Sunday, June 11, 2017

Budgets Are Declarations of Belief

Blogger sidenote: Sometimes if you procrastinate on a blog post long enough, you get to write the original post and the follow up post all in one go.
So...that’s fun.

Why Is No One Else Excited About This?

I seem to really like doing a part of my job that my coworkers and peers in other districts seem to dread.  I am a first year administrator, the Director of Educational Technology in Alisal Union School District; I am also originating the position.  Budgeting and budget projections have become a thing I like doing.  To me there are so many positive and intellectually engaging things here.

It’s like a puzzle where what I want to accomplish and what I can (theoretically) accomplish come together and I have to make the pieces fit.  I like puzzles and problem-solving.  We’ve been asked to do 3 years of projections and in each year we have to cut by 10%, by the end of 2019 - 20, it will have been reduced by 30%.

So this seemed like a critical but interesting challenge.  It was also a gut-check moment: What do I really believe my students and teachers need, and how am I am going to put resources into that when resources are diminishing?  But on an emotional level, budget projections and action planning, especially around edtech, are what one of my favorite authors, Sarah Vowell, describes as a “snowball moment.”

Vowell, Sarah. The Wordy Shipmates. Waterville, Me.: Thorndike, 2009. Print; pg 54.

Yes, budgets carry real effects and mean choices, impacts, and sacrifices. These are not always fun. But, to me, when you’re doing the projections, the harder parts have yet to happen.  The plan hasn’t met reality yet; the mistaken suppositions haven’t come to light, errors and emergencies have yet to happen.  Budgets, despite all the constraints and must-dos they are required to have, are a votive list in which we as leaders say, “this is what we believe in; this is what we are going to support; this is what we promise to do!”

Who wouldn’t be excited by that?

I didn’t realize I was kind of alone in this mindset this until I had a conversation like this with a fellow director before a school board meeting.

HIM: You have a good day?
ME: Yeah! Me and my team spent the afternoon doing our 3-year projections with those cuts we were asked to put in!
HIM: (groans) Ugh, budgets.  You seem excited by that.
ME: Yeah, I think we got a really good plan…(dawning realization) Wait, you don’t like doing that?
HIM: No.  I hate budget projections.  In fact, you’re the only one I know who has ever said they liked doing this...especially during [budget] cuts.

I am, however, undeterred.  As an administrator, I don’t have a lesson plan anymore.  I have an action plan and it’s accompanying budget.  These are a statements of what I know in my bones to be the best solutions for our students and teachers to become fluent in 21st century learning and teaching, and ultimately to become engaged citizens of the connected world.

Being a leader, I now get to do everything in my professional power to execute, to make those solutions a reality. ¡√Āndale pues!

The Follow Up - Round 2: Is It Still Fun?

In California right now, we’re not exactly having hard times, but we’re heading into what looks like a few years of budget reduction.  This is because STRS (State Teachers Retirement System) and PERS (Public Employees Retirement System) contribution rates are going up, and will continue to go up as far as the 19- 20 school year.  So even if our budgets are leveling off, the mandated costs of those items is going up dramatically.  For me this involved a couple of complications.

We have a new fiscal director who pointed out that we’d been making some errors in our budgeting practices.  While we were putting in our salary costs for stipends and timesheets--“supplemental salary” (which make up a large portion of my professional development budget), we’d been leaving off the associated benefit costs. We were accounting for paying our folks their extra income, but we didn’t realize that the extra money that goes into retirement and medical for them ALSO had to come out of those budgets.
You know, the budgets we’d spent all that time cutting by 10% year over year.

If the first one was an interesting puzzle and a gut check this was kind of a body blow.  In real numbers, this was an additional 2% in 17 - 18, 3.5% in 18 - 19, and 5% in 19 - 20 in cuts that I had to find, while maintaining all the beliefs and hopes for efficacy I talked about above.  The absolute dollars were the same, but how much of them I was going to be able use went down each year.

