Back to School

I've been silent on the blog this past week because we're back to school–as faculty. We get a long Labor Day weekend, but it has been the strangest start-up week I've ever had.

The main reason for the strangeness is that every teacher in our district–the 6th largest in Minnesota–received a MacBook. We haven't had Macs in this district since the year I was hired…1997-1998. Macs and Windows PCs have a lot in common–but a lot of differences. And our teachers are finding out the differences right now.

Additionally, I served as a “technology integration specialist” during the first year of our new school. It doesn't show this on my record, but we started with a very small choir program (originally 35 students growing to near 60 during the first year) meaning that I had time in my schedule which my administration was willing to let me use to support other teachers with the “new” technology in our rooms. One other teacher had a similar schedule (a business teacher), so she also had a similar schedule. In total, we had about .6 FTE in our school for a technology integrations specialist.

In year two, both of our programs grew, there was no funding for an integration specialist, and we also changed schedules from a 4×4 to 6×3. Training and staff development disappeared. And technology stagnated at our school. Meanwhile, the iPad came out. In the gap, I tried to help with technology issues, but my main focus has been my choir program, which now totals over 140. I'd still like to grow it to the 250s to 300s… but it is still growing.

The district decided to do something different this year, appointing a tech coach at each site. Seventeen schools, seventeen coaches. It's a stipend position (maximum of $1000 per year). And we don't get release time to work, although we'll meet monthly and get additional training to bring back to our school sites. Additionally, we hired a elementary technology integration specialist (10 schools) and a secondary technology integration specialist (7 schools), and we're still not sure how they will exactly fit into the larger picture, as they have A LOT of territory to cover. I was the natural choice at our school for the tech coach position, and that has been my focus this week. My background is balanced with hardware and software (no network or programming skills, however, making me unhireable as an IT staff member) and I used those skills this week.

More than ever before, I had nearly all of my beginning-of-the-year materials prepared before the first day of inservice. This was good. I did get two new sections of choir risers, which I had to install myself, and that took 3 hours on the 27th. Otherwise, I spent a total of 30 minutes (maximum) working in my room or office. I'm not kidding. The rest of the days this week were spent dealing with Mac related issues, from a training session I offered following the district's printed guide, to troubleshooting just about any kind of issue you could imagine. We are using Casper and Self-Service for teachers to be able to administer their own MacBooks (a HUGE change in our district philosophy). And we still have issues with projectors, SMART Boards, and our room sound fields.

Meanwhile, the district techs have done a great job, receiving their first training with Caspar on 7/27, and preparing 1200 MacBooks for distribution by 8/27. They continue to work with Self-Service, adding programs we own that we now know are missing (teachers send in requests for those programs). Yes, there are still problems, but boy, has our IT staff worked hard. I'm proud of them.

Ultimately, I'm tired and glad I have this weekend off. I know Tuesday will be hard, as there will be glitches (for example, the VGA connection goes to a distribution hub which lacks a chip that identifies the projector resolution to the MacBook, messing up the display until you reboot the Mac, which takes 1.5 minutes, and we have teachers that change room and only a six minute passing time). But I think this will be good.

I'm not sure how the Tech Coach position will play out for the end of the year–I know some teachers will continue to ask questions, and we'll try to add monthly trainings and some videos. But we still don't have specific staff development time for the MacBooks (or any other technology). And once again, I continue to believe that music teachers do NOT get staff development on/about technology that impacts their field. That goes for many other subjects, particularly the non-core subjects.

So that is where I have been this week. A hard week with almost NO music-orientated activities or prep at all. But a good week.

I hope you had a good week as well, and that either your school year is going well, or that you will have a good start next week.


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