Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Bigger Canvas

Been a while since I wrote anything on this blog! I think that will all change soon.

Once again, I am taking a new job. Those who have known me for a long time know that this isn't new.

But this time is really different. I am leaving public education to go work in the private sector. I will still keep one foot in the door by working for a company with ties to districts across the state. And I will also maintain my status as a teacher by working as a trainer for the products this company provides to districts across the state. I will be going to work for Eduphoria and my ties to this company stretch back to the same 15 years I have been in instructional technology. Eduphoria was started by a teacher I knew in Wylie ISD back when I was a classroom teacher in Allen ISD. He and I shared the same assistant principal who went to Wylie and introduced the two of us at a conference. We didn't keep in touch after my time teaching but I was able to see his program come to life in the company Eduphoria which was used in every district I have worked in since I was teaching. My new job will involve traveling and training districts all over the state and this is really exciting to me.

It was a hard decision to make. I am currently working in the only district that has given me the creative space and backing to try new ways to provide innovative professional development. In Crandall, most of our professional development is done completely online using iTunesU, Google Classroom, Twitter, Eduphoria Workshop, and whatever else tools I can hodge-podge together to create tasks for learning. In only two and a half years, we rolled out iPads to every teacher. Every classroom has a ceiling-mounted projector with Apple TV so teachers can wirelessly stream content on screen (most places require a cord). We have multiple iPad carts for students to use. We have WiFi access in every classroom. All computers in the schools are less than 2 years old. We have BYOD at every campus. We are testing out HD/4K wall-mounted TVs now. And we just rolled out Chromebooks to the entire sixth grade. We went to a brand new website where every staff member can add their own content. Our BrightBytes annual survey data shows that teachers are excited about new technology and staff development is meeting their needs. We have teachers getting certified by Google, Apple, Nearpod, SeeSaw, and more for their individual time learning and taking the certification exams. We have teachers presenting at local and statewide conferences about what they are doing in Crandall ISD.

These things usually don't happen in such a short time. They only happen when there is support from the board, the administration and leadership, along with a great technology infrastructure department. Any type of new professional development idea I had was completely supported by my supervisors. They never said no. They let me be as out of the box and creative as I could ever want. And people who know me know that with me....there is no box.

So why am I walking away from this great gift I have here in Crandall ISD?

Years ago, I had this big idea to build a space where any teacher or any public educator could go to receive interactive professional development in multiple levels that are tracked in a statewide system. A system that would track their hours even if they move to other districts. Originally, Project Share seemed like the tool that was going to do this but it didn't work out so good. I have tried coordinating efforts with multiple vendors who provide pieces of this puzzle to build something together but I get pulled in too many directions in my day job. So this kernel of an idea just keeps popping up every now and then without really going anywhere.

This school year I haven't felt as connected to work as I have felt previously. We were still making great strides with innovative instructional technology and staff development. I was even granted the opportunity to get new teachers set up in our systems before the contract to get them into summer staff development and to get their iPads to them. Everything was moving forward fine but I just wasn't feeling it. I can't blame situations or others for this. I just wasn't connected. I didn't feel like I had anything more to offer.

The opportunity to apply for a trainer position seemed interesting to me so I applied. I really wasn't expecting anything to come out of it. I was hoping to have an interview but I figured I would blow them off if I even got that far. I scored a phone interview and we spent the hour talking about training vs working in public education. We talked about what I am doing in grad school. We talked about big ideas. I hung up the phone thinking "I should have told them I was kidding" but then considered what we discussed and how what they were saying was kind of interesting.

Second phone interview we discussed what the job would be like. I discussed my hesitancy about leaving a profession I love so much. We discussed mutual respect for educators. We shared the common language about wanting to support teachers. Again, I expected to tell them I wasn't interested and ended each call thinking that what they were saying was really interesting. This reluctance continued throughout the interview process and I would often kick myself at the end of each call for not discontinuing the conversation.

Several phone conversations later, I met in person and shared my big ideas, their big ideas, the same ideas, and ways to grow bigger ideas. I was really honest. I used the only kind of honesty you can provide a job interview when you really don't care if they hire you or not because you are perfectly happy where you are and don't need a job to go to. I know that my honesty hooked them in because of our big ideas and my ability to illustrate how to put them into effect. At this point, it was too late to be reluctant.

All of this is to say that I am totally freaking out because I am leaving a great job and district to do something I have never done before! I thought Crandall was going to be my home. It has been such a great place to work. I have a family at every campus, every building. I moved from the bustling city of Rockwall to a house right around the corner from my office because this district, this community has become my family. And those who have known me over the years, I needed a district like this to heal wounds inflicted by other districts. And Crandall really healed me.

But this new job offers me something more timely and effective to try to implement beyond what I could ever do in one district. It offers the idea of a larger canvas to develop something that can impact statewide.

My colleagues across the state have lots of comments about Eduphoria and questioning my sanity (again) for wanting to go there. Oh, I have heard those comments and/or seen that look you gave me (and I have eyes in the back of my head). I am going because they need me like I need them right now. And we are going to develop the best training resources the state of Texas can offer.

Before I close this out I want to genuinely express my truest thanks to my family and colleagues in Crandall ISD. I have enjoyed visiting you in your classrooms, your libraries, your offices, and your cafeterias. I might have been annoyed when you referred to me as your technician, your technology director, or your "guy who fixes stuff" but I loved all my interactions and appreciated you for just knowing my name. It is hard to start in a new place but I always felt welcomed. I will miss your smiles and waves in the hallways. I will miss calling you out in front of all staff for your feedback on surveys (Daniel Gambill!). I will miss Open Labs, the Recharge Cafe' I built for you, Techpalooza, uploading certificates into Workshop, and all the times you needed your Google password reset or that kid added to your iStation. Thank you all for the fun memories.

Now just call Eduphoria when you need some training. Crandall is in my territory!

I hope to blog more about this transition so stay tuned.

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