When you have to do this, it’s just you and the spreadsheet and the math.  There is no negotiating, no pleading; like Shakira’s hips, numbers don’t lie. You’re either within the limit, or you keep finding cuts.  But I wanted to be a leader, and this was a leadership moment.  And I don’t mean to be too melodramatic, but when you’re trying to build a program, there’s a lot of attachment to it.

I admit this time I was less eager.  This time, “stuff got real.”  It’s not that I didn’t take it seriously before, I absolutely did. But it was a thing I thought I was done with for a while.  I still viewed it as an engaging puzzle, but this time was more serious, somehow. The deadline was closer, the amounts higher, but I still didn’t dread it.

“Like” is maybe not the right word for how I felt about it, but positive definitely is.  I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to do it.  My ardor was not reduced in any way.  I know my professional convictions; I know what I think is the right path in edtech. If anything the creative constraints got tighter and I wanted to do it more.

This budget is my promise to my team, and the teachers and students of this district, “This is how we’ll prepare you for the future of education.” Why wouldn’t I be excited about making and keeping that promise?

Making Lessons With New Google Sites RT @ZahnerHistory:

from Twitter

June 11, 2017 at 11:39AM

#GAFE Impact Report: Overview & Infographic RT @MrSchoenbart:

from Twitter

June 11, 2017 at 10:39AM

Spreadsheet Fun in First Grade RT @DLCoachSandy

from Twitter

June 11, 2017 at 10:18AM

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Why #Edtech People Are #StickerJunkies & You Want To Be One Too

Recently on Twitter, something fun and interesting happened. It had nothing to do with president Trump. I said “fun”.

It had to do with stickers.

Automatically, that last sentence should make this blog post more interesting. If you’re in education, you like stickers. It’s a genetic predisposition in educators. If you’re in education and you don’t like stickers, your alien masters need to add that to your programming.

But Edtech People Especially REALLY Like Stickers

I mean we really like them. Most of us collect them, put them on our laptops, and some of us even put them on our phones.
IMG_0205.JPG Edtechspec phone.jpg

But most of the time as a practice in the edtech sub-culture none of us think about it. All the cool kids are doing it, and we’re teachers--so we already like them, and we end up doing it without question.

Not too long ago, my friend and fellow #edtech coach/integrationist/TOSA/presenter, Ryan O'Donne
ll (@creativeedtech), had a few tweets on the #StickerJunkies hashtag inviting us to post pics of our laptops. I, like so many of my fellow #edtech nerds, responded with sharing out the stickers we have plastered all over our computers--mainly MacBooks. It was fun, and there were quite a few rounds of “You have a(n) _____ sticker! I WANT!”
This lead me to a discussion with the edtech friends I see in real life on a regular basis. Here was the question: Why do so many of us who work in edtech, especially those of us who attend and work what I call the circuit--the series of edtech and other education conferences, summits, workshops and other events--plaster our machines with stickers? Does it have value other than fun and aesthetic, and if so, can we use that for some educational purpose. What follows is some explanation, reflection and my 2-cents on a very prevalent practice in my professional subculture.
Let’s talk about the why. As I noted, most of us have MacBooks, which are beautiful machines for our purposes, but, unlike PCs or Chromebooks, which have multiple manufacturers, and therefore multiple looks, MacBooks more or less all look the same. I think this is why so many of us start by putting cases on a kind of laptop that arguably has the least actual need for it--it helps you pick your own out when they’re all closed on the table. But cases, are pretty plain. people like to express themselves and/or show off what they know and/or what they believe in. And here is where the stickers come in. 

IMG_0900.JPG IMG_1445.JPG IMG_1448.JPG IMG_1447.JPG
In edtech, laptop stickers are a visual, graphic kind of slang or cipher. For those of us who know how to read them, they tell each other a lot about our respective experiences, achievements, passions, and values.

