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Saturday, March 19, 2005

Leadership and Educational Technology: Estancia High School, Summer 2002

I debated whether or not to include this post in the blog. It is quite self-praising, but I was writing to the prompt, and I suppose if I am writing any thing ed tech related, I might as well share it here...

All of you must have been in some type of Leadership position in your career. Please share with the class a brief scenario related to educational technology, and how you were able to exercise leadership in this situation.

Boy, I think I generate an example of this each day at the OCDE. :)

However, I think my most unqualified success came in the summer of 2002, when I was a site tech coordinator at Estancia High School. I was able to overcome each of the "factors inhibiting integration of technology" (Cafolla and Knee, 1995, p. 556), and I feel that my leadership (along with the leadership of others) was a powerful reason why.

In short, my IT partner, Derek Kinsey, and I transformed the educational technology infrastructure and use at the high school in one summer. We integrated six disparate Windows NT and Mac OS 9 networks into a single integrated network of Windows 2000 and Mac OS X clients (authenticating via Active Directory) which allowed students to log into any machine (Mac or Windows) with their own unique and secure password to work on their documents and projects anywhere on campus, in classrooms, computer labs, the library, or on our campus wide wi-fi network. This integration allowed previously impossible forms of collaboration between students and staff, and brought previously unknown security, stability, and redundancy to the data on the network.

This was only successful because following the hard work of implementing these changes during the summer, we delivered two full days of training for all faculty and staff prior to the first day of school in September. Through out the year this was followed up by "period-by-period" training for small groups of teachers on their prep. periods in our new 12 seat training lab (built during the summer in a space in the library previously used for storage... we added windows to the doors, power, networking, new furniture, and a projector). We also put a work order procedure in place and worked tirelessly to meet teacher's needs, many of which were simply training (or coaching) needs. In these ways, we were able to avoid, if only for fourteen months while the team was intact, the pitfall of "inadequate teacher training" (Cafolla and Knee, 1995, p. 557) I am happy to take much of the credit for this, as it was my constant focus on the educators' needs, and my ability to communicate them to all parties, that made this possible.

When it came to "insufficient funding" (Cafolla and Knee, 1995, p. 557), we were simply lucky. Our TSST funds (the maintenance portion of California's Digital High School initiative) had been cut, but over the course of the two years that we planned, implemented, and supported these changes, a private and anonymous donor had provided almost $250,000 to our school, which was in a low socio-economic neighborhood and lacked the wealthy foundations available just across town. Much of this funding was spent on hardware, software, infrastructure, and professional development. Though we were lucky, I confident in presenting a vision to various committees and securing the funding we needed to make each stage of the project a reality.

Derek Kinsey, from whom I learned much of what I know about computer networking was in his position as the site tech for only a short time as a stepping stone to a higher position at the district office. He was highly over qualified for the work he was doing, and had strong ties to the district IT leadership. His IT expertise, my educational experience, and my ability to listen to Derek without being put off by his confidence allowed us to avoid purchasing "inappropriate hardware and software" (Cafolla and Knee, 1995, p. 557) for the school.

Again, I think we were very lucky that we did not face very much "resistance to change" (Cafolla and Knee, 1995, p. 557) at Estancia. I have since come to appreciate what an amazing and willing staff we worked with in those years. However, as I have seen others who have generated resistance among the staff, and because I know how much resistance even Derek could cause if I did not deliver his message for him in diplomatic teacher-speak, I think I can claim some measure of responsibility for leading the school past the danger of resistance as well.

However, the bottom line at Estancia was that the entire team came together at the right time and place. Our principal, Thomas Antal understood our vision and knew enough to fund it and otherwise "stay out of the way." (This is a gross oversimplification of his dedication to understanding and providing for the improvement of the school.) The assistant principal was probably the most amazing member of the team, as she deftly handled the staff needs, the technical needs, and her over-zealous tech coordinator and technician. There is no doubt in my mind that the project would have surely failed if either of these administrators were not providing their brand of leadership to the team. At our level, Derek and I provided, the impetus, the vision, and the model of what our school could become with the technologies we were integrating. Others without whom the project could not have flown, and who also provided a great deal of leadership and modeling, were our student technicians, who did much of the work and lead the way for many other students. Most of the student techs were students or former students of mine (and I have since hired several of them). Again, though I was certainly not the ranking member of the team, I think it was my leadership as Educational Technology Coordinator that brought the whole team together.

It definitely feels a bit strange to "toot my own horn" so much in this post, but I suppose the prompt did ask how I was able to exercise leadership. I hope that this has at least been an inspirational story for some of you. :)

-Mark

PS - A year later, when the school was between technicians, I upgraded the network to Windows XP, OS X version 10.2 Jaguar, and Windows 2003 server. Two months later I left the site to serve as the ed tech coordinator of secondary schools.

PPS - Just recently, after much neglect, the site's redundant servers experienced what can only be described as a multiple catastrophic disk failure... as the story was related to me... when a UPS, which had been slated for replacement months earlier finally gave out during a blackout, causing one disk in a RAID array (which was already a disk short as I understand it) to fail. During an attempt to restore the data from a redundant server, human error lead to breaking a second RAID array (by pulling out the wrong hot swapable drive) thus rendering all the data unrecoverable by conventional means. Derek and I had also left the site with a backup server and nightly scripts, but the server had apparently also filled up months before, so the backup script had been stopped. Long story short... the site lost ALL DATA. Luckily, we had also drilled most of the staff into making their own backups. Well, this time Derek returned to the site and they got upgraded yet again, but it is sad how quickly something like that can fall apart in the absence of all the elements (including leadership) that made it work in the first place.

Reference

Cafolla, R., Knee, R. (1995). Factors limiting technology integration in education: the leadership gap. Technology and Teacher Education Annual.

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