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.