In which I express some frustration.

Every time I think we can handle a major initiative or a shift in practices–the activation of the BYOD network, or applying to be a Google Apps school–every time I get excited and feel adventurous, I get a tech support request from a teacher who can’t figure out how to change his toner. Or a request from a teacher who is over her e-mail quota and doesn’t know why. Or a notification that someone’s “private” network folder is taking up too much space (always due to a glut of photos of the kids or a gigantic personal iTunes library, never due to excessive instructional materials).

I spent a fair amount of time this summer working on an awesome plan to encourage my teachers to participate in technology staff development by creating lessons that could be completed on their own time, and without guidance from me. The idea is that they would earn badges for different tasks they completed, culminating in a “specialist” badge if they did all the “missions” in a certain category, like using assessment data wisely. Then I heard last week about four teachers who refused to work together on creating a common test, and I put that on ice. What’s the point? The teachers who need it the most are the least likely to participate.

I offered an optional staff development course on an easy topic which was frequently requested. I scheduled drop-in training sessions during each planning period. Attendance ranged from zero in the smallest session to three in the largest. We have something like 75 teachers at my school. Maybe more. I spent hours working on my lesson plan, making sure I had prepared a thorough lesson.

Some of the new teachers are very tech-savvy and need less of my help; some need plenty of help and ask for it; some I worry are struggling but are afraid to say anything. If I’m honest, it’s exactly the same for the veterans.

All this has left me frustrated, and what’s worse is that I’ve never felt more like I understand my job than this year, when my tech partner (who is non-instructional) and I executed our best beginning of the school year yet. I know what I’m doing, at least.

I’ve thought about different ways to break out the teachers who need more advanced training from those who need basic training. I looked at how Microsoft does it: They have a “fast ring” of volunteers who get updates and upgrades first, a “slow ring” who get it next, and finally it’s released to everyone. I like that idea a lot, but fear the pushback and hurt feelings that will inevitably be generated when I tell a teacher they’re in the “slow ring,” even though I’m talking about their training pace and not their intellectual ability.

[Side note: In contemplating the hurt feelings issue, it made me think about how students must feel when we group them by ability, and how embarrassed they might be when they discover that they’re not in a top-tier group–even if we don’t tell them, they always seem to figure it out. Thoughts for a future post…]

So I’m not entirely sure the best way forward, or if I’m going forward at all. I’ve spent a lot of time in deep reflection on this issue and I’m afraid I’m not much closer to a resolution. I spent a couple of hours today working on what I think will be good training ideas, but in the back of my mind, I’m wondering what I’m doing it all for.

Back in the Saddle

I can’t believe pre-planning starts tomorrow. It feels like just yesterday I left school in May with the usual box of books which I plan to read over the summer (but usually don’t). I’ve been on two vacations and spent a good part of the summer working part-time in the Assessment Office, which is probably why it feels like it went by so fast.

With the unexpected departure of our former principal, and the recent hiring of a new principal, the future of instructional technology at our school isn’t really clear. I’m quite confident in my skills and abilities, but I eagerly await the administration’s decisions on what technology we will (or will not) be focusing on this year. I’ve also been told by our new leader that he is eager to meet with me and hear my thoughts and opinions, which I take at face value as an encouraging measure of openness.

Over the summer, I’ve been dropping in on #badgechatk12 and learning more about “credentialed learning,” a.k.a. issuing badges and certificates. As a proud gamer who will do just about anything for the next rank or achievement, this concept really resonates with me. I’ve been working on a semi-secret plan to turn the school’s technology staff development into a system of badges and points. While it’s still just an outline, and much work remains to be done, I am cautiously optimistic that this might be a positive change that will help energize our staff around technology. The recent influx of a large number of new teachers, many of whom seemed eager to embrace technology, will only help.

So here’s to our upcoming planning week. May it provide us with an awesome new direction.

Monthly Fitness Goal

On a personal note, I have been attempting to get a fitness regimen back in my life for some time now.  I’ve decided to give Xbox Fitness a shot.  Xbox Fitness works by using the Kinect sensor to watch you exercise to workout videos, and gives you feedback based on whether or not you’re completing the moves as intended.

My goal for May is 1,000,000 Fitness Points.  It seems like a lot.  It is.  According to Xbox, the average male in my age group only scores 35,000 points a month.  It is intimidating.

It was intimidating.

I missed the first day due to it being a hectic Friday, and figured for sure I had already messed up this month.  But on Saturday I got up and tried a workout I had never tried before–Mossa Fight (kind of an MMA thing)–and I absolutely killed it.  I scored three days’ worth of points, worked my tail off, and was left sore and exhausted, especially since I capped it off with a ten-minute stretching program for extra points.

Today I did the same workout, and now I’m already a fifth of the way done with this month.  I’m sore and I hurt just about everywhere.  But I feel good.  Also, I noticed this time around that it was much easier to complete the moves, and I struggled less with performing the various activities.

Off to a good start!

Avoiding IT

This article from Ars Technica captured my attention at “…worked out of a bathroom so that he could use Gmail.”

Obviously, I don’t support conducting classified government business on a personal e-mail account where you e-mail is scanned to provide advertising.  But I’m on the fence about this issue.

As someone who supports teachers with technology at school, I understand the need for everyone to adhere to technology policies and procedures.  Especially being in a government organization (public school), the preservation of records to comply with subpoenas and Freedom of Information Act requests is very important.  I tell teachers to make sure they only communicate using their official e-mail accounts, and to only store student information on secure district servers.

At the same time, I see the teachers who are using their personal tools to get things done, and I do it too.  I’m writing this from my personal tablet.  I use Microsoft OneDrive to store most of my work.  Other teachers use Google Drive.  I subscribe to Office 365 just to have an Exchange account that syncs my calendar with my phone (I’m careful not to put anything sensitive in my calendar).  Personal tablets are all over the school.  We use these tools because they are comfortable, familiar, and user-friendly–terms usually not associated with enterprise-class software.

In this case, I think the best solution is a compromise.  Yes, State Department employees should be using their secure-yet-open government e-mail accounts.  Including (and especially) leaders, who should be setting the example and demonstrating proper security protocols through their actions.  At the same time, if the State Department has such a big problem with high-profile employees using their own accounts, they might want to see if their systems can be improved.  If the IT is really that bad, fix it–make people want to use it, then some of this reluctance will go away on its own.

It’s tough to make people use a tool they don’t want to use.