In The Workplace And Home
I typically always start with technology when writing blog posts. Today is no different. Technology enables us to communicate and collaborate from anywhere. Technology has transformed the workplace. The scenarios requiring out-of-the-office access from any device are numerous. It is no different in education. The rapid and accelerating move towards the adoption and use of mobile technologies has provided our society with the ability to work in incredible, and previously unanticipated, ways.
I often hear of the need for work-life balance. For me, it has never happened. Coming out of high school straight into the military, I worked where I lived and lived where I worked. My family understands this process. My extended family, maybe not so much. I think work-life balance means something different to every individual. Sometimes I think it is different based on where you live, your family dynamics, perfectionism, and increasingly how you interact with technology. A lot of people develop perfectionist tendencies at a young age when demands on their time are limited to school, sports/hobbies and maybe an after-school job. It’s easier to maintain that perfectionist habit as a kid, but as you grow up, life gets more complicated. As you climb the work ladder and as your family grows, your responsibilities increase dramatically.
As you progress, this habit can become overwhelming. My wife and I got married at an early age, she was 20, and I was 19. College took a backseat for her as she worked so we could make ends meet. It wasn't until after we had our middle child Aiyana, that she went back to finish her associates degree in accounting, then her masters degree, and later become a CPA. The picture here was from Amanda's graduation day. Those were ever-changing times, which didn't make life more comfortable but we worked as a family to transition through these life-changing moments. Mobile technology and social media hadn't entered into our lives yet. No, this would come later.
Balance With Technology
It is pretty rare to see someone without a smartphone in their hands these days. Mobile technology and social media have enlarged the circle of influence each of us have in society today. But it has also created expectations of constant accessibility. The workday never seems to end. There are times when one should just shut their phone off and enjoy the moment. This weekend we were able to meet up with some friends at a restaurant with a live band while we were visiting in Wichita. To our delight, we coincidentally ran into some great friends we hadn't seen in a very long time there. It was so great to catch up, dance, and listen to great music. I didn't bring my phone out to look at any updates - I just enjoyed the moment. We need moments like this.
Procedures and routines - you see that in our Best Instructional Practices Handbook. We use this in classroom management. But what do we do for self-management? It takes a lot to manage our busy schedules. One thing that takes a back seat in our busy schedules is being active. I admit it is tough - but getting up early in the morning and getting the sweat in is worth it. I make it a routine to get up every morning to do this. Think about it. Even when we’re busy, we make time for the crucial things in life. We eat. We go to the bathroom. We sleep. And yet one of our most vital needs - kicking our butt working out - is often the first thing to go when our calendars fill up. Exercise is an effective stress reducer. It pumps feel-good endorphins through your body.
Recently, I joined a cross fit gym with my wife Amanda and daughter Aiyana. I hadn't been to any formal workout facility since moving to Omaha. The last 3 1/2 years have been at Planet Fitness, and the routine was simple - Weights: Monday-Wednesday-Friday Cardio: Sunday-Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday. We will see how this year stacks up focusing on nutrition and working with a personal trainer again.
Instead of putting pressure on ourselves to achieve a high utopia of work-life balance, we should start focusing on work-life integration: our ability to ensure that our personal and work interests are incorporated into our daily lives and routines. Individuals also have a responsibility for integrating their work and own experiences. Creating authentic relationships with co-workers can even make for better work-life integration. You can do this slowly, moving from “what do you do?” to a discussion about your hobbies and then deeper into your personal life when both parties are comfortable. When we have strong relationships with our teammates, we bring that happiness back to our own lives. #BetterConversations
The Instructional Technology Team is very much a big part of my life here in Omaha. You can see it in how we interact day to day. Dan, our Project Manager, is very much a part of this as well. The things that make us happy at home, also make us happy at work. If a warm and welcoming environment is what is important at your home, it should also `be important in the workplace. If at home, you’ve got friends, you should have an equal number of friends in the workplace. While on the surface we may view “work creep” (work infiltrating our personal lives) as negative, it can be our greatest asset if we manage it properly.
Throughout the last decade, I’ve noticed a shift in thinking. More people are suggesting that the ways work and life overlap might not all be bad. As technology connects us wherever we go, it is important to prioritize our relationships. It doesn't matter if these are work or personal relationships. The days of convincing ourselves that we can separate our work and personal lives are over, and I think we should embrace this change.
What A Year
It has been a year of change, around the world, where I work, in my family, and personally. I am not sure anyone was prepared for the political climate that occurred this year. Our stance as a nation has swung significantly in the last 12 months. I fell asleep the night of the presidential election in a hotel room with the TV on and woke up at 2:30 in the morning and the world had changed. It didn't stop there though. A bizarre event would occur and would be all over the news; before we could wrap our minds around it, another bizarre event would occur, then another and another, coming at us faster and faster, battering the nation with a Category 5 hurricane-like weirdness that left us hunkering down, clinging to our sanity, no longer certain what was real.
In the midst of all the bizarre things that occurred this year, there were good things too. We have seen many technological advancements that will assist us as a society for years to come. Artificial Intelligence, Augmented/Virtual Reality, 3D printing, the availability of inexpensive solar cells, and even self driving vehicles made this spotlight this year. If I had to point to one person's influence of much of this, it would have to be Elon Musk. His goals for his companies Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity revolves around his vision to change the world and humanity.
A highlight of this year for me personally, our team, and the district would be telling our story. We have done an incredible job of documenting this journey. One event that I would like to highlight was our participation at ISTE this last summer. It was clear that through the amount of presentations and being a big part of Microsoft's Hack the Classroom event at ISTE, we have made progress that others see value in. I use this as a dipstick to measure our effectiveness as a team and later I highlight how I use my kids as a measurement of our student experience.
In the next three segments, I will focus on district, family, and personal reflections over the past year. Each has their own challenges, advancements, and opportunities.
Our Growth As a District
Our $421 million dollar bond issue in November of 2014 has provided many resources that Omaha Public Schools needed. Before that, there wasn't a bond issue for over 15 years. The needs assessment that was completed before the bond showed $1.2 billion in needs. As much as this first bond issue is allowing us to build and provide, (Belle Ryan and Western Hills elementary schools slated to open in a couple of weeks, for instance) there is so much more that needs to be done. The next bond in May of 2018 will help address the space needs at our secondary schools.
2017 has been a year of transition as far as leadership. Mr. Evans decided to stay one more year after a turbulent Superintendent search process with the board. I must say it was good to spend one more year with Mr Evans, this being our 13th year working together. Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Kehrberg retired at the end of the 2016-17 season creating a vacancy that was replaced with Chief Academic Officer, Melissa Comine. We also brought on a couple of new Executive Directors of School Supports. All of these are good transitions, but transitions are challenging and require time.
From a technology standpoint, we have made efforts towards planned obsolescence of devices. In 2017, we experienced budget constraints that made us adjust the frequency by which we refresh devices. One thing the refresh process has done is show how necessary digital equity and access is for all of our students. In the future, we will make decisions differently as a district through the progression to digital equity through the strategic plan. I can't wait to see what we can accomplish with digital curriculum and open educational resources that provide unique learning experiences through technology. Personalized learning is the way to go. Our students should be picking their unique pathway in opportunities that aren't even thought of yet. For more information on our unique process for devices, click the image below for the blog post on planned obsolescence.
Anytime you are shifting focus with student learning, you need to incorporate parents and community. Digital citizenship and literacy was a major focus in Omaha Public Schools in 2017. We certified over 50 schools with Common Sense Media Certification to receive the district level certification. This was not all though. We also implemented the Mobile Learning Unit, a vehicle that provides programming to students, parents, and community through a partnership with Cox Communications. What was once a 1991 bus has now transformed into a highly engaging learning environment.
Our relationship with Microsoft has continued to progress. These strategic relationships have been beneficial for our students. We are able to give authentic feedback in what the learning experience students should receive in a high technology environment. Communication is different, as well, in today's working environment. We should reflect this shift in education as well. Our team uses Microsoft Teams everyday. This article discusses how Omaha Public Schools and Microsoft are working together to bring this collaboration shift in using Microsoft Teams.
One of the fundamental areas that needed to be addressed when Mr. Evans became Superintendent was looking at our processes. The district had a tendency to on-board a system and not continuously update it. You can see that now with our PeopleSoft upgrade that started this year. The district had not completed an upgrade of that system in over 12 years. The world has changed in 12 years. Think about what wasn't here 12 years ago in technology:
With all of these things in mind, it is important to consider what we face by constantly updating our systems. Think about it, all of our social media mediums update without training us, many times even without informing us beforehand. We use them frequently enough that our own digital literacy skills improve naturally. The same needs to be done with our "systems" we utilize in our districts. This includes pedagogy.
These "systems" are what drives cultural change. Systems create behaviors and this is important in an district because, as I say sometimes, districts do what they're organized to do. To bring about actual change within an district, Superintendents or other leaders, before they cast big vision and before they announce a change, must sit down and look at systems and ask the question, "What are the behaviors that need to change in order to move in the direction we need to move?" In my past work with the BLEgroup, Gates Foundation, and GreyED Solutions working on tech audits or strategic planning, it became evident that these are the fundamental things that drive necessary change. So, simply talking and casting vision doesn't change the direction of a district. Systems create behaviors because districts do what they're organized to do.
I am excited to see where we go in 2018 with teaching and learning in Omaha Public Schools! With the shifting of leadership, continued adoption of systems that produce efficiency and great staff in every facet of Omaha Public Schools, we are better - you can see it. Check out our transformation page for what our district has done through the use of technology.
My Family's Growth
I have always measured my effectiveness as an educational leader through my kids. It's an easy mechanism since I see them everyday. At some points in life I have had one in every level at the same time: Elementary, Middle and High School. Every night I would listen to them and gather their experiences. During the last two years, this dynamic is changing. Now Emily is a Sophmore in college, Aiyana is a senior at Omaha Central High School, and Bailey has joined her as a Freshman. From a parent perspective, the light is at the end of the tunnel. I am going to have to figure out a way to measure my effectiveness differently.
In 2017, we took a much needed vacation to Colorado. The kids had a blast, and Amanda and I did too. It was one of those moments where you begin thinking this could be the last one we do as a family with our kids graduating and moving on. Amanda and I love to hike. Colorado was just the place to engage with the whole family and climb a couple of mountains, see waterfalls, and see some old friends that moved out that way. Amanda and I also took some time and rode up to a lake with our bikes and saw some wildlife. From there I mounted my GoPro and coasted down the mountain, it was the best adrenaline rush of the trip.
