Leadership: What Office Space can Teach us about Leadership.

Yeah…..I’m going to have to ask you to go ahead and do that…… Many of us remember the classic Office Space, and many of us remember the horrendous work environment that drove Peter out of his job.  Bill Lumbergh is that boss that most would dread.  He’s sarcastic, dry, devoid of personality, and doesn’t much care about his employees.

DON’T BE A BILL LUMBERGH!!!!!

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When we talk about leadership, none of us want to be a Bill Lumbergh.  He stands for everything a leader is not.  He struts the office making sure people are doing what they are supposed to.  Offering little in the way of feedback and support and using his title and position as a means for getting people to do what he says.

Now entering my second year as a technology leader in my school, I wanted to take a renewed approach to the first couple of weeks.  Last year as a first year Tech Admin.  my priorities were to just not mess anything up.  Plain in simple I was more afraid of making mistakes then anything else.  Reflecting on this mindset bothered me, a lot.  It was important to me this year to take a different approach.

A simple question like “how are you?” is a great start.  Everyone is stressed out for the first couple weeks of school, and another scowl is the last thing anyone wants to see.  Saying “how are you?” means you care, and that you want to engage with other people.  That question followed by “Is there anything I can help with?”  is the next question.  Again, everyone is stressed and leaders look to support those they work with at every turn.  Last, but certainly not least, is listen.  Just being an ear to bend may be all someone needs to get through the day, or think through a problem.

I know I’m not perfect, but this year I’m hoping to be a better leader and in order to do that it’s not about how many leaps I take, it’s about the taking a lot of small steps towards lifting up others.

 

A Little Less Conversation; A little More Action Please

It’s the hook on my favorite Elvis song.  I remember first hearing it watching a Nike soccer commercial and playing it over and over and over again.  The video was great but it was this catchy one line that I always remembered, and would eventually fit so nicely as the title of this blog post.

For someone who couldn’t play two notes on any instrument, music plays an interesting part in my life.  I seem to connect on a very deep level despite my shortcomings when it comes to musical talents.  Music has that ability; the ability to tap into our feelings and emotions at any given moment and really strike a chord (pun intended).  The hook to this Elvis hit, nails my feelings towards the educational scene at the moment.  Head to any social network at the moment and you will find many examples of knowledge, tips, suggestions, or catchy one liners.  Though these micro-bites may provide you with a great new resource, an interesting read or conversation, or a bit of inspiration when your down, they do little to actually advance the work of educating our youth.

I am certainly no stranger to spending time on social media and drinking the Kool Aid.  It’s easy to spend time in the echo chamber and sound like you are making the difference.  The only problem is that talking the talk doesn’t mean you’re walking the walk.  That is not to say educators should spend time collaborating and communicating via social media platforms, but rather there needs to be a balance between the theoretical and the practical.  After spending a lot of time learning, communicating and growing through the use of social media and various web sources it’s time for a little less conversation and a little more action.

It is critical that we don’t not stop sharing the work that we do.  Sharing is an excellent tool for reflection and the rapid spread of knowledge through channels like Twitter means that good ideas move faster.  My argument here is that at some point we all must get our heads out of the clouds and get down in the dirt.

As the new year approaches I am laser focused on executing on much of what I have learned through the web.  That being said, with our school heading deeper into our digital transformation, my colleague and I, have set about redeveloping our professional learning pedagogy.  As we move towards student-centered learning we must model these expectations through our own professional learning.  This shift in our PD is designed to provide teachers the chance explore new topics and implement these ideas into their classroom instruction.  Coupled with the development of computer enhanced pedagogies, our classroom presence is meant to serve in a coaching capacity so as to better support teacher development and technology integration.  Beyond the classroom I am very excited to begin my work towards my doctorate specifically for the opportunity to engage others in conversation and work that will help promote my understanding of schools processes, learning trends, and in general developing stronger leadership skills.

This year for me is about a having a little less conversation and a little more action.  What learning are you going to integrate and implement into your work as an educator this year?

Creativity: The Currency of 21st Century

I finally been able to carve out some time and space to catch up on some professional reading in the past couple of weeks.  I’ve picked up many articles, white papers, reports, and a book that came recommend from several sources via twitter called “The Originals.”  This post is just a quick reflection of some of that reading, which I would like to elaborate further on in the coming weeks.

