A Transition to EdTech – CTO Weekend #2

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Friday and Saturday were the second meeting of the CETPA CTO Mentor Program. This time all 19 of us met at the ACSA Headquarters in downtown Sacramento to focus on Professional Development and Education Technology. Our facilitators were two educators from Southern California, Kris Linville and Jeremy Davis, and a Sacramento local, Sarah McFarland. As with the previous CETPA CTO weekend I left with a full head, so much so I had  a bit of a headache (no fault of the presenters – just lots to think about).

Reflecting on the weekend, twenty-four hours later a few things are still resonating with me that I wanted to jot down before the week began (I should have done this for our first meeting as well. Something to work on later).

Professional Learning – More Than Workshops

When people talk about professional learning they tend to think about workshops, conferences, and district professional development catalogs. In 2014 there is much more to professional development than these static, often isolated experiences, so much so that many of us are starting to use a new phrase – professional learning. The name change is subtle, but it signifies how 21st century educators must work. With the implementation of Common Core, Next Generation Science Standards, education technology, and an increasing array of student-centered instructional practices (project-based learning, Writing Workshop, inquiry-based instruction) static workshops at best plant a seed. To continue to grow as professionals all educators (certificated and classified) must pursue networked, on-going learning opportunities. These can take many different shapes including online professional learning networks, site-based (or online) professional learning communities, book studies, or informal face-to-face meet ups, such as CoffeeCUEs and BrewCUEs. However regardless of the activity, professional learning has to be woven into day-to-day work assignments with staff members encouraged and supported in growing professional learning networks while identifying and mastering annual professional learning goals. CTOs must create these environments for their teams and foster a culture of professional learning for their staff.

Common Core – Common Confusion

Most of Saturday morning we spent discussing the Common Core State Standards and the role technology plays in their implementation. Naturally, as part of this conversation we also discussed the Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBAC) and this spring’s pilot test. While each of us had varying knowledge and experience with the actual standards it was clear that everyone in the group was grappling with the dramatic changes (for the positive) these present for each of our organizations. All of our districts are spending significant amounts of this year’s  Common Core funds on technology devices and infrastructure, however the percentages varied from one organization to another. A portion of this diversity is simply due to different amounts of existing infrastructure. However, as our conversations progressed it was easy to see that there are many different ideas for how districts should implement Common Core. For example, some organizations are focused on purchasing new curriculum materials while others are leveraging the money to place a digital device in every student’s hands and help teachers improve their instructional practice through professional development. Additionally, no one is quite sure about our long-term funding streams. Between one-time Common Core funds (which we all hoped would continue) and a dramatic changes in district funding formulas it is a bit challenging to create clear plans for the future. Finally, SBAC has added an additional layer of confusion with conflicting and changing messages being sent by the Department of Education. It was interesting that in a room full 0f nearly two dozen technology leaders from across the state we struggled to even agree on the simple elements of this year’s pilot test, such as how long it will actually take each student. Throughout our morning conversation I was reminded how much CTOs must be able to comfortably deal with ambiguity, charting a course aligned with the district’s shared vision through thoughtful communication, collaboration with other departments, and a focus on teaching and learning.

Living in the Grey

Saturday we closed out the afternoon with a conversation regarding CIPA, COPPA, FERPA and other California laws (AB 307, AB 1575) which impact the instructional resources available to students and teachers and the responsibilities we have for educating students about digital citizenship and online behavior. As a classroom teacher I thought many of these laws were the bane of my existence. They were always the excuse provided for why my students and I could not access things like YouTube, Google Apps, or Twitter. However, when I moved into a technology leadership role I learned just how much these pieces of legislation were being used out of context. Every educator should take a moment to read them. None of them legislate the blocking any particular tools, but refer to broad categories which have tons of room for interpretation. Instead of the black and white often decreed by technology departments, these laws have lots of grey which must be collaboratively navigated by a diverse group of stakeholders for each organization. I am not saying that YouTube for example should automatically be unblocked for every school district, but decisions such as these should be made by collaborative groups of  teachers, principals, families working in conjunction with district and technology leaders. It really is the role of the CTO to convene and spearhead such groups, rather than allowing unilateral decisions regarding instructional materials to be made in isolation within the technology department. As Jeremy said at one point, “Hiding behind a filter isn’t leadership.”

I have to say that I am really enjoying the CETPA CTO Mentor program. Yes, this month’s topics were areas of strength for me, but even with that my thinking was challenged over the weekend and I was able to observe how individuals from other organizations grapple with the same changes we face at Natomas Charter School. Additionally, the growing sense of camaraderie and commitment to mutual support as technology leaders is something I

However, more than once during this weekend I felt fortunate for where I work. As the technology leader I am an active component of the organization’s leadership team. My staff and I are able to see the immediate effects of our decisions and hard work and from policies to resource allocation we have a clear focus on instruction and supporting students and teachers. We are not using our Common Core funds to buy boxes and boxes of “updated” curriculum, but are instead increasing access to technology resources and providing professional learning in the form of weekly workshops, teacher-selected professional learning communities, staff development days, and conference attendance. It is an amazing place to be.

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