Monday, July 10, 2023

Twas the Night Before Christmas….Tech Director Style

I wrote this several years ago and realized it was still in draft mode. So, let's call this a "Christmas in July" post! 

Twas the week before winter break, when all through the LAN

Not a server was malfunctioning, not even the SAN;

The WAPs were all humming in classrooms without fail,
In hopes that each person could open his email;
The students were wishing they were snug in their beds,
While visions of classroom parties danced in their heads;
And I in my office knowing technicians were on foot,
Had just found daily automated scripts gave proper output.
When out in the hall I heard such a clatter,
I jumped into action to see what was the matter.
What I saw was a problem, an issue with Flash,
But nothing that a download and reboot couldn’t dash.
A new shipment arrived, meaning projector bulbs on the shelf but
“Please, no hard drive crashes todayu,” I said to myself.
The tech team spoke few words and went straight to work
Closing out help desk tickets with a sly, grinning smirk
For in a few short days, a vacation is in sight
Happy Holidays to all, and to all...a good BYTE!

We've been here before....

My very first trip to a national technology conference was in 2005 when I attended NEC (now known as ISTE) in Philadelphia. I was invited to attend by Discovery Education because I was one of three winners of their “Win a Wireless Laptop” contest. They paid for my airfare and booked me at the Marriott Old City, where my love for the national technology conference, ISTE, was born.

Eighteen years later, I was invited to attend ISTE in Philadelphia again, and – once more – I booked lodging at the Marriott Old City. I’d like to say that I remembered that hotel was the same hotel where I stayed in 2005, but that would be untrue. It wasn’t until I walked into the hotel to check in that the memory resurfaced. Looking around in the lobby, I could see that the hotel had changed a little – the d├ęcor was updated, and the flooring had changed. But the layout of the lobby was exactly as I remembered. When I opened the door to my room, though, I realized just how much had changed in 18 years. New bedding, flooring, tiling, technology…everything was updated and very different.

I have that same feeling about technology then and now. Everything is updated and very different. 

Back in 2005, at the NEC conference, I first learned about Moodle, an early learning management system, that ran on an internal server. I was astounded and returned to my district, hired a new network administrator, and gave him his first task of setting up Moodle so I could introduce our teachers to a learning management system. Compare that experience to this year’s hot ISTE topics – cybersecurity, interoperability, and digital identity – and we find that everyone is concerned about safe access and productive digital environments, both inside and outside of a district’s network. My how times have changed!

My invitation to attend ISTE this year was extended by Identity Automation (IA), a powerful identity and access management (IAM) solution, and I was fortunate to join IA employees in their vendor booth. Some might question my use of the word “fortunate” in this scenario because standing for hours in a booth may not be everyone’s ideal conference activity. But I love it. Really love it. I love it because I can talk to technology directors, network administrators, supervisors, and district leaders to share my 20+ years of experience working in the world of K-12 technology. Hearing real-world scenarios from CIOs who struggle with the security of their digital environments, while trying to provide a perimeterless and safe environment in their networks, gives me a chance to sympathize but also explain attainable solutions using Identity Automation’s Identity and Access Management (IAM) platform.

Today, IAM solutions are essential for K-12 districts to prioritize the safety, productivity, and user-centric outcomes of students, teachers, staff, parents, and district leadership. IAM platforms offer a comprehensive framework for secure access management through authentication, authorization, user management, and central user repositories. By investing in true identity and access management, districts ensure a safe and productive digital environment, foster collaboration, and drive positive educational outcomes.

Yes, the technology landscape is really different from my first attendance at NEC/ISTE, but one thing remains the same…change. That’s right; change is life’s only constant. The best way we can guarantee safe expansion of technology is to build upon our foundation of safekeeping, and always keep in mind that the goal of every IT staff member is security of and productivity for digital identities, without inhibiting access to legitimate learning and administrative tools.

Like my walking into that hotel lobby 18 years later, we all should approach the ever-changing technological landscape with an insatiable curiosity, balanced by subtle recognition that “we’ve been here before”, and with IAM solutions, we can rest assured that where we’re going is much safer than where we’ve been.  



Why Simplified K-12 Cybersecurity Can Help Streamline Access to Student Data & Reduce Impact on Learning

Remember when moving from one end of a state to another often meant changing phone numbers because the new residence would be in a different area code? And, after cell phones were born, remember when relocating across the country meant ditching a cell phone company, along with the number, because the new area of the country didn’t include the same coverage? Chances are, if you are as old as I am, these scenarios do sound familiar. For most cell phone users, however, changing cell numbers just because you relocate is a foreign concept. A cell phone number becomes part of who we are, part of our contact identity, and - if we don’t want to - we never have to change cell numbers again. 

Now, let’s apply this scenario to today’s school environment and student data. Huh? I know you’re thinking this analogy might be a stretch, but stay with me, and I promise this will all make sense.

In today’s schools, nearly all aspects of student data reside on IT systems in the K-12 ecosystem. From birthdates to medical records, from assessment scores to classroom assignments and everything in-between, student data are housed on some type of electronic system. And, the seamless use of that data through various technologies is paramount in ensuring a stellar educational experience for students and teachers. 

When teachers and administrators need to bring in student data, protect that data, and adapt to unique needs among various stakeholders who need access to the data, often the amount of time between data entry and usage is so lengthy that end-user experiences only lead to frustration. IT staff are challenged with managing data for new enrollments, teachers, substitute teachers, and administrators, including automated tasks that span both cloud-based and on-premise systems, and the end result of the entire process often trickles down to provide a negative experience to the most important cogs in this wheel - our students. 

I know I’m an idealist, but I envision a scenario in which students and employees who move between schools in the same state lose no data…lose no documents, no video projects, no graded assignments. And, they are not expected to download everything from their previous school’s cloud domain before they move to their new school. Wouldn’t that be a perfect world? Students log out of one network on Friday and safely log into a different network on Monday in their new school, and all of their records are visible and secure…immediately….and without additional effort on the teacher’s part to “turn on” access to new materials. 

I believe this ideal situation can be a real situation, and I think the time cannot come quickly enough!

One of the reasons this type of access to data is so important is because of school choice, particularly in Kentucky, my home state. Kentucky recently signed into law House Bill 563 (HB563) called the Nonresident Pupil Enrollment Policy, sometimes referred to as the No Boundary law.

Codified into the state’s revised statute, the Kentucky General Assembly announced that as of July 2022, Kentucky school districts must allow open enrollment of nonresident pupils without any contractual agreements, permissions, or discrimination, except when enrollment capacity is reached. Essentially, Kentucky students in any district and in any county can go to another district (assuming it’s not full) and the state’s funds and federal funds follow them. 

The passing of Kentucky HB563, the state’s brand new stance on open enrollment, illustrates why school districts need to implement a cybersecurity system that works seamlessly outside of one specific district – and in my state’s case - all districts within its borders. Any open enrollment situation is a seemingly obvious case study for the need for easy integrations that focus on minimizing any impact on learning, regardless of where a student was enrolled the year previously. And, open enrollment stands as a solid illustration of the potentially negative impact that cybersecurity and, more importantly, hands-on protection tools, such as user authentication, can have on a student’s experience.

All learners need an individual path to flourish. If the data that follows them down their educational path isn’t comprehensive or lacks details teachers need, delays or setbacks can result. And, unfortunately, that all-too-common lack of access to needed information for a particular student is an alarming hindrance. Retaining and accessing vital student data that teachers need immediately upon a new student’s enrollment is a process that screams for standardized methods. 

​Educators need student data now, and, really, now is sometimes not soon enough. Slow, manual, untailored and unprotected methods of accessing student information should not be the status quo for districts. Without proper tools and ease of access to student data, educators face huge delays when they receive new students, and these delays are often a result of school electronic systems that do not “talk” to one another. Kentucky has done a great job through the years in standardizing many aspects of “talking” to other districts (e.g. state-mandated student information system), but I believe Kentucky - and all other states - can do more.

The correct mixture of communication, IT and protection should now be at the root of all K-12 data systems. Through a more seamless transition, educators can remain vigilant on individual needs or interests of students and provide an enhanced learning experience tailored to every individual. Students moving between districts would do so with one digital identity, an identity that holds much more than information - an identity that holds promises for success. 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Letters as the ISTE Technology Coordinator PLN Chair

For the 2018-2019 school year, I am blessed to be the Chair of one of the largest ISTE PLNs . Each month, I write a letter to the members of our PLN. I thought I'd share those letters on this blog. Enjoy!

August 2018 Letter
Happy Sunday and the beginning of another school year! Your PLN leaders are excited to begin another year helping inform one of the biggest (and best...yes...I’m a little prejudice) ISTE PLNs. As your 2018-19 PLN chair, I want to make sure you know that your comments and suggestions on how we can help make your experience as a PLN member a productive one are welcome! We promise not to spam your Inbox, but we hope to provide resources in an Inbox-respectable way. This newsletter will be sent once a month, usually around the 15th of each month. If you have content you would like for me to share, please send my way!

In order to get the most out of this PLN, I thought I’d share a few “keys for PLN success”. My hope is that each one of us can apply at least one of these keys during this year.

  • Participate….webinars, surveys, newsletters….find a way to tap in to what our PLN produces for our members 
  • Communicate….email us, follow us on Twitter, post in ISTE Connect….let us know your thoughts or share a resource you feel is pertinent to our members 
  • Appreciate.....the fact that we’re all in this together! Being a technology coordinator, CTO, CIO, technology integrator - or whatever the title may be - is hard work! Let’s appreciate the fact that we can lean on each other for advice to get through tough technology times….like the start of a new school year. 
Pat yourself on the back as you prepare for another week! Make it a great one.

September 2018 Letter
Welcome to the middle of September, the time of year when most schools have been in session long enough that technology directors can begin to breathe a sigh of relief that the beginning of the school year is over….Who am I kidding? Technology directors never breathe a sigh of relief! Just when we feel we have one task sort of completed (e.g. rostering 642 different software programs, resetting 358 passwords for parents), another task pops up that reminds us why we love our job...because no two days are ever the same! For me, personally, this month leads to beginning the inventory process as our state’s main digital readiness report is due at the end of September.

I am certain many of you reading this can empathize with, and some of you possibly even sympathize with, the fact that the job of a CTO/CIO/DTC, technology integrator or whatever title you hold is never ending, never dull and never to be discounted. May the remainder of this month provide you time to reflect on the important job you do each and every day. The difference you make in assuring that children all over the world have a better educational experience is to be respected and admired. Never let anyone take that away from you!

October 2018 Letter
Last month’s letter from me ended like this, “The difference you make in assuring that children all over the world have a better educational experience is to be respected and admired. Never let anyone take that away from you!” And this is where I would like for this month’s letter to begin. The graphic on the next page sums up my thoughts for this month….Never forget your impact.

Earlier this month, I was reminded of that fact when I received a nice note from a teacher that said, “You will be so proud of me! I saw that there’s a ‘Tech Support’ chat in Carnegie and I got brave and just tried it. He helped me with two problems. Thanks for teaching me to be resourceful.”

I had no idea that I had made that type of impact on this teacher, but - boy - did that note make me feel good. I encourage all of you to never underestimate the impact a small suggestion might have toward accomplishing a larger goal, making a lasting impact for a teacher, student or colleague. Sometimes, the most minute offering of help can have the biggest ROI. And a positive ROI is what all of us as technology directors desire, right?

As we head toward the end of this month and the favorite day of the school year for most students (Halloween), I hope you will take some time to allow decorations, fall scenery and fun(ny) costumes make an impact on you, just as you are making an impact for your school, district or community.

November 2018 Letter
Warning...This month’s letter is not necessarily about technology!

Yesterday was an interesting day in our school district. Hundreds of students were already in the district when, due to ice and a downed powerline in the city, we lost electricity in two of our five buildings, including the building that houses our phone system, meaning all phones in the entire district were down. Our superintendent, along with city officials and board members, made the call to keep students at school, while Duke Energy (the local power company) worked to repair our outage, along with outages in 2,500 homes in our town. I, as the Director of Technology and Information, emailed all parents in our 3,100-student-population district to inform them of the situation and to provide them a way to contact us if they had a question or an emergency….I gave them my cell phone number (my phone is provided by the district so this is normal protocol). Needless to say, I fielded tons of calls and emails yesterday from parents until the electricity was restored around 11am. The parents asked questions such as: “Can the children use the bathrooms”, “What are you doing for lunch”, “Do you have light and heat”, “What about after-school activities” and “Can I come pick up my child”?

High school students, as you can imagine, turned - almost immediately - to social media on their personal devices to criticize the administration for making them stay at school. They were cold, hungry and bored. While the temperature in the buildings did drop to 67 degrees, the students were never “freezing”, and one of our community’s orthodontic practices worked with local food vendors to send (at their cost) over 110 pizzas, 70 footlong sandwiches and 2,500 coneys to our schools (our community is amazing!). Students were, for sure, not hungry.

But the bored comments on Twitter really bothered me. Our high school students were bored. They were in their classrooms, many with their peers, not having regular “school”, tweeting from personal cell phones (some that probably cost well over $500), and they were bored. I guess we could have assumed that the students were complimenting us and saying they were bored because they missed not having normal classwork, but I’m afraid we might have been kidding ourselves. Our students were saying they were bored because they didn’t get their way; they wanted to go home!

Last night, I had time to reflect on the day, and I remembered this quote from actor Michael Keaton, which summed up my thoughts exactly about how I wish our students had reacted.

“In the household in which I was raised, the themes were pretty simple: Work hard. Don’t quit. Be appreciative, be thankful, be grateful, be respectful. Also, never whine, never complain. And always, for crying out loud, keep a sense of humor.”

As we head into the holiday season and to Thanksgiving, in particular, I hope that you can keep your sense of humor, just like we tried to do yesterday, when a trial rears its ugly head. I also hope that you will take time next week to put work away for a couple of days and just be thankful….thankful to have a job that sometimes frustrates us, thankful to know people who often annoy us and thankful that on no day serving as a Chief Technology Officer, Director of Technology or whatever title we may have are we ever...bored.

December 2018 Letter
May the holidays bring you joy, peace and a few hours of uninterrupted sleep! Thanks for being the dedicated individuals you are to our profession. May your “presents” this holiday be the “presence” of your loved ones.

Happy holidays and great wishes for a prosperous and peaceful 2019.

In this final 2018 letter, please enjoy my much abbreviated rendition of a favorite holiday poem…

Twas the Night Before Christmas….Tech Director Style

'Twas the week before winter break, when all through the LAN
Not a server was malfunctioning, not even the SAN;
The WAPs were all humming in classrooms without fail,
In hopes that each person could open his email;
The students were wishing they were snug in their beds,
While visions of classroom parties danced in their heads;
And I in my office knowing technicians were on foot,
Had just found daily automated scripts gave proper output.
When out in the hall I heard such a clatter,
I jumped into action to see what was the matter.
What I saw was a problem, an issue with Flash,
But nothing that a download and reboot couldn’t dash.
A new shipment arrived, meaning projector bulbs on the shelf but
“Please, no hard drive crashes today,” I said to myself.
The tech team spoke few words and went straight to work
Closing out help desk tickets with a sly, grinning smirk
For in a few short days, a vacation is in sight
Happy Holidays to all, and to all...a good BYTE!

January 2019 Letter
Well...we made it! A new year came in, and we survived. Another year for making resolutions (some that we have probably already broken by now), another year for dreaming about the future and making plans for improvements (both personal and professional) and another year full of time….525,600 minutes to be exact (cue song from the musical Rent). When we think of a year in terms of minutes, a year seems like a long time. But, anyone who has spent as many years on this earth as I have knows, time passes WAY too quickly! That technology inventory we meant to finish in December still awaits us; that technology plan we meant to write before January is begging to be started, and that copier RFP that we hope to send out in February lies on our desk at the top of the “to do” pile. How many times have we said out loud….”If I just had more hours in a day”?

