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Confessions of a Digital Leader: Rome Wasn’t Built in A Day

Confessions of a Digital Leader: Rome Wasn’t Built in A Day

Everyday when I walk into my building, I feel as if the weight of the world is on my shoulders. Correction…I feel this whether I am in my building or not. My mind races a million directions…constantly refreshing ideas faster than I can blink sometimes. Every step or conversation stimulates internal thoughts about how we can be better…small, subtle changes here and there.

Confession: It’s hard for me to focus when every ounce of my being is internally screaming…”Nooooooooo”…at the celebration of things that we should be doing differently.

I cringe at the phrase, “this is how we’ve always done things”. This is the worst phrase known to humankind as people tend to allow the brick wall of sameness to halt progress.

“This is how we’ve always done things” is the ultimate destroyer of ideas, growth and future innovations.

My job in our district is ultimately to help our school communities move forward. For me, that meant that I had to spend a few months observing and living in our realities. There are so many pieces to the puzzle of “future readiness” and being in this district has reaffirmed my belief and understanding that although President Obama’s ConnectEd to the future initiative was about digital connectivity, we can’t ignore the necessity of human connections with our local communities.

At the same token, digital connectivity means that kids can connect beyond our communities and learn with the world. This is my greatest goal and challenge.

Our Realities

Our school district has a BYOD program and an extremely low percentage of computers to supplement those without. We also seem to have a low percentage of kids with actual devices. Our brightbytes data will clarify this in a matter of weeks.

Like most school districts, digital initiatives have taken a backseat to testing. We are awesome with gathering data through test prep technologies and even more awesome with administering online exams per our state requirements.

My reality is that I am here in this position because we also recognize that we can and should do much more than tech for testing. I also recognize that in a district with zero mobile devices, other than specialized departments, our “much more than tech for testing” will be a gradual process.

Building A Foundation

I am fortunate to be in a place with a superintendent who completely gets it. She understands that as great as our district is, we can be greater and she leads through action. Every school district needs this!

Last week, she started utilizing Google Classroom with our leadership staff to create a workflow for collaboration, communication and productivity. Sitting down to train her and a few of our core leadership team was soul fulfilling as in that moment, I understood where I needed to focus.

In the last few days, I’ve seen the fruit of her/our labor spreading like wildfire. Our instructional specialist are starting to collaborate digitally. Teachers are sharing lesson plans and asking that they be commented with feedback. People are excited in such a way that it is certainly contagious and also the greatest feeling on earth!

My vision for how we approach professional and digital learning is that in a space where our slate is blank, we have an opportunity to do this right. We are taking a top-down approach to leading and learning, meaning…that we will become a collective unit of digital leaders, implementing into the work of leadership…thus creating a model that can and will inspire the change that we want to see in our teaching and learning. So far…it is working.

While I am all for giving kids the tools and letting them lead the way, I also know that the greatest barriers to student/teacher innovation aren’t just their own mindsets but the mindsets of those charged with leading.  We can and will do this right with sustainability in mind.

With that said, my department is also moving with the intention of putting the world into the hands of our students and that excites me more than anything.

While I will probably always feel the weight of the world on my shoulders, I always remind myself to be patient.

Yes, I will still internally cringe at the sight of things printed that should be digital, the use of phrases like “engaging and interactive” when neither word applies, computers that barely work, spotty wifi and the focus on state testing.

I will also breathe in the realization that what makes me cringe also stimulates plans towards change…plans that become action…actions that spread over time.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is sustainable digital growth.




Confessions of a Digital Leader: My Lifeline is the Classroom

Confessions of a Digital Leader: My Lifeline is the Classroom

Yesterday, I spent my morning at our high school and at one elementary school. As eye-opening as those experiences were, especially concerning much needed digital learning upgrades, it was exactly what I needed. As a matter of fact, I was in such a great mood the rest of the day that I could not even explain why…other than being high on life and the responsibility of serving kids. I’m pretty sure that I’ll be on a couple of campuses at some point today too.

When you’re the person in the district responsible for how we use technology, everyone wants you to see the great things that they do with technology. There’s excitement for the teachers who are using their smartboards. You get escorted into the campus technology all-star’s classroom. You see the carts and the lab that teachers can use. You may even see the PE teacher utilizing projected video with kids in the gym to exercise on a super hot sunny day. If you’re really lucky, you walk into a planning session of teachers and listen as they reluctantly explain why they can’t access the tools that they may need.

I take that back…If you are really lucky, you find inspiration and perspective in the faces of kids who were excited as you mentioned minecraft, the music room full of instruments for students to create sound and the substitute teacher flagging you down to see her overhead projector with transparencies.

In one word, you are reminded about the need to be transparent.

I spent the rest of my day thinking of ways to shift mindset of how we as a district will utilize what we have. A Smartboard displaying a website, power point or even the worksheet under the elmo isn’t transformative…at all. I’m also not going to take the stance of yanking them from the room. That’s insane. What I can do is show teachers how to use them as collaborative spaces for kids…by kids.

I can show teachers how to design for learning with collaborative centers, utilizing both digital and analog tools. We can build a culture of creativity in lieu of consumption. Kids playing games on classroom computers as earned “technology time” isn’t ideal when we want technology to be just as accessible and normal as a pencil and paper.

Surely, we wouldn’t make pencil and paper an earned reward…would we?

It’s easy to sit behind a desk in an office or in countless meetings talking about what we can purchase and even implement. However, you have no idea how to truly bring change without immersing yourself in your spaces of learning.

And listening…not to the words being spoken but to what is not being said.

And seeing what is not seen.

Confessions of A Digital Leader: Sometimes I Prefer Life Unplugged

Confessions of A Digital Leader: Sometimes I Prefer Life Unplugged

  It’s been one week since we moved away from our home town. It was a place with its own set of issues but my entire family still lives there and to be completely away is tough.
We have texting, social media, FaceTime, Google hangouts, Skype and pretty much every means of connecting possible. However, nothing beats the rush of emotions that I feel as I hold my tiny niece in my arms…her finger surrounding mine. 

She’s in the hospital again…long sigh.

Technology can’t replace the giggles from tickling my 1 year old nephew after chasing him around the house. Seeing Braeden and his art was magical because watching him work live is an unexplainable event. My daughter, in all of her spunk, lights up the entire room when she enters it.

When someone says, “Rafranz you act like you’ve been away for a long time”…They don’t really understand the love that I feel for my family because it’s not about being gone for such a short time. It’s the finality of my new city being “home”. This is the most difficult part.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my new community but I’d be lying if I said that being here wasn’t hard. It is.

I also have a new perspective on tech and connecting. As much as I love the convenience of what tech gives, something has to be said about the power of physical connections.

 This is why I don’t believe in an all tech all the time environment.

We can’t allow ourselves the convenience of forgetting the power of a simple hug.

To my friends that think otherwise…live a little this weekend. Hug your families. Hang with friends. Smell the air around you. Feel the ground underneath your feet. Dig into the earth. Close your eyes and be thankful for life unplugged.

….Because this is the life that fuels our spirits and truly enables us to be whole people outside of our work…especially if that work is consumed by tech.

Confessions of a Digital Leader: Connectedness is a Part of This Work

Confessions of a Digital Leader: Connectedness is a Part of This Work

There was a time in my academic career that I thought that every classroom should have an interactive whiteboard. As a matter of fact, I was my school district’s in-house “expert” on all things SMART. I trained every teacher in our district at some point and even conducted outside trainings and conferences. I had clickers, a slate and a mindset that I could not and would not teach in a classroom without it.

And then…everything changed…

1. The ipad released and my school bought some.

2. I found twitter, Edcamp and connected to teachers.

3. I changed the way that I taught a little bit at a time.

It was as if the walls of my classroom crumbled and everything that I thought about student engagement shifted. I wanted students to have more “hands-on” contact…not “drag and drop” technology, but to create beyond presentations. All of a sudden, it mattered that their work contained their own questions and research…their voice. It mattered that we didn’t go to a lab for access but that kids had access when needed.

I stopped spending so much time “pre-creating” SMART lessons and started putting more time in inquiry, facilitation and even understanding the power of curiosity.

The onslaught of innovation that occurred coupled with being connected forced me to look at who I was as a teacher, who my students were…and change.

This is why connectedness is a part of this work. You are different because you have no choice but to be. Curating and sharing implies that you want to support the learning of others. Contributing your own work to the academic space shows that you are willing to share your own practice.

A few months ago, I hired a specialist in my dept. I was looking for something specific. I wanted a connected educator. I wanted someone who was sharing online in such a way that one could easily understand their belief in the work that they shared. I searched for twitter feeds, blogs, facebook, youtube, pinterest, edmodo and even school websites. I talked to other directors who engaged in the exact same practice. I found that as much as we understand the power of such connectedness…it does not always exist. However, it can be inspired. It was important to know that.

When you apply to work in a space with connected leadership, your resume isn’t the one that you submit on paper but your digital footprint online. Trust me…we are looking, even if you don’t list it.

When you are connected, you have immediate access to ideas. Conversely when you are not connected and only live within the realm of your own school/district…your exposure to “different” is completely limited to what you hear at conferences and in this day and age, we do not have time to wait for once per year learning.

When you are not connected, you are also only hearing the sounds of “where we are now” as an organization instead of “where we can be”.

In a perfect world, all instructional specialist…tech and content…would be connected. After-all, we are on the frontline of supporting teachers, ideas and growth. What we have to be careful about as leaders is mandating connectedness. It should be an internal desire…not a requirement.

Yes…I believe and want our specialist and teachers to be active online practitioners but outside of the normal school day, demanding continuous online activity is not only vile but legally unacceptable.

At the end of the day, as much as I want to see us all contributing to this space, the continuum of connectedness should not take precedence over personal living. You can’t expect people to give of their time 24/7 to talk about reaching kids when doing so could mean that they themselves aren’t reaching the children in their own home.

With that said, we have to find and have balance because not being connected isn’t an option either.

Truthfully, without my PLN…I would still live in a bubble where…

  • Learning only happened from the front of the room because a lesson was projected on a touch screen board.
  • Student privacy/data wasn’t a part of my vocabulary.
  • Students solve “naked problems” in math and didn’t tackle real relevant work. (3 Act math = life changing)
  • Whiteboard recording apps were everything. (That’s all I had initially on my ipads)
  • “Making” was something that you did during art.
  • POC didn’t exist in tech.
  • I would still be making all graphics via power point.

One more thing…If I were not connected, you wouldn’t be reading this post. My voice would still be silent in this space.

Confessions of a Digital Leader: The Balance of Content and Creativity

Confessions of a Digital Leader: The Balance of Content and Creativity

If you ask any technology integration specialist/coach about “test prep technology” programs, you are more than likely inclined to receive looks of disapproval over excitement. In a climate where schools dedicate entire labs or carts to the use of such programs, we absolutely despise them because they get in the way of what students need when it comes to digital learning.

Dear Teachers…With all of my heart, please stop thinking that the use of programs such as istation, Think Through Math, Accelerated Reader or (insert program name here) fulfills appropriate access to tools for learning.

With that said, those that live in the world of tech must stop the message that digital creativity is the only acceptable use of technology. Don’t get me wrong, I believe wholeheartedly in digital creativity but I also know that there are steps to getting there and foundational learning is still critical. Sometimes technology provides a means to learning and we must acknowledge that.

In school tech circles, we frown upon programs historically used to increase standards based knowledge typically applied during testing. (Honestly, we frown upon them because of the way in which teachers use them.) With that said, it is possible that when considering blended/personalized learning that there is some value to content based tech. The trick is that even if technology was utilized as a means for learning, that the learning doesn’t end when the program exits.

This is where creativity can take over.

If I am to be honest, I believe that kids learn best through other means involving the real world. They have to tinker and explore. However, in an age of digital everything…I can’t deny the fact that there exist some computer program or app that may address the basic needs of learning too.

I learned my alphabet and how to read while watching this timeless media program called Sesame Street. If technology can be used to support such learning, so be it.

Again…we have to have space to create. We must also admit that certain tools spark content based learning.

There has to be balance.

Not one or the other.


PS….If tinkering/making is an option, do that first. Always!

Confessions of a Digital Leader: Migrating Back to A Digital Life

Confessions of a Digital Leader: Migrating Back to A Digital Life

By all accounts, my school district is new to implementing Google Apps for Education. It’ll be a slow and interesting implementation but one that is so necessary, especially in a climate where printed documents are important to so many areas operationally. It felt good to blow the minds of an entire room of district leaders… Continue Reading

The Day After, SemicolonEDU 

Three years ago, I sat in a suicide awareness and prevention session given by our high school counsellors.  It was my first time attending a session such as this and also the first time that I’ve been around anyone openly talking about suicide. The first words of the session… “Last year we had three completions…”… Continue Reading