"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:
New York City - Microsoft
What an experience - New York City. I got to hang with some amazing educators and Microsoft leaders. Microsoft has truly stepped up to the plate in education the last couple of years; looking at purpose has become a great model for them. During the showcase after the keynote, I looked around and could literally see the focus: Windows 10S, Minecraft in Education, Mixed Reality, Surface Laptop, and of course Microsoft Classroom experience in Teams. We are fortunate in Omaha Public Schools to be able to work with the Microsoft Development Team on this experience.
One of the most memorable experiences was listening to Satya Nadella discuss his story. He started with his Great Grandmother in India and the decision on which son would go on to education. Satya's Grandfather was the son who got the education, and allowed opportunities to flow down lineage to Satya. His perspective on the value of education, and how technology can empower every person to achieve more, was the focus of his keynotes. "Technology alone can't provide the necessary education. Dedicated Administrators and Teachers, and involved communities are the ones changing education. Technology is the tool that empowers their creativity and their ingenuity."
Here are some pictures from the Microsoft Event.
A huge highlight of my trip was being able to Mystery Skype with my P4K classroom back in Omaha: the Skinner Elementary students that I get the opportunity to spend time with throughout the year. These kids help my heart; I love spending time with them and it was awesome to have them guess where I was at. One added bonus was that we were able to get them BrainPoP next year for free, since we talked Moby into it.
Of course I went to a Yankees game while I was there. Yankees came back to take the lead in the 7th inning, beating the Bluejays.
The Hill - Washington DC
Over the last 4 years our district has been in transformation mode. Much of our success is due to the ability to deploy a robust infrastructure to support the changes we want to see in the classroom. In December of 2014, E-Rate changed it's Category 2 funding to support the proliferation of WiFi in schools. This was key for us in Omaha, along with passing the largest bond issue in Nebraska history in November 2014. Both of these mechanisms allowed the district to move quickly to developing the network experience the district needed for initiatives coming down the road. In just 3 years, we have been able to experience $6.4 million in funding to support our infrastructure and internet capacities.
Keegan Korf, Lead Teacher of Digital Citizenship, and I had the opportunity to tell our story to Congressional members in D.C. It is a great story and is encompassed in this letter and points of pride document below.
An additional highlight of the trip was meeting directly with Senator Fischer. I appreciated how engaged she was in what good things we are doing in Omaha. We discussed many of the issues that we face in education locally, at the state level, as well as nationally. We also got the opportunity to discuss our Omaha Virtual School, the first in Nebraska history, and its ability to provide opportunities to students we hadn't served before.
Finally, we get to providing opportunities for future leaders of OPS. Our LAUNCH program provides existing staff a pipeline to school and district leadership. This last session we were able to introduce the Future Ready Framework and have Tom Murray, Director for Innovation for Future Ready Schools, a project of Alliance for Excellent Education, speak. Tom did an incredible job talking about his experience as a Principal, Director of Technology, and national experience in working with all of the sponsors of Future Ready. We had an incredible positive response from the LAUNCH participants and look forward to introducing the Future Ready Framework here in Omaha, as well as the State of Nebraska.
I am fortunate to be a part of the Future Ready Thought Leadership at the national level. District leaders must recognize the potential of digital tools and align necessary technologies with instructional goals to support teaching and learning. The Future Ready Framework helps align the correct measures and prepares schools and districts to make their best effort in providing a personalized learning experience for their students.
To learn more about Future Ready, click below.
We have an incredible story here at Omaha Public Schools. I invite you to visit our Transformation Site to see this journey.
Leadership plays an important role in education. The way I define leadership is one's ability to establish a following among a group of individuals. So, I'd like to dissect that a bit. Obviously, in order to begin you must know yourself and your team. Without this fundamental principle you won't be able to play off strengths and weaknesses to create evidences of success. If you spend some time around me, you will hear the phrase "evidence of success". In terms of leadership, I feel it is paramount to create an atmosphere that bleeds constant improvement. I remember watching a Leadercast session last year where Andy Stanley said, "clarity trumps integrity". Although both are non-negotiable, it is interesting to see the value of clarity. Constant improvement cannot happen without clarity; aspects of clarity get into the collaboration and communication of a leader. In a book that I am reading, Digital Leadership by Eric Sheninger, the author talks about branding. I think he is right when he says, "Does leadership brand impact school culture? You’ve created your relational brand. Connect it to school improvement. Communicate brand promise for improving your school’s culture, achievement, and resourcing." A clear brand as a leader builds rapport and confidence in both you and the people you lead. Branding today involves social media. My presence on social media really comes in multiple forms, but one identity: showmerob.
I grew up in Missouri - the "Show-Me" state; therefore, the identity showmerob. Leaving for the Air Force straight out of high school, I had many opportunities to travel. Married at 19 and having 3 kids by the age of 26, I got experience early as a leader in my role as a parent. In the military (I don't let these pictures get out often) I got the opportunity to be in a cohort that received training on Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and Principled Centered Leadership. One of the main points I learned from that experience was that nothing is ever finished, you have to be in constant reflection as a leader and ready for change. Leaving the military for education, I was fortunate to be influenced by several great examples of leadership. I am going to name a couple of individuals that have influenced and mentored my journey so far:
Of my many mentors, one person stands out. This year will be my 12th year working for Mark Evans. Mark brings so much to the table as far as leadership. He understands that a leader develops the talent around himself. One thing that defines Mark is his desire to do what's best for students; this is his brand and if you spend even five minutes with him, you will hear this phrase. Mark is approachable, and able to hold a conversation with any staff member without intimidating them. He has transformed any district he has been in. By far, there is no one that has taught me more about leadership than he. What we have done in Omaha Public Schools is a direct reflection of the leadership he has brought.
Digital Leadership in Education
In education, when leaders get it right, it's like catching lightning in a bottle. It becomes one of the most treasured elements to transform the staff's experience from one that drains and discourages, to one that energizes and empowers. I don't like the term digital leadership; it should be just leadership. Just like e-learning, today's investment in technology is implied, it's just learning. I am going to reference the Future Ready Framework now, as it really gives a great insight on the needs of leadership for students to thrive in the 21st Century. I have the distinct pleasure of being a part of a great team of educators at the national level that focuses on Future Ready in the IT Strand. The framework provides a road map in different gears or domains that support a district's digital transformation. The following is straight from the Future Ready Framework:
The elements that comprise the Collaborative Leadership Gear are:
No matter your leadership position, if you are in education, you should check out the Future Ready Framework.
Where Do You Start...
There is no perfect plan to become a leader. This has been my experience and how I have grown as a professional and hopefully a purposeful leader. Here are some things I would do if I had to start over:
I am fortunate to have an amazing team here in Omaha Public Schools. They accept my ideas, no matter how crazy they are sometimes. Leadership comes from influence, and influence can come from anyone at any level and in any role. Being open and authentic, using empathy, and helping to lift others up creates the circle of influence you have.
Once Upon A Time
It's funny to start a title like this, but this is a great story. Once upon a time just a few years ago, I got to experience NETA for the first time. There were great sessions filled with engaged educators that were producing amazing learning experiences for students - but there was something missing. Although the largest district in the state, Omaha Public Schools didn't have much of a presence. In 3 short years, this has changed. This year there were incredible opportunities shared from this great group of educators; to follow are a few I was fortunate enough to experience.
Look below.... After some research this isn't all of them... #OPSProud
First Virtual School in Nebraska History
2017 #20toWatch winner, Wendy Loewenstein, and Tom Gamble present on starting the Omaha Virtual School. It has been interesting starting this initiative without virtual school verbiage at the state level. Real blended learning is happening everyday for these home-schooled students. Right after this session, they presented on Minecraft in Education which has been infused into daily activities.
30 Pearls of Wisdom
I'm not sure if it was the free pearls being handed out, or their presentation but I wasn't able to even make it into the room with these two. Great turnout for Kelly Means and Jodi Brown.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
This one is near and dear to me. Wakonda is an amazing example of a successful turn around school story. The transition replaced the principal, all but four teachers and transformed student learning using technology. Rebecca Chambers and Missy W discuss how they used a gradual release model and infused behavior strategies to create success for students in this North Omaha school. As a result of their efforts, Wakonda became a Microsoft Showcase School in just 2 years.
Gamify Your Professional Learning Now!
Dr. Rony Ortega is one of my favorite principals. He demonstrates the value of modeling effective use of technology for his staff. These guys at Buffett Middle School have their focus on providing effective professional development with their staff. Good things are coming soon with this school. #staytuned
Augmented Reality w the Microsoft HoloLens
Probably my favorite interactive session of the day as Eileen Heller and Melissa Cleaver got up in front of everyone and setup 2 HoloLens units to demonstrate ways these devices will change how students can experience different virtual activities. Everyone that wanted to put on the units were able to - and wow - they loved it.
Connecting Families: Engaging and Guiding Parents in a Digital Age
This one goes out to Keegan. She is thoughtful and presents topics such as digital literacy and citizenship in a manner that our parents and students understand. Here is the sway of that presentation.
She also posted a blog today on the topic of using social media to create a positive digital footprint.
There were many more valuable sessions; I invite you to visit the NETA site to get a list of the presentations and handouts. Omaha Public Schools is becoming a leader in the area of purposeful technology. Am I bragging? You're damn right I am because I am #OPSProud of them. I feel fortunate to work with each and every person in OPS. Always realize the work is never done – it is important to stay in constant reflection so you know the next course of action.
In today's world we are surrounded by technologies that make our life more engaging, convenient, and spans geographical boundaries never imagined before. As smart phones have expanded down to the reaches of our children, social media has played a big part in how we communicate. I remember the first social media platform I posted on, MySpace. It was a place I could share content that interested me. Videos, pictures, etc would be posted. Social media has come a long way since then. Now, we have shifted more to authentic conversations. What's different, however, is instead of speaking in conversation, we provide multi-modal pieces of content. For example, I have a personal group called "The Mexico Group" in Facebook Messenger. Love the people in this group, really fun bunch. If you were to look chronologically, you would see a mix of text, links, images, video, bitmojis, etc characterizing everything from feelings to discussion topics at the time. It's a great platform to participate in this kind of activity. However, I engage with a couple of people in the group individually in iMessage partially because of convenience, and partially because of features such as FaceTime. Which brings the question, does fragmentation of conversation happen because of the multiple social media avenues we use?
Look at the picture above; this is an old picture taken back in 2012. At the time, Emily and Aiyana were playing Words with Friends, Bailey was playing Temple Run and Amanda was browsing the web. Not much has changed today. Let's take a look to see how each of my girls interact via social media.
This is the part where I feel old. I engage with my daughters regularly via social media but using different platforms for each. Much of this is for convenience for them, but also because certain platforms I am not ready to unleash and engage because of age, digital literacy level, etc.
Below is a video of Bailey, the youngest of the three. She is explaining what platforms she engages with day to day.
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?
As you can see Emily engages in Snapchat frequently. Yes, at its core, Snapchat is used to send photos and videos to friends. Your friends can view snaps for up to 10 seconds, and then the snaps disappear. Snapchat is unique in that all photos and videos only last a brief amount of time before they disappear forever, making the app unique in nature, though you can take a screenshot of all the snaps you receive to save them in picture form. You can also save your own snaps before sending them to friends or to your story. This workflow makes it difficult to reflect on the history of conversation. But that might be the point.
As you can see, I engage my kids in what they choose as they get older. It is important to meet them where they are at. I do draw some lines a parent. A good rule of thumb that I remind them of is to not post something unless they are ok with their Grandmother seeing it. I don't allow my younger two at this time to engage in Snapchat. As parents we have made the personal decision to have our kids wait until they get older until they engage in Snapchat.
In education in general, I truly believe in student choice. Digital Literacy and Citizenship is so important though. Keegan Korf (right) is the Lead Teacher for Digital Citizenship for OPS. I love the role that Keegan has in the district, especially as we provide digital access and equity. Having that role in education is a non-negotiable with how technology has influenced the classroom and society in general. Whether you are a parent or an educator, it is important to identify how you can engage your kids or students. This can be crucial in their growth as a digital citizen, as well as your growth. We are all here to be life long learners.
If you would like to see how Omaha Public Schools is approaching Digital Literacy and Citizenship, check out our Transformation Site below.
This Would Be A First
We wanted to create something different. Mr. Evans and I had done this before; just in another state and district. For Mr. Evans, this would be his third successful virtual school. I have learned much from his experiences. This one would be a first for the State of Nebraska. How could we offer virtual schools in a state that didn't have verbiage? Where would we get the talent that could offer a great experience to students? We were about to find out.
The OPS Way
The Omaha Virtual School is led by Wendy Lowenstein, 2017 NSBA 20 to Watch recipient. During this first year, the Omaha Virtual School is open only to home-schooled students, providing a mix of face-to-face instruction and online lessons. That's how we designed it in our previous district, Andover. This time though, we weren't competing with 87 other virtual schools in the state, we were just competing with state verbiage that would restrict us. Nebraska is one of seven states in the US that doesn't offer legislative verbiage for virtual schools. But that wouldn't stop us. Students participating in Omaha Virtual Schools will be given a laptop so they can receive instruction primarily in their home. They’ll also be required to report in person once a week for face-to-face activities at the Metro Community College floor of the DoSpace, a flexible classroom space inside a high tech community library. Teachers are state-certified and employees of OPS, and the curriculum is aligned with Nebraska standards.
