Wisdom (hopefully) and Realizing Your Passion

This guy (down and to the right) thought he had it all figured out. It was year two as an administrator and with a few grad school classes he’d be on his way to being a business manager and then a superintendent. Being a tech director was a means to an end. The end was a step up in the administrative food chain and more money. Yes, money was a motivator. A big one. I know how messed up that is now. That next nickle here or there was just a DPI License away….

Except I realized I didn’t like the other work that would be necessary. Passion for managing business office functions? Passion for understanding the 50 different accounts for Wisconsin public schools? Interest in managing insurance providers might have piqued some interest, but that was only one part of the job. Negotiating with teachers when all you can give is cost of living raises?

All these things are important duties, overseen and executed by great people. But none of these things have anything to do with what I’m actually passionate about. I’m passionate about support systems, helping people, solving complex problems and building teams that people want to be a part of. And yes, learning technologies, information technology, databases, cybersecurity…those are things I have a natural passion for. I drop everything to read up on them. I like talking at length with anybody about them. This is what I love to do. Heading into year five in my current role, this guy (to the right) now understands that.

Hopefully after four full school years I’m more than a little wiser than I once was. And hopefully my wisdom will lead me to better decisions in the months and years to come to help support my organization. One thing I’ll be doing for sure is fully embracing the Bill Belicheck “art of saying nothing”.

Happy start to the start of your 2017-2018 school year everyone!

Service – Be the Paper Valley

Appleton WI hosts my favorite downtown area in all of the state – College Ave. It’s the hub of culture and night life in the Fox Valley (I consider the Fox Valley to be from Kaukauna south to Oshkosh). Most of College Ave is bars and restaurants save for the beautiful Performing Arts Center and the locally well-know/famous to NFL franchises – Paper Valley Hotel.

This month Slate featured an article about The Paper Valley and why NFL teams choose to go their year after year. According to Google Maps, the hotel is just a hair under 30 miles away from Lambeau Field. Why, when there are closer, more posh accommodations right in Green Bay do teams keep going there?


“We’re not as sexy as those hotels,” …To get the Vikings and Lions and Bears to keep coming back, he says, he needs to provide the best customer service in the NFL. “One of the things I preach to my staff is, we don’t take anything for granted”

You can read more from Slate on the amenities, but I can tell you from experience it’s a decent hotel, but nothing special. Their service to NFL teams is what keeps them coming back – and that service was recognized by the NFL as the Most Valuable Property award in 2009.

The topic of service isn’t one that is currently catching much attention in the national Ed Tech spotlight. In my opinion softer terms are getting thrown out there that are easy to fake. Service is something tangible that impacts your organization on a cultural level – your issue is important and we’re working on it.  A new LMS, shiny new Macbooks, the initiative dujour will never touch building culture like service does.

I’m fine with not being flashy (as I type this in my storage room office), but I want to continue to be and continue to strive to be like The Paper Valley. The team I work on it told frequently that our service blows other IT service experiences out of the water. The feedback is great, but improving service is constant endeavor and the process is the reward. I often think of Wisconsin’s patron football saint Vince Lombardi when reflecting on service and continuous improvement –

We are going to relentlessly chase perfection knowing full well we will not catch it because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it because in the process we will catch excellence.

Are we going to make everyone happy all the time…solve every problem that same day? Nope. But we’re going to try to.

It’s all about service

I think a lot about why I do what I do. How did I end up in technology services in the field of educations? Was it because I knew how to show teacher how to use ctl+alt+delete in 1997? Was that foretelling my career path? At the end of the day it’s all about service for me. When I was younger it was about having a big audacious vision and being an expert in all things Ed Tech. Then I grew up. Everyday I strive to build and sustain systems that support all our staff members. There is no “sorry to bother you” for me…I’m here for YOU. What metrics are the most important to me? For one finding good solutions quickly so staff can rock it with kids – be it as a teacher, a health technican or a grounds keeper. What can we do to help people excel?

If that isn’t your aim…then what’s the point?

Decisions: Family > Career

Tonight I could be sitting in a hotel in a Big Ten college town awaiting an interview in a big-for-the-Midwest school district. It’s exactly the challenge I want at this point in my career, in a city that by all accounts is a great place to live. Over the weekend after the interview was offered to me I had to think on it because the position is 4.5 hours from where I currently live north of Milwaukee.

My initial excitement for this opportunity started to die once I thought about the impact a successful interview would have on my loved ones. Our

Mrs. Mackie, Ben and I when I got to be the picker for all the day's helpers.
Mrs. Mackie, Ben and I when I got to be the picker for all the day’s helpers.

boys LOVE their school that they – go to the same place my wife teaches at. They both have flourished this past year and truly

love their teachers. The culture is such that innovation in the classroom is the norm and our boys are eating it up. There are great teachers and great schools everywhere, but if you have a good one, is it worth messing with?

What hit me just as hard as our son’s fit with their school was our parents. Saturday we had a big grandparent day with my parents stopping by in the morning to watch staking, hockey and sticking around to grill out in the unseasonably warm Wisconsin weather. In the evening we drove up to my mother-in-laws house for dinner. She’s very close, just up the lakeshore in Sheboygan. It was a busy, but wonderful day for our family.

That afternoon as our boys were running around the back yard with my dad kicking a soccer ball around while my mom watched it hit me that if this opportunity out of state would work out, it would be nothing short of selfish on my part. I’d take their grandchildren and move them at least 5.5 hours away for some extra money and my own perceived raise in career status. I always go back to the line from Fargo – “and for what, a little bit of money?”  While my line of work doesn’t put people through a wood chipper, I could see that moving my family could be like putting everyone through an emotional wood chipper.

My Parents Jeanne and Dave with Paul
My Parents Jeanne and Dave with Paul.

It’s a time in our lives to stay put with our family close by. I’ll continue to enjoy mornings seeing the sun come up over Lake Michigan. Our boys will continue at a school they love and that loves them. And finally 3 grandparents will continue to have easy access to their two little boys that are the apples of their eye.

All of that sounds pretty awesome to me!



Next learning steps…what do I want to do with that learning?

I have a sickness and it’s called an addiction to graduate school. For whatever reason, I can’t just be okay learning on my own…I find the allure of big bills and credit hours too much to resist. After building experience as a formal K-12 leader, my next thought goes to, what do I need so I can realistically purse any position that I find interesting? What do I want to do?

I’ve spent a good deal of time talking to folks in doctoral programs across the county that cater to mid-career professionals who can’t stop their lives for a residency. I’ve learned a good deal about some quality programs both inside and outside the Midwest. There are no lack of opportunities, or good folks that I trust to say good things about the program. What it comes down to is what I want…and I’m looking at three areas to vet – leadership, ed tech or teaching & learning.

Thus far, I’ve taken A LOT of leadership classes, your garden variety of ed tech classes are less helpful than a good blog and a teaching & learning path would help me fill a big void in my skill set. I think it really boils down to leadership and technology for learning. If it’s at all ed tech like, it needs to focus on how the brain learns and how those needs can be met with technology.

I’m still on the fence, but I think I’ve been able to effectively look at myself and decide what I really want to do with my career. Maybe that will include a doctoral program, or maybe in involves connections, the web and some books…

Who knows, but I look forward to the learning and growing!!!

How am I using my time?

I’ve been my own worst enemy when it comes to time management. Way back when, it was procrastinating on papers for my undergraduate work, to more recently staying up to late to aimlessly consume light media until all hours of the morning. Looking back at it, even with two growing boys to enjoy and a career that needs more of my personal resources, time management has been my enemy. Via LinkedIn I stumbled upon the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, which has been like Manna from Heaven for me. We don’t need more, we need to do less better. One major personal downfall is thinking that I can do it all, until I’m ready to emotionally pop…the idea that I’m somehow a superhuman who can do and achieve vastly more than anyone else is flawed to a wise person, but wasn’t so to me.

In the coming weeks and months I’ll be more deliberate to be careful about what I’m doing with my time and how I’m committing myself to tasks. More doesn’t make us happy, it only makes me try to do even more. I need to do less better…

Student Ownership of Learning – what goes into a tech plan these days

Our Department of Public Instruction will be announcing this winter that Technology Plans will be required again in order to be able to apply for certain grant money. Rumor has it, that it will be based off of North Carolina Digital Learning Plan from the Friday Institute at North Carolina State. I highly encourage reading the summary – good, comprehensive stuff!