For instance, with the right eyes, you can look at all 4 of this laptops in the picture above, which belong to educators in three different school districts (Salinas, Fresno, and Lake Tahoe), and know the following:
  • They’re all pretty Google-y
  • All of them know or have been to a session with Susan Stewart (@TechCoachSusan)
    • So they’re interested in or value K-2 edtech learning and teaching
    • But only 2 of them went to her #K2CanToo conference
  • All of them know or have been to a session with me, Josh Harris (@EdTechSpec)
    • His sessions focuses on presentations, so their interested in that
    • Also, he tends to focus on mastery at an intermediate or above level
  • They all participate in the #TOSAChat twitter chat
    • So they likely are or were Teachers On Special Assignment, and see value in instructional coaching
  • They’re all regular twitter users
  • They probably also know (or are) at least one of the 4 regular moderators of #TOSAChat
  • Even though all 4 have have Alisal Edtech stickers, only two of them work there...can you tell which two?
  • One of them is clearly an edtech administrator based on one of the vendor stickers prominently displayed on the laptop.

A friend and fantastic teacher and instructional coach, Ann Kozma (@AnnKozma723), said it like this:
“sticker swag helps tell the story of where I've been, what I've done, what I'm passionate about. I enjoy seeing my stickers and remember connections I've made to others who share the same passions and interests that I do. Plus, they're a great conversation starter.”

Another good example of the value the edtech community place on these symbols, these badges, is something that also comes from Ann Kozma. Her laptop died and the thing she tweeted about was not the lost data--it’s 2017, Ann works in the cloud like a normal non-amish person. What she tweeted was how much losing the stickers was a wrench:

The edtech community responded in mass. I am planning on sending mine to her in the next few days. But by far the one that made some of us jump was a response tweet from Roland Aichele (@EdTechMinded)
IMG_1457.PNG, at least 2 of us covet the Android in the Google Classroom T-shirt, visible at the top of the pile. It’s a cool sticker, yes, but we also happen to be passionate about Google Classroom and its ability to make edtech integration and edtech based instruction more accessible and easy for teacher and students. We think that tool is one in the toolbox of 21st century pedagogy, and that's a thing we care deeply about.  It's not just about a neat sticker.

How The Edtech Sticker Fetish Can Lead to Greater Connectedness In A District.

Okay, that’s all fun and neat, maybe even interesting, but so what? Well if you talk to some folks in the EduBadging set, Cate Tolnai (@CateTolnai) and Rich Dixon (@RichEdTech) Spring to mind, they’ll tell you this kind of visible display of achievement and experience is the future of grading, the future of assessment, maybe even the future of professional licensure.

For me, it's a little closer to home...and work.
Personally, I have a sticker addiction. On my office wall is the lid to a previous laptop case that I kept and hung, because of the stickers. There’s a ton of memories there. My personal MacBook has a layer of stickers right on the aluminum shell of the laptop and then I bought a translucent case, so I could put on more stickers.
If you look closely, you can see them through the red case.

My team (half-)jokingly talks about staging a #StickerVention.

I even order stickers for my job. These are some of the stickers (and magnets) I have had designed and bought (out of pocket) for my team and district. Shout out to StickerMule, they do excellent work and their product is awesome #recommended.
IMG_1453.JPG  FullSizeRender 4.jpg  IMG_0853.JPG
The two hashtag stickers have generated a lot of excitement in our school district. At this point, I can honestly say that all of our principals, most of the asst. Principals, all of the Ed Services directors, and the Assoc. Superintendents of Ed Services and HR, and (I think) the Superintendent himself have put these stickers on their laptops. The simplicity of the message of the hastag really appeals to the mission of our district. Clerical and other DO folks have started asking for (and getting) them too.

When we go to our County Office, or any other function, even if it’s just our laptops, you can always spot the Alisal Table now. That gives us a feeling of team and pride. People who don’t work with us sometimes ask for one, or get one as a small token. The TOSAs on my team Ben Cogswell (@cogswell_ben), George Lopez (@NewImpulse) and I have been handing them out like candy, or posting the stickers and magnets in conspicuous places all over the district.

