I have worked harder in the past five months than I thought imaginable. I have asked those around me to do the same. It has been five months since the first time we were told we would need to close our schools. As the HR and Technology Director for a rural district, I have spent those five months creating policy, supporting staff, and watching a tech team make magic happen.
Like many rural AZ schools, we remain underfunded. Rural leaders and staff members are known for wearing many hats. Our webmaster also works half-time supporting food service. Our student information manager supports almost all software programs, whether for students or staff. In a district that serves 5,500 students, there are 10 staff members who work for the technology department. They support a total of 3300 devices, make sure our network is reliable, and oversee technology ranging from our surveillance system to bells, clocks, and intercoms.
We are not a one-to-one district. We do not have a paid LMS. We have focused on ensuring that student and staff technology is used effectively, even if it may not have been heavily used. When we realized that we would need to start in a distance learning mode, our technology team made sure it happened. If it were not for their leadership and the leadership of a small group of teachers who designed, trained, and supported what teaching and learning would look like in Google Classroom, school would not have happened on August 3rd.
Here is a taste of how our tech team led the way.
As July hit, we realized that while we would not be opening our physical doors on August 3rd, we still needed to serve our students. A small team of teachers (some of whom were Google Classroom experts and some of whom are now experts) worked with district administration to talk about what our best practices would be. They then went to work, developing training modules for our 250 teachers. Some of them would earn their Google Classroom Certification; others would research the fine details of synchronous and asynchronous sessions.
One hundred fifty of our teachers came back to school early to receive advanced training. Our newly minted tech teacher trainers trained the other 100 during our back to school week while also preparing for their own classrooms. Having teachers design and lead our distance learning plan is what has made it successful. We don’t have a full-time instructional technologist or a teacher on assignment for tech. We have a team of teachers who did what they do best: teach. These teachers are continuing to lead at their sites by offering continued training, developing help videos for families, and providing feedback, so we can be better. I am reminded of what I know already: quality schools are led by quality teachers. Our little district is in good hands because of the leadership of our teachers.
One of the teachers described her work in this way, “Besides the district level Google Classroom training, many hours have been spent training staff, parents, and students at the school level…all tasks above and beyond the normal lesson planning and room prep needed to get the school year off and running. My classroom has been a revolving door with staff members troubleshooting how to set up Google Classroom classes, how to create assignments virtually, how to record a lesson, how to communicate with students and parents in this format, and the list goes on.”
Back to school is always busy for a tech department. Readying devices and programs for new staff already puts the tech team into overdrive. This year, that would be just one of the things they accomplished. Our tech team helped organize all of the sign-ups for teacher training. We are not a one-to-one district and this meant readying all of our student devices to be ready for check out. Techs prepared 900 laptops in 2 weeks for safe student use outside our network by adding software that would filter searches while at home. They created processes to equally distribute laptops between schools and to students in need. They ordered and deployed webcams to all classrooms. Our webmaster has been posting new information on our website non-stop. Our information manager helped set up students who chose our brand new Online Academy option and has assisted in setting up courses as well.
Computer lab managers who would normally be supporting our elementary school students with lab time were transitioned into the front line of support for families. The computer carts they had spent so much time making sure were well organized were pulled apart for check out. They led teams to get devices to families and have become the school’s help desk. Our lab managers spent time cutting through all of the zip ties that were once used to organize their world and were now in their way. But, more than anything, they listened. One lab manager describes it by saying, “Sometimes it meant listening to parents’ struggles. A few parents brought their kids in for me to help, or talk them through help over the phone.” Another describes her work as, “Helping a teacher with a Google question, getting a text that we have a family to issue a computer to, telling the teacher I promise I’ll be right back, running down the hallway to help the family, notice that there are now two families holding their device which signals they need help, start the checkout process with the first family who needed help getting into Google Classroom, but remembering I still had to go back to help the teacher.”
And, our tech team’s work is not done. They will be at the front lines as we move to on-site learning opportunities, hybrid options, and a full return. They have not faltered with each new request or new idea. They have continued with all of the work that they are always focused on and supported new request after new request. We have only grown this team by welcoming some teachers who now serve as tech trainers in their spare time, and for that, we are that much mightier.
Our small tech team moved mountains and ensured we were able to open successfully this year. Without them, there would have been no school. Now we pivot to our next task of bringing students back to campus. And for all their dedication to that end, I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart.
Take some time and thank your tech team today!