Where to start. 2017 showed me how much I love to learn. I read 12 books this year - yes 12. It wasn't just reading either. Many times it was a group effort with a lot of collaboration. Creating "quotures" - yes we made that up - and posting them to twitter after a chapter. We participated in #1ChapterADay activities, taking notes and using OneNote to document the journey. I have to give a mad shout out to Eileen Heller - she has kept up with me all along the way. You can check out her blog here. We also blogged about a couple of books. Check out this one Eileen Heller, Rebecca Chambers, and I did on Learning Transformed.
What's In Store For 2018?
A new Superintendent,new Board of Education Officers, and budget conversations will start in January of 2018. The Instructional Technology Team did an incredible job of applying for a Title IV grant that was awarded to us that will help drive Future Ready and a new Professional Development System in the district this spring. 2018 will again be a year of change, around the world, where I work, in my family, and personally.
Today, you always hear about our need to develop our future generations with skills in coding, STEM, and in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. As a technology leader, I emphasize this in my everyday work. This year I have had the opportunity to read 12 books with staff. The last two have challenged my thinking.
Excellence Through Equity
Back in October, Superintendent Mark Evans brought the Excellence Through Equity book to Executive Council. It has been a book of focus for our Principal Meetings over the last couple of months. Alan M. Blankstein, Pedro Noguera, and Lorena Kelly present the power of voice and choice that guides educational leaders to drive change in the classroom. The resounding themes that echo project based learning activities, relevance, and the power of equity. I loved the parallels outlined in the book to the health industry:
From Chapter 4:
This book provides timely insights and powerful examples that educational equity and excellence provides. It is also necessary and possible. Towards the end of the book, it highlights the necessary changes needed in the policy level to make sure education can succeed. It is timely with our current political climate. I have never felt the amount of pressure in public education as is occurring today.
From a technology standpoint, the book outlines technology being a powerful how. It particularly points out the International Standards for Technology in Education Standards.
Technology is a great equalizer, but it is important to understand the challenges that separate us from our private school counterparts. Every child is on an educational journey. Each of them come on the journey with different luggage. Here at Omaha Public Schools we serve children of color, immigrant children, poor children, and children whose first language is other than English. These are all things we are proud of. Nebraska Loves Public Schools has created a great video that highlights these challenges and shows the hope given to children that learning provides.
This book is foundational. Everyday I push for educational technology solutions to help facilitate efficiency in time and increase ability. Too often this emphasis takes some focus away from purpose. The book Better Conversations brings that focus back to what is relevant. Many times as educators, the answers not in technology but in human behavior. It is too easy to get fixed on the shiny and we should focus on implementing technology with purpose. This gets more and more relevant as our technology advances: The more we talk about features and functions, the further we are apt to stray from what we're trying to accomplish in the first place. Jim Knight does an incredible job of bringing purpose with technology by using the very thing we hold on to everyday: our smartphones. By using video as a reflection, we paint an accurate description of our efficiencies as a teacher and communicator.
I got the opportunity to read this book with Eileen Heller, Instructional Technology Trainer for Omaha Public Schools. During the course of our readings we created what we call a quoture - an image with a quote that stood out for us personally for each chapter. As you can see below there are some great themes that come along with each chapter - but one that speaks to me is empathy.
Listening is my weakness. Every resource of my mind in conversation is anticipating what I want to say next. Not much empathy in that. Jim Knight in our session had us do an activity on listening. We were to listen to our partner without saying anything for 1 minute. It seemed like an eternity. I learned a lot from that exercise.
Jim explains this in 3 key strategies to listening:
It all boils down to relationships....
Both books emphasize the need for relationships. In Excellence Through Equity incorporates our struggle with new standards and how we have focused too much on testing and results. Student voice and choice are needed to bring relevancy to the learning process. Better Conversations takes that a step further by understanding dialogue:
And finally because of my technology background, it is important to note that technology can happen throughout both of these processes. In both books it is used as an efficiency and as an equalizer. The technology we use today is the worst technology we will ever use in the future because it constantly changes. Don't get fixed on the shiny.
Technology is all around us today. We now live in a society where we rely on technology for much of our daily tasks. The convergence of mobile access and technology, fueled by social media and collaborative apps make our conversations different today than any time in history. Just look at the graph to the left outlining the amount of iOS apps now in the app store. The growth is exponential. How many apps do you have on your phone? You can begin to see a pattern.
Students today have come to expect high-quality content—on demand, anytime, and anywhere. This mindset puts our schools in an interesting position, and it is increasingly changing. Our role as educators in digital citizenship is to provide the necessary skills and real world preparation for today’s technology driven lifestyle.
Our educators swim in an ocean of #EDTech opportunity. It is easy to get overwhelmed. Even when you look at our waffle (left) in Office 365 here at Omaha Public Schools, you can see a growing set of tools at your disposal. What choices do I make? Do I try them all out? If it is there, shouldn't I use it? These are all questions that can overwhelm teachers. They already have lessons to prep, assessments to give, and massive amounts of grading, all while fostering relationships with our students to bring meaning to learning.
A Personal Approach
Remember To Evolve With Technology
It is no surprise that technology changes constantly. I remember the first time I used my smartphone to pay for something at the store. There was a sense of distrust at first but now I use it whenever I can. It is a comfort that has been enabled via technology. Recently I shifted platforms, moving from iOS to Android. I have had friends ask if it was painful. Since most of my stuff resides in the cloud, it wasn't hard to transition. There was pain involved with not having the same apps across platforms and remembering my username/password for some apps. You can read about my reasoning for the change in this blog post:
I want to emphasize that it is important to evolve though. Too many times we put all of our assets into one bucket, only to find out that they completely shift their vision, phase out the solution, or sell to another company. All of these things have an effect on us. Even when it is a positive approach, pain is still involved because of the transition. If it is data you cherish, such as photos or videos, back them up across platforms or at home. The cloud is a great oasis, but keep in mind, where you put your valuables is just one transaction away from being difficult to access. I always backup my iCloud photos to Google Photos. It gives me a piece of mind and since I have so many, somewhere around 50,000 photos, it isn't hard for me to access from just about any type of device.
Next I want to discuss a district approach. It is this tug of war around giving choice but maintaining sustainability.
A District or Systems Approach
Define Best Practice For Your Environment
When I first came into the district 3 1/2 years ago, the district had one on premise platform for collaboration. It was called FirstClass. I called it LastClass, NoClass, and some other choice words I wouldn't publish. Moving off of that platform into a cloud first, mobile first environment was my initiative in the district. Through some decision making processes every large district makes, we decided upon shifting platforms to Office 365. You can read that process in this blog post shown below:
Now having been on Office 365 for over 3 years now, we have utilized much of the tools available. Microsoft is moving to this focus of Hubs; smaller units of application processes that work together to present meaningful functions for a particular area or collaboration type. One example of a Hub is Microsoft Teams. I won't talk much about its functionality because I have blogged about it here:
These "hubs" such as Microsoft Teams, Staff Hub, etc present a new challenge. Which "hub" do I work in? These are obviously supported by our district, but managed choice is one we haven't adopted across our supports, particularly professional development. We have however used the notion of managed choice around such projects like Planned Obsolescence. So what are we doing to support this growing App phenomenon?
So there are two ways we are approaching this:
We created this systemic process in January of this year vetting Apps for student data privacy, instructional strategy, and purpose. This tool has evolved to give us a lifecycle view of apps. Think about it, how many apps have you loaded on your phone and dormant? What data is it constantly gathering? It was loaded with a purpose in mind as well. Has that purpose changed? All of these questions should be asked both personally and systemically. You can't have a process of installing apps and never removing them - both personally and in a large district. Districts must put in place supports around these such as deployment methods, ongoing technical support, and professional development. The data from our App Approval Process feeds into a PowerBI dashboard as displayed below. We are well on our way to vetting 500 apps in the first year.
In the end, it is about what is best for students. Many of these apps help connect the dots for learning for our students. Students learn more deeply when they can apply classroom-gathered knowledge to real-world problems and when they take part in projects that require sustained engagement and collaboration. Technology makes that happen.
Stranger Things 2. Am I going to watch it? Absolutely. I grew up going to the arcade just like in the start of season 2. I remember rummaging through the house for loose change then riding my bike downtown to join my friends at the arcade. It seems just like yesterday; yet, today is my 41st birthday. That's right, I was born on Halloween. so as you can imagine, this time of year is my favorite. The arcade is mostly a thing of the past; kids are now entertained by Netflix, iTunes Music, YouTube. None of these things were around when I celebrated my Halloween birthday growing up. So, I've decided to discuss digital citizenship this week for my blog.
I remember the first time I got a Nintendo. It was a different world. No longer did we spend all of the change we had on games here and there. We spent money on renting games - then playing as many times as possible before returning them. Consumption was increasing at a rapid rate. I was home more, but not engaged with family. In retrospect, I think this was a defining moment. We still went out and played basketball for hours, so physical play was a large section of our day after school and in the summer.
Being Introduced To Technology
I really didn't engage with computers until joining the military when I was 18. Growing up in a rural town and a small district, opportunities with personal computing at the time was scarce. It was also 1995, a time when the PC involved a large desktop and the price was still high.
Satya Nadella in his new book Hit Refresh outlines the three runtimes we have had in society today:
So the experience I would have had even exposed would have been primarily in the beginning of the first runtime. It was later that Al Gore created the Internet for all of society (cough cough) Just a joke....
If you believe that, I have some ocean front property in Arizona I can sell you.
Since then, I have adopted technology as it has been introduced to me. I have had every iPhone up until the iPhone 7 Plus. Recently I moved over to the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 as my primary mobile device as told in this blog.
I have seen what artificial intelligence, machine learning, and augmented/virtual reality can do. Kids today are exposed to these technologies at an amazing rate. That presents opportunities and challenges. On one side you see kids gain experiences outside of the classroom that could have never been done before. However, you can also see how engagement in these without guiding purpose and practice can negatively impact learning. As a parent of three teenage girls, I understand this opportunity and challenge every day. Now I want to give a picture to what my kids have experienced and what they expect.
What it has been like for my kids....
As much as I would like to discuss them all together, it is really a different experience between them. The wave of social media powered by access through mobile technology has touched each of them in a slightly different time in their life. This has caused challenges in trying to present a fair access and scaffolding model to introduce and expose my kids to these tools in an appropriate way. Here is each of them sharing what platforms they use:
First here is Bailey:
As you can see she mostly uses Instagram and Facebook for social media. For conversation, she uses Instagram Direct Messages and iMessage. Next we will hear from Aiyana. Each one of my kids are different. Aiyana is no exception to different. Please excuse her eating habits during the creation of this video.
As you can imagine, things begin to get different with our oldest, Emily. She is 19, going to college, and gaining independence from us. We begin to choose the platform that she most engages in. I think this becomes a pivotal point. Social media changes frequently, and companies come and go. What happens if the platform is different between each of them? How or can we capture those moments we want most?
