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My Second Year as Director of Technology

My Second Year as Director of Technology

Wow, year two at Hillbrook is in the books. Well, not actually in the books; that will happen tomorrow afternoon when I finish up some paperwork for the end of the fiscal year. But figuratively, the school year is in the books (eBooks? iBooks).

Here were my goals from the 2015-2016 school year: How can pilot programs, such as portfolios and the 8th grade capstone project, serve as a catalyst for strengthening our efforts to better individualize our program? How might we shift the focus from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership? How might the members of the tech team continue to grow? How can we tell the Hillbrook story through technology? How might we incorporate coding, robotics, and programming in the JK-8 curriculum? How can I build on my engagement with the broader tech community to bring along other members of the Hillbrook community and open them up to leadership opportunities in ed tech?

bill-selak-tech-officeBefore I dig into each goal in detail, there are three highlights I’d like to start with. Hour of Code in December was a huge success with every student spent at least one hour coding. Grade 1-8 participated in a schoolwide Hour of Code where each student participated in two of twelve sessions. Our social media presence has grown tremendously, particularly on Twitter, with both grade-level Twitter accounts and personal, faculty accounts. Finally, our shift from “digital citizenship” to “digital leadership” transformed the way students, faculty, and parents talk about device usage. This simple shift in words helped us move away from fear-based conversations and towards inspiring conversations like “How might we use these devices to be leaders at our school?”

I would also like it duly noted that this reflection serves are both a formal evaluation for my role as Director of Technology at Hillbrook School as well as a blog post. Last year, I decided to share my reflection after I submitted it to our Head of School Mark Silver. This year, my primary audience continues to be Mark, but in the spirit of Show Your Work, I plan to also share this on my blog (and I did!).

So, on to the goals… Goal 1: How can pilot programs, such as portfolios and the 8th grade capstone project, serve as a catalyst for strengthening our efforts to better individualize our program? The 8th grade capstone project was a huge success. Eden Maisel did an extraordinary job heading up this new addition to our program. 8th grade students opting-in and volunteer Capstone Coaches set the tone for this optional project. As students researched their passions, we noticed that this was the culmination of years of interests for some, and a nascent interest for others. As we look ahead to next year, I am hopeful that we will have more time for our 8th graders to work on these projects, and I am hopeful that this will become a culminating event for students as they explore their passions at Hillbrook.

We made some progress with portfolios. One year ago, the tech team was searching for the single tool to would solve the problem of where student work lives. In parallel with the writing continuum, the hope of the student portfolio is to better individualize our program. In short, we never did find the one app or website that would be the perfect solution for documenting student work. And I think that’s ok. Moving forward, I see two paths to further explore: first, teachers will document student work. Apps like Sesame and tools like the writing continuum will help teachers keep track of each student and help students reach their highest individual potential. Second, will continue to use digital tools like Google Sites and Book Creator to make their own learning visible, and record their learning.

Goal 2: How might we shift the focus from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership? Inspired by George Couros’ blog post Digital Leadership Defined, we changed how we refer to behavior around technology from digital citizenship to digital leadership. George defines it as “using the vast reach of technology (especially the use of social media) to improve the lives, well-being, and circumstances of others.” After five years of one-to-one iPads, it was time for us to move beyond the minimum. In our Learning in Conversation parent meeting, we asking questions like “How do you help teach resilience?” and “How might we teach our students to be leaders in technology?” There was a significant shift in tone as parents looked for opportunities to help their child grow instead of fearing which “scary” app their student might be using.

Changing the name to digital leadership was only the first step. Students created digital citizenship projects for their peers at Hillbrook and beyond. From games to videos, our students taught other students how to be more responsible with technology and how to grow into digital leaders themselves. Goal 3: How might the members of the tech team continue to grow? Last year, one of my goals was to clarify job roles in tech department. Building on that success, this year’s primary goal to was support the tech team and help them seek professional development by both participating in and presenting at conferences. The entire tech team–Emily Hendricks, Kelly Scholten, and me–presented at both Fall CUE and will present at ISTE 2016. Mirroring our vision, we continued to reach beyond Hillbrook to make a difference in the world through sharing the Hillbrook story.