We have moved toward building one with this plan in mind. We in Wisconsin were used to technology plans that touted computer replacement schedules and PD plans for the future (few of which were ever followed through on in any district I worked for). Actually I wrote two and then left the next year, so when the author takes off, fidelity can’t really be reasonably expected.

The initial meeting we used a truncated version of The World Cafe to get feedback on the three different areas of our Future Plan – Personalizing Learning, Transforming Teaching and Evolving Structures. After all three teams shared idea we voted on what themes do we want to focus on.

I was so excited to see what took top building – Ownership of Student Learning. Wow! What power does that have coming from your staff, unsolicited!

——The 61-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to Rodgers interrupted my writing——

There have been times when I’ve questioned if that’s an appropriate target for a tech plan, but every time I ask for an opinion on it from someone I respect, it has been reinforced 100% of the time. It’s amazing to me, how far we’ve come in 10 years. First it was about replacing labs, then it was about the latest, greatest app…now folks in the right frame of mind know its about moving toward empowerment and ownership of student learning. It should have always been there, but now we have the tools that can do it.

It’s a great time to be in education!!!

Looking back on my first career plateau #TheDip

Over the last few weeks I’ve been going over Seth Godin’s The Dip ad nauseam. Every time I listen, I pick up something new. Today it was about plateauing in an organization and it hit home for me in my career history. I started working in Sheboygan in 2004 and it was great. The city felt like home and so did my school, North High. I was instantly interested in what the Instructional Technology Coordinator George Warriner was doing and made it my goal to become a district technology leader someday. I spent 4 years at North and 3 years at the Central Office in Sheboygan. It was a great time, great experience and I made life-long friends there. I wanted to stay. I remember our superintendent telling us on the first day of new teacher in-service that something crazy like 90% of hires end up staying in the district for life.

For me, that wasn’t in the cards. Looking back at it, that’s okay. I wanted to make the big move from 25 year old LMS, up to a coordinator position, but in Sheboygan it was likely that they’d always see me as who I was, not who I could be. In 2012 I had the opportunity to take on a more formal district leadership role and I took the plunge. That was a great move based on the people I worked with in Germantown that year and the personal growth I went through learning to live outside of my comfortable walled garden in Sheboygan.

When the coordinator of instructional technology opened in Sheboygan, I applied, excited to return. At one point in time I was their only remaining candidate. From their point of view, they couldn’t move forward with one person in the running and I was miffed that they wouldn’t move ahead with someone who wanted to be there. Looking back on it, perhaps they still saw me as the 25-year old with no experience and not someone who was ready to be a leader. And that’s okay…we all need to do what’s best for our organization, and they certainly found someone capable about a month after I committed to a new district. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had plateaued there. They were happy to keep me on as a tech coach or library media specialist, but they didn’t see leadership. I’m just happy the right opportunities came along so I could follow the path I wanted to go on.

Be mindful of this in your own roles…does your organization see you as someone who can do more, take on more, lead them to the next level? Or have you been type-cast?

What’s in a Professional Association that is Valuable to you?

Some professional organizations help you cover your rear if something – legally gets sideways for you as an administrator. Others crank out high-quality publications that feature content from major authors. As fall beings to unwind, that means its time for me to re-up my memberships or reflect on what I’ve gotten out of this member/organization relationship. Is the glossy cover with a 7-page article from that assessment guru that pretty much regurgitated a summary of his 315 page book worth it?

I think for me it comes down to the connections the organization helps make and the quality of information that they share with members. No surprise I’m a big CoSN fan for both those reasons. The whitepapers, reports and vision they share with members is VERY meaningful to me personally and professionally. Being invited to participate in the CETL Summit last spring was a kind gesture on their part and an extremely meaningful opportunity for me. CoSN will likely have me as a member until I die. ISTE was a little bit of a tough sell for me this year, but I feel obligated as an ed tech professional. Plus their new entersekt publication caught my eye last year with some good content. Thankfully I feel like they’re moving away from being the flipped learning/it’s all about apps professional group…and that’s a good thing.

One of my thoughts has been to take some of the money I have spend on organizations (the ones I’m on the fence about) and put it into Harvard Business Review or MIT Sloan Sloan Management Review. Lately I’m getting a lot out of publications like those as I focus more on management and organizational development. I diversity of thoughts to reflect on has never hurt anyone!