Something to think about. As I have read the book Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella, I have thought about what this means not only for my kids but my grandkids. This quote from the book identifies one of the challenges we face particularly when it comes to learning. It is exciting if you approach it purposefully.
I am old but not that old....Yet.
So what about my kid's kids? What opportunities and challenges will technology bring to them? One of the particularly interesting segments from the Hit Refresh book was how industry adopts new technologies at a higher rate when it involves our comfort. Look at Netflix. The ability to binge watch without leaving your couch. Look at Uber. This is one area that I think will be disrupted by technology. Self driving cars are real. They are coming, and because of our desire to be engage with technology and the comfort of not being behind the wheel means transportation with a different experience. This could effect airline travel. Think about it, what if you could just sleep and/or watch a movie while a self driving vehicle takes you to your destination? It is closer than you think. The areas I feel like will rapidly effect my grandkids will be artificial intelligence. Their access to digital companions will change how they interact with each other, meetings, day to day work in learning and in the workplace, and just about any place they have connectivity. That connectivity increases every day. These can all be seen as opportunities and challenges depending upon how you look at it. As educators it will be important for us to focus on skill development that focuses on critical thinking so that opportunities continue for generations to come.
Where do I start. I remember the first time I met Keegan, it was at a Microsoft Innovative Educator training that we were having at the Microsoft facility in Aksarben. I introduced myself and we had a great conversation about her current role at Bryan High School. Later she would apply for a position that would help shape the way our district approaches and values technology. Just in the course of the last year, she has enabled through the help of our MIE Program, to lead our efforts to complete Common Sense District Level Certification. This week, she will be speaking at TEDx Omaha. These things take talent, and below I want to highlight the talents that I see in Keegan.
Passion & Empathy
If you know Keegan, you know she has a passion for students. Just hearing some of her stories when she was an English teacher, you can tell she was engaging and provided a high level of interactivity with her students. That energy transfers into her current role of Lead Teacher for Digital Citizenship here at Omaha Public Schools. While not a new role for the district, her contribution to it has been transformative. She uses empathy in a way that challenges me and gives voice to initiatives that we have adopted. This week I have been reading the book Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella. In it he describes the role of empathy in his leadership and Keegan shows this in her everyday practice.
Keegan believes in Omaha Public Schools. She believes in the role technology plays in student's learning. She even has confidence in my ideas, sometimes far fetched. That belief mentality allows her to take on initiatives like the Common Sense District Certification, our new Mobile Learning Unit, the construction of our App Approval Tool, and co-leading our District Technology Standards Team.
As educators know, relationships is what makes learning happen. Strong relationships build trust and commitment. Our external relationships in the district are unique. We have a great relationship with Microsoft as well as Common Sense Media. Keegan does a great job of connecting the dots. Our App Approval Tool is a great example of connecting these dots. Here is a picture of what it looked like as we brainstormed this idea.
That has now turned into a great systemic process that vets Apps for data privacy, then through instructional strategies, and outputs to a PowerBi Dashboard for transparency.
This week, she is speaking at TEDx Omaha. I don't know what the title is, or what exactly she will be sharing, but I know it will be impactful. Keegan, you are an incredible person and I am super proud of you. Here are some of your Common Sense folks sharing:
Thanks for what you do for students, Keegs.
The last couple of weeks have been so fun. Kids are engaged, parents are engaged. Our society has a craving for accessing the Internet for a variety of purposes and now possesses the means to connect in many ways. This is one way we have engaged the community with a high technology purpose. But it is not new. In fact this bus was purchased well before I graduated High School. A 1992 Bluebird. Purchased originally through Title I some 25 years ago, it's initial purpose was to provide reading opportunities. Now, it focuses on digital citizenship and literacy. Many of today's classrooms have amazing 21st century tools being used in 20th century learning environments. It was important for us to give this space a make over so that it isn't the same.
As the saying goes, if opportunity doesn't knock, then build a door. The digital world allows us to build and open doors like never before. 2 Years. I didn't think it would take this long, but it was worth it. Everyone that contributed did an amazing job. I can't thank enough our Schoolhouse Planning team led by Kim Thompson. They are amazing, and took our thoughts and placed it into actionable results. I originally posted about the mobile learning unit at the bottom of one of my first blog posts.
Leo A. Daly was the design firm that took our ideas, many of them about flexible and innovative learning spaces and put them onto paper. As you can see much of what they designed above became reality as seen in the 360 view below.
Enough about the bus... Let's talk about students
Many of you may know Common Sense as a resource for digital citizenship related curriculum and resources. If this is new to you, I strongly suggest you check out the easy to use resources from Common Sense Education. We are fortunate to partner with them and have Keegan full time as our Lead Teacher for Digital Citizenship. Our model for transforming schools has an emphasis on technology. Because Common Sense Education provides digital citizenship related resources for teachers, students and parents, we wanted to make sure a focus around the proper use was implemented. This past year we were fortunate to gain District Certification. Keegan's hard work and dedication has been incredible. I couldn't be prouder of her. This next weekend she is giving a TED Talk on the importance of a digital footprint. Her role in the mobile learning unit is crucial when we discuss community engagement. Even in my role as a technology leader, I don't have a great handle on my own parenting. My three daughters challenge my thoughts on social media and require me to engage in the same methods and platforms that they communicate in. Here is her perspective on her role for the mobile learning unit.
Rebecca Chambers serves as an Instructional Technology Coach for the Omaha Public Schools by supporting the district’s Turnaround buildings in their instructional technology initiatives, emphasizing on this mobile learning unit initiative.
Rebecca has a passion for students in the North Omaha community. It shows in how she organizes their activities, providing relevancy to students no matter what age they are. These students has no basis for understanding information that isn't readily and immediately available. Rebecca understands this and scaffolds activities appropriately. These students have come to expect high-quality content—on demand, anytime, and anywhere, and through her work with the mobile learning unit this has become a reality.
This is a whole-community effort
Just as the Mobile Learning Unit blog says below: The goal: to use a whole-community approach to bring high-technology learning and digital citizenship skills to students and their families. We want more than merely high-quality access and devices for our students - we want to build the knowledge and skills necessary to address the complex community challenges in today’s digital age. Every Student. Every Day. Prepared for Success. We can't wait to share with ride with you!
You might call me crazy. In the past month I switched to Android after more than 8 years as an iPhone user. I have had every iPhone up to the iPhone 7 Plus. My strategy through the years involved shifting the latest device of the year from me down through the family. It worked well for quite some time. Now my kids are transitioning. My oldest is in college and is now about to shift to her own plan. I am so proud of her for taking on this responsibility. With this in mind, I wanted to learn something new. A new platform. A new experience. Why you might ask?
My Evolution In Computing
So if you have been reading my blogs, you know that I had transitioned from a Mac person for some time to an avid Surface Pro user. You can read this post below.
After reading the blog post above you might realize that my reason for moving from iOS to Android was not based upon the platform, but on the importance of digital inking. OneNote has become an application that I utilize for major project documentation, team collaboration, and my personal and professional notes. As I work through my day, my primary device isn't my Surface. It is my smartphone. Yes, when I am at a desk, participating in a meeting, or engaging in a Skype session, I am on my Surface Pro. But if you took the time spent, my smartphone has my attention to information when I am on the go.
Why Did I Pick The Samsung Note 8?
The power is in the pen. A staple of the Note line has always been a big screen and the S-Pen. The Note 8's S-Pen is waterproof, more sensitive, and has a smaller tip for easier writing. This would actually be my second Note. Last year I got to briefly experience the Note 7 before trading it in for the iPhone 7 Plus due to the risk of the battery exploding. But that didn't stop me from wanting to move forward with the Note 8 as it was released. The need for authentic input to bring context to content, especially in my current role here in Omaha Public Schools is high. The Note 8 gives this ability with access to the whole Office 365 offerings. Writing notes by hand is definitely the way to go, and OneNote is one of the best note-taking apps around. You can hand write your notes with the S Pen, and save them to the cloud. Once your notes are in the cloud, you can access them on any device that has OneNote onboard, whether it be your PC, tablet, or Note. There’s even a highlighter to mark up the most important things. OneNote includes an option to pin specific notes to your home screen, too, for when you need quick access to your notes.
While waiting for the next iPhone, I kept watching what Samsung would entice us with. Initially, it was the choice of a Samsung Gear 360 or a DEX station. As time progressed, I watched other deals. I think it was when AT&T, of whom we have been customers forever, came up with pre-order a Note 8, get a Gear 3 Frontier watch, and Samsung VR led me to this switch of platforms. The Gear 3 Frontier was a one time cost of $50. Then I used the Samsung Store App to register for the Samsung Gear 360. This gave me a complete experience of a wearable, virtual reality, and 360 camera. I have to say I am surprised by the Gear 3 Frontier watch. It lasts around 2 days on a charge for me and looks more like a watch than my Apple Watch does. Also the Gear 360 Camera makes pretty good 360 shots as well, check it out.
In the end, will I stay with the Note 8. Yes for this year. Only time will tell if I stay. I can say that if Apple were to make the iPhone X with the Apple pencil compatible, I might reconsider. I do miss the apps that I used to use with my iPhone. However most of the apps that are frequently used are cross platform. The biggest reason I moved was the desire to engage with my smartphone the same way I engage with my Surface Pro tablet. That has mostly been driven by OneNote.
Passwords are everywhere! I have so many combinations, many times it is tough to remember which one is used for what app. We all have smartphones today and it compounds this, especially when a new iPhone comes out every year. We have all dealt with it. Is it with a 1 at the end or did I add a 2 now? Wait. Was that the one with the capital letter?
Thankfully, there are technologies out there that can help alleviate this struggle. Single Sign On and network technologies like Identity Services Engine allows for districts to work towards providing a great learning experience for staff and students. I have 4 main reasons for the adoption of these technologies.
#1 It is more secure
Do you know how many web sites on which you have an account? I do. It's over 120. Perhaps, you don't have as many as me, but it might seem like it. That is a lot of information to remember: usernames, email addresses used to register the account, passwords and maybe even the URL for the site. If you are like most online users, you may have just a handful of passwords that you use on several sites. While this makes remembering them easy, it is bad practice. In the last year, there have been several public attacks in which passwords were disclosed by the attackers. If the password you use across several sites was disclosed, an attacker might try to use it for one of your other accounts.
Introduce Single Sign on (SSO)
While it appears like a simple measure, single sign-on may dramatically reduce the amount of typing and tapping you do on a mobile phone. Now, when Mrs. Smith wants to read her mail using a web browser, she typically navigates to a webpage like https://www.office.com. For a federated Office 365 domain, Microsoft will not ask for a username and password to log in, but instead redirect the browser to the Identity Provider for authentication.