Emily completed the Certified Casper Technician (CCT) Level 1 training, and is now a certified technician for our mobile device management (MDM) software. Goal 4: How can we tell the Hillbrook story through technology? Show Your Work continues to be a driving force in how faculty and students view technology. We see it in portfolios, continuua, capstone presentations, and regularly on social media.

The introduction of Grade-level Twitter accounts was a significant step forward. Pioneered by the kindergarten team, with the help of three new iPod Touches, the kindergarten team regularly documented student work and shared it with families on Twitter as @hillbrookkinder. Other lower school grade levels followed quickly, and soon most of our lower school teachers were sharing moments from their class with parents in real time. Moving forward, I am hopeful that more middle school teachers will begin using the grade-level Twitter accounts more regularly. I also encourage us to revisit the decision to keep all Twitter accounts private–this year was a huge step forward, and I believe that teachers and students worldwide can learn from us on Twitter.

More faculty are on Twitter sharing their pedagogy, learning, and thoughts. Notable Tweeting people include Lara, Sara, Matt, Chris, and Julia. In a similar vein, several teachers are blogging and sharing their learning and class projects, most notably Jenny and Kristin at Goal 5: How might we incorporate coding, robotics, and programming in the JK-8 curriculum? Week of Code, the Hillbrook version of Hour of code, was a great way to expose teachers and students to the basics of coding. At the heart or this week was a two-hour coding experience for LS and MS students, where they could choose two different stations. Options included paper coding, Hillbrook Air Corps, and Sphero Art, to name a few.

We engaged parents and the community in Week of Code sessions for two reasons: we wanted teachers to participate (not lead) sessions, and we wanted this week to reach beyond 300 Marchmont. Parents, staff, and industry joined us on campus to run the 12 coding stations over two days. As we all shared our learning on social media, the larger ed tech world took notice and planned to ramp up their efforts for Hour of Code 2016.

Many students continued coding activities from Hour of Code both in and out of the classroom. Parents, teachers, and staff noted that coding is no longer as intimidating as it once was. In the coming years, I am hopeful that we can more meaningfully integrate coding into our core subjects, moving from cute programmable robots to coding to truly make an impact on the world.

I plan to continue to work with LS teachers during Genius Hour/ACE Hour/ICE Time to support coding in the coming year. Similarly, I’ll continue my work with kindergarten during Open Exploration Time to support coding and computational thinking. With the support from our teacher engineers, I’ll work to support MS math as they wrestle with integrating code into lessons. Goal 6: How can I build on my engagement with the broader tech community to bring along other members of the Hillbrook community and open them up to leadership opportunities in ed tech? Hillbrook’s Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) provides a huge opportunity to share our faculty learning. Started in 2015, the CTE podcast brought a group of teachers together for a Google Hangout on Air to discuss our Reimagining Classrooms project. In December 2015, we published the second episode: iPads Year 5, featuring Julia, Kate, Kelly, & Christina.

A third episode is recorded, Mobile Inquiry, but remains partially edited on my laptop. I need to rethink how we can sustain the creation of the outward-facing CTE content, and balance it with inward-facing daily work at Hillbrook.

Our faculty presented at many ed tech conferences, keeping Hillbrook as a leader in conversations around meaningful and cutting edge classroom technology integration. At Fall CUE, Emily presented Own Your Tech! Technology Management in Today’s Classroom, Kelly presented Mirrors of Learning: Helping Students See their Process and Capturing the Journey: Process Portfolios in the Workshop Model. Kelly and Sara presented Making with Minecraft and Showcasing with Aurasma. Matt and I presented Comprehension is Just the Beginning: Using Subtext for Deeper Conversations. I also presented Rock the Elementary Classroom! Song writing Across the Curriculum, Robots Are Taking Over the World… But Should They? Sound Robotics Pedagogy, and You are the Infinite Thinking Machine!

At SVCUE, Jules presented Diversity in Technology: The Importance of Windows and Mirrors.

At National CUE, I presented Choose Your Own Edventure: Creating Interactive Google Forms, iPhoneography: Integrate Mobile Photography into the Classroom, Google Certified Teachers Panel, Underwater Adventures Documentary panel, and There’s a Chromebook Cart in my Classroom!

At ISTE, Emily will present Own Your Tech! Technology Management in Today’s Classroom. Kelly and Sara will present Making with Minecraft and Showcasing with Aurasma. I will present iPhoneography: Integrate Mobile Photography into the Classroom, Ready, Set, Make (makerspace panel), 1:1 Integration: a CTO Panel, I Think I Figured Out How to Use Snapchat as an Educator, Using Reflector 2 in the Classroom to Share Student Work, and I’m participating in the Amazon EDU Maker’s Challenge.

Looking Ahead I plan to align my 2017 goals to Hillbrook’s Vision 2020. As we look ahead to the design of the Hub, I plan on making that project a priority. The first step is Me as Maker. I plan to use my TechShop membership to prepare for strategic conversations around the Hub. Raspberry Pi is emerging as the platform for physical computing and coding; I’m planning on learning how to meaningfully integrate these into classes this coming year.

Individualization is a key component of the new strategic plan. I plan to support work and lead conversations around portfolios, ACE/ICE Time, and Making at Hillbrook.

I plan to foster the growth of the CTE. On social media, faculty learning will be shared as @hillbrookcte, whereas student learning is @hillbrookschool. I’ll continue to work to develop social media accounts to share faculty learning. Finally, our podcast will be the big piece of content we share. I will create smaller pieces of other content (excerpts, images, resources) as we work on the lengthy podcast to continually share our faculty learning.

My First Year as Director of Technology

My First Year as Director of Technology

As I reflect on my first year as Director of Technology at Hillbrook, the first thing that jumps out to me is this sentence. First year!? It’s only been one year, but it feels like many more (in a good way). My first goal this year was to listen and learn what Hillbrook does with technology to better understand the community. I’m glad I didn’t jump right in and make dozens of changes. Some of my initial ideas would have not fit well culturally, or weren’t actual needs of the teachers and students. So I listened, and I’m glad I did.

The first thing I focused on was to identify things that aren’t working. Right away I heard complaints around inconsistent wifi. As I entered my new role, our former IT specialist left his role. This left me with a huge gap in my team for monitoring, maintaining, and learning the back end (that’s what IT folks call stuff that isn’t face-to-face). After many hours of finding switch closets and access points, I have a good understanding of how the campus was connected. I conferred with Christopher Sokolov from SFDS, and he suggested hiring Novani LLC as a consultant.

Bill-Selak-under-a-redwood-at-HillbrookFrom August 2014 through April 2015, Aaron from Novani worked with us on two major projects–a discovery process and a new server. In the discovery project, every piece of hardware was identified, added to a spreadsheet, and updated. We discovered that all of our switches (the thing that makes one fiber optic connection transform into 30 ethernet ports) needed firmware updates. This fixed most of the wifi inconsistencies. Additionally, we replaced two switches that were slow and old. Those two adjectives are bad in technology. The other significant project was purchasing and installing a new server. We had several old and out-of-date servers. These impaired file sharing, since the shared network drives didn’t always show up online. This also meant that everything on our network was a bit slower and inconsistent. A new server led to faster download speeds, more consistent wifi connectivity, and consistently online shared drives. This huge project, paired with constant tinkering with wifi access points, brought a more consistent internet connection experience.

Another big issue I noticed was problems accessing Google stuff from parents. I worked with parents one-on-one to get them access to what they needed, mostly Google Drive folders and the HSPC (Hillbrook School Parent Council) Google Site. At the suggestion of HSPC leadership, we decided to move all the information and documents from the Google Site to a shared Google Drive folder (with many child folders inside). This way, we only needed to support parents accessing Google Drive. Most of the problems with access with the fact that parents were already logged in to personal Google accounts and most of the documents and sites required a Google account. It’s a simple solution, but not terribly obvious if one is on a mobile phone and can’t easily see which Google account is active. To address this issue, HSPC leadership will share appropriate folders in Google Drive with personal Google accounts when requested.

Like payroll, everyone notices when something tech related doesn’t work. Much of my energy this past year involved keeping the internets working. And, like payroll, we didn’t get a huge congratulations when the wifi worked. The lack of response means that the technology is invisible–it just works. Let’s focus on things that worked well this year.

At the beginning of the year, we hosted several tech coffees for parents to learn about tech integration at Hillbrook, as well as ask questions. I was able to introduce myself, and share my vision for how technology can transform student learning. Similarly, our initial digital citizenship training was successful. iPad fundamentals, and digital citizenship fundamentals, are well understood by students. As we move forward, we will be looking closely at how we might deepen the understanding of being a responsible citizen, online and off.

We used two systems in our department to manage support and projects–Trello and MyTechDesk. Both allowed us to provide timely support, and manage tasks as a team.

Another goal was to learn what projects teachers were doing, and help them infuse technology meaningfully. I started a spreadsheet to document ed tech projects at Hillbrook, but did not have the time to keep up with it. Moving forward, I plan to create a shared Google Doc with each teacher to document projects, as well as track support and growth.

My second goal this year was to develop systems to equip teachers to drive meaningful tech integration. Teachers were introduced to the SAMR model two years ago. On September 24, our team led PD around SAMR through a tool-based challenge. Faculty chose one tool, and explored how that tool could be integrated through Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, or Redefinition. This was one of the few tool-based trainings we led. I believe it was successful because faculty had choice on which app to learn, and they worked collaboratively to explore the SAMR model.

I created a private Google+ Community for Hillbrook employees. Introduced on January 14 during a faculty meeting on Showing Your Work, this community is a way for teachers to share ideas asynchronously. From videos of baby goats in pajamas to research on the Maker’s movement, this Google+ Community is a way to collaborate, connect, discuss, and share resources.

The middle school history department piloted Google Classroom. This system is so new that it was challenging to consistently use. To their credit, the history department began using Classroom before it even had an iPad app! Mostly abandoned due to lack of co-teaching support, Google Classroom is a great example of how teachers take risks in technology, and adjust to support their students. Moving forward, I’m keeping up-to-date with Google Classroom news via Google Certified Teacher group in hopes of using it in the future.

The third goal I had this past year was to clarify job roles in tech department. Two years ago, the department was Director of Technology and IT Systems. In my first month, the department was Director of Technology, zero IT, tech support specialist, and half-time tech coach. I evaluated the staffing model of support, coach, and me. Full-time tech support works well. Emily provides world class support; she’s knowledgeable, friendly, timely, and resourceful. Half-time coach works, though more time would be better (obviously). Kelly meets teachers where they are, scaffolds support to ensure growth, and offers brilliant suggestions on how technology might integrate into a lesson. The missing piece was IT. Moving to Novani as an IT Consultant works well. It would be nice to have someone onsite with regular hours, but Aaron is available whenever a question or problem arises that requires deep IT knowledge. After attending the ATLIS conference, I learned how common this model of director, support, coach, and IT consultant is at independent schools. Go team!

Moving into a senior administration role, I thought often of how to support my team. I meet weekly with Kelly. We kept an ongoing Google Doc and created a Trello board of department responsibilities, so we all knew who was responsible for what. It all seems so obvious now, but it took a long time to get to where we are now.