From blended learning to STEAM to interoperability, though the topics were all education focused they covered a wide variety of topics.  Somewhere along the line I began to see a pattern among these stories, which ultimately tie back into the book that I am reading at this time, and that is the importance of creativity.  The ability to think creatively is not just important, it is a linchpin to maintaining a leading edge in the 21st century.  I’m probably not the first, nor the last to make this claim, but I want to provide some context to this statement so as to better explain my positioning, and opinion on how we can approach making this skill a foundation of all learning opportunities.

The 20th century, across much of the world, was marked by industrialization.  Small mom and pop shops fell the wayside of assembly line technologies.  The improved technology and processes that help create bountiful markets throughout the world were driven on very different principles than those of today.  Assembly line work required workers to have just enough understanding and know how in the areas of reading, writing, and math in order to complete perscripted and repetitive tasks.  Compliance was the hallmark of effective workers of the day, and it was necessary or could even be seen as dangerous to provide workers autonomy.

The idea of compliance runs counter to what many would describe as the future of work.  Autonomy, inter and intra personal skills, and creative thinking are some of the skills cited by many studies and polls from leading businesses worldwide.  So what is driving this change?  This infographic created by Inc. Magazine outlines what they believe are some of the major change agents.  In particular, technology has created an interconnected world that requires a new set of skills once not relevant or non-existent for the workplace.  The ability of technology to augment our human capabilities and capacities means much of what we know about intelligence will change.  It stands to reason that this shift would mean much of the future of work will be shaped by how we can creatively leverage technology and create new forms of intelligence.

With no end in sight to the rise of technology and machine learning, preparing our students to leverage technology is critical.   How can we provide opportunity for our students to leverage technology in our classrooms?  What space are we providing for teachers and students to grow and experiment with creative solutions to challenging problems?

 

 

Collective Impact

As the month of May approaches schools and all the stakeholders within are met with a slew of emotions, thoughts, and feelings.   Personally, I find myself looking forward to the ability to begin to planning for next school year.  Having a year in the books in my new position has afforded me countless opportunities to learn and grow, and one area in particular that has garnered a large bit of interest is the idea of collective impact.  In other words how can small contributions by all have a larger impact  student achievement academically, socially, and emotionally.

Traditional education has segmented much of the education process over the last 60, 70, 80 years.  The complex changes that have been brought on by the fourth industrial revolution are leading very quickly to some major challenges for our antiquated education system.  Many leading educators, economists, scientists, etc. tout “21st century skills” as one of the core elements of prepping our students.  These skills are vastly different then those that many of us were trained to use in our undergrad and even graduate experiences.  How we teach these skills needs to be approached from a different angle in comparison to the silos of traditional education.  In the post I want to explore my thoughts on 3 simple steps we all can take to have a bigger collective impact.

  1. This list has to start with collaboration.  Without collaboration we lose the idea of the collective.  Collaboration needs to be seen as a vast network, and not merely group work.  Collaboration needs to connect students to students, students to teachers, and students to the outside world.  Anything less takes away from the authenticity of working relationships that one experiences in the real world.  In particular the connection to the outside world is critical.  Each school is operates in a bit of a bubble. In order to help build a broad range of experiences students must be connect to other people, places, and cultures that challenge what they believe and know about the world.  Engage other schools, other students, other adults and professionals, other business; bring the world of the students you teach into the classroom.

    Additionally there is a added benefit of collaboration, and that is leverage.  Collaboration allows us to benefit from the best that everyone has to offer.  As a Social Studies teacher there is no way that I could have the capacity to prepare engaging and thought provoking work on every topic.  The breadth of this topic forced me to collaborate and utilize the work of others as a stepping stone for my growth and by extension the students I taught.  This practice helps set the stage for my second thought.

