Field of Action

Rich Description of My Workplace

Overview

The setting for this Action Research project was SCN, a small (max 90 students), independent, boarding middle school (grades 4-9) in the upstate New York, where I was employed as the Technology Director.  I was the entire technology department, which means that I did all the work in every facet of technology campus-wide.  This included the data and voice systems and networks, all educational technology initiatives, technology innovation for non-academic areas (including Admissions and Development) and technical support.

SCN is a unique school, sitting on 200 acres of land, much of which is dedicated to their thriving farm program.  They grow our own produce, harvest eggs daily, and twice a year harvest chickens and turkeys.  They have a strong farm-to-fork programmatic sensitivity, and children regularly learn lessons in the context of farming.  All children perform barn chores throughout the year.  SCN is a member of the Edible Schoolyard initiative.  Further, many of our power-plants and heating facilities use sustainable fuels, and we recycle our waste water.

The school has an extensive riding program, a ski hill with a lift, hundreds of kilometers of hiking and cross-country ski trails, and both indoor and outdoor climbing walls.

SCN students are from varied demographics, though the majority are from wealthy families.  Many of the children have learning or behavioral differences and have had difficulty in other schools.  A large percentage of our students take prescribed medications for behavioral conditions or learning challenges.  Students who live on campus (there are some day students, staff children, and five-day boarders) live in small houses with between 8 and 14 other students, and 1 to 3 houseparents.  Houses are typically mixed-age and gender, though rooms are same-gender.  Students do not use technology of any sort in their houses.

Students are not allowed to bring smartphones, iPads, laptops and most other common electronics to school.  Computer use is monitored, web content is filtered, and social media sites such as Facebook are prohibited (and actively blocked).  Student use of technology is embraced during the academic day, though screen-time is generally kept to a minimum.

My Role

I was employed been at SCN between summer 2009 and summer 2013, and I was essentially given a technology tabula rasa, including a modest budget.  Prior to my hiring, SCN did not have a full time Technologist on staff, and two teachers who had some technological skills handled technology issues and initiatives.  When I arrived, one of the two tech-savvy teachers was helpful in passing on internal knowledge to me, and graceful in simultaneously acting as a mentor while distancing himself from technology and focusing on teaching.  The other individual seemed to require more time to understand that his role no longer included any technology work.  Periodically, even years after I took on the role, this person still presented himself as a minor obstacle.

Owing to the freedom of flexibility of my role within my workplace, I was able to initiate and complete hundreds of projects. During the four years in which I was Technology Director at SCN, I revolutionized technology use from the ground up, including infrastructure projects such as voice and data network design to classroom technology upgrades including projectors and computers. My changes affected administration, faculty, staff, students and support staff.

My most exciting hardware project was the replacement of legacy MacBooks with Google Chromebooks.  Chromebooks, when combined with Google Apps, represent a hardware and software model that I think is ideal for middle school.  (No technology is perfect in practice).   During my second to last year, I worked with the Dean of Faculty and other program administrators to build a highly customized and customizable report card system, which produced far better reports for parents than the school had ever offered.  This system stores a vast amount of measurable and useful information which may play a role in my Action Research project.

I enjoyed the autonomy I was been given with regards to technology initiatives, and the trust that the school administration placed in me.  I believe I had earned this trust, and I worked very hard to ensure my projects were (a) the right use of resources, (b) beneficial to the faculty, staff and students and (c) in line with SCN’s mission, goals and values.

I undertook certain types of projects entirely on my own and with little or no input or involvement from either the faculty or administration.  All three parties, (myself, faculty and administration) were pleased with this model.  Periodically, I consulted with the administration to discuss potential large-scale projects.

Fundamentally, in my work at SCN and my ongoing efforts at my new employer, I am a professional problem solver.

My Relationship with Teachers

The vast majority of SCN teachers regularly consulted me as a resource and/or as a means to make an idea a reality.  These teachers regularly approached me with ideas which I would then research, determine feasibility for and implement solutions if possible.  These teacher-initiated projects could then be applied to other classrooms or teachers, or, as was often the case, the project ran its course and could be set aside.  There was nothing wrong with this outcome, as the tool or methodology remained in our shared knowledge as a resource for future use.

Similarly, as I try to keep abreast of educational technology trends, I would often approach an open-minded teacher with a new idea or hardware or software project.  Typically I could convince this teacher to give the idea a try, and, as before the results may eventually become a school-wide practice, or be determined to be unnecessary or unhelpful.

This pattern of project-success or project-failure or project-neutrality proved to be an excellent system for improving overall technology use at SCN.  The failed or neutral problems were often as beneficial to my own development as an educational technologist, and to the teachers and students, as were the successful projects.  Indeed the vast majority of projects I have completed were comprised in whole or part of technologies with which I was originally unfamiliar, and thus my time at SCN has felt as though I was being paid to learn.

There was a small number of teachers who were not at all interested in technology, or were content with their current methods, and did not actively seek my input.

Almost all of my colleagues were very pleasant and the vast majority readily asked for my input or help.  I tried very hard to maintain this openness, and I often told teachers that "I will very rarely say no." I rarely closed my office door, and I almost always allowed my work to be interrupted if a teacher visited my office.  At the same time, there were the inevitable few who found no reason to talk to me, or say hello, until they needed my help.  Even with these individuals I tried to help them achieve their goals, and often these people became more willing to discuss projects with me after we successfully solved a problem together.

During my first year I had to rebuild the perception of my role, as the previous technologists had not been able to provide adequate initiatives or support, as they had to balance this work with their teaching.  Many of my peers were excited to see a project actually reach fruition. 

My Other Role

I spent a significant amount of time performing mundane technical support.  I increasingly disliked this facet of my work because, I felt as though it were neither challenging nor rewarding.  I no longer found fixing broken printers of interest, but the frustrating part was that an hour or two spent fixing a printer was wasted time which could have been devoted to a more beneficial project.  Because many staff live on campus, I was sometimes asked to fix personal computers or other hardware.  I typically didn't enjoy this but I almost always did it, particularly if the person who has asked for my help was nice to me.  If the school had a budget for it, I would recommend hiring a full or part-time tech support individual.

Because of my dual roles, I found it necessary to periodically highlight the differences between the terms Technology Director and IT Guy.  I disliked being referred to by the latter term.  Technology Director invoked thoughts of projects, goals, budgets, direction and reliability, whereas IT Guy invoked images of a repair man with pliers and cables.

Students and Community

Because the school is so small, I knew the names and faces of all the students, despite the fact that I did not spend much time in the classroom.  In the past, I have had groups of children who have gravitated towards me and become interested in me because I can impress them with technology tricks.  Further, my very adorable dog, Maggie, often came to school with me and her presence encouraged student visits to my office.

SCN is community-oriented and I enjoyed my position in the community.  I participated in many community events and was often asked to contribute.  I felt as though I was an important member of our society, and I enjoyed that feeling. Being a valued member of this community was an important part of my working identity at SCN, and that sense of professional value remains important to me.



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Please have a look at my AR Approach to read about the methods I will employ in my research.

Tech Support Image Courtesy http://fixitwizkid.com/