Earlier this week, my daughter reminded me that I should follow my own rules. The conversation started innocently enough with the usual supper hour discussion as to how her school day went. Let me back up a bit here and tell you that this is my daughter’s first year of high school. As such her first few weeks have been filled with excitement, some worry and a little fear mixed in just to make things interesting. Nothing unusual for a fourteen year old entering a new school four times the size of her previous one.
As she was elaborating on the many interactions she had with new and old friends and her thoughts on the senior students, I felt I had to interject with the question that was burning in my mind. “What assignments do you have coming up this week?”, I blurted out as if the words were trapped inside. The question was met with a pause and a stare with a furrowed brow (not sure where she gets that from). “Dad,” (insert a three- second pause), “didn’t you check our calendar?” Her response was met with a smile and a pause of my own. Yes we share a Google calendar and this was her way of telling me that she was doing her best to stay on top of things.
Last year the students and staff at my daughter’s school were part of a pilot for Google Apps for Education and each student had an opportunity to explore and utilize the applications. My daughter was keen to explore all of the applications but she was particularly interested Google Calendar. She created one for us to share and sent me an email invitation to collaborate. Since that day we have been sharing the calendar and adding important dates for her academic and extra curricular activities, times when I will be out of town and most importantly our father-daughter dates.
This got me thinking of how far we have come with information sharing and collaboration. The possibilities for staying connected seem limitless and the power that this connectivity has to support all of our students truly complements our efforts as school leaders. The use of a shared calendar with staff is a great way to get all staff connected to the life of the school and an easy entry into digital collaboration. Upcoming events, celebrations and deadlines are but a few items that we can readily share with staff to get the ball rolling.
It still amazes me how the technology is able to complement our work and activities and how a simple thing such as a calendar can enrich our lives giving us time for more important things like trying to figure out which expensive restaurant my daughter will pick next. And the rule my daughter reminded me about? When we are at the table we only concern ourselves with what is happening in the moment. Perhaps my response should have been that technology could help us with the rest.
This week the CBC published an article highlighting the province-wide adoption of Google Apps for Education in Nova Scotia. This is a very significant step for an entire province and it speaks to the potential of the Google Applications to meet student needs in different districts that may have quite varied needs. The author was careful to balance all of the many advantages in adopting the platform with some of the concerns that are often raised with cloud computing, specifically security and information sharing. Alexandra Hunnings, spokesperson for Google is quoted within the article as she states that it is the individual user that owns their own data and information and that there are safety protocols in place for data security. Both conventions are very good and go a long way to address the concerns.
There is no denying the advantages in utilizing the Google For Education platform for all learners. The applications serve our collective goal of supporting students as they strive to meet the ISTE standards for students in the field of digital learning. While the article speaks to the ability of learners to access their work and the applications supporting their learning, it does leave one question unanswered. What can be done for the students and families that have no Internet access at home? Accessibility from anywhere is great but only for those that have a means to access the technology in the first place. This reminded me of an article I came across this past April entitled Wi-Fi on Wheels puts two Districts on the Fast Track to 24/7 Access. The piece highlights the efforts of Darryl Adams, Superintendent of the Coachella Valley Unified School district in California. Adams recognized the disparity in access and set out to make changes to better serve his community. His plan began with the use of school buses fitted with WIFI hubs that were parked overnight in neighbourhoods that had a known need for the service. Initially the hubs ran off of the bus battery but this drained all of the battery power rendering the bus inoperable by the morning. Not to worry, a solution was put in place quickly that included the installation of solar panels on the roof of each of these buses which provided enough stored energy to power both the hub and the bus ignition.
This is much more than a story about innovation and digital learning. It is about the desire to find solutions to the challenges of equity of access. It speaks to our obligation to meet the needs of all learners especially those struggling to remain engaged in digitally supported education. This leaves us with two daunting questions that we must ask ourselves. First considering our own contexts, how can we leverage Google for Education Applications to meet this obligation? More importantly, how can the promise of connectivity and digital learning meet the challenge of equity for all learners?