  2. In order to truly connect with those in the world around them, students must have the capacity to understand the dispositions and values of those around them.  Empathy is a necessary component of a well rounded individual as our world has grown much smaller with the advent of the internet. Within our classrooms collaboration naturally fosters the opportunity for students to communicate, listen, and constructive debate with those who may be different.  providing these opportunities provides authentic experiences that mimic the real world.  Breaking out of individual silos is necessary as academic intelligence means little without the ability to place it in the context of collaboration.  To that end to really make an impact it is important that we strive for incorporation authentic experiences by leveraging the world around us.  By making small connections we can make a big impact.
  3. Build a common focus and language.  A compelling vision is an essential of any organization.  In order for a collective impact to reach it’s true potential, it is key that members of the organization rally behind the cause.  It is intrinsic motivation that compels and builds passion for growing or developing a school culture.  This common language needs to be developed by all stakeholders to truly have a collective impact.  It is the varying perspectives of all that draw people to the why.  Being consistent and persistent is what moves the needle.  Though this may seem to resonate at a macro level in a district, the same is true of our classrooms.  How do our students have a say in their classroom?  Are we sharing in the development of a common language?

As I wrap up this article I would like leave you with a question and that is, what are you doing to start or contribute to collective impact in your classroom, school, district?

Hacking Your Dream Classroom

Like most other people across the world I struggle getting up really early and it has been all to rare of an occurrence as of late.  I really do like getting up early, getting to the gym, and participating in the Breakfast Club Chat found @bfc530 or by following the #bfc530.  Just so happens I made it today (March 3, 2017) and was able to catch an interesting topic that, when I was in the classroom was always obsessive over and that is “If I could have a dream classroom what would I get or what would I do differently?”  The reality is that we may not provided the resources we need from our schools in order to turn this dream into a reality.  This blog post was written to provide you some quick hacks (provided you are a little handy) on how to turn your dream into a reality.  Interestingly in reviewing the list I generated, these would also qualify as some of the key tenants in a “21st century” classroom design.

  1. Flexible spaces- One of the core tenants of a “21st Century classroom” is that they are flexible and allow for personalization just like the curriculum.  Traditionally classroom are often filled to the brim with rows of desk leaving the classroom feeling like a cemetery more than a learning space.  Providing space in the classroom that is flexible expands the range of possible instructional practices that can take place.  Providing three simple spaces such as those listed below is a great place to start.
    1. Whole Group – This space can provide a chance for the whole class to interact
    2. Small Group- A space that can provide some seclusion in the class to allow students to meet and collaborate or potentially the teacher to meet with students for instruction.
    3. Independent – A quiet space that provides students a chance to explore and learn on their own.
  2. Let’s Move!- Going along with the idea of flexible learning spaces, using mobile pieces in the classroom can provide much needed flexibility even when space is limited. Incorporating stand alone chairs, small tables or even adding wheels to something that was once stationary, can increase the potential flexibility of a classroom exponentially.  Often times you can find spare chairs in the school, but if that doesn’t work, yard sales are a great place to find low price furniture pieces.  Another simple hack is by adding wheels to something stationary such as a bookshelf now provides you with a mobile wall.  you can find wheels at your local hardware store for less than a $1 a piece.
  3. Tables vs. Desks- Many agree that a core skill necessary for being competitive in the global marketplace is the ability to collaborate.  Does your classroom promote collaboration?  One easy way to provide ample opportunity for collaboration is to swap desks for tables. But what if you can’t get enough tables for your class?  Going back to my previous section providing a range of seating options and workspaces means you don’t need to have enough tables for all students, flexibility.  Another option if tables are not, is to simply rearrange desks into pods.  I see this regularly in elementary classrooms but the idea loses steam as you work your way up the ladder.  Another collaborative space I regularly allowed students to use that all classes have is simple and cheap.  The floor!  Allowing students to work in groups on the floor frees up a lot of collaborative space with little regard to what you already have in the classroom.
  4. Let there be light!- Fluorescent lighting can be harsh to say the least.  Unfortunately your classroom may not have optimal light sources.  Science suggests natural light can provide positive affects on the mind so when possible leverage natural light in your classrooms. In lieu of windows providing multiple light sources can also have the same benefit of flexible learning spaces.  A lamp or smart positioned light can define a space.  Often times you can find a lamp around your house, the school, or potentially from a colleague.  If all else fails a yard sale can yield a few useful results.  Another simple trick is removing some of the bulbs in a fluorescent light.  It is incredibly important to be careful if doing this, but removing one or more lightbulbs can tone down aggressive lighting and have a calming effect.