How Does This Change Learning?
Obviously the virtual school approach is different. It isn't completely online, nor is it the traditional brick and mortar face to face. It's blended. The goal is to create capacities at every grade level and every content area. At that moment, you have a knowledge owner in every area we teach in OPS, in day to day practice of blended learning.
The virtual school provides the mechanism for what blended learning best practices should look like. The Instructional Technology Team operates as the vehicle for professional development to get schools through the transformation of traditional instruction to blended learning. A mixture of Planned Obsolescence of Devices, Infrastructure Initiatives, and Digital Citizenship is sprinkled along the way to make sure it is successful.
What Does The Future Hold?
The goal of the Omaha Virtual School is to provide a new learning style, while also providing learning experiences to students we previously haven't served. Sometimes the verbiage of school choice gets a bad taste in the realm of educators, but this does just that. What if a student was at a magnet school that offered what was needed in that particular magnet theme, but didn't provide a class like Mandarin Chinese? If we could offer that course for that student while they still attended the magnet school, isn't that what's best for students? In the end, the goal is to provide the opportunities needed for students to succeed.
It's funny when someone makes the suggestion on a blog idea. This one is important though. I can't think of a time in my life when so many changes were happening at one time, both locally and nationally. Many of these changes are driven by political views, not about what really matters, our future. I am not here to display my views, but to emphasize why it's important to tell our story.
My Favorite Story Teller
I grew up in a small town in Missouri and the old saying "it takes a village" was very much my story. Raised by a single mom that had to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, many people stepped in to help out. My Grandpa Bradley has always been there as a father figure, as well as my Uncle Randy; the two of them truly helped shape my personality are paramount in the foundation of who I am as a person. One of my favorite things about my Grandpa is that he always has a story, and usually one that involves groups of people laughing uncontrollably.
One particular story he likes to share was the time he took me to Colorado when I was 10 years old. Let me point out that I was his only grandson, and therefore pretty spoiled. We had just passed the Air Force Academy as a gnarly gang of motorcyclists passed. Grandpa said, "Roll down that window and tell them boys, do you know who I am? The only grandson of Bradley Burr, that's who!" So I did it - to every motorcyclist that drove by - must have been 30 of them.
Grandpa tells important stories too; since my mom, his daughter, passed away almost 2 years ago, he's been good to tell me stories I've never heard before about her. He talks about how she would take risks - I won't share what those were - but I think I got that skill from her. She would have turned 63 today.
My Grandpa continues to teach me how important it is to pass meaningful stories down the line. I want to make sure my kids understand these same values. What does this have to do with education you may ask? Next I'll discuss why it is important in education to tell your stories; otherwise someone will tell it for you.
You read it everywhere - stories that attack public education. The appointment of Betsy DeVos to education secretary, an avid supporter of the school choice and charter schools, has caused concern across the United States when it comes to funding and the direction the federal government want to take public education. While many of us are aware of the countless hours of dedication and service happening for our kids everyday, our community may not always be as aware. As educators, each of us have a role to play in helping our external audiences understand the contributions made inside our classrooms each day. Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to inform people about the innovation, the magic happening at our schools.
Importance Of Teaching Students How To Storytell
Several years ago, I had the amazing opportunity to work with Dyane Smokorowski and Shannon Fisher. Dyane, through digital storytelling, showed me how students make connections to interdisciplinary skills. Shannon, did the same, but through a unique way of producing stop motion videos. Both examples can have a magical effect -- moving, enlightening, or entertaining audiences of any size. Think of movies you adore, movies you could watch again and again - those are meaningful when they showcase their learning. This is a really good vehicle to introduce project based learning into your classroom. It allows students to build context to content.
Things to keep in mind:
A great tool to showcasing student work is Sway. It’s a new way for you to create a beautiful, interactive, web-based visual of your ideas, from a mobile device or browser. It is easy to share your creation and its modern design forms itself to look great on any screen. Our Transformation Site that I reference below utilizes Sway to display much of the content displayed.
Announcing our Transformation Site
At Omaha Public Schools, we have worked tirelessly to transform learning through our work with our 5 year Strategic Plan. Much of this work has technology purposefully embedded as a priority. Through this Strategic Plan and the passing of the largest bond issue in Nebraska history, we have accomplished much in the last 3 years. Today I would like to share with you our Transformation Site. This site was produced by our instructional technology team and helps us tell our story on how we have:
So whether it's listening to amazing stories from family and friends, teaching students to create stories to make learning authentic, or as educators telling our story so that someone doesn't tell it for us, the activity of storytelling engages every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and instilling moral values. What will you do today that will make for a great story tomorrow in education?
We all have them. Devices. You carry your laptop to meetings, might watch a movie on a tablet, and let's not forget how attached we are to our smartphones. Those aren't just the only computing devices either. Now we have smart watches, fitness trackers, and other wearables that are constantly informing us, alerting us when we have something to take care of and/or monitoring our activity to tell us how much we should move throughout the day.
In education, we mostly identify devices in our learning experience as "Bring Your Own Device" strategies or District provided technology.
Recently, Omaha South High School moved to a Bring Your Own Device model. BYOD (bring your own device) is where students and staff are allowed to use personal mobile devices on the school wireless network. There’s a lot to consider when determining if implementing BYOD in your school is the right move.
Here are some considerations:
These are a few considerations; however, the benefits can outweigh these factors. BYOD can be used to promote digital citizenship. In addition, students take control of ensuring that their device is working, instilling a sense of responsibility. Also, costs can be saved but keep in mind, you may be shifting costs to infrastructure for role based wireless such as Cisco's Identity Services Engine to provision and secure network resources.
When it comes to digital equity and digital curriculum deployments, providing the device makes most sense. The number of schools and districts moving to 1:1 is accelerating, and the there are many lessons we can learn from the pioneers. Technology is only effective as a learning tool when educators have the skills to use it in an instructionally sound and effective way. Through introducing instructional technology into our Best Instructional Practices Handbook, providing effective professional development through our Microsoft Innovative Educator Program and Instructional Technology Leadership Cohort, we have been preparing for the massive introduction of devices through our planned obsolescence strategy.
There are some considerations though:
To keep students safe online and guide the appropriate use of technology, I cannot express enough the need to develop support policies that provide a framework for effective operation and application, both in BYOD and District provided strategies. These should address all aspects of technology use across all stakeholder groups, from high-level policies governing web filtering and access to low-level policies around digital citizenship and acceptable use agreements.
This is the challenge. Do you allow the proliferation of multiple devices through BYOD, or standardize devices through district purchasing decisions? I think it is both. Yep. Both. In the end, I think we will all move to allowing devices to be brought in while also standardizing on the experience. It is what's best for students. It's all about learning. When you need just-in-time, quick feedback, have the students use their smart phones. When you want each student to experience the exact same learning environment, hand out the device. Soon, both will happen in the classroom through technology. The challenge will be how we prepare and grow teachers' digital literacy to make this possible through classroom management strategies.