CBC News - Google Apps for Education finds place in Nova Scotia classrooms. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/m/touch/canada/story/1.3226800
ISTE Standards for Students. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/ISTE-standards/standards-for-students
Wi-Fi on Wheels Puts Two Districts on the Fast Track to 24/7 Access -- THE Journal. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://thejournal.com/articles/2015/04/30/wifi-on-wheels.aspx
Before the school year started I was in search of a digital leadership goal. I asked myself the standard questions of where do I see myself in the scope of digital leadership? and what do I want to achieve in this area? I decided that I would like to start the year by fully utilizing all of the applications in the Google For Education platform. The impetus for this is two fold. First on a system level, we are all preparing for a Google Summit in April 2016, which is a culmination of sorts for the roll out of the Google for Education application platform that we have adopted across the system. Secondly on a more personal and school-specific level I would like to leverage the opportunities afforded in Google Hangouts to extend the discussion stemming from our staff learning community meetings. Added to this is the ease of use with Google applications and for supporting connectivity amongst staff.
As we work towards the GAFE summit next spring, I can see how each element in the Google for Education portfolio can enhance our efforts to lead and model digital learning within our schools. The move towards this platform also means improved accessibility for our students and staff regardless of what device they may be using to connect their learning. Gone are the days of difficult file sharing, student hand in formats and disjointed connectivity. All of this is a welcomed change as we strive to improve our digital learning and leadership. I am looking forward to utilizing the applications with staff and students and school community as a whole.
This week take some time to look at the offering in the Google applications platform and explore one element that can best support your digital leadership efforts. I guarantee that once you get started you will not be looking back at what once was, only looking forward to what may be next.
At our principals' retreat this week I had the opportunity to participate in a session led by Bev Freedman , educational consultant and adjunct professor of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. She is also a former executive officer of the Ontario Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat. Her workshop entitled The Role of The Learning Leader cast a new light on many of the constructs of leadership that my colleagues and myself were taught as we entered the role. As I listened to her speak I began to critically evaluate some of the ideas that I once held true not that long ago and I began to contrast these against my efforts to learn about digital leadership and 21st century learning.
The first of these long standing constructs that I questioned is the notion that leaders lead - everything. Looking back on my first year as a school leader I remember the heavy sense of responsibility that I felt for having to know the answer for everything from curriculum to policy to any question that my staff would ask. I fell victim to the idiom of 'the buck stops here' , in essence I felt I had to be the gatekeeper of all things school related. Information is not a protected currency.In fact in order to lead the vast changes that have come and are yet to come from digital learning, leaders must view information as a shared commodity that serves to benefit the entire community. The more we admit to not having all of the information , the more adept we become at facilitating the increase in capacity for learning of all members of our school communities. It is not about having the answer , it is about the desire to know the answer and how this desire has a positive ripple effect through your staff and students.
Next on the construct hit list is the idea that leaders must learn to plan every detail in order to guide an improvement process. Having been part of two school wide technology projects during my tenure at my present school, I quickly learned that real leadership happens when best laid plans go awry. During our second technology and math project we encountered a true " TSN turning point in the game" moment as the technology we planned, sourced and budgeted for at the outset became obsolete three months into the project. When you are mired in the path of Plan A you are more likely to get caught in the mindset of defeat. The solution was to be open to possibilities and that is when the opportunity to take a different technological path was found and the project outcome was better than we had imagined.
Where does this leave us in terms of our path to digital leadership? Simply stated be open and take risks with your learning. Leadership has come a long way from the measured process of learning to lead. Digital leadership is positioned at a turning point. We can no longer assume to know everything but we do have to be prepared to learn everything and be demonstrative with this desire. There is one long standing idea that will always remain true, experience counts. The only change is that now we must see experience as the verb in moving forward and not the noun in remembering the past.