Recently, a clip from a 2017 Charlie Rose interview with Bill Gates and Warren Buffet has been circulating on social networks. I watched the clip last week and really loved what Bill Gates said in terms of how a CEO (I’m going to inject here that we are all “CEOs” in the tech world) should spend his/her time to be more efficient in his/her work. If you haven’t already seen this clip, take a look:

Bill Gates makes this statement that really stuck with me. He said….You control your time

Isn’t that the truth? We like to blame others for our “busyness”, but the truth is, we control our time. And, time can’t be “found”; it has to be “made”. Bill Gates also said, and I’m paraphrasing, sometimes sitting and thinking can make you much more effective in your quests.

So, here’s hoping that in 2019, you’ll be able to make a conscious effort to spend lots of time sitting, contemplating and planning and less time worrying, stressing and fretting. After all, some of those precious 525,600 minutes for 2019 have already expired. Let’s spend the remaining minutes making time for time.

February 2019 Letter
Me: “Alexa, turn on dining room lamp.”
Alexa: “OK”
Me: “Hey, Siri. What are my events for today?”
Siri: You have five events scheduled today. Here are your first three.”

Sound familiar? Talking to and relying on artificially intelligent devices (AI) has become very commonplace in our personal lives. Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft all provide users some type of digital assistant, one that can help make our lives easier.

Recently, ISTE presented the webinar “Using Amazon Alexa in the Classroom and in the Home to Support All Learners” as part of the spring webinar series. While I was not able to participate in the webinar during initial broadcast, I did register so I could watch the recording. Last week, I took time to watch the recording, and while I was intrigued by ways the presenter suggested we use AI devices in classrooms, I was just as - or perhaps more - intrigued by the live chat that took place during the webinar. Many people watching the live webinar voiced concern about whether or not using these devices in the classroom is a violation of FERPA (for our international readers, FERPA stands for Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act). This same topic has been popular on ISTE discussion boards recently and has made its way into leadership meetings all over the country.

In November 2018, Susan Bearden, current CIO for CoSN and former Senior Education Pioneers Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, wrote an article about this very topic. ( One point she makes in her article that resonates with me is that these IOT devices are designed for consumer use, not for use in educational spaces. These devices were created to help make consumers’ lives easier.

I, for one, LOVE the devices we have in our home. Alexa helps me remember items for my grocery list; she turns on lights when my husband is out of town, and I’m working late and don’t want to come home to a dark house. She also plays Jeopardy with me and beats me consistently and handily each time. But, agreeing with information in Susan Bearden’s article, I am not yet convinced that we need to allow these devices in classrooms.

If your district has not jumped into this murky river, but you are being asked to install voice assistants in classrooms, you might want to review the article mentioned above for good advice from folks more “in the know” than I. Pay special attention to these suggested considerations, some mentioned in the article.

  1. Check with school and/or district leadership before installing a voice assistant in a classroom. Make sure all leaders are aware of the associated risks.
  2. Get 100% parent participation agreement in classrooms wishing to implement this type of technology. Don’t just assume parents are “OK” with your using voice assistants in the classroom, and don’t disregard parental input.
  3. Treat the voice assistant as if it were an outside visitor. If someone from the local PTA/PTO group were visiting your classroom, you would not discuss confidential information. Treat Alexa the same way.
  4. Decide how voice recordings will be archived or deleted.
  5. Lastly, although this should probably be first, decide if using this type of peripheral will truly enhance teaching and learning.
OK….off my soapbox….for now….But if you’ve read this far and still disagree with me, read this EdSurge article in which you will find information showing that an Amazon representative said that the company’s voice assistant devices are not intended for classroom use.

March 2019 Letter
This past week, our Kentucky ISTE affiliate, KySTE (pronounced “kiss-t”), held its annual spring conference. As an officer on the KySTE board, I served as part of the conference team, helping the planning committee to make sure the conference agenda was fulfilled. From distributing badges and t-shirts at the registration desk to making sure vendors had necessary electricity in the exhibition hall, our conference team - made up of board members and student technology leadership team members (all 100% volunteers) - pulled off one of our state’s best EdTech learning opportunities for teachers.

Every year, KySTE board members leave our event completely exhausted but thoroughly invigorated, knowing that our hard work paid off. This past weekend, I had time to reflect personally on what I learned from last week’s conference. And, when I look at this list, I believe these reflections play out in so many things we do in our everyday work life. I hope you find these reflections helpful as you continue to lead your team.

  • Nothing is impossible - In the world of technology, we certainly learn this concept over and over. When the network crashes at 2am, we know that getting that network up before school starts the next day is paramount, no matter the sacrifice. When the district decides to move an entire school full of children to mobile units over spring break so demolition of an ancient building can begin in April to start a 15-month building project, we pull together and make it happen (and, yes, this is happening in our district next week!). For our conference team last week, we worked around hotel renovations to make sure all of our attendees had an optimal experience.

  • Growth mindset - This reflection goes along with the previous one in that it really does take a growth mindset to be an effective technology leader. Technology leaders are constantly looking forward, not backwards, and planning for “what’s next”. Always being willing to learn more and more is a key component. For me, my growth mindset this year involves learning to run PowerShell scripts. Some of you reading this might think that’s a miniscule task, but for’s huge! Our PLN the past two years has been trying to build a growth mindset to increase participation. If you have any ideas of how we can do better at that, please send those ideas my way.

  • Collaboration is key - I think this goes without saying that when you are putting on a big conference, you must collaborate with all stakeholders. So true is this statement in our work lives. We must get out of our work silos and collaborate with other stakeholders in order to fulfill a growth mindset building toward a “nothing is impossible” attitude.

  • Using technology for good - So much of what we read today involves people who use technology for bad. Being inundated constantly with email phishing attempts, watching children across the globe fall for the “Momo” scam and hearing how scammers con elderly citizens out of thousands of dollars seems to be all we hear. But last week, I saw much evidence of using technology for good. From helping attendees navigate the conference app, to watching presenters share awesome tips about their favorite new tools, to the plethora of resources in Google Drive or OneDrive folders that will be shared across our state, I saw all kinds of evidence of using technology for good. As Tech Directors, no matter the title, we all are in a good position in our districts to make that same kind of impact.
I am sure that many of you are like me and only have a few days of school left until the much-needed “spring break”. I hope that if this is you, that you are able to take some time away from work to unwind and reflect on your daily impact toward making education better. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, what you do push on….grow that mindset, get out of that silo and keep collaborating with others because...nothing is impossible!

April 2019 Letter

Not too long ago, an educator who was attending a workshop that our district was hosting, referred to me (in front of several other educators) as a “Rockstar”. While I am certain this educator meant that accolade as a compliment, I couldn’t help but have visions of Stevie Nicks singing Go Your Own Way alongside Gene Simmons from KISS in full costume, makeup included. You see, I’m a child of the 70s…a time often referred to as “The ‘Me’ Decade” by Tom Wolfe. That decade was full of political scandal and massive distrust of government….sound familiar?

While I was too young back then to realize the impact of political scandal and government distrust on the average adult citizen, I believe that - given today’s political climate - we can all say we now understand what that 70s atmosphere was like...which leads me to my main point for this letter….in today’s educational world, how do we lead so that others trust our leadership?

Our district administrative team has participated in several workshops the past two years toward learning to be better leaders. One of the books we’ve read as a team is An INspired Evolution by Rachel Thalmann. While the entire book is extremely helpful, I found a few tips (some from the book, some not) more helpful than others toward becoming a better leader.

  1. Forgo Judgment - Walt Whitman once wrote, “Be curious, not judgmental”. OK, full transparency here...this one is extremely hard for me! This is a leadership task that I, myself, have to constantly work on toward improvement. In education, we - very often - categorize people (even students) into groups and we label those groups. We even label ourselves…”I’m a Type A employee”. Often, we decide if these labels are “good or bad”, and we place employees into these categories based on their “good or bad” actions. Not being judgmental means we need to drop labels, and dropping labels leads to the next tip, which is….
  2. Treat employees equally and with respect - Dr. Justin Tarte (I follow him on Twitter @justintarte) tweeted, “The best schools have this in common: The adults respect each other, value their colleagues’ contributions, encourage everyone to have a voice, have high professional expectations and ensure everyone is acknowledged.” The part of his tweet that resonates with me most is “ensuring everyone is acknowledged”. How often do we point out exceptional team members (calling them “Rockstars”, for example) and neglect other team members whose contributions might not be as obvious? Effective leaders find a way to acknowledge all team members for their contributions and don’t put certain team members on pedestals.
  3. Admit mistakes and apologize if needed - John Maxwell said, “A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to learn from them and strong enough to correct them.” Leading a team doesn’t always mean we will make correct decisions. Goodness, I’ve found this out the hard way on several occasions! Building trust from team members requires us to acknowledge those times when we are not correct and to apologize if our decisions affected any of our team members negatively. Yes, this one is super hard, but in the end, admitting mistakes to a team makes members see us as the fallible humans that we are. 

Hopefully, these tips will help you as you lead your team toward wrapping up the school year. Can you believe how quickly this year has flown? May you find time these next couple of months to reflect on your and your team’s accomplishments this year as I’m sure you’ve had many! 

Me? I plan to finish the year by finally completing that technology plan that’s been sitting on my desk for weeks. Oh, and, yes, I may conclude that task while listening to my Carpenters Gold or Carol King’s Tapestry albums. Some things from the 70s are worth hanging on to.

May 2019 Letter

Can’t you just hear the celebratory cries of students all over the world? When the end of May rolls around, most educators are in full sprint to the end of the school year. For my school district, four days separate our students from a life of “schedules” to a life of “ease”. Lots of students are looking forward to sleeping in, lazy days at the pool and plenty of time to do….nothing!

I hope that the end of May means relief-filled days for you, too. I hope summer break is a time when you can have uninterrupted moments to finalize projects you’ve been working on all year, a time when vendors stop calling your phone every day to share their newest pricing for products you may or may not need and a time when you can organize your office, files and thoughts in preparation for - dare I say it - another school year.

Enjoy what is left of your school year, and if you are able to join us in Philadelphia at the ISTE conference in June, please make plans to attend one of our panel sessions. You’ll find planning information in this newsletter for our two sessions, our community fair booth and for the PLN social.

This PLN has been an amazing resource for all of us all year, but especially for me. So, if you are attending ISTE 2019, make sure if you see me that you stop me to say hi so I can properly thank you...thank you for reading my ramblings, for answering questions of our community members and for sharing selflessly with all of our members.

PLN stands for Professional Learning Network, but I like to think of all of you as…

People who

Like to help those in


June 2019 Letter

Three years ago, during the ISTE Conference in Denver, four individuals from various regions of the United States, met for the very first time. Led by Jeremy Shorr (moderator for our two panel sessions this year), our meeting’s discussion that day centered around finding a way to revive the technology coordinators’ PLN. Prior to 2016, our PLN, albeit one of the largest of the ISTE PLNs, had begun to wither. We four were committed to the task assigned to us and dreamed of making a difference for this PLN.

Here we are three years later and look at us now! From hosting webinars, to planning ISTE socials, to presenting well-attended panel discussions, to Twitter chats and monthly newsletters, our PLN has not only survived...we’ve thrived....thanks to support for all of you!

Personally, I thank both Jeremy Shorr and Trey Tracy, whose leadership the past two years helped provide a springboard for me to carry on their hard work. I also thank Brian Seymour (our vice-chair), Stewart Greenberg, Phil Hintz and Chris Walsh who supported me 100% this year and helped us move this PLN even further forward.

But, as the saying goes…”All good things must come to an end”. At the end of this month, I will move from current chair to past chair, and a new group of leaders will come on board to help grow our PLN even more. I encourage you, if you have not done so already, to get involved with us! Tweet us, email us, post questions on ISTE Connect. If I’ve learned one thing from serving as your PLN leader, it’s that connections matter!

Lastly, I sincerely thank all of our members, especially those of you who indulged me by reading my letters each month. I hope that you have learned at least one new thing from us this year. And, if you can say you have, then I encourage you to share that one thing with one other person.

Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams) once said, “When we’re connected to others, we become better people.” Thank you for connectedness this year through this PLN and for playing a part in helping us become better people and a better PLN.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Role of Open Communication in Educational Digital Ecosystems

The Role of Open Communication in Educational Digital Ecosystems

From Diana M. McGhee, Director of Technology and Information at Fort Thomas Independent Schools

“Hello, this is the technology office; how can I help you?”
            “Well, my school ordered this new software, and we can’t seem to make it work on our computers. Can you help?”
Sound familiar? If you’ve worked in technology in a school system the last 15 or so years, you have probably experienced this exact situation. Too often, software or hardware purchases are made without input from or knowledge of the technology department, yet the technology department is told to “make it work”. A situation such as this could easily be avoided when all parties commit to communicate.
American author Marilyn vos Savant, who, according to the Guinness Book of Records, holds a Guinness world record of having the highest IQ (before that category was retired), once quoted, “Email, instant messaging, and cell phones give us fabulous communication ability, but because we live and work in our own little worlds, that communication is totally disorganized.” As Ms. Savant noted, we often work in our own “little worlds”, also known as workplace silos, and this process leads to disorganized communication.
Silos can happen in any organization, even educational institutions. Many of us, from all departments, work independently on various projects, often forgetting that others are doing the same. If you are a task-oriented person as I am, you know exactly what I mean. You have a task list a mile long, and each day, your goal is to check something off that list! Task-oriented employees are often more likely to work in silos.
Sometimes working in silos can be productive toward meeting a goal, but sometimes working in silos can be detrimental to an organization’s mission. Effective communication is the most fundamental way to prevent workplace silos, but how can an organization improve its flow of communication, particularly in the area of technology?


Look at organization’s internal structure

The absence or presence of effective communication may be enhanced by your organization’s internal structure. Who reports to whom? Which departments are responsible for what? In our school district, we have three main divisions of leadership: Teaching and Learning, Student Services and Operations (see below chart). Each division has a lead, and those leads report to the superintendent. The technology department falls under Teaching and Learning, and I — as the Director of Technology and Information — report to the Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, whose duties include curriculum development. She and I work closely to assure our software and online services purchases help fulfill our district’s mission. She is the content expert; I am the person knowledgeable about hardware processes. A positive relationship between technology and curriculum is completely essential to effective integration of technology to enhance an educational environment.
Consider lateral relationships
Technology directors have been dealing for years with the notion that “if it has a plug, it belongs to technology”. For the most part, this notion is true, but the kind of technology that directors must deal with day-to-day doesn’t stop at the classroom door. While worrying about whether or not a specific curriculum package can run on the technology devices we have selected is something technology directors must do, we must also worry about whether or not that security camera can pull the footage needed after a break in, whether or not the door access control is scheduled correctly for the weekend’s events, or whether or not the HVAC system will remember that Monday is a holiday. For these reasons, creating a positive relationship with the lead of the Operations Department is crucial.


Ask questions

Even though I have often been criticized for being a “nosey” person, I like to think of myself as a “curious learner”. My first memory of being disciplined for my “curiosity” was in first grade when I pretended to need to sharpen my pencil. Knowing that the pencil sharpener was next to the door, I thought that if I could leave my seat to sharpen my pencil (which didn’t need sharpening, by the way), I could possibly see and hear the commotion happening in the hall. Mrs. Whitley, my first grade teacher, thought otherwise, and my backside quickly felt her response to my curiosity. Yes, my nosiness goes back a long way, but even after all these years, I like to think that this character “flaw” has served me well. I have never been afraid to ask questions. Asking questions is a skill necessary in the technology workplace today. If you have a building project occurring in your district, ask questions…ask to see blueprints, ask to be included in weekly progress meetings, ask financial questions. If a school PTO group plans to donate equipment to the school, ask questions…ask why, ask what purpose the equipment will serve toward meeting your district’s mission, ask what the PTO expects when the equipment has exceeded its lifespan. The only way to make sure technology is included in important decisions is to ask questions of those in decision-making positions.
Author George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Don’t assume that because you mention concerns that people “hear” you. Active listening requires concentration, understanding, remembering and responding. An active listener generally reacts to what is being communicated. If you are not being heard and reacted to, then your organization’s communication structure is not ideal. So, make some changes! Get out of your silo, ask questions and suddenly you may find that your monologue will become a dialogue toward solving whatever problem comes your way.
“Hello, this is the technology office; how can I help you?”
“Well, my school ordered this new software, and we can’t seem to make it work on our computers. Can you help?”
“Certainly! I know all about that software purchase, and I’ll be glad to help you!”