Where you would probably see this happen in your day to day is when you download a new app or sign up for the first time online to something. You might see these options in the sign up. This uses the same technology. No username and password are exchanged. The information is passed via a token. I want to keep this post as non-technical as possible so I won't get into how this happens.
#2 It saves time
On average, users take 5–20 seconds to log in to an online app. It can take longer if they mistype their username or password and are prompted to reenter them. With SSO in place, manually logging in to online services is avoided. These saved seconds reduce frustration and add up to increased productivity. On the left you see our Office 365 waffle. When we first implemented Office 365 in our district, it was important for user adoption to be high. So when we deployed, we didn't deploy the Office client. The web client requirement meant that users were constantly being exposed to a majority of what we offered. This increased the user adoption of many of the other programs besides the Office 365 suite since we used Clever and Azure AD authentication techniques. Then a SSO requirement for future app adoptions allowed us to insert those tiles in the waffle and giving the user a single experience while also auto rostering their students and classes in the solutions.
For those of you interested in implementing SSO in your district, the Center for Digital Education has a great resource below.
#3 It gives focus
Many districts struggle with implementing and sun-setting of software and data solutions. When a district is purposeful in connecting the dots of these solutions to provide best practice, many times when they are not seen as conjoined mostly because to the user they are disparate systems. The login, professional development, and how the app is presented make all the difference in the world to building the communications and story of support.
#4 It provides a different highway for information
Networks are evolving. We depend so much on them today. Network convergence is the efficient coexistence of telephone, video and data communication within a single network. The use of multiple communication modes on a single network offers convenience and flexibility that are not possible with separate infrastructures. The mediums are changing as well. We power devices over the wire now and wireless is becoming the end user experience standard for internet activity. Mobility is driving this.
In Omaha Public Schools, we are transitioning. Planned Obsolescence is driving more mobile devices as we adopt a mobile first strategy. As a result, our wireless needs to evolve to accommodate this.
In the diagram below, you can see that in the old wireless strategy, we presented different wireless IDs but technically were on the same network.
In the end, it is about learning. These things are back end technologies. Not seen. But implemented properly, will provide efficiencies in time, and present multiple solutions with clarity, all while being secure.
What you see day to day, social media, news, games. We are all connected. Mobile computing and the Internet is making this happen. As we progress down this technological path, it's important to look at what's next to see where we might bring purpose. Without purpose in these devices, we will find ourselves in the living room with everyone just looking at their smartphones. Does this ring a bell? Enter the world of immersive tech, augmented and virtual reality. Virtual reality isn't just a view master for your video games. It's an entirely new medium whose true purpose is slowly being realized.
Let Me Clarify. I'm Inexperienced In This Area.
Recently we were invited to the Microsoft Store in Kansas City to participate with Washburn University in some VR activities. It opened my eyes to some opportunities that I would have otherwise dismissed. I got to enter new active experiences with the VIVE, Oculus Rift, and the new Mixed Reality device from HP. Microsoft is making a hard push into the mixed reality segment with Windows 10 as the platform of choice. Many of these headsets are much cheaper than their VR counterparts. Prices are around $399.
Here were a couple of videos we took as a part of the experience
So Where Does This Fit In The Classroom?
How we currently test new programs and solutions in Omaha Public Schools is through our Compass Program Adoption. This is lead by Eileen Heller, and many of the tiles in Office 365 you see today have come from that. Microsoft Classroom, Teams, and ClassFlow are great examples of Compass projects that the district ended up adopting into the classroom.
This last year at ISTE, there was a session on VR that described this taxonomy as to how to approach it in lessons and learning experiences. Here is the link to that session. Special shoutout to Eileen for sharing this with me.
As you can see there are many ways to consume media through virtual reality and that might be the only aspect you can see. That was how I had been before I experienced it first hand. After going through climbing a wall, exploring the solar system, and even looking into the sun, content in this will be key. In this week's research after the visit I found that many classes have used VR tools to collaboratively construct architectural models, recreations of historic or natural sites and other spatial renderings. Instructors also have used VR technology to engage students in topics related to literature, history and economics by offering a deeply immersive sense of place and time, whether historic or evolving. It is our job as educators to seek an ever-expanding immersive landscape, where students engage with teachers and each other in transformative experiences through a wide spectrum of interactive resources. In this educational reality, VR has a definitive place of value.
Every year has it's challenges. This year is no different. This summer we have deployed devices to secondary schools, implemented a new communications system with automated workflows to address busing operations, began a year long process of upgrading our HR and Finance systems and updating buildings infrastructure with our phase one Bond Projects. These are great examples of ongoing change with technology occurring in Omaha Public Schools. As with any large district, there are always concerns around technology adoption:
Culture is a big ticket here. There is a saying “Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch”. Culture is everything and to compete for talent, especially for teacher retention, districts need to have a clear sense of purpose and a set of shared values. Purpose and shared values not only needs to be communicated but also demonstrated by the behaviors of district leadership. One good example of this is how Superintendent Evans engages in social media and changed how the district approaches it.
Create An Innovation Ring
In an effort to create a vehicle for digital transformation, there were many identified strategies our district decided to tackle in the Strategic Plan. Here you can access the full Strategic Plan, but here were key areas that were focused around technology:
It can be a bit overwhelming when you see the extent of how these strategies can be in focus when you are in a large district. Systems create behaviors and this is important in a district because, as I say sometimes, district's do what they're organized to do. Imagine a Superintendent, or other District Leader, stands up, presents a vision, does a PowerPoint presentation or says, "We're going in a new direction!" Everybody sits there, nods their head, claps and then returns to their classrooms, schools, and offices. Back in the classroom, they do exactly what they were doing before they came to the meeting. When they come to work the next day, they do exactly what they normally do on that day based on what they have traditionally been taught. So, simply talking and casting vision doesn't change the direction of a district. Systems create behaviors because districts do what they're organized to do. To bring about actual change within a district, before launching a big vision or announcing the change, district leaders must sit down, look at the systems and ask the question, "What are the behaviors that need to change in order to move in the direction we need to move?" Then, the harder question is, "What systems are in place that are reinforcing the behaviors we need to change?" "What new systems could we put in place that will redirect the behaviors?" As wonderful as people are, as motivated and as committed as they are, people are creatures of habit. When we go to work and we get in a specific environment, that environment, sort of directs us into a certain task or a certain way of prioritizing what we do during the day. Can you see how this might happen in a classroom? So, how are we addressing these systems when it comes to technology in Omaha Public Schools? Below is an updated infographic that outlines our current systems that address many of those needs listed in the Strategic Plan and are meant to bring forth a long term culture shift.
In this post, I am going to focus on some key areas of the infographic:
The challenge in developing this innovation ring is anticipating the change. With the introduction of wearables, Internet of things, artificial intelligence and augmented/virtual reality, how is one to keep up? Society is shifting because of the introduction of these and I think it is our duty as life long learners to make sure we stay relevant to our students. What are we looking at in Omaha Public Schools?
Augmented and Virtual Reality
In the area of learning experiences, augmented and virtual reality bring about increased engagement. Wrap that around the popularity for gameification, and you get a recipe for purposeful learning. This means content needs to be curated to fit the environment as well as remain loyal to our learning standards and goals.
We are fortunate to have a great relationship with Microsoft. Through that partnership, we have been able to see the power of HoloLens as it pertains to student engagement. The above video is a great example of presenting to NETA participants what that experience looks like. These HoloLens units will be on our Mobile Learning Unit as seen below.
These and many other avenues for engaging young learners in technology are great, but it is important to note that we should make it purposeful. That is why the team, most of whom you see here, are instructional technology but play the role of mini project managers. It was important for me to do so to keep empathy involved in the user adoption process. They are my eyes and ears in the classroom, keep me well grounded and make sure purpose is instituted. We wouldn't be making the strides we are in Omaha Public Schools without their commitment and success in the initiatives outlined above and in our strategic plan. Do we have everything together? No, but I think we have a good foot forward to address technology as it evolves.
I chose to write about collaboration because of its increasing usage in our everyday space. Society is changing. My kids interact with a much larger circle of influence than I did growing up. Digital literacy and social media is an inseparable and powerful combination. Done correctly, this combination enhances the quality and efficiency of teaching, researching, learning, communicating, collaborating and creating. Technology is driving this impact on teaching and learning. For the intersection of social media and digital literacy to have the most impact, educators can't assume that students will embrace the idea because it's cool, digital and involves their mobile devices. Sure for the first moments, and I have seen it with each of my 3 girls, it engages them because its new. But the focus on the "shiny" doesn't last long with my girls, especially the youngest one, Bailey. They are an instant group in society. It is important for us to connect the dots. Schools adopt technology to build twenty-first-century skills such as critical thinking, global awareness, communication skills, information, digital literacy, productivity and creativity. Collaboration is the key mechanism by which all of these merge.
Types of Collaboration
Ever since Microsoft introduced OneNote Class Notebook and our work in helping Microsoft develop Professional Learning Communities in Modern Groups (see video below), I have thought of how we might look at management of collaboration differently.
As with OneNote Class Notebooks, OneNote Staff Notebooks is an app for Office365 that lets a principal or other school/district leader quickly set up a personal work space for every teacher, a content library for shared information and a collaboration space for everyone to collaborate—all within a single interface. With a Staff Notebook, administration and staff can save time, become more organized and collaborate more effectively. One of my favorite examples of this is how Pam Cohn, Executive Director for Secondary Schools, uses this to manage communication and collaboration with her several principals across the district.
When you look at collaboration in both the Class and Staff Notebook platform, you can broadcast information (one to many), you can fully collaborate (many to many), and you can work 1:1. OneNote Staff and Class Notebook offer these through an easy interface to distribute and manage content. This brings to my mind the idea if you manage content based upon how you collaborate, you might argue there is no need for the traditional file and folder structure day to day that you would see in a traditional file share. I think this is an excellent way of:
The other reason to manage content via OneNote instead of traditional file storage is the vast amount of content types that OneNote can reference or store. For example, OneNote integrates search features and indexing into a free form graphics and audio repository. I use it to search images (e.g., screen captures (BTW Snip for Windows 10 is amazing), embedded PDFs, pictures) for embedded text/content. If you have seen my notes I take in a session or meeting, you know I use digital inking pretty regularly. OneNote searches digital inking as text, yes, even my handwriting. It can replay audio concurrently with notes taken during the recording. The single most important feature for me personally is the free form work space and loose structure. Below are some very basic examples of free form notes I take as reflection from books.
Rob... You said this was about Microsoft Teams? Where does it fit in?