This week has been a big week. Interviews for a new Superintendent, approval of an $8 million purchase of devices, and let's not forget the bond initiatives. Successful technology implementation takes much more than just getting devices into the hands of students. Staff buy-in, quality training and ongoing support are all essential to creating a digital district here in Omaha Public Schools.
Start With Why
Everyday we see technology so frequently that we don’t even think of it as technology. It seems to be more accessible than ever before. With the proliferation of digital devices, we now have the ability to connect to the world anywhere at any time. Take for instance, Skype in the Classroom. You can choose to engage students in virtual field trips, participate in mystery Skype sessions, and work on Skype lessons. Skype lessons are an amazing opportunity for students to get connected with hundreds of global professionals and experts on a variety of topics.
When we decided to make these types of decisions for students here in Omaha, it was important to gather information and make it purposeful. It makes sense to start with empathy. We talked to teachers and students about what they needed. We didn’t ask what device they wanted. Many districts across the nation drive this decision making process from the top down.
However, choosing the right devices can be daunting. In our case, the district has made significant investments in IT infrastructure through the bond issue, but access to devices has been limited due to a lack of planned obsolescence strategy. No district in the land has succeeded with a full-on transformation to digital curriculum without first grappling with its “underbelly”— the network infrastructure that sustains 1-to-1 and bring-your-own device usage in the classroom.
To create a fair and equitable environment for all students, ask these questions before implementing new devices:
Omaha Public Schools hasn't had a district strategy before for the life cycle of devices. As you can see from the above infographic made by Kelly Means, this shows that over half of district devices are four years old or older. Also without a district life cycle plan, it becomes a school's leadership initiative whether to emphasize technology and its use or not. This makes a student's experience with technology circumstantial. How does that prepare them for the future?
The influence of Kelly Mean's leadership through this initiative was powerful. She brought a level of understanding that I could not provide. She brought institutional knowledge, content knowledge, and working relationships with school leaders that moved this initiative forward.
Also as a initial requirement for each building, and knowing digital citizenship/literacy had to be built at the teacher and student level, it was decided that as the influx of devices was introduced, we would require each building to become Common Sense Media Certified.
Build A Set Of Requirements
Below shows our process of information gathering. The Planned Obolescence interview group consisted of:
We designed the process so that there were several touch points with two interviews to make sure we gathered requirements for the classroom and gather a vision of where they wanted to be. Below are examples of our data gathering and how we organized it in OneNote.
After gathering the information we then used the monster wall on our floor to write the entire plan and quantify what the project scope would look like.
Professional development for teachers is critical to the successful use of technology to improve the quality of learning in the classroom. A spring 2015 survey by Samsung Electronics America and GfK found that:
Professional development should be an integral part of a school or district technology plan and should provide for ongoing and integrated technology training for teachers. Our process for this involved several layers:
As OPS moves down this digital direction, it is important to define and scaffold an approach to teaching and learning that fuses the tenets of rigorous and relevant instruction with an exceptional, discerning application of digital tools. Initially for us, this was the introduction of our new ecosystem, Office 365. As we move forward with access, this will continue to evolve with digital curriculum and content strategies. We should allow students to use the digital-age tools that they are using on a routine basis outside their walls, which is different than OPS has practiced, but the outcomes make student learning experiences more relevant and meaningful. Our Instructional Technology Team is pushing technology with purpose and aligned to our Best Instructional Practices Handbook, and which will help our students gain the 21st Century skills needed to compete in the real world.
Microsoft in Education Video on our Surface Pro Deployment
Another great resource is the Center for Digital Education. They have a great Guide to Devices whitepaper that is linked below.
What Is Digital Inking?
Digital Inking isn't new. I remember in the mid 90's messing with an Apple Newton that had a stylus and a program called Calligrapher that introduced hand writing recognition. Later when Personal Device Assistant popularity rose, I carried everything from a Palm Pilot to HP's iPaq with Windows CE. All of these devices incorporated a stylus with some form of interaction, but was lacking in quality. Today, I carry a Surface Pro 4 and I wouldn't change much of my experience that I receive. The digitizer in the Surface Pen is pretty amazing. The result is an experience that feels like true pen on paper in terms of accuracy, sensitivity with zero latency. A normal touch-screen tablet only allows for 'finger painting' type inking. I hadn't always used or considered using digital inking on a primary device.
My Past Device Experiences
For years I have been a mac geek. I have had every iPhone, just about every iPad, and until recently sported a Macbook Pro since the Powerbook G3 black days. I remember when imaging a Mac was as easy as dragging the hard drive over to another hard drive and copying it over. I have had the luxury (or not) of working on every OS X version released. So it might surprise you that a mac doesn't sit on my desk anymore. I would have to say it began with empathy. When we decided to deploy a Surface Pro 3 to every secondary teacher, I thought it was good practice to experience the device myself. The first two years of my journey here with Omaha Public Schools has been with a Surface and a Macbook Pro. This year I have chosen to go solo with the Surface Pro 4. Most of my reasons are because of productivity. One reason in particular, I was finding myself touching my Macbook screen gesturing window resizing, much like I do on my Surface and iPhone. After my migration from Evernote to OneNote, digital inking has become a non-negotiable. I have always been one to draw my ideas and plans on a whiteboard. Below is a picture of my previous office in Andover, I was surrounded by whiteboarded walls.
My office in Omaha doesn't have this much white space, but the team uses OneNote as a staple for our progress. It acts as a repository for many different types of files and has unique organizational features to keep data on hand and easily retrieved. Whether inserting a PDF printout, a Sway, or checklist, it really has flexibility of file-types covered. The real power comes when you introduce digital inking. When you expand input by enabling the ability to annotate images, maps and graphs and to write symbols, take notes and draw straight onto your device, you gain context to content.
The Future Of Input
Today we ask Siri where the closest Starbucks is, or ask Alexa to set a timer for our meal in the oven. With the introduction of wearables, the Internet of Things, and personal assistants, we are blurring the lines of the traditional inputs of the past. The need to learn how to place your fingers on home row has really disappeared. What is next? As I see it now, the introduction of Artificial Intelligence and the increase of connected devices will see the rise of augmented reality. All of our inputs will be interfaced, not just typing, or gestures, or speaking. In the same way memorization has less meaning, and we place more meaning in the ability to filter and think critically about the influx of information at our hands, we need to evolve in our ability to understand input change as well.
