Where Our Voices Matter: Detours to Achieve Success #tecsig

Note: The TCEA TEC-SIG Officers elections will open on March 2nd, and close on March 15th. If you are a TCEA member already, be sure to sign up for the TEC-SIG at a cost of $20 (best $20 you've spent).

Where Our Voices Matter: Detours to Achieve Success #tecsig
by Miguel Guhlin

"Hasn't the total number of systems we have to provide student and staff information to just...exploded?" asked a technology coordinator sitting next to me at the Fall, 2014 TEC-SIG meeting. Others nodded their heads as they agreed vehemently. As I reflected on the journey my own district has been on to solve this challenge, I experienced a powerful catharsis as I realized that I wasn't alone.

"We've encountered the same issue in our school district," I began tentatively as a roomful of eyes sought me out. "Here's what we've done to deal with that issue." As I shared our story, and others chimed in, I couldn't help but wonder, "What if this group of technology directors hadn't been here to share ideas and solutions?"

As a candidate for the Vice-President/President-Elect officer in TEC-SIG, I have known the benefit of these experiences, each a touchpoint leading my organization and I to success. At every point in my career as a technology director, whether an instructional technology director or a director of technology operations, I have relied on others, as they have relied on me, to find detours to roadblocks. Please allow me, if I may, to share 5 detours to roadblocks that we all typically encounter, and while doing so, share my vision for what TEC-SIG can grow to be.

"It's not about being the best, it's about being better than you were yesterday" via @kylepace #tecsig #TCEA15

When I was a young teacher, a TEA Monitoring visit came to my school. As the only member of the site-based decision-making committee (SBDM) who knew how to create a slideshow (e.g. Harvard Graphics), it fell to me to organize our presentation. One way to organize that presentation--which had positive results for the campus--involved outlining roadblocks and detours around those roadblocks.

Roadblock #1 - Lack of awareness of TEC-SIG among potential members
"Have you ever thought about joining TEC-SIG?"I asked a group of 20-25 instructional technology directors, coordinators and specialists at an after-hours meeting at TCEA 2015 State Conference. As I listened to the group share about their informal efforts to connect about real problems they were facing, and which I blogged about, I realized that they had no professional organization they felt represented their needs. 

As TCEA Vice-President/President-elect, my detour around this is increased use of grassroots technologies we now have available to us. Those include, of course, PLNs, Twitter, Google+ Communities, in addition to the TCEA web site. I often consider TEC-SIG as my first Texas Professional Learning Network (PLN).

Outreach through existing members and other organizations remains our best  opportunity at connecting with those who don't know about TEC-SIG, an organization that will be their voice. The question is, Will these potential members believe they need TEC-SIG with access to so many other tools? Some of the groups that we need to make more of an effort to connect with, whose voices need to be amplified include our technical support staff, as well as assistive technologists.

"Miguel," asked a Special Education staff member in my District shortly after I took on my role as Director of Technology Operations, "how does Instructional Technology support assistive technology?" To be honest, I was surprised.  In my experience, assistive technology and instructional technology staff seldom worked out of the same department. How to bridge the gap? I immediately asked colleagues I knew from TEC-SIG how they handled this, and it was not long before I had enough feedback to craft a staffing proposal for a special education technology specialist that was jointly supported by Instructional Technology and Special Education.

My role as Vice President/President-Elect would allow me to make outreach to others a top priority; the richer, more diverse the community, the better the quality of interactions and feedback you can rely on to help you. 

Detour - Make outreach a top priority, involving CTOs, Instructional Technologists and others by inventorying common challenges and bringing them to light.

Image Source: http://goo.gl/s26tbA

Roadblock #2 - The Meeting Formula
"What's the format of a TEC-SIG meeting?" It's a question with an easy answer. As long as I have been a member, the formula has deviated only slightly. On Thursdays, the entire group meets, attending a keynote and a few break-out sessions. On Friday morning, a Texas Education Agency (TEA) staffer gives a short talk about increasingly less important information. Isn't it time to change things up after so many years? Let's do mix things up a bit! Imagine the energy that would be generated by having an EdCamp style TEC-SIG meeting, blending in Pecha Kucha, table talks, and problem-based learning (PBL) approaches. A real need is how we can streamline processes using approaches like the Baldridge Model or American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC). These efforts can enable us to build on improving processes and performance management, which are sorely needed in K-12 schools, and (dare we say it?), our own work as professionals in an organization. 

Another key consideration includes the simple fact that we are awash in a sea of learning opportunities. Like TCEA, TEC-SIG's parent organization, we have the responsibility to connect with others through a variety of social media approaches. These connections are already happening with other organizations, and I know I would love to find out how others are accomplishing a variety of technical and instructional goals through webinars and just-in-time VoxerChatsGoogle+ Hangouts and Twitterchats. These kinds of opportunities strengthen our annual face to face meetings--in Fall, Winter, and Spring--and enable us to build relationships with fellow Texans.
Detour - Join with other TEC-SIG officers and volunteer-leaders to transform how we interact during face to face and online meetings.

Roadblock #3 - Vendor Interactions
"Why are they doing this to us?" asked on irritated technology director. She was referring, of course, to the plethora of digital textbook adoptions, each of which had a different username and password convention. Like others across Texas, I found myself spending precious hours trying to get the right username and password combination setup for students and staff at campuses in my district. For smaller districts, the challenge is no different than large districts--inconsistency, no voice or way of making displeasure known. TEC-SIG has, in the past, risen up to sound the alarm when inefficient practices and/or policies are imposed. As a TEC-SIG Officer, I offer to advocate on behalf of both large and small districts. My experiences as a director in both urban, as well as rural districts, enable me to empathize and represent your needs.
Detour - Serve as the voice of school districts suffering beneath the yoke of poorly thought out account management and identity management for digital textbooks.

Roadblock #4 - Competing Visions for Instructional Technology
"Do you think technology integration has failed?" I asked a colleague. His response was less than hopeful. For many of us across the State, Instructional Technology suffered a crippling blow when the state technology allotment was cut. These positions at the district and campus level exist only by the grace of habit or current leadership. A new model is needed that we can all join together and support. To that end, I commit to organizing TEC-SIG members and others to develop a model for District Curriculum Coacheswhich builds on the work of Dr. Dawn Wilson and Dr. Katie Alaniz--whose responsibilities span more than data analysis, high stakes test prep strategies, and focus on proven instructional strategies that replace 20th century pedagogical practices with blended learning. Rather than abandon instructional technology to islands of isolated local funding, we can work together to map a path ahead that all Texas districts can rely on. 

Detour - Enlist the aid of volunteer-leaders in TEC-SIG, TCEA and other organizations to transcend age-old curriculum vs edtech debates, forging a new vision based on collegial coaching for technology integration.

Roadblock #5 - Network Services, Infrastructure, and Technical Support lack representation.
"What learning opportunities do we offer our technical staff?" I asked and only recently have we seen some effort made to meet the needs of support for information technology side of the house. TEC-SIG must expand its support to more than just instruction, bringing into the light those who MAKE IT HAPPEN every day through their efforts. 
TEC-SIG must also expand it's session offerings and events to represent our technicians, our network engineers, systems interface specialists and database administrators, empowering them to connect and collaborate!
This is a view that TCEA's Executive Director shared when I corresponded with her earlier this year:
...anyone who is interested in ed tech can legally join TEC-SIG. That includes anyone employed by a school (public, private, charter, higher ed), ESC, vendor, parent, etc. The SIG caters to those who are technology directors, but membership is open to anyone, just like it is for the other SIGs and for TCEA itself. We want to be inclusive and not exclusive!
Detour - Expand TEC-SIG's Offerings to involve and serve the needs of ALL who support Technology in K-12 Public, as well as private/charter, ESCs, schools, home-schools, and higher-education.

As a leader, I constantly ask myself, "Can I be better than I was in the past?" I believe we must ask the same question as a learning organization. As I ponder what TEC-SIG might be in two years, I see an organization whose ranks have swelled to include all who labor on behalf of our students, from the technicians who crawl in the ceiling laying cable to the curriculum coach who suggests Google Classroom as an easy way for a teacher to share learning resources in a PBL unit to the Chief Technology Officer who must lead, connect, and communicate to achieve far-reaching results.

As your Vice-President/President-Elect, I will do my utmost to collaborate with others to connect, communicate, collaborate and create a qualitatively better experience for TEC-SIG members while reaching out to those who are unaware but needful, disenfranchised but longing for a place where their voices...where our voices...matter.

About the Author
Transforming teaching, learning and leadership through the strategic application of technology has been Miguel Guhlin’s motto. As a veteran educator comfortable with modelling the use of technology at the classroom, campus, and district level, he has a simple goal. That goal is to use powerful technologies to transform practice and enable learners to communicate and collaborate with each other.

As Director of Technology Operations for a 9800 student school district in Texas, Past President of the state-wide TCEA Technology Education Coordinators group in one of the largest United States technology educator organizations, recipient of the ISTE Making IT Happen AwardGoogle Certified Teacher (GCT) for Administrators, he continues to model the use of emerging technologies in schools. You can read his published writing, engage him in conversation via his blog at Around the Corner-MGuhlin.org.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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