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!

The Innovator’s DNA – Observation – It all comes back to #designthinking

A few months back I grabbed Innovator’s DNA on Audible. At the time, for whatever reason, it wasn’t speaking to me so stopped (because there is no shame in not reading something all the way through if it’s not making an impact on you). This week I felt like picking it back up…I mean re-downloading it. Today while Lola was getting a good run in at the dog park in Grafton, I listened to the chapter on Skill 3 – Observing. The authors focus on the power of seeing your clients, students, ultimate users, whatever you want to call them using your product or experiencing your the services you provide in order to gain insights on what might be able to be improved. This only reinforces for me the power of Design Thinking, because it all comes back to your end user’s experience. In addition, this reminds me I need to, and our other IT staffers need to get into classrooms to see what our students and teachers are doing with the products and services we provide.

This week we kicked off a new season of technology planning and I’m committed to making it meaningful. I’ve written all sort of tech plans with all sorts of good stuff in it…but little was ever accomplished. I’ve enjoyed our conversations with staff and look forward to gaining insights from more folks. My biggest problem is to not give out leading questions…I need to remember the value comes from letting your stakeholders the plan direction and meaning.

Joe Maddon and Leadership

Joe Maddon does a lot of quirky things. For a person in a macho industry he’s not afraid to show he’s a smart and thoughtful person. He wears dark rum glasses and blasts the theme from “Rocky” after his team goes down 2-0 in the NLCS.

His quirkiness is cool – in my opinions – but that’s not what makes him a leader people want to follow.

From his old boss Terry Collins to his new(er) boss Theo Epstein, this guy is all about relationships. Epstein during the playoffs talked about how 20 year olds want to be around this guy who could be their dad. Collins in his post game interview spoke about how players asking specifically if Maddon would be hired back to be on his staff with the Angels. 

At the end of the day, it’s all about the relationships we build with the people around us. Whether we’re formal or informal leaders, it’s our ability to build trust and move opinions that make the difference between a managing and LEADING.

Leadership Reflection

Some days being a boss or decision maker can be down right rough. But then you have those days where things come together – and you can do something good for someone you work with. It seems rare, but feels good when you can make it happens We can never say thank you enough to our colleagues, but when we have a chance to truly prove how thankful we are for the work they do, you have to make sure you knock that opportunity out if the park. When it happens, it’s great because you’re doing good thing for good people. As bosses there is nothing more important that making those around us feel appreciated and valued. 

Celebrating the process out of our struggles…thank you @CoSN @BlueSkunkBlog @mguhlin and others!

Our failures, and how we move past them don’t get celebrated often enough. I know I prefer to pretend to wax philosophical or celebrate the great things that have happened in my professional lives without the context of what happened first to get there. Last year around this time was the worst birthday in recent memory because of what a struggle my professional life had become. After years of toil to build a career between work and graduate school, I had finally taken on the role of a director. That year ended poorly and I had wondered if I had risen to my level of incompetence? I thought about going back to library media or technology coaching. Maybe I should be a business manager? Or a small school principal? Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this work?

It was always smooth sailing before this…like a AA baseball player getting blown away on three straight pitches by Mariano Rivera on my first stint in the big leagues. I needed to be reflective toward my own work at a level I had never needed to be before.  What kind of leadership was I providing? How am I managing projects? What kind of boss was I to real people? What are things that I really believe in and will fight for? Who was a good boss to me and how do I stack up to them? What are the things I need to get better at? They aren’t fun questions, but ones you have to make.

What I can tell you is great people – my family, friends and colleagues were there to listen to me and help me get past it all and grow from what I learned. I can’t say enough about some of the folks who I work with who have become friends over the last few years. They’ve helped me stay sane and work through it all.

The next group of people that have helped me were connections I’ve made near and far. Reading and corresponding with folks like Miguel Guhlin and Doug Johnson have helped me gain perspective as they’ve lent their wisdom and experiences to me. In 2014 at the WiscNet’s Future Technologies Conferences I was chatting with Doug Johnson over a muffin kind of dumping my bucket about what was going on in my career. One thing I’ll always remember him saying is “I bet you’re making for a difference than you think.” I couldn’t see it then, but he was right. I was making a difference and I just needed to build experience in order to be able to do my job well. Kind words from our network connections, sometimes make all the difference. We’re all in this together after all!

Locally in Wisconsin, many technology directors have done the same for me. I can’t say enough about what CoSN and WETL have done for me, connecting me with so many talented people. After regaining my own professional confidence, both organizations have been great places to help me grow with other, much more talented people. CoSN’s CETL process helped me build my knowledge and help prove to myself that I do in fact belong doing what I’m doing.

I am forever grateful to all these people and organizations!

I still am, as we all are, a work in progress. I looking forward to more growth in this season of projects and serving students and teachers during the 2015-2016 school year.

Potential Summer Reads #CreativeSchools #TeamofTeams

Sitting watching my boys throw rocks in the Marina in Port right now. For whatever reason I just remember I wanted to share a couple of book titles I finished up over the last few weeks.