Think about email for a second. It is basically a digital representation of the formal letter. It contains an address, subject, body and signature. Now what do you use email for? What's going to happen to digital communication over the next five years? Will we still be weeding out unimportant messages and fishing through enormous email chains trying to find one pesky link to a business plan? Will we still battle to get to inbox zero (shout out to Keegan)? Email has mostly worn out its welcome.
That's where Microsoft Teams comes in. Think of authentic conversation. Look at the toolbar down below. It identifies the amount of different artifacts used today in our digital conversations.
Mix this conversation with real time collaboration, and dash a bit of provisioned identities via a school data sync, and you have a recipe for classroom learning in and out of the classroom walls.
It is really important to point out that digital literacy is a skill that is learned. It isn't something our new generations coming up already know. As we look at digital equity and access, continuous emphasis on digital citizenship and literacy are important. That is why I love Microsoft Teams to scaffold features and permissions as kids progress through their learning. From a tenant level, you can set specific permissions that inherit down to the end user. That is usual. But with Teams, the teacher has the ability to set his/her own permissions for the class for several features. This allows a greater personalized level of experience as the teacher assesses each classroom to their digital literacy abilities.
Teams also brings application rich integrations. Obviously OneNote is integrated since I discussed it from the beginning of this post. But moreover, there are many applications that can be integrated and connected to engage in this informal conversation model. For me, Teams is the next step. Will you make it your next step in classroom and team collaboration?
We all tell stories. Some are far fetched. Stories bring different feelings, at times sadness and other times laughter; these are the things that create memories. Stories bring clarity when they engage our feelings. My Grandpa Bradley and Uncle Randy tell me amazing stories about my family every holiday. Some far fetched, adding laughter and other feelings that stick in my mind even today. Some of those stories I have heard before, but I make it a point not to disclose that I have heard them many times. Rehearing a story brings more clarity. Why are these stories so important? They contain relevance. It is a part of me and the history of those before me in my family and community.
After reading the Brain Rules book, I reflected on what things I personally retain as a memory. It made me wonder, what things did I retain from school? I remember a career class where I got the opportunity to fly a plane because I was interested in being a pilot. I also remember as a Freshman in high school being shoved up onto a wall by a senior when I accidentally shoulder checked him in the hallway. Both are very clear memories, engaged different feelings, and share a bit of relevancy. But why do I not remember lectures? I do have some recollection of moments but they aren't too clear. I have to be honest though; I wasn't that engaged in the classroom, with the exception of taking art classes.
In the book, rule 6 is "We don’t pay attention to boring things." As indicated by this rule in terms of learning, there are implications if we don't engage students:
Bringing relevance into the classroom is an effective way to increase engagement and making learning meaningful. How do you do this systemically across a school or district though? Next I want to address leadership both in schools and at the district level.
If you know Mark Evans, you know what Markisms are. I can name most of them. "What am I, chopped liver?" "I could be better but I would have to be you." I have been privileged to work with Mark for 13 years. There is not an example for me in leadership that exudes the meaning of clarity more than he does. He enjoys telling stories and they stick in your mind over time as you hear them. Mark is consistent and authentic. I participated in podcasts he did over the years; this was his retirement video from his previous district in Andover, KS.
Mark does an incredible job of taking complexities of running a district and driving it to a single purpose. It is "what's best for students". If you are around him, you hear it. For those of us in leadership, somewhere back in there, somewhere in the midst of all the complexity, is a compelling reason as to why we're doing what we're doing. To cut through the clutter and complexity that haunts every single district, is the answer to the question, "Why?" What harnesses the hearts of the people who are leaning in and who have committed to your leadership and district? Why are you doing what are you doing? It's what is best for students.
In your school or district, the answer to that question is the same for everybody. If you are a good leader, everybody who answers to you should be able to answer that question quickly, and if you're a great leader they will all answer it the same way. This is exactly how I have mimicked many of the qualities that Mr. Evans shows in his daily leadership style.
What are we doing? Everybody knows. Why are we doing it? Everybody knows. But when it comes to this third question of "Where do I fit in?" -- this is where things get interesting. I had to ask myself this question when I came into my role in Omaha Public Schools. Fortunately, I was able to be a part of a technology audit that gave me a blueprint to figure out where I fit in the district with my role.
I want to encourage you to do something that is very, very time consuming but it may be one of the most helpful exercises you ever work through as a leader, especially as it relates to understanding your critical role in light of what you doing and why you are doing it. I challenge you to create for you, and to create for your people, a one-sentence job description. What does this mean?
As you think about the people in your department, school or district, even if they don't answer to you, create one-sentence job descriptions that instantly lets everyone know exactly why each person is there, doing what they do. Here's why it's important: because it is simple. In the midst of the complexity, crisis and deadlines, your team needs to understand what you think their critical roles are, as well as what your personal critical role is. If you do not clarify this for people who look up to you, they will generally do whatever comes next and what they feel you think is most important in the moment. Once you have developed your one-sentence job descriptions, start telling your story.
There are leaders who believe in thinking big and have the charisma to inspire the district along with them, to get to district goals. There are others who have big goals but their communication is not effective; people are not brought into the idea of "Where are we going?" These people haven't mastered telling their story. That's typically when you run into a problem in any district, when leadership says "This is where we want to go" but it doesn't necessarily get transmitted down to the people within the district. I have seen this first hand in many of the tech audits I have participated in throughout the country. People are not sure as to which direction their district is going, or why that direction was chosen over another one. That clarity is absolutely important.
Really good leaders make sure their message is communicated, that they are in the trenches with the rest of the district, telling the story. This motivates people. Mark does a great job of visiting every building each year. He is one of the most approachable people you will ever meet. He motivates. A motivated team can achieve anything they want. We set our own limitations, we set our own objectives. A clear message from leadership that we are in this together, we will arrive together, we will win together, we will fail together is a powerful message that every district would love to hear. Bringing others along with you, and shoulder-to-shoulder viewing of that vision versus nose-to-nose trying to convince people, makes a magical, literally magical environment to achieve goals. Through that magic, you can see the highest student achievement in district history, pass the largest bond issue in Nebraska history, and see the first virtual school in Nebraska history. All things that come through clarity in your message and vision.
The Last Three Years
It's my fault. I know. I'm not sure the whole family was ready to move. They took the gamble. For that, I will always be grateful to them. The transition wasn't easy. I went over a month and a half without them while the house was selling in Kansas. Leaving after having built our family there for 20 years, you lose so much in relationships. Our extended families live in Missouri, so now any free time would mean making decisions of seeing old friends or extended family. But this blog is titled, "Why I Love Omaha", it wasn't without some pain and sacrifice. Here was our house in Andover, located a couple of blocks from the girls' schools and my work.
Now....On To Omaha
#LoveOmaha Part 1 - Always Something To Do
Omaha is amazing. It has so many things that attract loads of people from outside of Nebraska as well as brings entertainment to its citizens. From the Henry Doorly Zoo, to the College World Series, NCAA Basketball Tournament, and many many others. The talent of events that is brought to this mid-western city is incredible.
#LoveOmaha Part 2 - Great Neighborhood & Relationships
My girls love volleyball. They will play out in the road in our neighborhood for hours. The kids across the street and down the road totally look up to them. It's a part of what makes a great neighborhood, well, great. Sitting outside with the neighbors, sometimes by the fire, or yearly when we plan to shoot fireworks off; these are all ways we all interact.
#LoveOmaha Part 3 - The Community Gives Back & Supports Public Education
I briefly outlined my thoughts on this, and really didn't do it justice. From the Sherwood Foundation, Lozier Foundation, Heritage Foundation and our very own Omaha Schools Foundation, there are so many great stories from these organizations giving back to the community. One that wasn't highlighted in the video is the 75 North Project. Check out this video that outlines this incredible revitalization effort.
75 North isn't the only community engagement project happening in Omaha. Another great example of engaging the community is through innovative spaces. The Dospace is a great high technology experience. I say experience because it isn't just about access, they also provide classes that can empower the youngest learner or introduce technologies to the older citizens in the community as well.
I am proud of our district and its accomplishments over the past couple of years. We have incredible leadership that creates vision that staff, students, and the community can engage in. In my area of expertise, our team from instructional trainers down to our building techs have helped infuse purpose and proper implementation of technology. The district is willing to go in areas it hasn't been exposed to. In a couple of weeks, we will introduce a mobile learning unit that will teach the North Omaha area students and parents digital literacy and citizenship. This mobile learning unit is not what you would expect. It's a flexible space, collaborative in every wall you turn to, and access to high technology that will bring digital access to many of our impoverished areas. Starting the first virtual school in Nebraska history is another example of paving the way. All good things. It's about what's best for the students.
Another organization I want to identify is Nebraska Loves Public Schools. You might have seen the t-shirt when I spoke at Microsoft's Hack the Classroom event this summer, they are a great billboard for public education. I have done blog posts about how important it is we in education tell our story, NELovesPS does this in an inspiring way with video. Check out their site:
So many great things to be proud of in Omaha. It hasn't been easy, but I know that my family is grateful for what Omaha brings to us. So thank you Omaha, thank you to my friends both at work and around me, and thank you to those who provide our students opportunities that otherwise they wouldn't ever experience.
At work, I sit at a desk for most of the day. Meetings, meetings, and more meetings. There is an importance to how we function day to day. As humankind, we haven't always been this way. The latest book I am reading is called Brain Rules. It does a marvelous job in simplifying the best ways to get the most out of our brains. The book is split into twelve sections seen below in this sketch note I made in OneNote:
I stated it does a marvelous job in simplifying how we can best get the most of our brains, but not through tips. It is through principles, and these principles, allow you to apply these strategies flexibly to your situations. For example, I love all kinds of music. I listen to music throughout the day. But I am not a musician. John Medina outlines what capabilities musicians have that help them identify emotions below:
The first section that resounds to me is attention. I hadn’t made the connection to multi-tasking, and the ability to only pay attention to one thing at a time. Makes me plan differently knowing that. Add to this the layer of multi-charged events within a 10 minute timeframe, a dash of emotion, and you have a great recipe for something to remember.
This section intrigues me. I love stress – the challenge of it. I feel like I am at the height of what stress can do for me to perform. There are times when I might spill over, but for the most part, I can deal with it. Some of it I think comes from a joy of problem solving.
Much of my stress comes from getting things done. By the way, getting things done is not really about getting things done. It’s about appropriate engagement. Many times I say to myself in moments of stress “I need more time.” Well guess what Einstein and Steve Jobs didn’t have more time. It’s not about time. It’s about space. Psychic bandwidth. Room to think. Room to get it simple. How much time does it take to have a good idea, make a good decision? ZERO.
If you have room in your mind, you can take three minutes for a powerful conversation. But if you don’t have the bandwidth in your mind, you can spend two hours playing games on your smart phone or engaging in social media. And if you don’t have the bandwidth, you take time fixing stuff. And that drains your creativity and you become stressed out.
The third section that grabbed my attention was exercise. I love to exercise. I confess - I am addicted to it. John Medina states that physical activity is cognitive candy. The impact of exercise is system wide. For me personally, it is about procedures and routines. I get up at the same time and I work out - focusing on different routines every day.
This particular section makes me wonder how do we incorporate more activity for our students during the day? Is it looking at learning spaces differently like in #LT8Keys? Is it incorporating more transitions into the instructional hour? I am not sure. I just know for students to have the best chance at learning, they need to move more.
I really enjoyed this book. There are several items I plan on incorporating daily to get the most out of my ability to remember, control stress, and perform at my best ability. Here are some of the image creations that Eileen Heller and I created during this read:
I have been fortunate this year to have colleagues challenge me to expand my knowledge in reading. I have a habit of reading articles, news, and probably could be addicted to information processing. As a society, I think we are all getting that way. Through technology and the Internet, we are inundated with information at every moment and every gesture of the hand on our smartphones. These last couple of years though, have been different for me personally.
Our first book was called LAUNCH. Design Thinking has been taking the world by storm by introducing a strategy for problem solving. LAUNCH brings this strategy straight to the classroom. For educators who value classrooms in which student choice and ownership of learning are non-negotiables, LAUNCH serves as a mentor resource for implementing these methods through design thinking and student-friendly motivational practices. I am a personal fan of the resources, personal stories, and doodles. So during the process of reading this book, I decided to doodle in OneNote about this book.
As a group, initially we chose to read a couple of books that focused in an area where we saw a need in our work here in Omaha Public Schools. The second book was Uncommon Learning by Eric Sheninger. This is a great book that outlines effective teaching and learning ideas to design the next generation of classrooms and schools. This was very timely since we had just passed the largest bond issue in Nebraska history at $421 million to renovate and build new schools. We worked through the book with a challenge at a chapter a day and put notes into an email (to facilitate conversation) that later transferred into a OneNote Notebook.
After that book activity, our momentum continued and we jumped right into another. Before long, it became the regular practice to start a book, invoke the challenge of a chapter a day, and tweet about it. Now, we have completed 8 books since last December and compiled our notes in a OneNote Notebook.
Here are the books we have tackled in their order:
Recently, Rebecca Chambers, Eileen Heller, and I co-wrote a blog post on the book Learning Transformed. It was an incredible, highly collaborative activity that brought many questions and conversations about how we could approach different educational opportunities. You can see that post here.
I have also doodled many of these books listed above as I have went along:
Currently, Eileen Heller and I are in the middle of the book Brain Rules. It does a great job of explaining how we process information and how many factors determine how we learn and grow as individuals. I appreciate it for identifying positives and some negative outcomes that we and our students deal with. As educators, it is important to look at mindfulness; learning to become aware of your environment without judging and learn to enjoy the moment, among other practices. As parents, there are certain factors that contribute to you and your kids success including: exercise, sleep, stress, wiring, attention, memory, sensory integration, vision, music, gender, and exploration—relates to this performance envelope. For me personally, the Stress chapter was one that spoke to me. I love challenges and John Medina explains what the perfect storm looks like:
It has been 5 years since we have taken a vacation as a family. We have been to the beach, to Missouri to see relatives, and to the lake many times. We just have never been to the mountains together as a family. Amanda, Aiyana, and I are pretty active people in our family unit. There aren't many days we miss workouts in a year. Colorado made many opportunities for us to explore and get some exercise in the process. Two days prior to the start of this blog journey you are about to read, Amanda, Aiyana, and I had just done a 6+ mile hike to see a waterfall in Ouzel Falls. It was cool, it rained, a very different experience than climbing Deer Mountain. The day we decided to tackle Deer Mountain, it was going to be hot and muggy.
That morning, Bailey decided to go with us. Initially I felt as though this was going to be a piece of cake for her. She surprised me a couple of months ago tackling a half marathon without having run even 5 miles total at a time before attempting it. Never even trained. Completed it. Crazy. I had no worries for her other than maybe a bit of breathing problems with the altitude.
Starting out she and Aiyana took off, Bailey dropping her iPhone without even noticing. I put it in my pocket and let them progress ahead. They got a ways ahead of Amanda and I, and I have to be honest, I didn't think it was going to be as long as it was. By midway, we were all panting a bit, but Bailey was struggling (see right).
Breaks were a necessity in this climb. There were times I thought Bailey might give up. But we encouraged her along the way. By the way, she still didn't have a clue she had dropped her iPhone at this point. One of the benefits of this climb was that it leveled out a bit at the end before a hard short climb in the end. Below is a video of that approach.
It was at this point that I thought, "this would be a great blog post!" Her progression up the mountain and the imposing struggle she went through gave me the thought of having her climb a similar "mountain" but in the process of a digital detox.
The Digital Detox Challenge
Today, we have endless cable channels, unlimited varieties of entertainment options, and countless ways to communicate with each other, all of which has led to this constant tsunami of information. I can remember when I was young that my choice to communicate was a home phone or driving to the person's house. Today the internet has changed how we communicate; we always stay connected. Technology is not bad. It is how we use it that can be problematic and questionable. Technology makes things exponential, and the pace of digital information in this mobile device age is fast and furious. For all of us today, the new "up-time" is really downtime. The climb up Deer Mountain gave me the idea to present Bailey with a challenge to do a digital detox and journal her progression through the day. She didn't know when we did the intro video on Sunday, I decided to tell her Monday that this was happening Wednesday. Below is a great article that identifies what happens to us when we do a digital detox.
As you can imagine, Bailey's summer day starts pretty late. My instructions for her was to journal her experience on paper every hour and do two reflection videos, recorded by Aiyana. There would be no access to Internet, TV, or devices for the entire day. Here was her experience:
As you can tell by the written notes below, things went well initially, but as the day progressed, she felt emotionally challenged and disconnected. Looking over these, it made me think of my own daily journey. I seem to always have a fractured attention span, constantly looking at the next digital notification. For me this is exacerbated by my Apple Watch. I think it keeps me from looking at my iPhone, but in reality it gives the outward perception that I am preoccupied and uninterested in face to face interactions, meetings, etc.
Bailey completed her digital detox in one day. In hindsight, the thoughts that went through my head were more about what does this constant digital interaction mean to sleep? Our smart phones, tablets, and multiple screens have invaded our bedroom space and am sure negatively impact our quantity and quality of sleep. I think we have a deep fear of missing out, and interacting constantly produces a feeling of connectedness and power. This exercise was good for Bailey, and good for me. Here was her final reflection video:
For Bailey, I am sure we will do this again. As we rely more and more on technology, we forfeit some opportunities to memorize "how" to do things. YouTube teaches us just about everything on the fly. Technology is not bad; it is how we use it at times that becomes questionable. I will give you one example of something that I personally continue to do but with technology. Note taking. I used to write in Moleskine journals pretty religiously. It helped me memorize and organize my thoughts. Then I moved to electronic notes. I typed them out and it didn't allow me to retain nearly what I did when I wrote them down. But with the introduction of digital inking, I get the best of both worlds. I guess what I am trying to say is, be purposeful with technology. We should make sure we practice self control and enable technology to work for us and not us working for it.
Common Sense Media is an amazing free resource for parents out there who are struggling to keep up with this ever changing social and technology mixed environment. We are fortunate in Omaha Public Schools to have our very own Lead Teacher for Digital Citizenship in partnership with Common Sense Media, Keegan Korf.
First: About the challenge
Eileen Heller and Rebecca Chambers work with me at Omaha Public Schools. Their contribution to this post has been invaluable. Our challenge was to tackle one chapter a day and I can say we successfully met this head on. If you would like to connect with Eileen or Rebecca, click on their image below:
During the #HackTheClassroom event at ISTE, I spoke about how I approach teachers that are reluctant to engage with technology in the classroom. It starts with, "What if I told you I could save you 15 minutes, would you then consider it?" With the introduction of the smartphone in our lives, think about all the little things you do with tech each day. If any of these are daily tasks you engage with everyday, there is quite a bit of time put into it. Over the last couple of years I have used IFTTT (If This Then That) to automate everything from social media posts to home automation. Recently Microsoft has introduced Flow which does similar workflow integrations but takes it a bit further. For example, lets take the use of web forms and apply some automation to it. In another blog post, I talked about my use of Google Apps in my previous district, and have seen this capability with Google Forms. With Flow, however I can go further, but let's start simple. You can begin by downloading the Flow app for iOS and Android.
As you can see below there are an incredible amount of templates you can choose from. I would suggest beginning with something like "Block out my Office 365 calendar for an hour". This "Flow" will automatically block out your calendar for the next hour. You can do this to other services as well like Google calendar and your Outlook.com calendar.
Save Some Time With Integration
All the big names are supported on Flow. For social networking you'll find Facebook profiles, Facebook Pages, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram. For those Google Apps users, there are Google services like YouTube, Drive, Gmail, Google Calendar, etc. You'll find sync services like Dropbox, Box, and commercial OneDrive, plus blog services like WordPress, Medium, and Blogger. Omaha Public Schools exclusively uses the Office 365 suite, so this integrates nicely with our workflow.
Social media with the use of mobile devices have made an incredible impact on us socially. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to manage all of the social media presences you might have. What makes it frustrating is that these devices occasionally overlap in what they do — i.e. Twitter and Facebook — or seem like they’d just work well together if you could just figure out a way to connect them. Where Flow comes in is that it allows people with little to no programming knowledge to make use of cutting-edge technology that can make their life easier. For example, if you tend to engage in multiple social media platforms, Flow can integrate them.
Now I Am Going To Geek Out A Bit...
When you have had the time to toe dip into some of the simple flows, and you want more, Flow allows you to engage at a deeper level with it's possibilities. Microsoft Forms is a great application when working with Flow.
The ability to utilize dynamic content from within the form creates a whole world of opportunities. I can make dynamic content available for things like sending an email or I can also use Flow to make those dynamic content areas actionable. If I use Flow with SharePoint Online, I can make this dynamic content actionable in order to start an approval process.
Now I have multiple solutions I am integrating together:
The ability to grab dynamic content, make it actionable, and do it all without the knowledge of programming is where the power is. Something that in the past, would take a admin assistant, teacher, or administrator having to engage a developer or programmer is now being presented to anyone. Engaging with Flow through some simple steps and still having the power of the cloud is pretty incredible. The promise of this cloud environment is that it will always be on and available - when and where ever you are at.