Here are some examples of my sketchnotes
In today's world, we constantly create information. Whether posting something to social media, or watching our favorite Netflix show, we generate information at a high rate. Buzz words like Big Data, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence scour our landscape today. If you shop on Amazon like I do, you are provided with countless recommendations based upon your interests, clicks, and buying history. Much of this is what we want, there is a level of comfort knowing we can easily click and have something delivered in a couple of days. When we think about our kids, our students, and even ourselves - we need to be thoughtful of the digital footprint we are creating. This post isn't about compliance, but in the next section I will briefly discuss it.
When we talk about data privacy from a district perspective, most of the time it is aligned with compliance. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of personally identifiable information from student education records. This as well as other data privacy protected initiatives such as:
Personal Data - My Example
Now let's take a look at my family. This picture, shown above, was around 4-5 years ago in Kansas. This picture was taken as I was walking down the hallway and noticed everyone on devices, with the exception of our dog MJ. If you notice, everyone is engaged. Engaged with social media, the cloud, and even engaged with each other. I do remember Emily (far left) was playing "Words With Friends" with Aiyana (just to her right). I am sure this type of picture is common among families across the country. We document our lives via social media on a daily basis:
With this type of exponential growth, we need to think about our digital footprint and the story that is being told. On one side, digital citizenship is extremely important. If your digital footprint isn't a positive one, you could lose opportunities for future careers and post secondary admittance. This outlines just the personal data that is generated by our use of technology. Let's talk now about the business and enterprise landscape.
A Changing Enterprise Environment
Gone are the days of on-premise solutions and collaborating while you are in the office. In today's world, we increasingly integrate our office work with our mobile devices, extending outside of our offices as well as our work day. Businesses that have shifted to the cloud are now looking at a new landscape, the multi-cloud. In this article below as a study done by Microsoft, "nearly a third of organizations work with four or more cloud vendors."
This produces several challenges. First of all, how do we secure the data, and secondly, how do we keep data "sprawl" from happening. Below is a graphic of our current environment at Omaha Public Schools. As you can see, it is becoming increasingly complicated. It is important to note, many solutions don't require student data outside of the typical directory information outlined in FERPA. But over time, data that is generated can be identifiable and become necessary to protect.
As this environment becomes more complicated, we are putting things into place that will ensure the data privacy recommendations we want to enforce. First, in a previous blog post, I outlined our creation of an App Approval Tool. This process gives the ability to vet an app both for data privacy and security, as well as instructional use. Secondly, we have put together a Student Data Privacy Agreement that is being implemented with each of our cloud providers and outlines our expectations for data privacy through their system.
Our work through these measures will continue to evolve as we adopt and create meaningful experiences through the use of technology for our students.
I love information. I am an information junkie at best. I am writing this blog post as if LifeHacker invited me to share in their section "This Is How I Work". Enjoy.
Location: Omaha, Nebraska
Current Position: Executive Director
One word that best describes how you work:
Current mobile device: iPhone 7 Plus
Current Computer: Surface Pro 4
First of all, let me tell you a little about my background and how I got to where I am today.
I love what I do. From the moment I understood what goals I wanted to accomplish, it was clear what paths I should take. I didn't always understand technology nor did I grow up with it; it wasn't until I entered the military at age 18 when I was first introduced to networking and computing. At that time, I began building my passion for life long learning; technology is a great vehicle to get there. I have been fortunate enough to have been involved with technology audits for various K-12 institutions through work with GreyED Solutions, Gates Foundation, and BleGroup. These opportunities have broadened my knowledge on how educational organizations change or resist change.
What apps, software, tools can't you live without? Why?
My daily work is in OneNote; this is where I dump and organize all of my work. I consider myself a creative process engineer (I say "engineer" simply to make it sound better). OneNote houses the articles I snip, using the OneNote Clipper, and also houses my notes from every meeting I encounter. I haven't always used OneNote. Previously, I utilized Evernote religiously; I still love the insights it brings in at the bottom of the note that aligns it to other notes or articles I have clipped. I hope OneNote adds a similar feature as well as top level management of OneNote notebooks. Search has become my friend for organization.
Sway has become a favorite as well. Gone are my days of PowerPoint slides exported to JPGs so I can post them to a site for visual artifacts. Now, I can build the entire presentation in Sway, embed into a webpage with all types of devices supported. Another important tool I keep on the desktop is the Microsoft Garage Snip tool to annotate and clip screenshots.
Lastly, since I read countless articles, I use Flipboard. Flipboard understands my interests and brings me a set of articles that fit those interests. It saves a ton of time and integrates well with my social media interfaces.
What's your workspace setup like?
My office has two places I function from:
My home is less complex. It consists of the breakfast nook, cup of coffee, and my Surface Pro 4.
I haven't always been a PC guy, though. I sported a Mac since the black Powerbook G3 days. However, in the last 3 years, this has changed. I started to see the importance of digital inking, both in my daily work with OneNote and as Windows 10 was introduced. I now consider digital inking a non-negotiable in my computing device requirement.
What's your best time-saving shortcut life hack?
I love where location based awareness is going. Siri reminds me of things I need before leaving the house. This keeps me from forgetting items otherwise I would be turning around for.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without and why?
At this time, I would have to say Amazon Echo with Alexa. She plays music, she sets timers for the oven, and most of the time she answers many questions I have added skills for. I see this type of technology in the future bringing efficiency in the home. I have recently purchased an Ecoobee3 thermostat that can be connected to Alexa. The future is going to be cool, like Star Trek cool.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?
I am best at making connections - connections to people, connections between solutions, or a combination of the two. Connections has contributed to us creating solutions for our users and partners like Microsoft. Feeling connected as a team, we are able to bring more to the end user.
What do you listen to while you work?
This one is hard. I love all kinds of music. But here is a list in order of the genre's I love:
What are you currently reading? What’s something you’d recommend?
Just finished UnCommon Learning by Eric Sheninger. This book outlines how to transform a learning culture through sustainable and innovative initiatives. It moves straight to the heart of using innovations such as Makerspaces, Blended Learning and Microcredentials. I would recommend it as well as Launch: Design Thinking. Both of these books introduce different initiatives effecting K-12 education today. I like to go through books with someone else. This introduces accountability but also increases reflection.
How do you recharge? What do you do when you want to forget about work?
I love basketball. In March, the madness begins. The NCAA tournament allows me to focus on things that have nothing to do with work yet introduces fun stress. I think you have to have stress, it makes you grow as a person. Risk is important. I got the opportunity recently to hear Joe Maddon, coach of the World Series Champion Cubs speak. I took this video from my iPhone and here is what he said about risk:
What did I get out of this? You gotta be a little crazy and definitely fearless.
What’s your sleep routine like? Are you a night owl or early-riser?
I love my everyday process. I get up at 4:30, workout, then read articles for 15-20 minutes. The workout gets my mind refreshed and ready for my day, and the articles bring reflection to my daily walk. I also get to bed during the week early, 8:30. This daily process keeps my mind clear and ready to tackle the challenges brought to me.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Don't take work too seriously. I have worked and modeled much of my leadership from Mr. Evans for 12 years. He does a great job of being approachable and consistent.