And here’s the thing we’re excited about. We’re trying guerilla marketing in our own district. We’re going to try to get more of our site leaders and teacher leaders to be more connected to the edu Community online, and for us twitter is the gateway drug to that. First, step, the rest of the year we’ll be giving these out, putting them up in classrooms and staffrooms, front offices and anywhere else we’re allowed to place them.

Starting next year we’ll start posting flyers and posters drawing attention to the stickers and magnets to generate attention and interest. Then as a department, we’re planning twitter challenges for everyone. Some will be about teachers, some about administrators; some will be whole district, some will be school-by-school, some might even be school-vs-school. We’re trying to gamify self-driven being a connected educator and online professional development.

The point, our goal is threefold:
  • Get our teachers and admin to actively use a social media channel for professional learning
  • Telling our own stories from the classroom, front office, and DO
  • Exposing our folks to people and connections beyond our their school site.
We’ll see how well it goes and what we learn from our attempts. I’ll keep you posted.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Can We Be Done With "Creepy" Now?

Remember “random”? You know that few years when you heard, “...that’s so random!” all the time? And I think this was not only folks common for who worked with kids. “Random” was everywhere, and mostly what people meant was "coincidental" or "unexpected."  But, like most slang, it died. In my experience, and I have nothing but anecdotal data to prove this, slang dies for one of two main reasons: Condition 1-adults (or advertisers) pick it up and make it uncool, and/or, Condition 2-it gets used so commonly and ubiquitously that it loses it’s meaning. I submit that with "creepy" we are almost at Condition 1 and we are definitely at Condition 2.

There’s an educational point to this...and I promise I will get there.

Can we please be done with "Creepy" as a thing now?

I’ve been feeling this way for a while, largely because of how it gets used by students for things that are really innocuous but are also new/different/unusual/unexpected. And then I saw this on Twitter:

I am not attacking anyone, not Engadget, nor Rick King, but this slang term...I’m ready for it to go, especially when our kids use it as ubiquitously and randonly (see what I did there?) as they are.

This is linguistic and vocabulary laziness that is indicative of intellectual laziness and I’m ready to be done with it; we call it lazy writing instructionally. On some level, aren’t we all ready to be done with lazy thinking?

This drone is not coming-on to the water recipient in a sexually aggressive way, nor is it stalking him with malicious intent. It’s trying to bring him some water...which, as it’s a “delivery, he asked for in the first place. Can someone explain exactly what is creepy here? Is it new? Sure. Unorthodox? Definitely. A thing we’ve never seen before? Potentially, but in no way is that “creepy”

Let’s define terms. Language and communication only work when we all agree that the words we use mean the same things to all of us; word definition is not the best place for personal interpretation. defines creepy thusly:
Slang. of, relating to, or characteristic of a person who is a creep; obnoxious; weird. (

Not good.  Let's click on creep in that definition.  When you then click on “creep” you see this:

So, they’re all negative connotations.

If you want to see what they say synonyms are, click here, but I assure you they’re not pleasant.

So here is the edtech tie-in, and in part, adults and school officials who approach edtech and specifically the internet from ONLY a harm-avoidance/reduction model are responsible for the student mindset I am about to explain. If you paint something as only dangerous, that's what the perception of it will become. But also our current linguistic over-reliance on this word when what we mean is “new”, or “not used to it” is becoming a problem in least in my view.

One of the teachers I support has had a few students (and then a few more) in her middle and high school classes, where she is a frequent Google Classroom user, copy the assignment into a new doc and do the work there, specifically so she cannot open it up and see what they are doing. And here’ the thing, they’re not doing anything inappropriate, they’re working. She’s not doing anything inappropriate, she’s working. In fact, she’s utilizing the thing that so many of us love about Google Apps for Education (GAFE), namely: live document collaboration. When we asked the students why they were doing it, they responded with some version of, “it’s creepy just having my teacher in there [the doc] whenever.” When we asked what was “creepy” about it, in true middle and high school fashion, either “I dunno” or “it just is.”

