Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Today was a good day. The City gave teachers the floor...

New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) is large. A behemoth, to put it mildly. Over 1,000,000 students, almost 2,000 school sites. Countless related support personal; system engineers, system architects, human resources, payroll, accounting, and on and on and on.

And teachers. Lots and lots of teachers.

And with any large bureaucracy, what usual happens? Usual, decisions get made in an office somewhere, and by the time they reach the teacher in the school the decision seems mindless. Often, the decision makes no sense at a school level.

Today got off to an interesting start.

I was invited to take part in a Division of Instructional and Information Technology (DIIT) "Town hall" meeting. They have these meetings every quarter. Upwards of 300 people, DIIT member from all 5 boroughs, attend. All manner of tech support. From CIO to network engineers to HelpDesk managers.

Today they put us on a pedestal. Literally

I, along with another teacher and a school-based technology coordinator, were part of a panel. In a school auditorium they put us on stage and gave us the floor. The Deputy CIO moderated the questions, but our answers were free to be as broad, or specific, as needed.

photo credit: Jared Fox, NYCDOE DIIT

They asked us what our biggest challenges were.
They asked us what we need from them, DIIT.
They asked us what we are most proud of.
They asked us what kept us up at night
They asked us what we wanted.

And they listened.

They had us up there and lobbed questions at us but at the same time let us run wild. They let us share and talk and vent. They focused on what we do, why we do it, and what we need to do it better. They asked about instruction, pedagogy, and all technical matters.

They wanted to know what they, DIIT, could do to better meet our needs, so we in turn could better meet the needs of our students.

A lot of talk goes in to education. A lot of money and bureaucracy too. This morning, in a room of hundreds of non-school-based NYCDOE employees the attention was focused solely on us, the teachers. And it wasn't platitude. It was real.

Hal Friedlander, the CIO for the NYCDOE, spoke before he introduced us. He didn't speak of technology and budgets and network architecture. He spoke of DIIT's role of keeping pace with the students and making sure technology worked for them. He talked about DIIT's role and responsibility being "more than making sure the lights on the switch keep blinking green" but rather making sure the technology worked in the classroom and the teacher knew how to make it work best for students. "Meeting the students needs where they are."

I was impressed by Hal Friedlander and the entire DIIT staff, as well as the the path DIIT is going down. They get it. They know that at the end of the day it's about making technology work for students. It's not about restrictive purchasing and web filtering. They aren't making decisions based on system architecture but rather engaging teachers at the center of the discussions. Making sure we have to tools and resources to give the students the best experience possible.

At the end of the event Hal, the CIO, approached me to follow up on a few things I had mentioned. The CIO spent 15 minutes picking the brain of a teacher; sharing stories, visions, rationales, and experiences. It wasn't about policy and bureaucracy, it was about teachers and students...

Today was a good day. Today, the massive machine of the NYCDOE stopped, turned to three school-based educators, gave us the mic and asked "what do you need and how can we help you?"

Good day in Gotham...

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