Saturday, November 14, 2015

The 5 A's of K12 Innovation

I had the honor of being asked by a local EdTech company to be part of a mom focus group to give feedback regarding what parents want from camps/programs and what 7-17 year olds interests are in terms of technology. As a technology coordinator, it was interesting to listen to the other 10 moms participating that didn't represent my own school. I left the lunch curating the information in my own head and I am wrestling with 2 big thoughts:
  1. For the most part "tech for tech sake" doesn't appeal to the masses of students age 7-17, integrating technology into things does appeal to them. It is how they do life. While there will always be people that enjoy the calling of coding, programming, and technology-based things- most students look at technology as a way to do something they want to do- it's a path to something else they are trying to accomplish.
  2. Which leads to my second thought- innovation doesn't have to be technology-based. In a previous post, I discussed my definition of innovation being the intersection of passion and need. While technology is often an innovating factor in a classroom, I'm finding more often that  innovation is so much more than integrating technology well. 

So if I go with the definition that innovation happens at the intersection of "passion and need," I find myself looking at this not just from my techie viewpoint but from the viewpoint of students, non-techie teachers, parents (present and potential), administrators, and stakeholders. Thus I am thinking what this looks like in terms of the following 5 "A's" of Innovation:

Academic - We are constantly looking for innovation to streamline our classrooms and help students at their point of need. In my position, this means always trying to find new options for using technology for personalizing the learning of our students. This also might mean collecting all the cardboard I can find, like Gwinnett Co, Georgia's Teacher of the Year- Trisha Connor to meet the needs of her STEM classroom. It might mean helping teachers from different disciplines and grade-levels collaborate on a project together- with or without technology being a major player of the concept. Innovation might mean more options for students/teachers/administrators to connect, consume, create, and curate data in ways that they haven't traditionally tried.

Athletic - Perhaps with the growth of augmented reality, technology can truly create opportunities for training of athletes against "that weeks opponent more than ever before, even in the K12 arena. With the ease of videoing events these days, apps like the ones mentioned in this article create ways for athletes to make corrections to better themselves immediately, also personalizing athletics by way of technology-based training playlists for workouts can benefit each athlete where they are for the betterment of themselves and the team. But innovation in athletics might mean creating opportunities for the fans to feel more "involved" in their favorite sports via game day updates, weekly video updates, incentives for attending events. Innovation in athletics might mean creating a class for news broadcasting to develop students into sports broadcasters beyond their desire to tweet their updates at games now.

Artistic - The ability to give our theater students a global audience through live streaming is definitely an innovation in the area of the arts. But perhaps innovation in arts means giving students opportunities for graphic arts and understanding that CAD design opens the doors for interior designers. Perhaps it means classes in design thinking to create the next generation of innovative thinkers and planners for our community. Innovation in the arts means using recyclables to change our world aesthetically, using visual arts to speak what words can't say, using language arts to share visions and thoughts beyond the comfortable or normal language barriers. And perhaps technology bridges all these things for a broader way of sharing.

Advertisement - Social media has opened the door for free advertising as often as we are willing to post something. In that, it has also now become common and acceptable for "self promotion" both personally and academically (school) speaking. Innovation means looking for ways to brand your school in a positive light- perhaps it's QR codes or augmented reality triggers throughout campus where visitors can learn more about the school's activities, students, faculty, and facilities-linking to friendly professional looking videos that maybe were even created within a classroom curriculum. Maybe innovation in advertising means looking for local offerings that your "target audience" attends and marketing the positive aspects of your school at those events. Maybe innovation in advertisement means giving your faculty/staff opportunities for growth or sharing their knowledge outside of the realm of your school so that the world knows more about your faculty/staff. Perhaps advertisement means there is a push for your students to perform, participate, attend events beyond the walls of your campus that allow them to show their learning and passions to the world at large. 

Adventure - When I think of the word "innovation" I don't think of status quo. I don't think of every day being predictably the same. Innovation can mean change or it can mean adventure. Innovation means taking chances on new ideas and allowing for failure. Innovation means prototypes, adjusting, constant communication for growth, preparing for change, looking for opportunities. Innovation means keeping your ear to the ground in your community so that you can turn a "local problem" into a problem-based learning adventure and possible solution. Innovative schools act, they aren't reactors.

Innovation means sitting on the edge of potential and having the vision to find the balance your school needs on that edge. Smart innovation means being adventurous but being leaders that think things through- not just jumping on the latest buzzword in education. Innovation means finding opportunities for your circles of influence to work hand in hand. Community, stakeholders, alumni, teachers, students, administrators, parents interested in innovation should all be able to find ways to plug into innovative thought processes in the K-12 environment...with the wind blowing through their hair. (Ok, so that may seem a little idealistic, but I do believe innovation is the place that opens the door for involvement- where passion intersects with need.)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

How Parents Can Support EdTech

I am a technology coordinator in a very tech-rich school- meaning technology is available and integrated regularly in the classrooms. In 5th-10th grades, students are required to "bring your own device," there are carts of iPads for grades preK-4th grades to check out, and a limited amount of Chromebooks are also available for use through teacher/student checkout for all grade levels as well. We use technology as a tool at our school to enhance the student learning experience as well as streamline the teacher's workday. Due to the technology culture at our school, I sometimes have parents ask me questions about student usage issues. This blog post is to give some ideas on how parents can help support their student's technology needs.

  • Protect your student's device. You know your child's personality better than anyone, will they treat their device in an appropriate manner or will they throw it into their backpack? If you are in a BYOT school, buy not only the device that you think is the best fit for your child but buy a device that meets their maturity level in terms of "care of device." If your child tends to still be clumsy and careless with technology, wrap that tablet in plastic! There are many good cases that go above and beyond the call of duty in keeping your investment safe. I broke down and spent a bit more money to put my iPhone 6S in an Otterbox case when I bought it lately. The cost of a case beats the cost of a new screen any day of the week. If your student wants a laptop, consider the possibility that it is a bit more fragile in terms of care but there are actually cases for those as well, they just aren't quite as sturdy for the most part.
  • Protect your student's heart. Curiosity is a part of how we were created, with that comes some positives and negatives. Set boundaries for your child in regards to technology usage. Each child is different and parenting is different for each child but use parental controls on devices and wireless routers. Look at companies like My Torch, Curbi, Covenant Eyes or Mobicip for example. As always, the best form of parental control is sitting next to your student when they are using technology and always having them use technology in open areas when at home.
  • Protect your student's priorities. It's very easy to allow a device to become an extension of who we are. Set limits on technology usage for your students. This year as our fifth grade went 1:1 for the first time, I talked digital citizenship with our students regarding balancing time and I "showed" them through a little test the downside to constantly switch tasking. I read three books to them: Doug Unplugged by Dan Yaccarino, When Charlie McButton Lost Power by Suzanne Collins/Mike Lester, Goodnight iPad by Ann Droyd. Look for opportunities to seek ways to model balanced technology use yourself. One of my first statements when talking about balancing with elementary students is "are your parents ever doing something on their smartphone while you are trying to talk to them and you can't get their attention?" 97% of the time I get a resounding "YES" from the majority of the students and multiple students want to share examples. 
  • Protect the teacher's need to have a class with devices ready to go. In a culture where technology is expected, if a student doesn't come with their device charged, doesn't have the required apps or websites available, it changes how a teacher has to teach that day. Just like you make sure your students have their homework done, their lunches packed, and their coats on a cold day, make sure their devices are ready for the day's activities.
  • Protect your student's school day from unneeded distractions. If you have a student that seems to be pulled off task by the device in their hands on a regular basis, perhaps it is time to adjust their device for more school-oriented purposes. If they seem to be iMessaging more than paying attention, finishing a Minecraft project instead of reading, or posting photos on Instagram during the school day- maybe they need to have those options removed (at least for a time) to prove they can use technology responsibly.
  • Protect your child from making social media bad choices. We live in an age where things that happen at home can easily affect the school day more than ever before. As a parent, follow your students on social media, pick up their device and look at their camera roll occasionally. Keep your child accountable. Sadly, one bad choice of sending something inappropriate could haunt your child for the rest of their life. As a parent, you have a responsibility to talk with your student about online safety, protecting private information, standing up to cyberbullying, respecting themselves and others, and balancing their time (adapted from Common Sense media poster).  is a great resource for parents and teachers to help navigate the digital world with their students. For the past three years I have been a Certified Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship Educator because I see the value of teaching digital citizenship skills to our students often.
Parents often come to me and want a panacea bulleted list on "How do I parent this aspect of my child's life?" but honestly there is no quick fix, one size fits all answer. Just like many parts of parenting, we learn as we go, outside circumstances change our views, new things cause us to need to adjust, and attitudes carry great weight in how we protect yet grow our children into responsible adults. We are parenting digital citizens to make them future ready for the world beyond. We have responsibilities to help the education system in guiding and directing them into productive citizens.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Fighting Burn Out.