As we continue in these roles, it’s important for me to challenge my team. Emily attended the JAMF conference, learning about device management for five straight days. Emily also spearheaded the new device inventory system, collaborating with Michael Fariss from 8th Day to create a hosted database for all Hillbrook hardware. Kelly attended the Teacher’s College Digital & Media Literacy Institute in Paris, France where she explored how technology and library science can support student learning. All three of us continue to present at conferences, sharing tech tools and success stories from our team.

Over the past year, I worked to clarify tech systems. With Aaron from Novani, we ensured that Hillbrook has a reliable technology infrastructure. We are moving to a plan of  for one access point per classroom, as well as exterior access points to improve outdoor wifi. Along the way, we developed a wifi connectivity issues log (Google form) to track problem locations. In the upcoming school year, more access points will be installed, and current access points will be redistributed so that locations with high usage are paired with access points that provide faster connectivity.

Devices. So many devices. We successfully deployed iPads in September, and successfully collected every single student iPad. We moved to Casper’s JAMF device management system exclusively. Previously, devices were enrolled in JAMF, Meraki, or nowhere. This consistency enables us to provide better support, have more control over device content, and better manage the inventory. A big move this year was using managed distribution. Rather than giving redeemable codes for apps, we manage ownership. This changes the model from giving gift cards to students to loaning out library books. We now have a catalog of Hillbrook-owned apps that can be given to student accounts, and taken away when they graduate. This is a really big deal, and I’m thrilled that we have this new system.

Throughout the year, I’ve been researching the possibility of expanding devices to include a Chromebook or MacBook cart. We are adding one laptop cart in the middle school for students to document work more effectively. Much like a work bench needs more than just a hammer, students need access to a variety of tools for work. Ignoring the analogy above, I’m looking at a phone and bluetooth speaker on my desk next to my laptop. We, as adults, use several devices, often at once, and students would do the same if we have the choice.

With so many devices comes the need for storage. There are several solutions we implemented this year. For personal work, Google Drive was the suggested storage and backup solution. This past Spring, Google announce unlimited storage for GAfE (Google Apps for Education) Google accounts. This means that every person at Hillbrook can back up everything they ever create here, and not need to worry about running out of space. For yearbook, photography class, and the Communications department, we have a new file server. These new network drives are faster, more reliable, backed up regularly, and have plenty of storage. The business department moved to Dropbox for Business for sharing documents. This allows them to use native Office files, work with shared folders, and access files offsite–three huge wins for them. I signed our domain up with Backupify to back up and archive our employee Google apps data. If a shared file is mistakenly deleted, we can now recover it.

Finally, I set up a purchasing cycle for technology. The Annual purchase cycle spreadsheet shows the strategies on keeping our device inventory relevant and updated while balancing the cost of new purchases.

One of things I’m most excited about in my job is to support faculty, staff, and the tech team as they grow in tech integration. I’m available as needed for 1-on-1 coaching. Most teachers ask me for coaching as I walk around campus, help with a tech ticket, or while I eat. I decided that I should walk around more to create more serendipitous opportunities to coach, collaborate, or support.

I began to encourage faculty to present at ed tech conference, slowly but surely. To my surprise, I found that most faculty do not attend ed tech events, so my focus has shifted to encouraging faculty to attend. “I’m presenting. I’d love for you to join me,” is my new strategy.

At some point, I realized that my focus with educational technology was totally inward. I added the final goal of professional learning and presenting as my final goal. This year, I presented at regional and national ed tech conferences like Fall CUE, LASD EdSummit, ESS Learning Symposium, Annual CUE, and ISTE. I continue to connect with fellow Directors of Technology and other ed tech administrators to collaborate, support, create partnerships, and network.
As I walked down the hall at 4 Infinite Loop, Apple’s World Headquarters, I passed a gigantic quote from Steve Jobs:

If you do something and it turns out pretty good then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.

As I begin my second year at Hillbrook, I eagerly look ahead to figure out what’s next for our students, our teachers, our staff, our school.