Sunday, July 22, 2018

Confessions from a Former "Grades Driven" Helicopter Parent

Our school has a student information system (SIS) that allows parents to receive notifications via email for a variety of things: grades, missing assignments, etc. Being what I thought was a diligent parent I signed up to receive emails when an assignment was missing and weekly grade updates for both my girls when they attended CCS. My thought was "Wonderful! Now I can make sure my girls are towing the educational line."

For years, I would greet them with a "Hello! How was your day? Why did you not turn you assignment in during Science today?" If your familiar with the Seinfeld episode about the "Soup Nazi," I was definitely the "Grades Nazi." As somewhat of an overachiever myself AND an educator I would find myself at a boiling point when a "bad grade" got placed in the grade book for either of my children. Sadly, I must confess that as an educator at their school I often let my pride get in the way and was even embarrassed when they didn't try. I told you in the title this is a confessions blog!

Year after year I found my relationships with my daughters becoming more and more strained- especially with my oldest. Grades weren't the only reason but I allowed them to be a key impact point of conflict on a weekly basis. I always had high expectations academically for my girls and I wasn't afraid to let them know that; until my oldest daughter was a junior and my youngest was in ninth grade. On a day of complete exasperation I sat down with my husband and said, "I can't do this anymore. It's ruining my relationship with my girls and I am stressed all the time!" At this point my husband, whose philosophy in college was "C's get degrees" took over. Just like the savvy business man he is, he immediately changed the expectations. He placed the onus of reporting on the girls. Even though he was still getting all the emails, he expected them to send their grades to him each week. It was a non-negotiable. When they sent them on Saturday or Sunday he would look at them and sometimes ask them questions about them, and he would explain his continued expectations.

Washing my hands of the daily notifications and stress was both freeing and scary! What if they quit trying? What if they didn't get into a good college? What if...? And then my oldest took the ACT and I did a little "whew," she then got into the college she wanted to go to and I did a "woohoo," and last December she graduated early from college with a degree. From an educator's view I wasn't even sure she would make it through college based on her high school grades at times. But that's when the revelation hit're only given your kids for a season! Yes it is your job to help them be the best they can be but sometimes, we as parents, sweat the small stuff in the big scheme of life.

I always tell my oldest I'm sorry because we were learning on her. There is definitely a bit of continued tension about that in her and I hope as the years go by I can overcome that and she can see me for what I was...a first time mom muddling through parenthood to the best of my ability! I think back to when I was in k-12 schooling. My parents received a progress report and then a report card. They had no idea what my grades were like except for 2 grades in a semester. My sister and I survived! In fact, I would say we are both fairly well adjusted and responsible adults.

I share all this because there are about to be some changes in the way we will be sharing grades at our school for next year. In one sense it gives the parents more information because they can be observers within the course in our learning management system (LMS) but they will no longer be able to sign up for email notifications. The notifications go to the students. The parents can download the Canvas Parent App and look anytime they want, but they won't get that email 20 minutes before the kid gets in the car like I did in the past (or so it seemed to my children everyday).

I suspect we will have some upset parents over this. I suspect we will have some parents that it won't impact at all...but from a former "Grades Driven Helicopter Parent" my prayer is that families will be able to find a system for themselves regarding grades that helps them balance their need to know with their need to be a caring parent. I wish I had done it sooner. Just because you can know information doesn't mean you always need to know. (Honestly I can't believe I even typed that, but I do mean it now.) I do know every kid is different and each student has to be treated differently to grow them into responsible adults, but looking back now as a "seasoned parent" I wish I had not spent so much time talking about grades while my kids were under my roof. Oh, and my second daughter...she's thriving in college right now....just ask her. I now know there is a fine line between accountability and responsibility that parents need to be hyper vigilant about.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Growing Cost of Edtech Integrity and Security

5 years ago our school rolled out a BYOD (bring your own device) plan for our middle school. We've muddled, learned and grown through all this and also watched and waited for a better idea to come along. Last year we did something different, our fifth grade students piloted touchscreen chrome books in the classroom that the parents still bought (but they bought through the school). As part of this rollout we placed all these Chromebooks under a monitoring and filtering system that follows them wherever they may go. This monitoring software was chump change compared to some of our budgets but it feels like the chump change costs to do what we want to do just keeps growing. And with it comes an added level of responsibility for our IT department by being the gatekeeper of usage both on and off campus.

In this next school year we are also investing in software that will make it impossible for students to take a quiz or test without doing so in a lockdown browser. We chose to do this for testing security and integrity. This is another little bit of chump change that works with the learning management system (LMS) we have adopted for this year - the LMS itself is a larger bit of chump change. We also spend additional money on a plagiarism/grammar checking software that plugs into the said LMS.