I had breakfast with my cousin this weekend and we were discussing work burnout. She is a director of human resources in the Huntsville, Alabama area. We are four months apart in age and while we have never lived near each other, we have a lot in common- including the way we view work. At breakfast we discussed her current unhappiness with her job situation. The bottom line was that she is suffering from "burnout." When I asked her what her top three "kickers" for feeling that way she listed the following:

  1. Ethical/values misalignment between herself and her employers.
  2. Lack of growth/intellectual stimulus.
  3. Poor communication/lack of leadership.
Bingo. Seems right in line with many of the of the top posts when I googled what causes "work burn out" or "workplace unhappiness." At some time or another many of us have suffered from some level of burnout. As educators, our burnout can affect the learning and desire to learn of anywhere from 15-2000 students, depending on what our job actually is and how many students we come into contact with weekly. The question is, how do we pull ourselves out of burnout and recover so that we can enjoy that which we have chosen to do...specifically, how do educators enjoy the journey of education?

I've been there- at the intersection of "Burnout and Apathy" multiple times in my life. I'll be honest, I think it has to do with the fact that I tend to be passionate about the things I believe in. My cousin, Melissa, is the same way. The downside to being a passionate employee is that you burn extra brightly. Your "light bulb" never really goes off, energy is always being used up. You can't shut down the breaker easily. Ok...enough figurative language- how do we prevent workplace burnout outside of leaving the institution or truly becoming apathetic and changing who we are?

  1. Find your positive. Pull yourself out of your current conflict and imagine if someone was sharing your issues with you as if they were their own. Is it really an issue or are you making it an issue?  Sometimes lots of little things lead to "the last straw" and we seem to only focus on the negatives. Find your positives in your situations. For me, this sometimes means seeking out positive people to help me see the half-full glass. 
  2. Find your balance. Your work isn't your life, it's a portion of who you are. Do things that you enjoy when you aren't at work. Don't get so caught up in work that it takes over your thinking both day and night. (This is my hardest thing to control).
  3. Find ways to feed your inner need for "more." When you don't feel challenged, when you don't feel heard, when you feel something about it. For me, I seek out ways outside of my school building to build my professional learning network. It means looking for opportunities to help elsewhere- whether it be blogging, Twitter chats, speaking events or answering emails from educators outside my school system- finding a way to feel value in your day helps combat the feelings of burnout.
  4. Find your edu-encourager. Find someone that not only understands what you do but understands you, ask that person to be your sounding board. It's actually probably a better idea that it isn't someone at your school. We tend to gravitate to people that see things the way we do, if you aren't careful this need to vent can easily become a gossip session. Pick someone that you can trust, that you know can look at things logically, and that will give you honest feedback. Buy them coffee and donuts occasionally and just talk in order to let things go.
  5. Find the real battles. Don't let hard days make everything worth ruining your days. As a mom of teens I often say "I have to pick my battles." We should do this professionally too. Learn what's just smarter to let go of and what is worthy of fighting for. 
  6. Find respect. We are all imperfect. We all have strengths and weaknesses. If we dwell on the negatives of our workplace we lose respect for those in authority over us. Remind yourself of the things your superiors do well and respect them for those things. Remind yourself of your faults too, for humility sake. 
Seeking ways to combat burnout is important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Burnout can affect us mentally, emotionally and physically. We must choose to do things to pull ourselves away from this predicament. The results of "pulling ourselves away" looks different for each of us, but we must find a way to bloom where we are planted!