This list isn’t the be all end all, but some of the quick hacks above are not only cheap, but can be very effective when redesigning a learning space that allows for a more personalized learning experience for our students.  Below I have added a couple quick links to help you with planning your space.  Happy hacking!!

Classroom Design Site

http://classroom.4teachers.org/  

http://www.room2learn.org/ 

 

 

The Millennial Problem

I’m not sure if it is normal of bloggers, but I have the inate ability to discover writers block shortly after coming up with an idea for a blog post.  This post is case in point, as I think that I created the title for this post about 4 months ago.  It was until I watched a Youtube video from one of my favorite speakers and thought leaders, Simon Sinek.  To preface the video below, there has been much discussion of the disposition of millennials, our students, and their various challenges, struggles, or unique dispositions.  Some of the words that come up frequently are entitled, enabled, emotionally detached, lazy, and the list goes on and on.

Depending on the study millennials range from those born in the mid to late 1980’s to born in the mid 90’s, so full disclosure, I could be considered apart of this group, and that comes with it’s own inherent bias.  That being said I’ve been actively listening to various thought leaders, parents, teachers and anyone else willing to rant on the subject to try and better understand this line of thinking.  The pressures of the world and it’s rapid change over the past 3 decades has certainly changed our youth.  In spite of these pressures and challenges, our youth continue to impress making the most of their world in various ways.  Having said that, I can see both sides of the argument, but I have had trouble pinpointing my logic and how to respond to this argument.  It was in the aforementioned Youtube video by Simon Sinek that I found not only a great explanation but the drive to complete this article.

 

So what makes “millennials” different than previous generations of kids?  Why do people look down on them with words such as lazy, entitled, inept?  How does this impact me as an educator?

What defines our students today is not the same principles or core values that once drove students to academic success and Sinek explains that really our youth have been dealt a bad hand. Firstly, student achievement has actually been devalued.  For lack of better terminology enabling habits of parents have created an inflated perception of success at the school age level.  This generation has developed low self-esteem because of this success bubble if you will.  Technology has layered another complex layer on their situation.  Social media is highly addictive.  The dopamine rush that social media provides youth, at a particularly vulnerable age (adolescence), has created a generation that lacks the skill sets and coping mechanisms to deal with stress and developing deep meaningful relationships.  Technology has further enabled our young generations through the instant gratification that it can provide.  On-demand gratification that our connected world can provide means that our youth often lack patience.  Be it movies, goods, or services, just about anything one can need you can get almost instantly.  Gone are the days of waiting in the mail for the big Sears catalog to pick out Christmas gifts.

This bad hand paints a pretty bleak picture.  However in education, we have the opportunity to deeply impact our youth in a positive way and I would argue that begins with some of the areas below.

  1. Creating a Culture of Trust- In the video Sinek is quick to assert that millennials have been dealt a bad hand.  Unfortunately, that means that even in the high stakes testing world that education has become to a degree we must put aside the test scores and focus on helping our students build trust in their peers and in their own skills.  Trust isn’t formed in a day and most be fostered through deep meaningful relationships that as teachers we have a chance to form.
  2. Make Time to Develop Social Skills- Much of the work taking place in our district with regards to the use of technology is focused on the 4C’s.  Front and center in this debate is communication and collaboration.  We must provide space for our students to hone these skills.  Not only are they critical to the modern workplace, but they are coming into our classrooms less skilled in this area as a result of the factors outlined above.  Making our mission of teaching these “soft skills” all the more pressing.
  3. Model Meaningful Use of Technology- Technology is a tool.  Being a tool there are times where it is and isn’t appropriate.  Modeling effective use of technology is key in helping our students understand that technology can’t resolve all of their problems.  Sometimes we need to put the device away in order to move our thinking forward.

This is by no means a comprehensive list and is really a starting point.  Your classroom and your students will dictate what really is most needed, but it is critical that we understand where our students are coming from in order to diagnose and treat the challenges that lie ahead.

 

Technology Leaders: Modern Day Farmers

Growing up in the suburbs there was a distinct feeling that spring brought every year.  As a student it was exciting because the end of school was approaching and that meant summer was near.  In my backyard however, spring told a different story, one about hard work, diligent care and maintenance, and then life.  It’s the story of the typical small farm like the one that bordered the house I grew up in.