Many of these options are chosen for integrity purposes, some are for ease of use purposes and yet a few cannot even be seen as optional in today's world. One of the hardest parts of being an instructional technologist is that there never seems to be a program that does everything we want it to do for our teachers and students without investing more money in an outside plug in. Then you stand back and you realize your "per seat" cost of using technology continues to grow and you wonder what could stay, what could go? What is next? I do believe in time some of these plug ins will become standard in LMS specs but for now the budget continues to bulge with add-ons.

Add to that the needs of an elementary school which isn't quite ready for the robustness of an expensive LMS but teachers want to utilize technology in collective ways. All of a sudden you have $20-50 dollar expenses in various classes to meet various needs and everyone looking to the IT department to fill those needs.

I do appreciate edtech companies that have the free versions and the pay versions of software because more than once I've said "show me you'll use it and we will look for the money for the paid version." It is interesting to me that many of these companies charge just enough to entice teachers to use their own money for this classroom need. I can't decide if that's the companies being good to the teachers or actually exploitive of the teachers!

At the end of last year our wonderful elementary PTO gave out Amazon gift cards to our teachers to use in the classroom. I'm wondering, has the time come for teachers to receive gift cards so they can decide what tools to buy for their classroom or does that create a smorgasbord of confusion for students? I don't think it would in the elementary setting.

  • How does one best encourage teachers to take risks and try new technology tools without creating undo cost and chaos with a need to support all those things? 
  • Who decides what is necessary and what is not? 
  • Should there be a protocol for edtech tool adoption? 
  • How do you support innovators and first adopters in a school setting?
  • How do you discern if the chump change and the big change your shelling out is truly cost effective in the learning process?
  • How do you make the money spent on educational technology equitable between upper and lower schools? Do you need to?
  • What standards or goals are you supporting through the use of technology in the school?
  • What is it's ultimate purpose and do the pros outweigh the cons? 
  • Where is the tipping point? If I knew .....(kids weren't always multitasking, students weren't cheating on tests, knew how to balance- or whatever you have heard to fill in that blank) THEN I would feel more comfortable with technology. How much money do we invest into the tipping point areas?
  • How do you respond to the next cool and useful tool that hits the market midyear when your budget is flat? 
  • How much cushion should there be in a tech budget?

Friday, June 22, 2018

Putting Yourself OUT THERE Professionally

As I reflect over my school year, I realize I had a lot of disappointments. In fact, a crazy amount of disappointments. As a rule, I don't deal with disappointments or rejection well so I have spent the last few days asking myself "why does this year feel like a success if you truly felt like you had tons of disappointments?"

I think it is because my disappointments weren't in what was happening at school that much and more about putting myself out there to become a better educator and to grow. I also think it was because I put myself out there enough that I also have some crazy awesome things to celebrate as well. As I started typing this blog post I decided to just create this chart to help me put my year in perspective:

A few years back I realized that in order for me to get the feedback I needed to both grow and feel fulfilled in my role I would need to reach outside of my own school system. Not that it isn't a wonderful school system- it is! But I tend to be a futurist and and "what's next" type of thinker about education. That being said, it is not my role to force my dreams on those I work with, so looking for ways to develop and feed that part of myself while incrementally creating opportunities at our school is important to me.

There are some years the professional rejection feels more overwhelming than the things to celebrate but because of my personality, I feel like it's important for me to keep putting myself out there. And let me say that has not always been my personality. There have been more years than not that I was quite happy siloing myself in my classroom with my students and focusing on teaching and the things that happened within the four walls of that classroom. AND I was a good teacher. But after spending time looking at what others were doing by attending conferences and using Twitter to grow professionally, I had a quest to do more and be more for myself, my school system, but ultimately the students and families I serve.

So now I spend time looking for opportunities to get outside my box and challenge my thought processes. I realize that as an instructional technologist I work in a role that opens a mixed bag of emotions from others. It is that fact that has pushed me to have a more global approach to my job so that I can get the support I need and can be a balanced educator in seeing the strengths and potential pitfalls in my realm of influence.

I say all this to challenge others to continue to put yourself out there. After not being chosen for part of the Google Innovator program this year I tweeted "Rejection makes me hungry." It's true. Don't let your rejection define you-dig deeper, apply again, seek other avenues, but never accept the status quo of complacency!  Fail forward and grow! Colonel Sanders, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison and J.K. Rowling are just a few people that come to mind when I think of persevering through the struggle of failures. May I ever be someone with that type of growth mindset.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Value of Pausing

What is the function of a pause button? To hit pause means you still want to continue but you need a little breather. When you are watching a movie, maybe you pause for a bathroom break. When you are listening to a podcast, maybe you pause because something more pressing needs your attention at the moment. The point I'm trying to make is that to pause is very different than hitting stop.

In the summer I often take some intentional pauses for my own mental health. It can look very different based on where I am emotionally, spiritually and professionally. Right now I am in the midst of what I would call a "redirect pause." I am being intentional about attending events, reading resources and learning more about the negative impacts technology can have on us but I AM an instructional technologist. While that might not make sense to some people, I think it is very important that I always be aware of latest research that both positively and negatively represents technology and more specifically educational technology.

This week I had the privilege of leading some professional development sessions for our school system. At the end of a session about formative assessment I was asked two questions by one of the participants who has not been working in a technology-rich classroom but will be teaching with us next year:

  • Do you feel students are easily distracted by technology?
  • What are your biggest concerns about technology in the classroom?
So those 20 fellow educators were stuck there listening to my answers!

My answer to the first question was unequivocally YES. Technology is a disrupter but I firmly believe that the benefits outweigh its frustrations if we are intentionally using technology in a classroom that supports not only engagement but learning. I do believe technology in the classroom means that it becomes harder to teach in a traditional way. Classroom management is important when technology is present and you as a teacher are speaking. It is a natural time for students to drift off task. Teachers have to set expectations and stick with them. 

The second question pricked this part of me that never gets to speak. I mean my job is to hark the benefits of technology and show educators how to use it....what are my biggest concerns? I took a big breath and my answer was, "I worry about the siloing nature of technology. I worry about the way it is impacting conversations. I worry that technology companies have duped us into using their products and we haven't considered the consequences." I then said, "I do think educational technology companies are doing a better job of seeing their responsibility in the way they build their platforms. I also feel we, as educators, are able to discern what works best for us where it all felt like a whirlwind as we started trying things in the classroom." 

Today I attended a session by Dr. Larry Rosen during a Neuroscience & Education Symposium. Tonight I find myself dwelling on the way the different generations look at technology. We looked at research data that compared Baby Boomers, Generation X, Net Generation, iGeneration and Generation C. Tonight I sit here thinking about how to share technology information with the various generations that teach at CCS in a way that helps them to understand the dynamics of Generation C. It feels both overwhelming and exciting. 

And the one thing that could cause a myriad of crazy conversations is the concept of "tech breaks" during the schedule so that students can reconnect with the technology platforms of their choice in order to be less distracted from FOMO (fear of missing out) and constantly trying to check it when the teacher isn't looking. The research was amazing to consider. Thankful for this pause that helps me to see more about pausing. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Why Small School Districts Should be Leading the Way in Innovation

This year I have chosen to focus on the good. My one word for January was "perspective" and I have worked hard to see my surroundings through a positive lens this school year, to celebrate the things that happen in our school that makes us uniquely special and gives me pause to have pride in where I work. I've always been thankful for this school system, they helped me raise my two girls, gave me a sense of belonging, nurtured and challenged me into the educator I am today and continues to push me.

When I am being intentional about my perspective, it magnifies the thoughts and processes that roam inside my head. I've even been told I am overthinking things, which is a bit funny because I see myself more as too decisive and action-oriented these days because I was definitely an over-thinker in the past. Balance, always looking for my balance.

But I digress. The thing I really appreciate the most by realigning my perspective to positivity is the fact that I work for a district that can get things done. Things don't stagnate or suffer from paralysis of analysis. If the right people accept an idea that anyone has, things can get done around here. I think part of this is because we are a smaller district (a pre-K school of 1400 students) and anyone that needs to be part of a decision is within walking distance of each other.  I also think it is because we are a private school and the mandates that some of you have to deal with don't impact us.

If you want a big dose of perspective start hanging out with educators from various districts. One of my most enlightening endeavors monthly is being part of our local #CHAedu #coffeeEDU where a few educators choose to spend an hour discussing education topics of our choice. This was the first place I realized how fortunate I was to be at CCS in terms of getting things done. I heard fellow educators in different districts, in different roles talk about trying to bring great opportunities to their school but not being allowed to or having to fight really hard for it because "it wouldn't be equitable between the different schools in the district." I guess I understand that on one hand but on the other hand if every school had empowered educators wanting to bring special stuff and being able to do so, does it have to be the exact same thing?

That being said, I think every sized district has its on perspectives that make it unique and valuable to education. If you want to make sure a tech rollout goes well, see what a successful large district did and adapt their concept to yours. If you can rollout tech to 20,000 students successfully, you should be modeled.

What I realize is that smaller school districts should be leading the way in innovation. There seems to be less red tape to cut through in order to create change. I would also say that in smaller districts there is more likely the possibility that the key players/decision makers wear multiple hats and the sphere of influence is more encompassing. This allows for informed decisions to be made quicker, with the word informed being the key word. In smaller districts, administrators often have multiple wheelhouses. This can be helpful when dealing with innovative strategies because the moving parts have a greater opportunity of working like a well oiled machine instead of a sticky cog.

A friend of mine who works in public education once said to me, "I think public schools could learn a thing or two from your school. You all have the ability of doing much with little." He was talking about funding, and he was right! When you know the funds are limited, you get creative in the ways you meet needs. I think it is the nature of the small district beast to have an innovative mindset.

I'm going to push this concept even a bit farther...I believe Christian schools have a responsibility to be innovators. We follow the greatest innovator of all- Jesus fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish! We should always be looking for ways to meet needs, it is one of the things we are called to do as Christians. We should be modeling for the world what meeting needs looks like, including in the classroom. In my opinion this means we should be looking at our constituency through the monocle of innovation (the place where needs intersect with passion) and individuality.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Student Led Professional Development

I've been at school since 6:45am.  I was anxious about my morning and the lofty goals I had. It's now 10:00am and I am basking in the glory of positive completion! This morning ended a 9 week elective opportunity for students that signed up for the "Lower School Tech Team" elective. This team has worked for 9 weeks to create an Escape Room opportunity for the lower school teachers that taught them about STEAM tools. These 8 students created lesson plans and how to videos and modeled how you can teach using an Escape Room as the lesson.

This morning all the lower school teachers had a staggered start to come in and allow the students to show them how to use Dash Cleverbots, Ozobots, Sphero Robotics, Makey Makeys, and Echo Dots in the classroom. Based on feedback from teachers in January, this was an area they felt they needed more training in. The students manned all 5 stations and had the teachers learn more about these tools. As someone that was both nervous about allowing students to lead the PD and hoping that it truly would be seen as beneficial, I truly enjoyed hearing the interactions and the "aha moments" happening as each grade level worked their way through the challenges. Every grade level got through the 5 challenges in less than 20 minutes and my hope is that the teachers will have walked away thinking about potential ways they can use these tools in their own classroom in the future.

The thing that I am most proud of is allowing these students to have the opportunity to be part of authentic learning. The problem put before them was "The teachers want to learn more about tech tools." These kids showed up at 7:30am this morning (even though on Wednesdays their day starts at 9:00am) and enthusiastically taught their teachers what they knew. They supported without "doing it for them." Every one of them left feeling accomplished, needed, and fulfilled in what they participated in this morning. Students want authentic learning and to share their learning more globally. The morning of sharing with the lower school teachers and the website they created for reference allowed them this opportunity. Remember, this was an elective. Think on that for a moment!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Echo Dot Kids Edition- For Education?

I've been fairly pumped about the Echo Dot Kids Edition coming out. My pre-ordered one came in this past week and the 10 minute video at the bottom of this post is me unboxing and digging into its capabilities. I was beyond excited about the safeguards the Echo Dot Kids Edition would offer an educational setting. I immediately asked it questions I would hope it wouldn't answer and my brief synopsis was that it did feel much safer to use with youngsters. I did like the fact that when setting up profiles for children it asked the age of the child but also allowed me to override and set stricter settings if I wanted to do so. I have yet to really dig into all the suggested apps for the kids edition but I believe any parent or educator could find multiple reasons to see this as a benefit to learning. One of the things I like the most about it is that it gives young students access to information and learning without screen time issues.

The thing I was most excited about was using an Echo Dot Kids Edition during center time in our elementary school. The safety net of creating user profiles for kids that didn't allow them to intentionally or unintentionally order things off Amazon with my credit card was a huge plus to me.

I couldn't wait to create my first Amazon Blueprint Skill to quiz students at one table while a teacher was engaged in a small group activity with another set of students. I created my skill about STEAM tool knowledge and immediately asked the Echo Dot Kids Edition to open it. It wouldn't. I tried it on one of my other Echo Dots and there was no problem at all.

So here is the deal according to Amazon, because my Echo Dot Kids Edition is set up for a child named Joe Charger, they cannot access my Blueprint skills because it is seen as a different user (even though it uses the same Amazon account). This was a huge disappointment to me. So much potential that just slid away. I was ready to place them in every classroom if it had worked! I will say that the Amazon Troubleshooting team was a big help and they listened to my wants and said they would pass my concerns along to the Amazon Developers.

I know the goal of the Echo Dot Kids Edition isn't for educational purposes but for parent controls but it is SOOOOOO close to being a product that could be amazing in the educational technology realm. So Amazon developers, if you are ready this...I want to be your guinea pig! Thank you for the tool you've given us so far that makes adults feel a little more piece of mind in regards to voice user interface. I look forward to seeing what the next step might be!