As educators we are constantly trying to find more time. With a little bit of exploration, you can find some efficiency in these tools that can save minutes here and there to bring a reality to saving time.
With ISTE behind us, it’s fun to reflect on the event that it was. You knew it was going to be big when Richard Culatta shared that registrations for ISTE had reached over 21,000. ISTE always brings together thousands of teachers, all trying to find the latest news, gadgets and education tips. This is what I love about ISTE. It is about teachers. If you want to speak with educators, hear their pain, and show them how EdTech can ease that pain and benefit students, then ISTE is the place to be. San Antonio was a great host. Arriving Saturday after a long journey of circling around in airports, because of weather, and eventually renting a van and driving, we made it in time to catch a ball game. The minor league team put on quite a show. Kudos to San Antonio!
Share. Share. Share.
This year was amazing. In all the years participating at ISTE (I have been attending since the NECC days), I have never been a part of a team that presented so much. Overall, we participated in 11 presentations or panels. We have a lot to share at Omaha Public Schools. Districts and schools listened. The transformation our district has been through the last 4 years, with the introduction of Mark Evans as Superintendent, has been systemic. When systemic change happens, it flows through every area of the district; this was evident in our presentations at ISTE.
The leadership strand I was a part of Sunday, with some amazing district leaders, delivered to a jam packed room of new members on how to navigate the ISTE Conference. In the other sessions we presented on, from our App Approval tool to our work on Microsoft Teams, we discussed the influence these tools have had on us and, at least for our Microsoft relationship, the difference it is making for educators around the world. I want to throw a shout out to Keegan Korf for presenting her heart out in the Ignite Session about how we as educators need to approach social media for the good; when done correctly, social media can be powerful in all the right ways. I am super proud of her. Keegan brings great qualities to a need across education: empathy. Even though I deny it, she has a personality that rubs off on people, even this guy. Producing positive digital footprints are important for everyone, and she is teaching us the way.
What a rush. Such an honor. To be able to share what we are doing with Teams in #HackTheClassroom was a surreal experience. Time flew by. It is amazing how Microsoft is putting an incredible focus in the area of education over the last few years. Teams is an incredible way to engage students and staff in a different way; the way we communicate today. Informal. Instant. It is important as educators to model and scaffold this to students today. Teams does that.
I want to give a couple more shout outs. First, to Kelly Means. Kelly is the go to person that I depend on to bring focus for our Planned Obsolescence of Devices strategy to our secondary teachers. She is pictured above and has also been instrumental in bringing purpose to Teams in that implementation to the classroom. Second, is to Eileen Heller, also pictured above. Eileen is the glue to making the ideas that come out of Omaha Public Schools and Microsoft work. She connects the dots. OPS would not be in its current progression through the workflow of change, around the purpose of devices and the matching environment of Microsoft Teams, without these two. They are professional and organized in their approach. I appreciate that.
I absolutely love my team at Omaha Public Schools. I am fortunate to be supported by leadership and my peers (above). This year, I was presented with the 2017 ISTE PLN Administrator Award. It has been an unbelievable experience so far here at Omaha Public Schools. Our team is outstanding. That is why I feel this award is a reflection of us - the OPS Tech Team. Only time will tell the impact we will have on the learning experience of 52,000 students in the Omaha area. I can tell you, in my 3 years since coming here, we are getting there quickly. It takes a village. I can only do what we do as a collective. Omaha Public Schools will be a progressive learning experience in the future. Technology will always be how we get there. Every Student. Every Day. Prepared For Success.
To an EdTech, the ISTE conference is the biggest and best there is. The annual conference serves as a place for exploring and exchanging ideas about education technology with educators from around the world. Each year the venue changes; this year being hosted in San Antonio. I can't remember my first time going to ISTE, but it has been quite a few years. There has been a progression to the flow to how I approached ISTE as a participant, leader, and presenter.
This year is a real highlight for me personally. I have the great pleasure of working with some amazing staff here at Omaha Public Schools. Over the course of the last 3-4 years, we have been in constant transformation. One of the great outcomes of this transformation has been about telling our story. Books like BrandED, Learning Transformed, and Innovator's Mindset tell much of the importance of storytelling and it's impact now in our current educational climate. Especially today in public education, if you aren't telling your story, someone else will.
As you can see above, we are very present at ISTE this year. OPS has incredible talent and we are sharing many of our ideas at ISTE. That is one thing I love about education, we share freely among one another. We are synced on our purpose, and that purpose is what's best for students. Preparing students for what the future brings, that is part of the promise of great education. ISTE does a great job of showing the best practices of integrating technology and aligning them to sound standards that are common language for teachers.
As of this morning, there are even more presentations we are a part of that aren't listed above. For me, this is a time of celebrating the year end and reflecting on what is needed moving forward. Much of our efforts have been in collaboration with Microsoft. This year we are sharing our work with them around Microsoft Teams with Classroom and PLC integration.
Hack the Classroom is an exciting, online, live event designed to show you what’s possible and ignite new ideas. Last year one of my colleagues and long time friend Dyane Smokorowski spoke at #HackTheClassroom on Skype and it's effectiveness in bringing experiences outside of traditional boundaries to students. This year, Omaha Public Schools gets to share our collaboration with them around Teams. Eileen Heller and Kelly Means will participate with me in a Q & A session around Teams.
You can register for #HackTheClassroom by visiting here:
The Center for Digital Education is a great resource for districts of any size across the nation. Over the course of the last three years, Omaha Public Schools have used multiple resources from within the Center to assist in our transformation. The Center has many sessions outlined above and one that I would like to highlight since I will be participating in:
Digital Districts: A National Perspective
10:00 – 11:00am
Convention Center - Room 220
As technology changes, society has changed with it. Social media and technology together are making a lasting impact on our youth. Districts must respond to these changes with thoughtful planning to align necessary technologies with instructional goals to support teaching and learning. The Future Ready Framework provides great resources to do just that. If you would like more information, go to Tom Murray's session at ISTE, it will be a great one:
What does it take to become Future Ready?
Tuesday, June 27, 2:45–3:45 pm
First, don't try to consume too much. Keep it simple. Take 3 important initiatives or ideas back to your district. Second, take notes. If you are a leader, incorporate a plan for your team to collaborate in something like OneNote. As a team, tackle the exhibit hall strategically. Otherwise, you will end up spending too much time there and not enough in sesssions. Below are examples our our OneNote collaboration in events like ISTE.
"Now listen to a story all about how my life got flip-turned upside down. I'd like to take a minute, just sit right there....... by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
Listen up. The world is still flat. Thomas Friedman was right back in 2004. Technology is disrupting geographical boundaries for us all. For example, I currently live in Nebraska and bank at Bank of America. There isn't even a Bank of America within three hours of my house. That doesn't stop my access to money or my ability to pay my bills. Technology is the enabler. It doesn't stop there. Look at the iPod on the left. Steve Jobs said "What if you could hold 1000 songs in your pocket?" It sold me and millions of others.
Although the iPod itself was not disruptive, the iPod/iTunes combination provided the means for attaining and consuming music differently. This was globally disruptive. Today Apple Music, which is an evolution from the single song/album purchase model to now a subscription model, has reached more than 100 countries. It changes how we interact and consume music as a society.
The thought of conversation has changed because of technology. Social media and the introduction of smart phones have affected all of our lives. Just think about it for a second, how has your "circle of influence" changed because of social media? I know personally, I keep up with old and new friends, distant and close relatives, through multiple social media channels. It doesn't matter what the geographical boundaries are, many times we have constant communication through Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, and Instagram. I also have three teenage daughters that I interact with on social media. Social media isn't simply a way of life for our kids -- it's life itself. Our kids are swiping and scrolling, totally transfixed by screens of all sizes. Many times we introduce them for all the right reasons, to keep in touch with them and give a level of security. Welcome to the new frontier of digital parenting.
Understanding Digital Citizenship and Digital Literacy are so important with this influx of mobile devices and mediums, such as social media, to our kids. In Omaha Public Schools, we have made it a priority to make sure we are putting our best foot forward in providing curriculum and practice around these strategies. Keegan Korf, Lead Teacher of Digital Citizenship, works directly with our schools as we roll out devices to our schools to bring purpose to this initiative. I can't wait until our mobile learning unit gets completed to do community engagement work around digital citizenship and literacy...but that's a whole other post, altogether. I am so proud of the efforts of our district and receiving Common Sense Media District Level Certification for the first time this year.
A direct effect of utilizing technology to communicate and operate as an individual, family unit, business, or school district, our "circle of influence" is massive now. We are a part of a global community whether we like it or not. We can choose to accept it, and take advantage of it, or deny it and deny the future it promises individually, as a family, or to our community. Every time we post to twitter for example, we have to understand that it has the potential to be viewed by anyone, anywhere, on just about any connected device. Next, I am going to discuss how we can be purposeful in taking advantage of all of this to bring learning experiences to another level for our students.
Boundless Opportunities in the Classroom
There are times when I wish I had access to this kind of technology experience when I was in school. Tools such as Skype in the Classroom bring experiences beyond the classroom walls into direct interaction with students. These can be virtual visits to museums, mystery skype sessions (my favorite), and great avenues for project based learning activities. My dear friend Dyane Smokorowski first introduced me to the power of this medium when in my previous district. We did a passion project that produced raising books for an African village and in return decorated our library with amazing African art. The commitment in that project made true connections between children and their world and it took a community to make it happen. Technology facilitates an opportunity to alter how children perceive their world and to leverage this tool takes community effort. Recently I was given the opportunity to mystery skype with my Partnership 4 Kids mentor classrooms while I was in New York City. I loved being able to interact with those kids and I miss them already since school is out.
Below are two great examples of bringing opportunities for amazing global collaboration through Skype. The first one was developed by our own Eileen Heller. Recently we read the book LAUNCH, which introduces design thinking strategies so that students define themselves as makers, inventors and creators. Special kudos to Eileen for making this possible.
The more I read books like BrandED, the more I think storytelling is important in education. It is important for our students, our staff, our leadership. Telling our story and understanding how to build the story stands the test of time for our knowledge delivery. The Global Goals Skype Collaboration brings that to purpose in your classroom. By building the classroom poster, or collaborating with a classroom abroad, you are exposing your students to cultural awareness and going beyond the geographical boundaries that we have always seen as barriers.
Lastly, lets talk about purpose. The new ISTE Standards give great indicators for teachers to effectively align these activities to outcomes. These standards promote Future Ready Learning. "The ISTE Standards for Students are designed to empower student voice and ensure that learning is a student-driven process of exploration, creativity and discovery no matter where they or their teachers are in the thoughtful integration of ed tech."
In the upcoming days, you can see a guest post I wrote on EdTech Magazine's website. The post focuses on my thoughts around Windows 10 S and what it can provide education. When writing the post, I came up with two factors that I considered to be key: time and opportunity. In this weeks blog, I'd like to expand upon the notions of time and opportunity with the use of technology in education.
As an airman in the Air Force, I recall being a part of a special class that attend airman leadership school and studied Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I remember the instructor bringing a jar onto the table and referencing how we use time. The analogy for the effective use of time was demonstrated by first placing large rocks into a jar before adding pebbles, sand and water. By doing so, everything can fit in the jar; on the other hand, if you start by filling the jar with the small things (pebbles, sand and water), there isn't room for the big rocks. This simple illustration stood in my head for many years as to how to use time wisely by attending first to the most important tasks, and so forth.
So, if time is so precious and you can't add more, is there a way to do more with the same amount of time? Think about it. The Amazon shopping experience is something that’s relatively new, but it has dramatically altered the way that we browse, purchase and receive products. I have been a member of Amazon Prime for 7 years now. Gradually, as I have learned "the ropes" of online shopping, I have done more and more of our family's shopping through that route. The time savings are massive. This is just one example of how technology adds time. Look at Netflix. At first, we relied on traditional cable when watching television and used Netflix for the occasional movie. Over time, we have moved completely off traditional cable and stream our shows via Direct TV Now and Netflix. The time savings are huge compared to the old days of Blockbuster and Redbox. The conveniences that technology brings are incredible. The introduction of the smartphone has changed how we interact. We use our phones to check into flights, wake up in the mornings and take pictures that we store in the cloud without the care of changing out and developing film.
But Rob, you ask, how does this pertain to education? Every time I talk to a teacher that is reluctant to embrace technology in the classroom, I ask "What if we could save you 15 minutes out of your day? Would that be enough for you to at least be interested?" If you asked every teacher in public schools today, “What do you wish you had more of?”, their answer would be: Time. This can come in the form of self grading quizzes, engaging parents via social media instead of face to face or phone calls and accessing information on any device via the cloud instead of staying late in the classroom. This is just the start. With blended learning, personalization of content to students can bring differentiation efficiency so that you aren't killing yourself trying to engage every student on an ongoing basis. Believe me though when I say, technology will never replace a good teacher, it will just increase their capabilities to provide a great learning experience to our students.
Opportunity is defined as the set of circumstances that make it possible to do something. I am starting to read the book "Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today" by Tom Murray and Eric Sheninger. In the book, one sentence stands out when discussing opportunity:
I have three daughters in the education system right now. They span from high school to college. One of the things I hope for as a parent is that I instill in them the desire to find out what they love to do and go after it. They will always be rewarded with purpose if they do.
So how does technology bring opportunity? Well, that can be a double edged sword. Technology can bring exponential opportunity, both good and bad. The importance of teaching digital citizenship and digital literacy are increasing as each year progresses. Many times, we focus on the negative: cyber-bullying, sexting, identity theft, etc. Technology is changing our industries, as you recall above, in the section time. We Uber now instead of taking taxis, video chat using FaceTime or Skype instead of traditional calling; the list goes on and on. As a result, most industries are changing with the introduction of automation. Many of the jobs we think of today won't exist in the next decade or two.
We should be increasing opportunity for our students by introducing those skills that make them adaptable to this ever changing environment. Introducing those 4Cs:
The promises of technology are that it can provide teachers and students both time and opportunity. If you have ever been in a full classroom that is immersed in technology devices, speed is a huge time factor in classroom management. Opportunity arises when you can both control the apps being installed, and deliver the cloud promise of working across devices seamlessly, without hindering time. Classroom spaces can be transformed and increased opportunities for those 4Cs to be introduced to students can happen more frequently. The future looks promising, too. With the introduction of augmented and virtual reality, we can bring experiences outside of the classroom, in. Today we get to embark on real time experiences with Skype in the Classroom; tomorrow you will be able to explore incredible content through these high engaging technologies that show content via an inexpensive headset.
Telling Our Story
This week, along with Wendy Loewenstein and Eileen Heller, I decided to take on the book BrandED. It fits the direction we are moving in Omaha Public Schools around actively communicating our efforts and is a great read for education leaders out there. For me personally, it was a good follow up to Eric Sheninger's Digital Leadership. BrandED starts with three foundational elements: an image, a promise, and a result. From there, you begin to build your personal brand as you develop your school brand. Through the BrandED Strategic Plan, drivers are introduced to make sure you are efficient, and in constant clarity with ongoing transparency.
Here are my personal elements:
Some of these were through reflection during reading the book, and many of them are what I have inherited from the leadership of Mark Evans.
Through our journey here in Omaha Public Schools, we have been under constant transformation. We represent the largest district in the Cornhusker state. As part of a five-year strategic plan, we passed a $421 million bond issue—the largest in state history—to further prioritize our commitment to transformation. Just this week, we came together bringing all of our school leaders to reflect on the year coming to a close.
Willie Barney, Director of the Empowerment Network, gave a power talk about what we have done. Closing the achievement gap across our poverty areas and creating partnerships in community and philanthropic avenues, we are clearly putting students first. At one point, Willie said "Now everybody get up". We said, "We are strong! We are proud!" - those words were repeated by every leader in the room. The atmosphere was alive and energy was high.
Willie went on to show growth in areas of North Omaha where growth had been measured in several different outcomes since the Empowerment Network started 10 years ago. "Much of North Omaha had not been developed in 35 years" he said. For me, this was eye opening. I have lived in this community for 3 years now. What I have seen in the last 3 years is pretty significant.
But it isn't without challenges.
As can be seen above, we have many challenges; most large urban school districts deal with similar challenges. From my viewpoint, many of these are being approached with technology. Technology can be a powerful "how" if implemented correctly. For example, we are working with the transportation team to work on new ways to communicate to parents about the status of a bus using technology.
One critical problem we are tackling is how we handle calls. Last year, the transportation department had 3 different phone numbers:
We are also making significant progress. As Eric states in BrandED, "We have to do a better job of communicating what we do. We must be part of the exchange. It gives us the best chance at connecting with our audiences and winning support for schools." It is so important for us to communicate these achievements. Otherwise, someone else will.
We are setting records; succeeding and striving to do what's best for students. We are tackling challenges, innovating, and showing progress. One area I am super proud of is our virtual school. Omaha Virtual School is the first K-8 virtual school in the State of Nebraska. Next year we will introduce 9th grade. Much of this is through the leadership of Wendy. She is passionate about the blended environment we are building for our students. As we move forward, they will be a model for what blended looks like in Omaha Public Schools. We are strong. I am #OPSProud. Let's tell our story.
What is CDE?
The Center for Digital Education is a great resource for districts of any size across the nation. Over the course of the last three years, Omaha Public Schools have used multiple resources from within the Center to assist in our transformation.
Keegan Korf is our Lead Teacher of Digital Citizenship in our partnership with Common Sense Media. Her role, along with our Planned Obsolescence of Device Strategy, is crucial for providing both direction for digital literacy and citizenship for staff and students, as well as community outreach. A couple of weeks ago we had the opportunity to travel to D.C. and participate in the Large District Fly In activities. To follow, Keegan will present some of the topics that were discussed.
Kecia Ray is a great friend, colleague, and mentor. With her transition to the Center a few years ago, she brought vision for districts on how they should approach digital transformation. Many of the resources outlined below are a part of her vision for success.
Back in 2014, Kecia and I were both named "20 to Watch", along with many other educators, that we keep in touch with today, who are shaping educational technology.
Large District Fly In
Omaha Public Schools is the largest school district in the state of Nebraska, serving twenty percent of our state's student population. You wouldn't think that serving so many students could seem so isolating. We look to our sister district, Lincoln Public Schools, but Lincoln is a step ahead of our district in providing technology access to their students. Omaha is closely following suit, but the challenges we face are not exactly parallel.
We are part of a consortium called the Council of Great City Schools, comprised of the 100 largest school districts in the United States. While we share many commonalities with districts across our great state, we find ourselves faced with more similar challenges to school districts that serve upwards of 300,000 students, as opposed to our state smaller-sized school district.
Large districts are often plagued with challenges that make introducing technology in the classroom a feat in and of itself. Access to affordable Internet at home is increasing but that access may be in the form of a mobile device as opposed to high-speed broadband. Funding for increasing device access in our schools may be more restricted than we see in our small district counterparts, or not available at all. Grant opportunities often fund technology but then, equity is compromised and often, those grants aren't always sustainable in order to create a lifecycle of upgraded technology.
The poverty that our students face creates unique barriers to their learning. Federal programs have been made available in the past to help detract from the impact of these challenges but under our new administration, that funding is now at risk. Inside of our schools, teachers combat these realities every single day. They build relationships with students and open doors to opportunities those students may not see outside the four walls of their classrooms. For educational technology leaders in large school districts, it is important to tap into relationships by bringing people together who share common challenges in order to best meet the needs of our students.
The Center for Digital Education provides an opportunity for representatives from large school districts across the United States to participate in an annual event called the Large District Fly-In. Earlier this month, Rob and I had the opportunity to attend this year's event in Washington, D.C. A valuable highlight was the collaboration among our peers during the "Hot Topic Round Table" discussions. We developed relationships with our tablemates and had awesome discussions with our new friends from Miami-Dade Public Schools, Cypress Fairbanks ISD, and the U.S. Department of Education. Topics addressed the following prompts:
This experience provided not only the chance to build important relationships with our large district peers, but it also provided insight into other ways that we can approach and tackle issues that our large districts face. Some of my takeaways from that experience were:
The Center for Digital Education provided a unique opportunity for large districts to collaborate, advocate on behalf of students from across the country. Their resources engage educators with critical information to support the work we do.
Digital District Submission
Each year the Center honors the top-10 districts in 3 size categories. The survey generates top-10 rankings for districts that excel in the use of technology to govern the district; communicate with students, parents and the community; or improve district operations. One thing I would point out: it is a lengthy process. However, even if you know you have some transformation growth needed, this is a great process to go through each year to determine the areas your district can work on. In my previous district we were fortunate to make the top-10 rankings 4 times.
There are a wealth of activities the Center offers in the area of thought leadership. Whether you are a Superintendent, Chief Academic Officer, or Chief Information Officer there are opportunities for professional growth and networking. Digital Education Leadership Conversation or DELC is an event that I personally take part in that generates great conversation around challenges and initiatives driving education.
This is where the good stuff is. If you visit the Center website, you will find a section called "Papers". This is a great area that you can get digital copies of content that you can use to address and transform your district. Kecia has done a great job of reintroducing both the magazine Converge as well as these into paper form. I have had many of these sent in multiple copies to the district to use in our conversations here in Omaha Public Schools. Here are my favorites: