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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: Thinking About Privacy and Passwords

Confessions of a Digital Leader: Thinking About Privacy and Passwords

The other day we were looking at several different blogging platforms to be utilized with our students and teachers. The goto idea seems to be to find what is free and teacher-controllable. The problem with free is that it is often void of the ability to export data and this is such a critical feature to have…especially when we consider that each person should have ownership of their own.

These are conversations that we will have with every platform that we roll out with our students and teachers. It is unacceptable for students to not have access to their own work, even after they leave our district. It’s equally as unacceptable for teachers to turn over ownership for the sake of free and it happens more often than we are often aware. It’s interesting to be in a position to make these decisions but even more interesting to have these conversations with others as they learn that data and privacy matters greatly.

Passwords!! (The most forgotten thing during the school year)

In my previous district, I used to despise the password reset process. After talking with several specialist from all over the country, the despise of password management is a huge commonality. A few thoughts uttered from around the web (with anonymity of course)…

  • “If we don’t reset their passwords, how will teachers get into what they need?”
  • “I want to limit password resets to less than ____ because I’m tired of teachers forgetting them”
  • “I have teachers that forget their passwords over and over again…all year”
  • “We have them make all passwords the same so that they won’t forget”
  • “I spend hours and hours doing nothing but resetting passwords”

Long sigh…

I have two digital learning specialist in my department and their main focus will be on helping teachers to integrate technology into their lessons. We literally do not have hours and hours a day to reset passwords which means that we must have a way for teachers to handle this small task themselves. Yes, I know that as small as the task is…It will still be incredibly difficult for many…at least, for now. We have to empower them to click the “forgot password” button. WE just have to.

When it comes to passwords, it seems that schools tend to take the “operationally easy” route in creating, distributing and syncing. (Think…all kids sharing a password) As someone who has had her online presence “hacked”…I cringe at not teaching password safety, protection and retrieval. Which age is this appropriate?

Of course, I won’t get into how we do it for obvious reasons but I will say that regardless of how we initially begin the account creation process, our teachers do have the power to retrieve their own without waiting on someone to manage a list.

Ironically, we didn’t really know that…until today which means that as of now, we will be free of the “Google Form” generated password retrieval/reset list.

On another note, I am so guilty of forgetting my passwords and completely rely on the ability to quickly retrieve it…without being shamed for it. Think about that for a minute.


Confessions of a Digital Leader: Planning Personalized PD

Confessions of a Digital Leader: Planning Personalized PD

As someone who is new to the role of planning an entire school district’s professional development plan, let me first start by saying that this is not as simple of a task as it sounds. It is a huge responsibility…one that cannot be orchestrated on a whim. Think of it like being a kid with the key to the candy store…only it’s not about you eating the candy but about everyone else. It’s not a free for all, but then again it can be.

A few months ago, I was handed feedback from within our district. For the most part, our teachers WANTED sustaining professional learning with choice…lots of choice. Experience reminds me that there also must be guidelines…and not because one person may learn more than they should but because whether we choose to admit it or not, there are those who will attempt less than they should. The real trick here is to make those guidelines based on empowerment and not compliance. That’s where the magic happens, right?

As a former classroom teacher, I take this part of my role with exceptional care as this is the ONE thing that can build or destroy a culture of growth. I’ve been a teacher forced to choose from an extremely select menu of “PD”…one without room to choose my own adventure. It was horrible.

I’ve also been one leading PD full of teachers who were there “just to get those hours in”. In many cases, those sessions still worked out because teachers walked away with something and wanted to learn more, even though they were there purely out of compliance. There were also those that could have been given magical golden nuggets during those sessions and it would not have made a difference at all. Compliance does that.

While I am charged with leading instructional technology too, our plan must offer much more than tech sessions as our classrooms are much more than technology. My job is to create a plan that in essence supports the learning of “the whole teacher”. This thinking is critical.

I started with talking to a few of my personal friends and mentors in the world of professional growth. All of them immediately offered me the skin from their bodies, with no hesitation. I gladly obliged.

Dear teachers of twitter, it is not as simple as saying “get on twitter and learn everything”. It may inspire that action, but a great plan must be more than that. We have to be mindful of this when communicating this message.

I bookmarked some great pieces…

Ben Wilkoff‘s two Edsurge articles (Thanks for the phone call btw Ben!)

Building the Basics of Personalized Learning (Part 1)

Building the Basics of Personalized Learning (Part 2)


The Future Ready District: Professional Learning Through Online Communities of Practice

Capture, Curate Share: Building a Personalized PD Culture

How Districts Get Personal: Retooling Professional Development

PD Is Not a 4-Letter Word: My Ignite From #ISTE14

Also…Everything that I have ever learned from Diana Laufenberg and Chris Lehmann. (Personal anecdotes void of links)

The Questions…

Qualitative and Quantitative thoughts…

  1. What are our district needs?
  2. Where do our teachers need to be?
  3. Where do our teachers want to be?
  4. What do our students need?
  5. How will we evaluate effectiveness?
  6. Percentage of compliance?
  7. Percentage of empowerment?
  8. Percentage of passion? (Shouldn’t this just be 100%?)

At the end of the day, our plan must be fueled by one fundamental thing…Learning. The key is in remembering who owns it.


Stay tuned!

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 by placing documents online in a Google Site versus handing them all a folder/binder. It felt even more amazing to quickly create a form to capture data for our Campus principals and have them in awe that such information could be captured so fast.

I honestly cannot wait for the first time that we will collaborate in documents simultaneously outside of email and watch mouths drop to the floor because they always do in those moments. It’s such a surreal feeling and brings me smiles thinking about it.

I’ll be even more excited to turn all of my google ninja skills over to our entire staff and students because that’s who should own these skills, anyway…right?

While these are all google-centric skills, I also cannot wait to show teachers how they can utilize Office 365, Microsoft Sway and Mix to create digital stories and blended lessons or OneNote for our Surface Pro 3 users to create the world in real time. I cannot wait to get a HoloLens for our Minecrafters. Don’t even get me started on getting Minecraft on our campuses. I CANNOT WAIT!

We are not a Google district. We aren’t even a Microsoft district. We have BYOD, which is problematic at times if we are truly honest. Although I will be purchasing devices to strategically put technology into the hands of our students, I can’t commit to ever being called a Chromebook, Android tablet or Ipad district as I don’t see standardized devices as an option either.

We won’t do trainings that are only specific to a tool. We’ll have to start with that, realistically. However, our goal will be to always work towards our mission and purpose. Our teachers want personalization and choice. If we ever want students to have the same, we must do this for our teachers. It’s incredibly thrilling to be creating this option through a plan largely borrowed from my incredible PLN.

What drives our work?

What do we want students to do? How do our students want to learn? What about teachers? Which device supports what students want and need to do?

At the end of the day, we will not be defined by the tools that we use but by how our students learn and what they accomplish along the way.

Exciting times ahead for my school district!

Rafranz Davis

Executive Director of Professional and Digital Learning, Lufkin ISD

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