No. I’m sorry. Not sufficient. When you accuse a teacher of being “creepy” you’d better have some damn thought behind it. Not everyone takes that word so lightly. We think in language.  Words indicate thought--words mean something important.

Was the teacher doing anything out of order here? Absolutely not.

Does the word “creepy" have a negative, sexually aggressive, stalker-like connotation? Absolutely yes. And before you tell me I am overreacting or over-thinking this, Let’s try a little 2nd grade empathy. How would you like it if a kid told you (and then each other) your teaching practice, especially one that you saw as progressive, revolutionary, and “how the new generation learns,” was “creepy?" For those of us who pride ourselves on being responsive to students, that’s not a good day. Then add an anti-edtech parent into the mix….not good.

Language works because we all agree words have the same meaning for all of us. Slang is a purposeful attempt to subvert that commonality to create exclusive use by a group of people. I get that. Further, I get why kids do that, and I have no problem with that as a concept. I don’t think students, and now more and more adults, are specifically trying to paint each other with this particular (creepy) brush, but we are. And we increasingly use this term because something is basically unfamiliar.

Is that really the mindset we want our kids walking into the wide and diverse world full of amazing, different and unusual new things, that all those things are “creepy”?

Yeah, me neither. So how about we all knock it off and use our bigger words. And while we’re at it, how about we call it out in our kids, and use it as a teachable moment?

Monday, April 4, 2016

Choose Your Crater: Deciding Your Leadership Role

Before I really delve into this blog, I am going to ask you to participate in a brief thought exercise.
If you have said or thought either of these things…

  • “Good principals are rare, I hope I get to work with one some day.”
  • “I can’t become an administrator, that would be going over to the ‘dark side’,” OR “I doubt I’d be a good administrator, I’m too __________.”

...then ask yourself if you even allow for the idea of a good principal in your thinking.

Image by Cynthia Nixon:

We Are Asteroids in the Education Cosmos

I am finishing my second full year as an instructional coach.  The learning curve has been steep in so many areas that sometimes it is difficult to unpack it all.  Despite that, I have done a lot of reflection during this time, and it helps me when I get questions from my fellow teachers and fellow instructional coaches.  Recently in the #TOSAChat Voxer group, there was a discussion about being a coach and how we impact our school communities, and the possibility of going into administration and leadership.

Many in the discussion voiced the, “oh, I could never go into admin…” sentiment, followed by one of several typical reasons.  They speculated that they are either too introverted/shy/fragile/emotional/reactive/opinionated to be a principal, which is always amusing to me.  Do these teachers think their principals don’t have emotions and opinions, or aren’t subject to the harder parts of human interactions? We all know administrators aren’t robots, right?  I think this point of view goes hand-in-glove with the jokes that teachers make and hear about “going to the dark side” when one of our colleagues talks about going into administration.  If the people who make those kinds of jokes also claim to be openly collaborative, I tend to treat that claim with a bit of skepticism.

The other main reason I hear for not wanting to be a coach or administrator is that they would “miss the kids too much.”  Indeed, this was the sibling sentiment to a question I was asked what felt like constantly for the first 6 months of being a TOSA, “Don't you miss the kids?”  Please note the word “the,” not “your.”  Implicit in the thinking behind that question is the assumption that I was no longer working with students.  It is difficult to explain how incorrect that assumption is and how much it says about the person who asks it without the explanation sounding like a rebuke.  Because here’s the thing, and there’s no denying it--I was in classrooms with kids all the time, often several classrooms per day.  I was getting to meet kids in four different and new (to me) schools at grade levels I never would have encountered in my middle school classroom position, to say nothing of the dozens upon dozens of talented teachers I was now getting to work with.

And the truth was, my feelings were complicated on the topic.  I was hired mid-year from my middle school classroom, and some of the kids I left behind were fantastic humans and I missed them terribly; the ones I’d had for 7th and 8th were amongst my favorites.  But as classroom teachers we have to say goodbye to our students every year (or every few years if you get to loop with your kids), so this was nothing new.  On the other hand, I felt like I became the educational equivalent of a grandparent in my role as a TOSA.  Every time I came into their classroom students got excited.  It meant we were going to do something new with fun toys (edtech devices), we were going to do it long enough for them to get really enthusiastic about it, and then I would hand them back to their educational parent--the classroom teacher.  It was the first time that I understood why my mom wanted to be a grandparent.  In any case, I myself was still having a direct impact on kids, and an indirect impact through their teachers.  The difference was that my impact was broader, affecting a greater number of students; it was just not as deep or personal.

Another new aspect to my job was working with site and district leadership in a way I hadn’t had the chance to before, and again on a scale that wouldn’t have been possible as a classroom teacher.  About the work of site administrators as it pertains to this topic, I would say two things.  First, whether it’s in the office, while monitoring lunch or recess, or during classroom visits, administrators generally spend at least a portion of their day with students.  They don’t like doing discipline any better than you do, but interacting with students is a highlight of the day for most of the ones I have worked with.  So, while it’s generally true that they don’t know each student as well as their classroom teachers, site admin generally know more of them by name...and not just “those kids.”  Again, impact that is broader and less direct.  But you cannot dispute the fact that site-based and central office administrators have an impact on students, often through their teachers.  They have an impact on school culture, district culture, spending and budgets, and site and district priorities, to name a few.

Now certainly, these are not the same kinds of impacts that classroom teachers have, and are probably not as fun.  However, I think we’d all be hard-pressed to claim that these items have no impact on students.  And I cannot think of a classroom teacher, or even a TOSA, who has not been frustrated by or disagreed with a decision that has been made above them, and known with every fiber of their being that the decision should have gone in another direction.

So, if this frustration is universal, it seems the best way to abate it is for people who have strong educational points of view or visions to go into leadership.  Become the principal you wish you had.  How many of you had a favorite teacher that you tried (or still try) to emulate in the classroom?  What about non-examples--do you remember a teacher you make sure not to mimic?  Well, why shouldn’t that be true for site and district leadership? Never really had a great mentor?  Why not go become the coach you always wanted?  Meeting the new challenge of working with fellow Teachers is very rewarding, and you’ll find that good teaching is always good teaching, regardless of the student’s age.  And here’s where all this talk of impact comes in.  You have to choose your crater; what kind of asteroid will you be?

All Craters Are Evidence of Impact

In education, no one’s crater is deeper than the classroom teacher’s crater.  Their impact is profound and personal.  They get to spend the most time with their students and witness and influence a child’s growth most carefully.  Without doubt, a great teacher can have a lifetime impact on their students--your school memories prove this.   But, this is always going to be contained and confined to the students in that teacher’s class.  So while deep, a teacher’s crater is narrow.

A principal has a different impact and a different crater.  Principals obviously have an effect on the entire school, so their crater is broader than the classroom teachers’ are, but it’s not nearly as direct or personal.  That said, I have seen some amazing principals make some very real and personal changes in students’ lives.

TOSAs, or instructional coaches, have yet another kind of crater.  Their impact, depending on their assignment, is broad, possibly broader than a site principal’s (if they work with multiple sites), and generally more indirect than direct.  They interact with students through other teachers and, in my case, help principals make decisions that impact teachers and students.  So again--broader, but less deep; and yet, still important.

In the model of this analogy, the higher you go in school and district leadership, the broader, yet shallower your impact on the lives and learning of students is.  So your job delineates what kind of asteroid you are.  There are no better or worse asteroids, they’re just different, and they have different kinds of impact.

And Now, the Ask 

Consider the possibility that your career in education may not end in the classroom.

Acknowledge that you are a skilled and intelligent educational practitioner.  Accept that there is a difference between not wanting to and not being able to do certain jobs. Recognize that the person who can best implement your ideas about education, how to support teachers and schools, and what’s best for kids, is you.  And know that if you choose to be a different kind of asteroid, you’ll still be you, you’ll still get to fly through the cosmos, and you’ll still have an impact.  But you have to give yourself a chance to choose.