“This is your opportunity to design schools that value
creation over compliance and making over memorizing.”
-George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset
While leading instructional technology and the district’s nine libraries in a large K-12 (large for Long Island, NY) school district, a staff member said to me, “Ed, you know you should be doing more. You can lead change.” I was intrigued by her words. We progressed so much in our thinking and mindset in two years, but she must have seen “change” as something deeper than what we were doing in our department. I knew that if I could work alongside a curriculum leader who saw teaching and learning the way I did, I could help write the counter narrative of education as a director of an entire technology department. However, I knew I would only serve as a technology director if I would be able to model technology integration on all levels, team with teachers and students in classrooms, and assume a front row seat in watching how my decisions with backend technology and purchasing were delightfully amplifying the voices of all students. I could not and would not be the technology director who spent the majority of his time saturated with analyzing servers, blades, fiber, bandwidth, etc. Yes, those are crucial in delivering technology integration, but embedding yourself in instruction must always come first. In fact, as a former building leader, it must be our commitment that all decisions with technology place students, teachers, and the daily routines of school buildings at the core. Learning first-technology second. It then happened. In late June, the OLAS posting that spoke to my need to be “doing more and leading change” was posted: Director of Technology, Innovation, and Information Services in East Williston. To answer the question that people continue to ask, leaving a job you love is never easy. It has to be the right fit. From the time I hit submit to the day I accepted the position, I continued to remind myself of the requirements to take this leap. Curriculum leader who spoke my language: Dr. Danielle Gately, check! Ensure I could be present in all buildings while taking care of the backend technology: Three buildings, check! A superintendent and leadership team who understand the value of the building: check!
On the afternoon of my first interview, I stopped into Key Food in Kings Park. Key Food is a small supermarket where you can quickly shop and find everything you need while avoiding large lines at the bigger food stores. It is the Cheers of supermarkets. I needed vegetarian chili beans for a taco dip my wife was making. I walked in and asked a cashier, “Do you know in which aisle I can find chili beans?” She quickly blurted, “Aisle 3.” A customer remarked, “Wow, you knew that as a cashier!?” Her response stayed with me. She laughed and commented, “We do everything here. Once I get done with this line, I will be leveling the shelves.” Like me, she found joy in wearing many hats. The size of Key Food allowed her to do so. The collaborative nature of this small supermarket is remarkable. It is the answer to a former colleague who said to me before accepting this new position, “You know in small places, you set the table and cook the dinner, too.” Could there be anything more important than working on all levels of the organization?
Earlier this month, I was joined by teachers and students in presenting a Technology Update at the Board of Education Work Session. The most important piece of this presentation was the sharing of how the integration of various digital tools (FlipGrid, Buncee, Pear Deck) were enhancing the teaching and learning in our classrooms. As you would imagine, it wasn’t about sharing how our SMART Schools plan would soon be approved. A fifth grade student’s comment spoke to the change that we can lead as technology directors when we focus on teaching and learning. She stated, “FlipGrid is one of my favorite websites to go on, however I’m not the best at it. Sometimes it takes me eight tries to get it right. Creating a video allows you to be yourself and show your personality.” In her statement, she captured our vision. Develop thinkers who are not afraid to fail while finding and sharing their voices with authentic audiences. Growth Mindset + Reflection + Personalized learning = Amazing. Check out the article on the presentation here.
That same week, I was sitting in my office tweaking my budget for 2018-2019. While thinking about how many learners would benefit from KidBlog, a tool that allows younger students to blog safely, a student knocked on my door. She asked, “Would you mind if I sat in your office to quickly record my podcast?” I was quick to respond, “Of course I wouldn’t mind,” but I followed with, “What is your topic?” She shared, “I am podcasting an excerpt from my blog on living in both the Western and Eastern worlds.” I stopped typing my budget and listened. For once, I would consciously not multi-task. Her writing deserved every ounce of my attention. What a powerful topic! She shared the different impacts the two regions had on her voice, acceptance, and her ability to find herself.” Her post was saturated in the positive aspects of each. How cool to have this experience and have access to tools to share it! The three minutes of this student sitting at my small table spoke to the wealth of podcasting, blogging, and the importance of empowering student voice. Yes, this is what it is all about. Ensuring our students have access to technologies that help them express their true selves…with the world.
When many people hear the word Kismet, they may think of The Inn and The Out. Yes, I do love Fire Island, too. Yet, when I think about what I do every day, I know I have found the fortune, the fate that all instructionally-minded technology directors seek. A true kismet of technology, teaching and learning, innovation, and change. A kismet where our student creators, thinkers, and status quo disruptors are reminding me that seeking a new challenge and a deeper impact is always worth the journey.