the experience in the conversation by presenting a robust agenda, interactive experiences, and opportunities for conversation. I often try to challenge myself to provide opportunities in that same light but actually led by department staff, rather than myself. Professional development is an area that I often will empower department staff to partner with unlikely teammates and prepare and share concepts, best practices, key information technology skills, and new areas of thinking.

Recently, to staff in my department led professional development for our department meeting on the topic of MakeyMakey/Scratch for the Special Ed population. In a 45 minute timeframe, they created and led teams through some very robust skills at a high-level using the design thinking model. They determined the teams, brought the supplies, prepped all of the elements of the training, and then guided and supported the team through the professional development.

At the end of the timeframe, teams shared with department their projects and entertained questions. This professional development could have been delivered in any variety of ways. I personally could have delivered all of the concepts and led the department with the exact same structure. For myself as a professional, it was far more meaningful to empower my staff and actually be a participant amongst my department professionals.

Leaders: my question to you, in every leadership position that you hold, is when do you Step Aside?

“It Starts In IT”

Recently, I was listening to a CheckThisOut podcast and the statement was made “It starts in IT.” In the year 2017 schools are still struggling with technology integration. The notion that was presented by Brian Briggs was that in order to implement technology fully in classrooms related to hardware selection/management, “It starts in IT.” If your IT department does not have a level of comfort innovating you will find yourself extremely limited with what can occur in classrooms today.  IT departments in schools too often get stuck with the toolset they know and the tools they feel confident managing.

When I leave my own district and I’m out with teachers I still often hear, “We cannot access that, we’re told we can’t use that, and it’s blocked.” In 2017, we are still held at bay by our IT departments too often. I have been an IT professional for well over 20 years, and hearing this is still heartbreaking and often true.

My recommendation is that classroom teachers + parents + students rally and challenge administration to challenge IT. If you have IT professionals that lack the skillset to innovate or the will to innovate, there are ways that you can train them and educate them around the new value that they can offer just by being risk takers.

What devices are used-what standards are followed with projection and doc cameras and laptops and Chromebooks.  What operating systems are supported still drive classroom instruction. For IT departments that want to better meet the needs of their classroom teachers, there are very inexpensive ways to innovate without putting the organization at risk for potential intrusive challenges. There is a happy medium that we can reach with classroom teachers in IT. The willingness on the part of the IT staff has to be to give up a little bit of power and control. If you are in a position where you manage the IT staff, you can easily make it part of their evaluation.

In classrooms, to support teachers that want to innovate, IT departments have to evolve and innovate themselves. Yes we have to follow laws. Yes we have to follow industry standards. Yes it is easier to manage only one type of hardware. Does that best meet the needs of our classroom teachers, I say no. I challenge IT leaders to stretch their own thinking around how to best support classroom teachers.  If IT leaders are not “in classrooms”, they cannot see what a hindrance they are to learning.  Invite them into your rooms. Encourage them to observe.  Share this blog post and ask they reach out.  #cueadmin is full of innovative IT Leaders.  @CETPA has certified CTO’s that take courses in EdTech.  There are avenues. There are support mechanisms.  Nudge them.

Attended @EBMakerFaire 2017

I have been attending the East Bay Mini MakerFaire at the Park Day School in Oakland California for the last 4-5 years. This was the first year I experienced the event flying solo. It is very different to attend an event like this with my kids versus by myself. And walking around, I found myself more often than not struck by the enthusiasm and excitement levels of the kids then I was by the Makers themselves.

As a Chief Technology Officer in a medium size school district in the Bay Area I have an opportunity every day to infuse the Maker movement spirit into classrooms in small ways. I crowdsource a lot of information and share it out with the hope that teachers administrators and students will find nuggets among the resources.

Even though we are a mere 45 minutes from where the Maker movement sprouted as a magazine and then blossomed into an annual conference, there are still so many parents and educators in the area who have never heard of it. I have taken it as an opportunity to share my love and commitment to the Maker movement.

After 17+ years as an educator, I absolutely know there is no silver bullet. There are many approaches to achieving the learning objectives teachers, schools, and districts have with their students. The shift though, is a societal shift & classrooms need to modernize in order to remain relevant. No longer can we ignore technology, the impact of students that are creating content in their spare time, and curating content around passion projects. What historically had been a hobby or after school activity, must become integrated in the school day. Parents now have choice around where their children attend school and that also must be a consideration for our classrooms today, not tomorrow.

The spirit of the Maker movement does not mean high technology in classrooms. The spirit of the maker movement is instilling a sense of curiosity and risk in everything people do as part of the Maker movement. One of the most compelling examples I heard today was a Maker telling a young student to not worry about what it would look like at the end, but rather focus on the tactile and texture of the materials exploring what could be built. In classrooms, in small ways every day, teachers can do just that. To make the movement truly a cultural shift in schools, we must integrate it beyond pockets of excellence.

When I began teaching Maker projects with classroom teachers a number of years ago, my focus was to give them lesson plans and tools that they could deliver immediately with a level of comfort and that same sense of curiosity and exploration. In the past year, my shift has moved more towards administrators and parents in an effort to educate them about the value of the spirit of the maker movement in classrooms. I am hopeful that this new angle will instill the same sense of creativity and curiosity in them that I have seen bubble up in many teachers.  Wish me luck……..

Mincraft EDU: Fall 2017 Update

Update: I’ve watched districts all across the country struggle with how to use this new platform due to technical constraints requiring WIN10 and/or MACOSX means all of us with Chromebooks have to wait. It’s fall of 2017 and we’re still waiting.  I am 100% ready to go go speedracer once they make it Chrome agnostic & grosslt reduce the licensing fees.  & not without a technical work of magic with dumb terminals….

Blog Post Way back when….

Microsoft acquired Minecraft and made the announcement in December of 2015 & then Microsoft announced the acquisition of MinecraftEDU. They have rebranded it and it is now called Minecraft Education Edition (MinecraftEE).  For many of us in education that have invested in MinecraftEDU it begs the question, what now?

During the annual bett http://www.bettshow.com/ conference in the UK in 2016, Microsoft had a large booth set up and opportunities for people to explore MinecraftEE due out this summer worldwide. Sessions were offered and mentors were available to assist teachers and administrators alike in previewing the new version.
I followed the http://www.bettshow.com/ conference on Twitter and had an opportunity to ask a couple questions of key people at Microsoft. My first big question was what programming language is the new version of MinecraftEDU built on. MinecraftEE is built on C++. The current version of Minecraft and Minecraft EDU are both created in JAVA. What does this mean for education? C++ will be less of a beast to manage in IT departments. It still has yet to work on a Chromebook, but will work on tablets like the current PE (Pocket Edition) does.  With the new platform, there will be increased functionality and a new interface that will allow for personalization and student profiles.

Here’s the before and after for MinecraftEDU:

In the current version of MinecraftEDU, I can buy a license for $14. That license can be installed on the computer and have as many users as I would like to have rotate through that environment. The + for that is budget. The – is that students cannot save their local projects very easily  due to a lack of a unique signin.

In the new version of MinecraftEDU, I will spend five dollars per student annually. This new pricing structure, will be difficult for many districts if they want a districtwide utilization of this new tool. Students will login with the unique identifier and be able to keep all of their work under that credential. It will be interesting to see if this tool will work in a pure web-based interface or if there will be a need for a client install. We will know more on this topic. In the coming months. 

In the current version of MinecraftEDU, users can create custom mods that essentially modify the game. That part of Minecraft & MinecraftEDU has had great appeal with users as it feels very much like an open source community based application.

In the new version of MinecraftEDU, mods are not currently available. We will have to see once the platform is released how much control users will have at the code level. Can they modify the code and reimport like they can now? Will there be as much sharing in the Minecraft community that we currently see where there is no limits to the users creativity?

Many programmers will tell you that C++ is a far more reliable platform then JAVA. From a programming perspective and a user experience perspective, this may be an advantage. We will no once we have a chance to experience the new version.

 

For classrooms, schools, and districts that are considering MinecraftEE need to weigh the pros and cons for the budget, the ease of use, and a comparison of the functionality prior to making a decision. In my district, I have essentially 100 licenses of the current version. Beginning this summer, Minecraft EE will be available to my district for free for one year.

 

 My strategy is to continue to use the current version (MinecraftEDU), and compare it to the new version (MinecraftEE) prior to making the budget decision to move all students to the more expensive version of MinecraftEDU. I feel confident within a year our students will tell us which platform they prefer. The Microsoft version of MinecraftEDU is going to be a more expensive deployment then the current version of MinecraftEDU. Budget will not be my main data factor, but it should be yours if you are brand new to the tool and considering the deployment in the next year. Check back for updates as the story unfolds. In the meantime, happy world building in Minecraft EDU.