The new Ken Robinson book was enjoyable and was made even better for me because he reads the audio book. It was like an 8 hour TED Talk. He basically takes all the concepts he’s forced to cram into 18 minutes of a speech and goes into detail on those concepts with real examples of Creative Schools.
An even better for me was General Stanley McCrystal’s book Team of Teams. He relates the work they had to do to combat Al Qaeda in Iraq – moving the U.S. Military operations in the Middle East from a ridged hierarchy to an adaptable network – to work in medicine, business and all sorts of other organizations.

If you’re looking for something to enjoy, check these out! 

Look Before You Leap – CTO look fors in a new job

(Many thanks to my editorial board on this post)

It’s the understatement of the decade to say there’s a lot going on with ed tech in K-12 education. In our BYOD, 1:1, blended learning world, CTOs who are looking to move on to a new role have a lot to weigh: the organization’s propensity for change…support structure…people power – IT and instructional support…does the people power know what they’re doing…past/recent success…past/recent failures…infrastructure…administrative structure…is this place’s infrastructure messed up and if it is am I willing to deal with it?

With the exception of one friend, I have yet to talk to someone who has took on a challenge in a new district and said – “boy this place has it all put together!”

The discoveries of new CTOs is more that like this:

“wait…we’re going one-to-one and there isn’t an access point in every room and the controllers are worthless. And we have no reliable SSID for BYOD kids”

or

“There isn’t a single system in this district that integrates with another.”

or

“I’m so sick of people complaining about the wireless, I just want to rip the !@#% out and start over!”

or

“We have two email systems” (a non CTO friend was telling me that she was spending her night cleaning out messages from her THREE school emails accounts)

or

“We have a $2 million dollar a year technology budget” but that includes all salaries, telephones, printers, SIS, HR and payroll systems, security systems and everything else that plugs in.

or

Your office is a converted janitorial closet in a windowless basement. It smells funny.

Is it possible to figure out what is under the hood before saying Yes to the Dress? I would venture a guess that it’s 100% impossible for you to find all the issues large and small before you commit. What one needs is to be observant and to ask good questions. That’s all you really have, unless you have an inside mole in the district to let you know what’s going on.

Observant:

Where are their priorities? Are they talking a lot about technology or about how they’ll be using technology.

Beware of server rooms that look too tidy. Look closer…those color coded cables might be disguising something.

Listen to how people talk about technology. Any good CTO knows when someone is full of it.

Ask good questions:

Ask how students are using technology to drive their learning.

Ask if the teaching and learning plan are integrated with the technology plan.

My old standard is “what do you want out of a CTO?”

What are your organizations goals?

What kind of service are you all getting from the technology department?

Ask for average ticket open times on help desk requests. Ask for average first response times.

Ask for greatest technology dept strengths. Areas of improvement.

Ask how technology staff are alerted to failing switches, overtaxed servers, issues with connection to the internet.

Ask how staff members monitor the network.

Ask for an org chart.

Ask for detailed budget.

Ask for data/tech security manual.

Ask for tech plan

Ask for record of network outages and downtime

Ask for network diagram

Ask about replacement schedules

Ask to see your office

No one is going to catch everything, but gathering as much intel as possible before making the call is in your’s, and the prospective new organization’s favor. No one wants a bad fit, either way, and good decisions are made with good information. Take the time to give your own vetting process due diligence. Look before you leap!

Rediscovering My Library/Information Science Pride

I’ve been out of the library media specialist game for five and a half years now. The economic downturn saw to that. In my next act I was re-purposed as a technology coach – for a lack of a better, more universally understood term. That was a good gig too, but I can’t say I ever found SMART Board training a good use of my time – nor was doing a run down of the drop down menus on an application, but that was the popular work. I enjoyed helping students with databases or understanding Boolean logic much more than your average Google Apps run through. I’ll even take plagiarism and copyright over explaining how to create a quiz in Moodle.

For whatever reason, I’m remembering and reflecting on that right now – and I never have before. I’m trying to track back what triggered this realization, but I can’t put a finger on it. Lately I’ve been really interested in the usually business centric-world of information systems and wondered why there wasn’t more cross over between the two. Information systems is often cited as a great and growing field to be getting into. On the other hand, library science is often considered the worst. Why don’t these two disciplines find easier intersections or common paths together?

For me it’s always been more about connecting online – to find the info you need or meet up with people who can help build on the work you’ve done. That for me is where the exciting stuff is. Give me Howard Rheingold any day and I’m in 7th heaven. Digging in deep on how our brains work online was a recent topic in Wired. What I really enjoyed about this piece was thinking about how we think online and trying to unravel that rats nest of how our brain works. So cool to me…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying one this in better than the other – library/information skills vs tech integration. They are both needed skills for learning leaders in schools. I’m simply saying that I’m and information science geek and I’m proud of it. I’m going to work to find more connections this year between information science and information systems.

Wish me luck!