I would give the same advice but with this addition:
Don't take life too seriously, and be willing to take some risks. You will feel like life is more fulfilling by taking those risks.
The Decision Between Collaboration Platforms
In today’s world, we operate as a society outside of the walls of our schools, our businesses, and our homes. The access to mobile devices has expanded our social and professional lives, many times blurring the lines between work and home. Technology has been front of state in the lives of students born between 1982 and 2002. Skills such as the swipe, selfie, and snapping are being trained with our daily use of social media. Per the Center for Digital Education, “62% of working Americans use the internet as an integral part of their jobs. And nearly all industries today require at least some on-the-job interaction with a digital device – including sectors the general public often doesn’t consider technology dependent.” It is no surprise, then, when it comes to selecting a cloud based platform, we need to keep mobile first in mind.
In my first couple of months entering the district, it was clear selecting a cloud platform was the first step needed to mirror the environment and data outlined above. In my previous district, we had used Google Apps for Education for years. The rest of the districts around Nebraska widely use Google as well, so it seemed like this would be an easy decision, right? There are really two major players in the district cloud category, Google and Microsoft. In the end, we selected Microsoft, and the rest of this post will discuss the “why”.
Building a Set of Requirements
In the last 3 to 4 years, the district has been no stranger to large initiatives. As a result of creating a 5 year Strategic Plan, coupled with passing the largest bond issue in Nebraska history, large initiatives are common place. It was important to include future requirements in this changing landscape, as it was clear Omaha Public Schools would be a changing dynamic for years to come.
The first requirement is safety and security as it is foundational for student learning. When defining this requirement, it was important to understand what types of inquiries happen in a large, urban district. To follow are questions we thought of when determining what safety and security requirements were of upmost importance:
Another important requirement was collaboration. In today’s world, collaboration is everything. Historically, there were tons of meetings; sometimes meetings to plan meetings. A great collaboration platform allows for flexibility to communicate and work synchronously and asynchronously, continuously. This allows work to continue, not being limited to input from a point in time meeting. As a result, solutions such as Slack and Microsoft Teams are becoming increasingly popular. In addition, Skype in the Classroom has become an innovative way to expand student experiences outside of the traditional classroom walls. Skype in the Classroom enables:
These groups can be organic or federated. The Azure Active Directory environment allows us to sync our groups from on premise Active Directory into our cloud environment. This type of federation allows us to flow identities across different platforms, on premise and in the cloud. This is just one example of Modern Group use. Many tools in Office 365 use this foundation as well:
Once requirements were determined, we needed to create an implementation plan. When moving to Google Apps or Office 365, a vendor partner can assist in the process. In our situation, Microsoft had just released a new plan called FastTrack. FastTrack allowed us to work with Microsoft on an accelerated plan for rolling out Office 365. You can read more about that program here:
An important piece of implementation was professional development. In my previous blog post, I outlined our Microsoft Innovative Educator Cohort. Helen Gooch, a Microsoft Fellow, was introduced to us as a resource for how we could approach the sessions in a gradual release model, as to not overwhelm our cohort. Our instructional technology team has taken this program to new levels in the last couple of years.
One of my key learnings when implementing Google Apps in Andover, was to not roll out an email client. Keeping everyone in web email was not a popular one initially; everyone was used to a client with on-premise solution FirstClass. The reason to keep everyone in the web client was to keep the Office 365 suite front and center in everyone’s experience. If one were to spend all day in a full client, they would not notice Sway, OneNote, Sites, Forms, PowerBi or OneDrive. Not only would they fail to notice these tools, but because of single sign-on with Azure AD, they would be less likely to recognize other platforms integrated into the waffle as well.
Building Processes and Tools
Early on in implementation, was the need to build workflows and tools. Instead of using FastTrack dollars to migrate email, we used them to build SharePoint Online Sites. These sites provided the needed intranet and added workflows that were previously paper based. One of the initiatives we were tasked with was building a coaching tool. We started this process with Microsoft Consulting in April 2015, and through our work with them, chose a product called PowerBi that would later be introduced to general availability in July, 2015. This tool allows Principals, Academic Coaches, Instructional Facilitators, and District Leadership to facilitate walkthroughs that produce data for coaching feedback. The online forms were customized to our Best Instructional Practices Handbook, providing the necessary common language that greatly assisted in its adoption. Also, we introduced the ability to insert artifacts into the tool such as pictures, video, and attachments. It aligned well with our implementation of Surface Pro tablets to secondary staff the same year. In the first year, the district produced over 23,000 coaching visits (see below).
This year, we continue to evolve the tool to meet the needs of our Curriculum and Instructional Support Staff. Recently, we redefined the dashboard as a result of feedback over the course of the last couple of semesters utilizing the tool. As a result, use has increased immensely. In just over half of the year, we produced nearly as many coaching visits as all of last year.
This is one example of producing effective tools to meet the needs of the classroom. Another example is outlined in a previous blog post about App and Hardware Lifecycle Management.
These tools have expanded our use of Office 365 and have brought purpose of our use to a new level. Moving forward, we will continue to expand these uses and present them in the web portal as “tile” experiences in the waffle.
Our Beginnings for Instructional Technology
Particularly in recent years, technology has changed from being a peripheral factor to becoming more central in all forms of teaching. Until 2014, this realization hadn't moved into practice for Omaha Public Schools. There were two positions at the time, both traditional trainers, with one of these retiring upon my introduction into the District. Eileen Heller had just started as a trainer in 2013, having previously served as an elementary teacher at Kellom Elementary. As she would find out, it would be a long year ahead of her. There would be an aggressive plan moving forward, driven by the newly developed Strategic Plan.
Eileen's role would expand significantly over the next 6 months. Upon arrival in May 2014, many significant decisions had to be made and actions taken to ensure alignment with our Strategic Plan initiatives. The first decision was choosing a collaboration platform. Up until that point, the district had utilized on-opremise solutions with traditional email-like collaboration functionality. A huge advantage of working in the cloud is the collaboration possibilities it provides. The District made the decision to move forward with Microsoft Office 365, a decision that would lay a foundation of collaboration and change in learning and utilization for each student, staff, and leadership.
The timeline for this was a bit aggressive. The District's previous solution had been in place for twelve years; resulting in ingrained practices and an incredible amount of data, much of it not used or important. In August 2014, the decision was made to begin the implementation with a flash-cut to email in October; we wouldn't move any email over for users - we would start anew.
Our Microsoft Relationship and MIE Program
Through previous contacts I had made, we saw an opportunity to do something different. Microsoft had had a focus to K-12 around the use of Office 365 becoming that central part of teaching and learning. Omaha Public Schools was undergoing a significant shift toward introducing technology into everyday practice. Microsoft and Omaha Public Schools had began discussion around how we could make this implementation purposeful. Much of this is outlined in an Edsurge 50 State Project Book:
Professional Development would be foundational in this adoption. Eileen, being in a 10-month position, came back in August with the task to support the largest technology initiative the district had ever been tasked with. A professional development cohort was designed at the time, by Eileen, to bring our teachers on board with the new tool-set that Office 365 delivered. Helen Gooch, a Microsoft Fellow, was introduced to us as a resource for how we could approach the sessions in a gradual release model, as to not overwhelm our cohort. Eileen would reach out to every building Principal and gather participants for this initial cohort. The cohort sessions would start in October, the same as the move to Office 365, with 6 sessions total that first year. Each session would instroduce a new toolset to the 100 teachers selected.
The Second Year
I am not sure if Eileen believed me when I would continuously tell her the instructional technology staff would grow; it didn't grow at all in year one of the cohort. However, in the start of year two, we added 3 positions to fuel the work needed.
Kelly Means, Melissa Cleaver, and Wendy Loewenstein brought the capacities needed for our year two cohort, where we planned to keep the first 100 and add another cohort of 100 teachers to the mix. The focus was to begin to look at 21st Century Skills and Technology Integration. As you can see below, this cohort is central to our abilities to adopt new tools and devices, model the best practice, and standardize solutions with student, staff, and parent involvement.
This "Innovation Academy" would also introduce digital citizenship with Common Sense Media. Wendy would lead the way as this change in the cohort. It is important to note that more than 100 applied for the second cohort but we decided to keep it at 100. Also, this would be the year we would introduce 21st Century Skills into the Best Instructional Practices Handbook (see below).
The Third Year
For year three, instead of adding to the existing 200 teachers in the cohort, we decided to gain some depth. We began by incorporating a requirement for Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship Certification to this as a vehicle to getting the entire district certified. This would allow us to be aligned with our Planned Obsolescence strategy for introducing more mobile devices into the classroom. Again, the team has evolved:
A focus of building vision and capacity for integration within schools, this team is bringing an evolving trend to the cohort. Minecraft in Education and Creative Coding Through Games and Apps has been introduced, as well as many other technology rich learning trends.
As we begin to look at what next year brings, the cohort will continue to transform. First-year participants will have the ability to re-apply as well as new participants having the opportunity to participate in the cohort community.
If you would like to follow the team:
Instructional Technology Group
Omaha Virtual School Prinicpal
Cards we were dealt...
Change is difficult. Most of the time when this kind of shift happens from a change in leadership, it causes the entire organization to reflect. At the core of every change initiative is the desire to breathe new life into the organization―to revitalize ways of thinking, behaving and working. Nearly four years ago, Mr. Mark A. Evans was brought in as Superintendent to institute change processes that resulted from a needs assessment. This led to the creation of a five-year strategic plan as well as passing the largest bond issue in Nebraska history. Technology was set as a priority as the district hadn't focused in this area in some time. Professional development and planned obsolescence for devices were outlined in the strategic plan as prioritized strategies. This post outlines how Omaha Public Schools placed an emphasis on digital citizenship through professional learning and the development of a device deployment.
For nearly a decade, the district has partnered with Common Sense Media to provide a half-time position funded through the Sherwood Foundation that provided some form of digital citizenship functions with the district and the state. Being a half-time position and dual enrollment the other half, it was difficult to focus time and needed resources for the district's strategic plan priorities.
The Position Shift
The decision was made to move the position from the Curriculum and Instruction Support to Information Management Services. This move would also expand the position to full time and would be housed under the instructional technology umbrella. The importance of this position to our initiatives was so much that it is also the only position in instructional technology that I personally supervise. It is a great fit for the district since we were beginning to introduce 21st Century Skills into our Best Instructional Practices Handbook. Keegan Korf was selected for the position and has done a remarkable job at defining much of this plan moving forward.
In October 2014, the district implemented Microsoft Office 365 as a collaboration platform and in the process created a unique relationship in their fast track and early adopter programs. Through this relationship, Eileen Heller (see above) and Connie Wickham (also above) worked on creating an Innovation Academy comprised of a cohort initially with around 100 educators throughout the district. In the second year, we added another 100 educators. The cohort was further enhanced by leadership from Wendy Loewenstein. At the start of this year, the addition of Keegan's role, as well as this year's focus on devices for secondary students, it was determined we wanted to get to depth of knowledge of digital citizenship. The challenge was brought to Keegan to have the entire district completely Common Sense Media certified by using the Innovation Academy program as shown below.
It was important to become purposeful in our deployment of devices in the district. Before last year, the district had never had a planned obsolescence cycle for devices. We had some questions to ask our schools and ourselves:
We could not be happier with the outcomes so far. This year we were one of three districts nationwide to be selected as a Common Sense Showcase District. Also through meshing this strategy of intertwining digital citizenship with our planned obsolescence of device deployment, we have discovered a need. With the introduction of the App Store across many types of platforms, coupled with the push to cloud based solutions, our data is becoming fragmented across multiple systems. This is causing many districts throughout the nation to reflect and adjust their student data privacy workflows to meet the demand. We wanted to take this one step further with the introduction of an App Approval Tool. This tool, developed through our relationship with Microsoft and Common Sense Media, allows applications, websites, and hardware to be introduced by teachers. The newly entered solutions flow through a series of privacy rubrics as well as the vetting of the application or hardware (see below).
The result is a solution that gives clarity and transparency to our life-cycle adoption of hardware and software, tied to instructional strategies. This produces data that can help drive our decisions when a solution is working well and when we need to find a replacement aligned to a particular instructional use.
Still in its infancy, we hope to share this tool and many other best practices out as we develop our policies and practices around this adoption life-cycle. The development of the tool should be complete by February of this year, pushing both existing solutions and new solutions through as fast as our Privacy Committee and Tech Standards Committee can work through them. In addition, Keegan and I will be presenting this tool at ISTE this summer. Come and join us!
We didn’t all learn to drive the same car. In many school districts, technology is pushing forward into every school, classroom and home. Many choose the route of one-to-one computing, some chose BYOD and some are still finding it a challenge to choose between the two. It is important to start the process with a focus on students, without it there can be no real change. It is not about the device, and in the end, the technology should be invisible.
Implementing a project should begin with a vision. Technology shouldn’t be the main focus but a vein running through a strategic plan touching every objective and outcome, providing the highway to efficiencies and collaboration. Every district is different across the country, with different views, demographics, policies and procedures.
Adopting technology at its lowest level means asking the fundamental question to measure, “Is it making a difference in student learning?” The route of technology you decide upon can bring major benefits beyond this question. It will always be important to keep your focus on what your outcomes should be as you progress. Technology has the ability to level the playing field for all students as it gives them the tools to access content across subject and grade levels — anytime, anywhere by pushing learning beyond the confines of the school building.
Always begin with Instructional Technology rather than Systems approach.
It is no surprise that one of my main focuses at Omaha Public Schools was this importance. The major support for assisting in the ability to change culture is professional development. As you can see below in the graphic, the importance to our strategy is hinged on Instructional Technology and the Innovation Academy.
Many teachers do not have the technical knowledge or skills to recognize the potential for technology in teaching and learning. Just knowing how to use a computer is not enough. Instead, teachers must become knowledgeable about technology and self-confident enough to integrate it effectively in the classroom. It doesn’t end there. District and school leaders need professional development to lead by example, giving weight to technology initiatives driving this change.
As with any technology initiative, it is important to discuss infrastructure. Many times a different pair of eyes are needed to look at the current state of technology infrastructure in a district. This allows the ability to remove bias towards specific solutions or procedures and allows many districts to focus on “what’s best for the classroom” thinking. Infrastructure can make or break the learning experience and frustrate staff.
The Digital Gap
People work longer. They also live longer. There is an age and digital gap. It is important to understand that your end user might move faster than you are willing to put policies and procedures in place. With the “consumerization” of cloud services, many times students and teachers are utilizing technology tools and placing data into places you have no administration over. By creating a “ring of innovation,” a controlled avenue for those fast movers to explore and expand their classroom experiences, you can steer alignment to the vision your district wants to create. These can come in the form of technology standards advisory and innovation academies.
Nearly every staff member has a smartphone, and most students come to school with one. Building capacity for each and every staff and student can help shape the services you deliver. With the growing infiltration of technology in our daily lives, our technology literacy has grown dramatically. However, it is important to know the measure of technology literacy everyone is at and provide the resources necessary in a single pane of glass to where you expect them to be. Keep in mind the larger the district and deeper the implementation, the greater the need to release features purposefully to not reach implementation fatigue.
Starting your implementation with a vision tied to your strategic plan and getting the key stakeholders at your table lays the critical foundation and scaffolding for your initiative. Professional development for teachers makes the foundation stronger, adding bricks and mortar to your framework and the infrastructure serves as the cornerstones, ensuring stability and reliability in your rollout. Your rings of innovation ensure no one is trapped inside the framework and allows for growth, expansion and creativity not yet reflected on the road map. The technology devices and software are merely decorations that change over time and with the seasons; they are not a part of the foundation.
Using these methods, we have been able to successfully implement changes in our Omaha Public Schools, most recently an multi-year relationship with Microsoft to embed Office 365 throughout our district. In all of these changes, it is important to understand that our technology changes are cultural as well. Organizational change is complex, and there are many issues underlying what helps or hinders success. Much attention is focused on what to manage, such as goals, strategies, action plans or project plans. What is often ignored or downplayed is how to lead people through transition, especially involving rapid change through technology. There is an important difference between change and transition. I will leave off with a quote that sparked my thoughts for this post:
“You can't teach people everything they need to know. The best you can do is position them where they can find what they need to know when they need to know it.” - Seymour Papert
As a part of our 5 year Strategic Plan, the district wanted to change the approach of our persistently low achieving schools. Through Mr. Evans leadership, the decision was made to look at high technology strategies to engage teachers, students, and community. Below are two aligned approaches of how we addressed two turn around school programs. First, we will highlight Wakonda Elementary with community engagement involving a high technology mobile learning unit, and the second post highlighting Kennedy Elementary.
Wakonda Elementary is located in North Omaha and provides learning opportunities to around 300 students. In 2015, the district made the decision to apply for a federal school improvement grant. That grant, totaling $1.6 million, provided additional supports in staffing, professional development, and technology. The school hired three coaches to work with teachers on technology, student data and student behavior issues. The mission for change includes a technology initiative and a longer school day. Wakonda students will attend school from 8:20 a.m. to 4 p.m., 25 minutes longer than most OPS elementary students. This provided the time for teachers to participate in much needed development activities like Professional Learning Communities (PLC). Our approach to PLCs with Wakonda was to take that high technology aspect to bring teacher needs, data, and feedback to the next level. Partnering with Microsoft, we developed with them PLCs in Modern Groups inside of Office 365. Much of their experience is highlighted in the video below:
Teachers worked through this newly defined environment for a whole semester before beginning to introduce the 1:1 student deployment program. Each teacher was provided a Surface Pro and a wireless display adapter that provided:
The selection process for student devices for me was unique. We decided to take a student centered approach, giving students the opportunity to demo and select the device that best fits their learning environment. That process is outlined in the Sway below and was also highlighted in a Microsoft Blog:
The introduction of these devices into the classroom was unique. Our district instructional technology trainers began working with Rebecca Chambers, the building's instructional tech, to develop a gradual release model. This model allowed a slow implementation that provided the necessary training and classroom management both for the teacher and the students. The effectiveness of these initiatives has resulted in Wakonda being named aMicrosoft Showcase School.
Community and Access
A big piece of Wakonda's journey is community engagement. As a part of our journey to move to a digital curriculum strategy, access has been on the forefront of needs. This year, we have partnered with both Cox (Access) and Discovery ED (Digital Curriculum) to do just that. Cox has been immensely valuable in both working with providing access to families in our high poverty areas with low cost internet, and looking at innovative ways we can engage students. In early 2016, we discussed a joint application for a grant that would allow students to access WiFi throughout Omaha, but would also renovate a bus to become an engaging experience in the community. Through our work with Common Sense Media, we would provide digital citizenship and digital parenting learning opportunities to both the communities of Wakonda and Kennedy students. In September 2016, we were awarded the grant and work has begun on the mobile learning unit. As you can see, it has been designed as a flexible learning space that signifies the 21st Century learning every student needs:
By providing both access via Cox's public WiFi, as well as targeting the areas that don't have a signal via the mobile learning unit, the result is providing access where it is needed. The renovation is scheduled to be completed sometime in Spring 2017.
The next post will be about Kennedy Elementary and their journey to turn around a school that is a part of a much larger community engagement program.
I recently read an article referencing First Principles Thinking paralleled with my reading of the LAUNCH Cycle -
Chapter 7 - Navigating Ideas
Elon Musk and Bill Thurston on the Power of Thinking for Yourself
What I found interesting was the notion that we should brainstorm many times individually before coming together to brainstorm. I particularly loved these quotes:
Quotes from the article:
In Chapter 7 of LAUNCH, it talks about the loudest shouters gets the most ideas on the board. It is so true. How do we get every student to have a voice. I think that is a building a foundation for student-centered learning.
Think of it this way: you wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint.
These posts are personal. They are not reflective of the Omaha Public Schools District.