Another Round of Challenges

Early in the school year, I blogged here about Real Challenges we’d faced as we were working through Phase One of FCPSon, our transformation of teaching and learning.  I think it’s time to talk honestly about another round of challenges we’ve faced and how we’ve handled them.

  • Probably one of the biggest challenges is the habit that both students and teachers have of putting their computers to sleep rather than rebooting them regularly.  We’ve seen teachers and students go weeks and even months without rebooting their machines.  Our IT department uses reboots as a chance to push updates to machines to fix security patches, update software and more.  When machines aren’t rebooted regularly, these updates pile up and cause the machine to be vulnerable AND when the machine is finally rebooted it takes an extreme amount of time to apply all updates.  We’ve been working with our broadcast students to go on the news and help our users understand the reason behind rebooting their machines at school.
  • Our jobs have changed at school.  This presents a wide variety of challenges.
    • For tech support specialists, the day used to consist of a list of tasks that needed to be finished.  The specialists were able to prioritize and make a list of how to tackle those tasks around the building.  Now, it’s similar to an 8 hour triage situation where the problems come to us constantly and our goal is to get the students back to class as quickly as possible.  It also means that it’s difficult to get out in the building and tackle those tasks on the list since someone must be available to support students at all times of the day since these are tools that are used constantly.
    • As a School Based Technology Specialist, my job is mostly described as working with teachers to improve instruction for all students.  However, in addition to meeting with teachers to plan, co teaching, and coach them, I am arranging, going on and hosting school visits.  These visits are incredibly important as they help us build relationships with other school’s faculty and leaders. It’s these relationships that help us grow! Yet it’s a huge time commitment – so to respond we’ve asked for help from our critical friends in Instructional Services to coordinate these visits.  We identified 2 days a month and posted them for folks to sign up for instead of setting up an individual visit for each and every school who requested it.  This has helped us stay focused on the work we have to do at school and balance the demands on our time a little better.  We still have work to do in this area!
  • Staffing is a challenge – while our workload has changed dramatically, the funding for this project did not include additional staffing at all.  We’ve had great support from our administration and we’ve purchased a half time Technology Support Specialist (TSSpec).  But as the year goes on, we’re finding the load shifting from tech support to training.  We’re looking at how to support both sides for next year.
  • It’s hard to be first at something because we are constantly looking for other teachers to learn with.  Sometimes it’s hard to find those to help when we get stuck.  This is where we are with secondary math, but we’ve been reaching out to individual teachers around our district and in surrounding districts to help us grow.
  • Digital Citizenship is a critical area where we need to do more. Our students live in this digital world, with or without the school provided 1:1 device, and we are working with teachers, parents and students to be sure they can be responsible and ethical (and KIND!) citizens who know how to stay safe and make wise decisions.  This has to be part of everything we do.  We’re still working on this, but our first step was ensuring our teachers had a basic understanding of digital citizenship.  Our district helped by developing updated modules about digital citizenship that our staff completed this week.  There is definitely more work for us to do to help teachers understand that this is a responsibility for all of us.
  • Standardized testing is another challenge we are working through. Our high school is piloting testing on student devices.  The setup for these testing sessions in the past has included setting up laptops, power cords, logging them in and leaving them set up for the duration of the testing window.  This year we are only setting up power strips – students will come in with their laptops and cords and plug in, log in and take their test.  This means a lot of variables are walking in that door without time to troubleshoot before the test starts. We have put in place a health check for students to reboot (to get updates) and ensure that their device is working and ready for testing ahead of the morning of testing.  We continue to work with our partners at IT to streamline our work before the May testing window.
  • Some of our teachers are ready for the next steps. Supporting teachers at every level on a scale is challenging, no matter how many teachers in the building, but especially when there are over 200 instructional staff. To support them, we’ve encouraged our teachers to build their own #PLN (Professional Learning Network) to connect with other educators and learn with their colleagues. I’ve scheduled times for “advanced cohort” throughout the PD days we’ve had to provide opportunities for conversation.
  • Software deployment is a challenge when students need specialized software for their classes.  Students aren’t admins on their machines, so they can’t install it themselves, yet seeing every student in a program individually is a challenge.  An example of this is our Robotics team – there are over 200 students on these teams and they need a variety of software installed to program, control and design their competition robots.  Working to streamline this is something that our Technology Support Specialist (TSSpec) continues to work on.
  • Printing was something we thought would be a problem but it really hasn’t been.  Our school leased a Ricoh copier.  It’s configured to only allow printing and it is in the library.  Students must plan ahead, print to the printer and pick it up before their class.  We’ve found that many teachers love the ease of turning things in digitally on either Google Classroom or our LMS (Blackboard) and the need for printed assignments has reduced greatly.
  • Collecting devices for the summer and redistributing to the same student next fall is something we are still trying to figure out.
  • What comes next and what does next year look like is a big question we are working on now.  We want to keep moving people forward to build on the great work our staff has done this year while understanding and planning for the new staff that will join us.  We have worked very hard to build solid understanding of why we are making this change and I want to ensure our new staff also understand the importance of this change.

Whew!  This work is incredibly hard but always rewarding! Our students and teachers are growing and learning so much that it makes all the hard work completely worth it!

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