Each spring, usually in March, you would see the tractors coming through the fields turning over the soil.  The process takes some time and would require hours and hours of work just to get the ground ready for the next step in the process.  After the fields have been turned, seeds are dropped in the rows formed by the tiller and then everything is covered over by the ground in an organized manner so to protect the seeds from the 100’s of birds, mice, and anything else interested in a meal of seeds.  Fertilizer then jump starts the growing process providing the nutrients necessary for growth.  Now that the seeds are planted it’s time patiently wait and monitor the growing process, fine tuning the process by observing, providing just in time support when necessary.  If diligent enough through the process, the seeds begin to grow and at the end of it all yield a good crop.

To be honest my limited knowledge of farming probably shortchanges the process, but the spirit of my farming description is a direct analogy to the process we must take in fostering the growth of technology in our schools.

In much the same way sprinkling seeds on a patch of dirt yields little in return, the diffusion of technology in our schools must be given a more well planned and patient approach.  Framing the conversation through the analogy above, I have listed below some of the steps we can take to become keen technology facilitators.

  1. Prepare the fields and planting the seeds- In the early stages beginning to prepare the environment for a shift is critical to the success of any technology program’s growth.  Much like our farmer friend making sure that the capacity of the environment to support growth is critical be it teacher, device, or network capacity.  Depending upon the program to be implemented, the farmer (technology integrationist) must assess the needs of the environment in order to prepare the environment for the roll out.  Anecdotal evidence along with data and a coherent vision can smooth the process.

    Once the needs assessment is complete planning and executing the development necessary to sow the seeds must be done.  I think worth mentioning here is that though planning is important, innovation doesn’t occur in a linear fashion and so it must be said that over-planning isn’t necessarily the best option.  Where the crop really benefits is in the next stage

  2. Tending the crop- Any good farmer closely follows the growth of his crop, taking note of which parts of his fields are growing faster than others, noticing deficiencies in the plants growth, and finding what timing works best for the continued growth of the crop all the while providing that just in time support that can make or break the growing season.  Like the farmer technology and instructional leaders we must constantly tend our schools watching, listening, and taking note what works and what doesn’t.  Providing technical support, coaching, or professional learning opportunities can add to or take away from the growth of any technology program.  Being agile and responsive to the needs I would argue is not only good practice in technology leadership but leadership in general.
  3. Being patient and harvesting-  One of the biggest struggles I have had in my transition from classroom teacher to technology administrator is patience.  In the classroom I had immediate control of the days activities, and that I felt made it easier to monitor growth and adjust my instruction.  In my new role those changes happen slower, the signs of growth or struggle may not be as clearly visible, and the field is constantly changing, making the job that much more challenging.  Be personal in your leadership talking to people noticing trends and once again being responsive is something that can help produce the biggest growth.  Naturally, it is important to reflect on growth and so steps 2 and 3 of this blog should happen over and over again until the desired outcome is reached.

Being a farmer is hard work and much like the farmer the harder and the smarter we work as technology leaders, the bigger the yield will be.  As the old adage goes, you reap what you sow.

 

 

Preparing the Classroom for Blended Learning

Blended learning holds much promise for the future of teaching and learning.  As we begin to approach critical mass in terms of the convergence of technology and education, it is crucial that we view the “classroom” with a new lens as the tools now at are disposal have changed the rules of engagement.  In this blog post I am going to highlight a few key areas that should be addressed when preparing the classroom for blended learning.

  • The Physical Learning Space-  Simply put, blended learning is a combination of content delivery that occurs online and face to face.  In a previous post I talked about each model and how each leverages digital learning to accommodate different outcomes, you can check it out here.  Regardless of the model all blended learning classrooms can include a component of face to face instruction and a component on online instruction.  So in this section I have broken down my thoughts into two parts, first, for the physical environment you may want to consider:
    • Seating arrangement-  Maximizing the collaborative and creative potential of technology means students shouldn’t constantly be stuck in rows facing the front of the room.
    • Functionality- Is the classroom environment full of functional supports that can aid student growth where anytime any where learning is the norm?
    • Flexibility- Can the environment be changed and adapted to meet the needs of the learning outcomes?
    • Tools- Digital devices are a necessity for any blended learning environment, but they are not always the tool needed for instruction.  Other tools may be necessary and creating access to them in the classroom environment can help encourage student agency.  Are there other digital tools such as cameras, monitors, and other related devices available, should they be available?  Do you have whiteboards, chalkboards, markers, maps, construction paper etc.?  Remember high tech isn’t always the best option.
  • The Virtual Learning Space- Worth noting is that this area is far more complex than the physical space, as teachers and administrators working within a BYOD school will need to consider the wide variety of devices that can and will be used by students.
    • Device- What devices are you and your students using?  The virtual space and the way that content is delivered needs to be easily accessible to students.  Laptops, tablets, and smartphones each carry advantages and disadvantages
    • Organization- Is content available to students in an easy to understand and organized format.  Content organization is critical particularly with younger students and can make or break the effectiveness of an online learning environment.  Also worth noting is that content delivery can vary depending on the type of device a student has access to.
    • Tools- Much like the platform it is important to consider the digital tools that you use carefully.  When students are being asked to engage in a learning environment that transcends time and space, it is important the tools they require are accessible on any device.  Consider using web based tools as they are more readily used regardless of device being used.  Check out my curated content available on Youtube for some ideas.
    • Data-  As more of our time and work are sent out to the web, we must aware of the rights of our students so far as their personal data is concerned.  Websites that require students to sign up for an account will often collect sensitive data.  Always be sure to consult the policies in your district pertaining to acceptable usage.
  • Classroom Management
    • Time- Leveraging digital tools like a laptop, tablet, etc. the teacher can effectively replicate themselves by using the digital device to deliver on demand teaching.  In a traditional classroom the teacher is tied very closely to all parts of the instructional process, however in a blended learning environment the teacher has time to work on a more personal level with students.  Think about what you can outsource to digital content and what must be taught face to face.  This can help determine how best to plan the organization of your content delivery.
    • Device Management-  Managing  any number of different types of devices can be particularly challenging for even the most experienced teacher. There is no fool-proof recipe for managing devices, as there will always be challenge, but my view is active students are productive students.  If students are actively engaged in learning content that is appropriate for their needs then they are much more likely to be focused on the learning than not.  Seating, content delivery, organization, time, and types of tools are just some of the things to consider.  More work isn’t necessarily better, it is the meaning of the work that matters most.  Student voice and choice, made easier by the use of blended learning, usually means you will have much better buy in.

Blended learning has tremendous potential if leveraged in the right way.  Simply adding computers to the traditional method of I teach you learn, does little to provide students with learning opportunities available with the use of technology.  Considering some of the items above can help guide you to finding the method of blended learning that empowers your students to take control of their own learning.

 

Playing the Long Game

I realize that this blog post will represent a bit of a paradox in the context of education, but I feel that the message is particularly powerful.  In any leadership position there are times where the day to day grind can take a toll and you may lose focus of the bigger picture.  You become so consumed with focusing on the next item on your checklist that everything else on the periphery becomes blurry or non existent.  It is in these moments that it is so very crucial you take a step back and come up for air.  This blog post comes off the back of one of those moments for me and it was really some introspection that led to this point, and I want to share some thoughts on how “playing the long game” can have deep and profound implications for the educational system.

Whether it is the latest in educational technology, a new way to schedule classes within a school day, the latest policy release from local, state, or Federal government, education seems to be changing more and more rapidly each year.  For schools the amount of change has been something that each school has had to grapple with, and some have dealt with it more successfully than others.  Much of that success directly coincides with the ability to understand a couple things:

  1. The “why-”  Why are we all gathered in this school?  What is our primary purpose for working together.  In schools that notion can and should revolve around serving the needs of our students.  This is a bit of a tall order in the face of change as many professionals currently int he field grew up in a time when this amount of change was not the norm.  Now it is.  A compelling vision towards the service of our students is priority 1 and from that point forward, all decisions MUST map to that purpose.
  2. Invest in people-  Technology is ever-changing and that doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.  That being said investing your time and money in technology is important, but only when the capacity of the people using it is at scale.  Focusing all resources on the tools themselves does little but frustrate those who are trying to keep pace or stay on top of the latest trends.  The reality in all this is that good teaching is still good teaching, the only difference is that the tools have changed.  Teachers who put students first are still the best teachers today as they were many years ago.  Invest in people and your return will inevitably be exponential year after year.

Immediate returns can excite, but true engagement is much more than just the superficial oohs and ahhs provided by the latest toy.  What really pushes the needle is investing in the thing that makes the most difference and that is in the teaching and learning.  Playing the long game means investing time and resources in why and the people that drive growth.  This simple recipe takes time, but playing the long game pays bigger returns over the long run.

 

 

Honey vs. Vinegar: Technology Leadership

Nervous, excited, anxious.  Butterflies.  Playing sports all my life, it was a very familiar feeling, but this time, it wasn’t on any court or any field.  It is 6:53 in the morning and I am walking into my first day of school not as a teacher but as an administrator in the technology department.  It was a move that has and will continue to excite me beyond words.  My first week had lots of challenges to speak about, internet outages, computer troubles, logistical issues, but there was one thing that I learned from that week and it is something that I believe should resonate with any and all technology integrators.  Technology leadership is not about the devices, the network, or some other nerdy technology-related ideas, but rather it is about people.

Over the last 20 years school districts across the country have tried to grapple with the vast changes that define 21st century learning.  One of the obvious differences is the ubiquitous nature of technology in our society, and it is logical that schools, in the spirit of preparing our students for a digital world, try and adopt new methods that teach students how to use technology.  It is in this train of thought that the problem lies.  Simply placing devices in the hands of students, teachers, and administrators is not enough to guarantee success.  Nor is it enough to host training after training and expect everyone to become technology geniuses overnight.  Like any leadership position, it is helping people realize their greatest professional self by leveraging the tools available to them.  It’s always important to reflect to gain perspective on your current situation and reevaluate when and where to move forward, and through this process these three ideas have resonated with me over the past 2 months since that first day.

    1. It’s A Journey

      Technology brings with it a tremendous amount of change.  Year after year the pace seems to be moving quicker and quicker, and the reality is that NO ONE is able to keep pace with everything all the time.  Having said that as educators we all have a professional responsibility to our students to continue to push our own learning on this front for a couple of reasons.  One, digital is their world.  To disconnect from this world entirely severs an important commonality that we have with our students, one which is so very important to our students.  I recently attended a function with some high school athletes which I coached this past season, and even as a technophile myself, was shocked to see 15 kids sitting at a table all messaging through Snapchat.  It is these fundamental differences in the way kids connect that we must acknowledge and understand, NOT AGREE WITH NECESSARILY, but understand.  Two, we must prepare them for the reality that is a connected work environment.  Now having said all that, everyone is at a different place on this journey, and as a technology leader, it is important to understand this.  As we move forward what is most important is that we keep moving forward.  It is not a race, but our students need us.

    2. Empathy

      Understanding that this is a journey and not necessarily a race is important step to being empathetic to the current skills, understandings, and dispositions that we encounter when working with others.  To be dismissive of other perspectives in the interest of speed is a mistake.  Looking at many great organizations in both public and private sector will reveal that dictatorship over empathy brings much resistance.  To quote one of my favorite businessmen and thought leaders, Gary Vaynerchuck, “People work way better when you deploy honey than vinegar.”  The quote also used as apart of the title is a reflection of the notion that as a leader you must be empathetic to the needs of those who you work with.  Empathy is how we deploy honey.

    3. Clouds and Dirt

      Yet again to draw on some of the messages I have seen through the work of Gary, the idea that leadership involves two main perspectives.  The Clouds and the dirt.  The clouds being the large macro view of things.  Being globally minded is important in any leadership position, but it is not enough to stay there.  Staying in the clouds has it’s own pitfalls as it contrasts the work on the ground, the dirt.  In any leadership role being a practitioner is incredibly powerful on so many levels.  In technology leadership knowing what they tools are, how they can be used, and most important, why we use them is an obvious tenant of any technology leader.  It is the marriage of the two, the clouds and dirt, that can help drive the vision, by staying grounded.

Over the last couple of months I have learned a tremendous amount about technology leadership, but my journey is only beginning, and I have much more to learn.  However, I think a firm grounding in the tenants above are a good starting point who is currently in or looking to break into the field.