How Tech Can Help Align Systems

Posted by Aaron Palm on March 25, 2018

arrows in alignmentRecently we have been hearing a lot in education about “aligning our systems.” Sounds good, but how do we define alignment?  How to achieve alignment?  Are there technology tools at our disposal to get alignment?

The California Department of Education, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Education and representatives of Future Ready Schools, hosted a webinar on this very topic.  We were told that we have to align all of our systems, but there are so many systems in education. It’s like drinking out of a fire hose!  The webinar tried to paint a path to alignment for a school and/or district, and the system they recommended to align all of the different systems is called “The Coherence Framework.”

In his book Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts, and SystemsMichael Fullan has created a mental model for aligning everything from our Single Plans, to LCAP plans, district goals, schools goals and everything in between. After reading about alignment for years and watching the CDE webinar, it became apparent to me that aligning our systems was absolutely critical to the success of any educational organization.  But I also understood that even using a framework such as Coherence left the user juggling a lot of balls in the air.  For example, After ensuring that your organization is aligned with the Feds, the State and your local institutions, you still have to align all of the elements of your school—in my case a high school.

Mr. Fullan speaks about every entity on campus needing to do four things:

  • Focus its direction
  • Cultivate collaborative cultures
  • Secure accountability
  • Deepen the learning at all levels.
Diagram of Fullan's Coherence Framework
Fullan’s Coherence Framework

Each of those topics comes with a set of elements that need to be addressed.  As I sat in my office one day trying to map it out I realized that I did not have the tools necessary to organize the task.

As I started to research how other schools and businesses organized and tracked their progress I stumbled across a resource that is common yet unfamiliar to many of us in education: project management tools.  Project management portals in and of themselves are straightforward and fairly simple to use.  But they are capable of building upon themselves and mapping out incredibly detailed plans.  When comparing my old SMART goal sheet to project management plans, it is like comparing two dimensional drawings to three dimensional virtual tours.  Let me provide an example from our school.

Using the Fullan Coherence Framework one is asked to look at any initiative in two major ways from the start. The first asks you to ensure that the initiative, whatever it is, aligns with your Single Plan, District LCAP, District Strategic Goals and School Goals.  If it doesn’t, it is not a priority and should not be taken on school-wide.  Second, if it does align, consider how it will address each of the four areas.

  • Focusing direction—everyone in the organization must know the purpose of the initiative, the impact if the goal is achieved, be clear in the plan and understand the need for change.
  • Cultivating collaborative cultures—the initiative must be taken on collaboratively.  An organization must have a collaborative culture that can pick up the initiative and run with it.
  • Securing accountabilityhow will the staff develop internal accountability around reaching the goals and what is the external accountability from the outside.
  • Deepening learning—we have to learn about the initiative and acquire the skills and content necessary to implement it.

If all of that feels overwhelming you are not alone.  This is where the project management portal comes into play.  On our campus we wanted to strengthen our formative assessment and remediate struggling students during class time instead of referring them to after school programs.  We created a project around formative assessment for remediation. The next step in the project management process is to define your team.  Everyone on the team has a log in to the online portal.  When they log in they can see a lot of information.  But the two most critical pieces of information are: the progress of each project they are a part of, and the parts of the plan they are responsible for with deadlines.  This has the ability to focus everything you are working on and put it on one, simple dashboard.

Screenshot of Trello dashboard
Screen shot of our dashboard – click to enlarge

The first project box under the topic was the first section of the Coherence Framework, Focusing Direction.  We detailed the data that identified this as a school-wide problem.  We stated the purpose of the initiative.  Then we defined the measurable goals we needed to achieve.  We then addressed how we would achieve the change, what change strategy we would use. Every member of the team has access to this project box.

With each element of the Coherence Framework we created a project box.  In each box, the necessary elements to complete the project are listed.  For example, under “Capacity Building” we identified the training we needed to send our teachers to.  Then each administrator was assigned a task.  They were responsible for working with the departments they supervised and finding two teachers to attend each training.  They were given a deadline for each. As principal, I could sit in my office and see the task being completed.  As each administrator checked their task complete the progress bar for that task got closer and closer to being 100% complete. For some tasks multiple people are responsible for completing it.

For Clarity of Learning Goals we had planned a presentation.  Different members of the team had different parts they were responsible for.  Our Google Drive integrates with our Project Management tool, Trello.  The presentation was in this project box and everyone on that particular part of the project could work on it in real time together.  As they completed their part they would check the completion box and we all could view how close the presentation was to being completed.

In our management meetings we bring up the school project dashboard.  The first thing we do in our meeting is run through all of the projects and check on their status.  This allows the whole team to see the whole picture of what we are working on and how it all aligns.  The power of the project management portal is in its plethora of tools.  A good project management tool syncs with tools such as Google Docs and your calendar. It has messaging in it to discuss shared tasks.  It is a storehouse for all related documents and media. It will also have a variety of permission levels that are very granular.  And the final feature is the ability to transfer tasks. We use the project management portal to do annual tasks like build our master schedule.  If a new person needs to take over the task you can just insert them in the project and now they have a checklist of what the job entails.  In an industry that does not cross train, this feature is crucial.

Education has always had an overwhelming amount of information and projects to manage.  But now we are being asked to align all of them in our overall system. Project management portals are what some organizations are using to make sense of it all.  I would suggest picking a very small project and giving it a try with different products to see which one works for you.  Once you find one that fits your culture show it to your team and bring order to your lives.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Future Ready Assessment: A head start towards personalized learning

Posted by Gabe Soumakian on July 19, 2016

The 7 gears of Future Ready Schools
The 7 gears of Future Ready schools

Often, we hear administrators tout their success with technology innovation by pointing to the number of 1-to-1 devices deployed in their schools.  At the same time, we hear it is “not about the technology” but rather it is changes in the teaching and learning process that transform our students as 21st century learners. Although there is a major shift toward digital transformation and innovation in our schools, administrators need to understand how to connect the dots and develop a comprehensive implementation plan that impacts student learning.

A good place to begin the process—or to validate that the district is headed in the right direction—is to have the leadership team collectively take the Future Ready (FR) assessment tool. The report from this tool will identify critical gaps as well as help guide you in the development of an effective implementation plan to fill those gaps.

This collaborative process of taking the FR assessment provides a professional learning opportunity to build the leadership capacity within your team. Your leadership team will benefit from this process and understand the major implementation shifts and design elements for appropriate technology solutions.  Through the assessment dashboard, your team will discover where your district is on the continuum for digital conversion, identify gaps, access strategies, and review your progress toward the development of a robust technical and human infrastructure.

What innovative leaders will learn from this process is the need to move beyond 21st century learning skills toward a personalized learning environment that prepares students for college, career, and life readiness.  Linking learning in the classroom to a real world setting makes the learning relevant and brings life to the curriculum so that students are engaged and feel connected to their future career paths.

Begin the process at www.FutureReady.org!  First, the district superintendent must take the Future Ready pledge.  Then, take the FR assessment.  Review the report as a team, then move your efforts to the next level by taking advantage of the resources available at the Future Ready Hub, especially the regional workshops.  Using this model will bring administrators in your region together to examine the data and connect your district with other leadership teams who can collectively move forward on the personalized learning continuum.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

All STEM’d Up!

Posted by Skip Johnson on November 17, 2013

All STEM'd Up with man on motorcycle at left(to the tune of Elvis’ All Shook Up)

A well we done our plan
What’s right with us?
We’re working really hard and creatin’ no fuss
Our peers say we’re actin’ wild and smug
We’re a determined clan
We’re all STEM’d Up!
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!

Our plans aren’t shaky and our minds aren’t weak
We are standin’, standin’ on our own two feet
We can thank ourselves to have such luck
We’re a determined clan
We’re all STEM’d Up!
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!

Please don’t figure to read our minds
We might look shook up but we are feelin’ fine
When we present those lessons we love best
Our students so engage, it scares us to death

When we touch their minds, it’s a chill we got
Now let’s study a volcano that’s hot-hot-hot
We are proud to say this is our loving cup
We’re a determined clan
We’re all STEM’d Up!
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!

Our tongues are steady when we need to speak
Our insides are excited as a circuit that is tweaked
There is no cure for this STEM gold mine
We’re gonna keep this system ’cause it’s so fine

We’re a determined clan
We’re all STEM’d Up!
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!
We’re all STEM’d Up!

Yes, at El Crystal Elementary School we are ALL STEM’d UP! On Wednesday, November 7, 2012, the governing board made El Crystal the first STEM Magnet School in the San Bruno Park School District,.  The next morning, we were full “STEM” ahead.  The 9 teachers and I have accomplished a lot since then:

  • Wrote the STEM Curriculum for grades Kindergarten through fifth grade.
  • Participated in three weeks of self-determined professional development.
  • Conducted four informational meetings for families from other schools in our district.
  • Generated an informational brochure that we distributed throughout our area.
  • Achieved two $20,000.00 grants.
  • Worked closely with the STEM Center at the San Mateo County Office of Education to fine tune our curriculum.
  • Gave three presentations to the governing board to share our progress.
  • Invited to share our program at the Orange County Office of Education.
  • Arranged a partnership through a  Memorandum of Understanding with Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California to provide us with academic support in science and math focused on creating a student-centered learning environment.
  • Created a partnership with Walmart, whose eCommerce headquarters are in San Bruno.
  • Created a partnership with Facebook who replaced twenty-two of our computers that were stolen.
  • Established an advisory committee composed of parents, community members and representatives from Intel, Facebook, Walmart, and Gilead Sciences.
  • Remodeled our media center to accommodate STEM activities.

Earlier this month, we took time out to reflect upon our progress to date:

What is going well?

  • Student engagement in learning has visibly increased.
  • Students are demonstrating a positive attitude towards all aspects of the school including behavior and attendance to learning.
  • Teacher collaboration in grade alike and across grades has been a very positive outcome of STEM.
  • There is a tremendous increase in hands-on learning activities at all grade levels.
  • Teachers believe they are creating a more student-centered learning environment.
  • Overall, staff believes they are achieving deeper levels or understanding and learning with their students.
  • In most classes, parents are eagerly helping with needed supplies for all types of STEM activities
  • Parents report that they are pleased with our new program; that their children come home excited about the daily activities in their classrooms; and that they really like the teaching staff 

What needs to improve?

  • Generally, parents from families that have transferred into our program from outside our attendance area display higher levels of participation than those for whom this is their home school.
  • We have discovered that implementing STEM activities takes much more time than anticipated (not that this can be changed).

What to do differently if we had a fresh start?

  • Not write any curriculum for science until the Next Generation Standards were posted in their final form.
  • Spend the first six weeks of the year assessing the levels of the students and their abilities to handle increased STEM activities.
  • Concentrate on putting more procedures into place such as learning how to function in small, collaborative groups.
  • Get to know all the students better before implementing the STEM curriculum even if it meant delaying STEM activities until October.
  • Teach students how to have collaborative conversations and how to behave and function in collaborative groups.
  • Implementing STEM activities in the three lower grades has been more difficult than the two upper grades. Plan for that through practice.
  • Establish the partnership with Notre Dame de Namur earlier. It would have been helpful to have their sage advice when we had our first professional development activities during the last two weeks of June 2013.
  • Figure out a way to allow for more collaboration time for staff members for planning purposes.
  • Provide constructive feedback by observing each other teach STEM activities.
  • Right now most activities are on a trial and error basis. Staff is coming to grips with that level of anxiety.

Principal’s perspective

From my perspective as principal, our implementation of our STEM program, for the most part is going smoothly. My thoughts and observations:

  • I have never seen teachers so hard-working and dedicated to making a program successful.
  • Collaboration is at an all-time high.
  • As principal, I need to get into classrooms more and observe and validate STEM efforts.
  • This program is clearly worth the effort due to observable increases in student engagement and enthusiasm.
  • This is going to take about three years to perfect.
  • The collaboration with Notre Dame is well worth the investment in time and finance.
  • The relationships I built with parents and community members to gather support for our program has improved not only our school culture but my relationship with the school community.
  • The staff and I agree that given the opportunity, we would do this over again.
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Blips not to overlook

Posted by Butch Owens on January 31, 2013

Radar screenAs we venture forth into 2013, I thought it might be a good time to take a look at some items that should be on every administrator’s radar.  We all need to be developing a plan on how we will incorporate each into our schools.

Learning Management Systems

A learning management system (LMS) is a software application or Web-based technology used to plan, implement, and assess a specific learning process. Typically, a learning management system provides an instructor with a way to create and deliver content, monitor student participation, and assess student performance. A learning management system may also provide students with the ability to use interactive features such as threaded discussions, video conferencing, and discussion forums.  Read more.

Flipped Classrooms

Flip teaching (or flipped classroom) is a form of blended learning which encompasses any use of technology to leverage the learning in a classroom, so a teacher can spend more time interacting with students instead of lecturing. This is most commonly being done using teacher-created videos that students view outside of class time. It is also known as backwards classroom, reverse instruction, flipping the classroom, and reverse teaching.  Read more.

BYOD

Bring your own device (also referred to as Bring your own technology (BYOT), Bring your own phone (BYOP), and Bring your own PC (BYOPC)) is a term that is frequently used to describe the policy of permitting employees to bring personally owned mobile devices (laptops, tablets, and smart phones) to their place of work and use those devices to access privileged company information and applications.[1] The term is also used to describe the same practice applied to students using personally owned devices in education settings.  Read more.

MOOC

A massive open online course (MOOC) is a type of online course aimed at large-scale participation and open access via the web. MOOCs are a recent development in the area of distance education and a progression of the kind of open education ideals suggested by open educational resources. Examples include Khan Academy and free offerings from Stanford and MIT.  Read more.

Google Docs

Google Docs is a free web-based office suite offered by Google within its Google Drive service. It also was a storage service but has since been replaced by the before-mentioned Google Drive. It allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real-time with other users. Google Docs combines the features of Writely and Spreadsheets with a presentation program incorporating technology designed by Tonic Systems.  Learn more.

California Student Bill of Rights Initiative

The California Student Bill of Rights Initiative did not make the ballot last November, but had it qualified for the ballot and been approved by the state’s voters, it would have:

  • Authorized school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools to claim average daily attendance funding for student participation in approved online courses.
  • Authorized school districts to contract with public and private providers to deliver online courses taught by credentialed teachers.
  • Allowed students to take online courses offered by any school district, regardless of student’s residence.
  • Provided students access to courses required for admission to state universities.
  • Established the “California Diploma”, which would have demonstrated completion of courses required for University of California and California State University admission.

If students need flexibility in their schedule or a teacher in another district has a great online course, students will definitely seek out that option if available—and the ADA would follow the student for that course. Students will no longer be held hostage to what their local district, school or individual teacher of a course is offering.

Huffington article on California online bill of rights
Click image above to read this Huffington post article.

Personal Learning Networks

A personal learning network (PLN) is an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment. In a PLN, a person makes a connection with another person with the specific intent that some type of learning will occur because of that connection.  Read more.

Sir Ken Robinson: Changing Educational Paradigms

This is a great 11 minute video by Sir Ken Robinson to open up the dialog about the need to change and adapt our schools to meet the needs of students today and into the future. Pay particular attention to the section on divergent thinking. As Sir Ken points out this is one of the most important traits students will need to be successful in our changing world.  Learn more.

A Question

Let me finish by posing a question. If students truly have a choice about what courses they take and where they take them, will they choose to stay enrolled in a course that is textbook-driven and without access to technology or any expectation to use technology to produce evidence of their learning? Or would they choose a hybrid or blended course with online,24/7, access to highly interactive threaded discussions, media rich resources, and the ability to schedule the class around other commitments and activities?

Take for example this brief blog post.  It starts with a brief description and includes links to other resources for those looking to explore a topic in depth.  Compare this to a one page article with definitions of each trend. Which would provide a better understanding of the topic? Which would lead to a deeper understanding? Which is more engaging?

If you are looking to continue this conversation you should consider attending the Leadership 3.0 Symposium sponsored by TICAL, ACSA and CUE.  It takes place April 11–13, 2013 at the Hyatt Regency, Irvine, California.  Learn more.

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Tech Equity: It’s not just for kids

Posted by Bob Price on November 28, 2011

Like most districts, we want our teachers to have access to powerful instructional technology.  And, like most districts, technology purchases for us have been made with a mix of limited district funds, some grants, and site categorical funds.  This has led to a situation where there are haves and have nots in terms of access to instructional technology.  A recent grant allowing for most of our math classes to have access to Promethean Boards caused our teachers of other subjects and grade levels to ask about access to these powerful technology tools.  When we took an inventory of the technological tools available to our teachers, we were surprised at the discrepancies across the district.  Our classrooms ran the gamut from full Promethean tools with document cameras to a single overhead projector sitting in a corner.  We realized we had a serious equity problem.

Our model of allowing sites to drive the educational technology available in classrooms had created a situation where student and teacher access technology varied dramatically.  A student could experience a relatively rich or embarrassingly poor access to technology tools depending on the luck of what teacher he/she was assigned to.  It was possible for students to spend their entire K-8 careers having only had access to teachers with an overhead projector.  Or they could be the lucky ones that had teachers with state-of-the-art technology.  This unacceptable situation led us to initiate our Tech Equity Project for teachers.

Utilizing a highly motivated Tech Vision Team, we developed minimum standards for technology for teachers.  After much discussion, it was decided that each classroom should be equipped with a teacher laptop, sound system, smart projector and document camera.  Funding for equipment would come from excess bond funds.  Sites agreed to pay for maintenance, repairs and supplies with the funds they were allocating previously to purchase hardware.  Our Tech Vision Team members offered to provide the necessary professional development at their sites in exchange for access to new technologies.  After much planning, meeting with vendors, and individual meetings with teachers and principals, our vision will be realized when teachers return from Winter break.

The next step in our vision will be the issue of equity of student access.  We have the same problem of haves and have nots with student technology.  Our goal will be to have all classrooms with an internet device available for all students within the next two years.  Whether that device will be a notebook, netbook, or tablet has yet to be decided.

The other big issue for us is whether our teachers will utilize all of this technology in powerful ways to improve student achievement.  One thing is certain.  No one will implement technology they do not have.  We are looking forward to the next steps in our journey.  Parent, teacher, and community support for our Tech Equity Initiative has been overwhelmingly positive.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblr