Luis Rodriguez was Director, Office of Digital Learning at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
On most days, my wife and I carpool, and I drop her off in downtown Boston on my way to work. I enjoy a cup of coffee and listen to the news on my drive in.
I respond to email at my desk, check my calendar and review my to-do list to ensure I have a solid plan for the day and week.
In my first meeting of the day, we discuss the state’s model system for educator evaluation. We review the work plan, get updates on deliverables, discuss challenges and ensure we are on target for the release date. In a few weeks, we will host a webinar to introduce this system to districts involved in a major grant from the federal Race to the Top program. We stumble upon a dilemma: One portion of the system may not be ready in time. After assessing our options, we develop a contingency plan, just in case.
I meet informally with an executive in our educator policy, preparation & leadership department to discuss additional guidance for the model system. We review the regulations and information the state can provide on best practices. We also highlight the must-haves and nice-to-haves to focus the team on what is most impactful for district implementation efforts.
During a meeting to review the budget for the educator evaluation program, we identify under-run from the previous year and the first half of this year to calculate where we stand. The meeting goes more than 30 minutes longer than planned as we discuss strategies for better understanding of our finances. I hesitate to make key program decisions without a very clear understanding of resources.
I check email and review the latest draft of our educator evaluation materials. The materials have been reviewed by internal and external stakeholders multiple times, and I want to finalize and post them on our website as soon as possible. Striking a balance between everyone providing feedback and getting materials out the door is challenging. I ensure our content aligns with the related regulations before asking our website team to post the materials.
I grab my lunch and review a presentation I will share with the commissioner later this week. I meet with him every six to eight weeks to update him on key activities and overall induction into the organization. We discuss my current responsibilities and topics such as human capital, customer service orientation, next-generation delivery and educator evaluation. Our talks often lead to opportunities to attend interesting meetings or provide assistance to other initiatives.
I email the assistant principal at one of our pilot schools. Last week, she mentioned a new and improved hiring questionnaire her school developed. I including our turnaround school coordinator on the email to ensure we incorporate the additions so we can share it with all schools. I reply to another email about performance measures in the Race to the Top grant. The email chain gave me a better understanding of the various reporting requirements for one program across four different initiatives and grants. The requirements sound burdensome, so I add this to my list of things to discuss with the commissioner. I answer a few more emails, open a few articles relevant to my work and tweak my every-other-week status report before printing it and heading to my supervisor’s office.
I arrive at the deputy commissioner’s office with my status report. We discuss the development of the educator evaluation program, virtual school policy, technology and other activities. I share some concerns around our resource constraints. We have a good discussion about focusing on high-value initiatives and identify some opportunities to help this in certain areas.
I answer a few emails and assist some co-workers with project-management related questions.
I pay a visit to the staff from the office of planning and research to discuss the evaluation vendor for our three human capital initiatives. We discuss concerns with the proposal and other topics and consolidate feedback to share with the vendor.
On my way back to my desk, I get an email from one of the teams responsible for developing guidance on the educator effectiveness program, requesting clarification. I talk through a response with my teammates. I enjoy the discussion and the different points of view we bring to the table. I get back to my desk to send an email with the clarifications.
I work through emails and voicemails.
I read the commissioner’s update, which includes mention of the latest national student assessment results. Massachusetts was the highest scoring state in the country, but we still work every day to improve. There is also an announcement that the board is holding a public comment meeting next week to assess whether the state should take over a school district with a graduation rate below 50 percent. The public meeting is next Monday and will be followed by a board vote on Tuesday. This would be the first time the state takes over a school district due to student performance. I update my calendar to include the public hearing and hope to find time to attend the board meeting as well.
Finally, I have some time to think. I double check my to-do list and send out a few calendar initiations for meetings. I pull up our waiver application but decide to read that tomorrow. I jot down a few ideas to improve some recurring challenges. I realize I forgot to read any articles today, so I am behind on my commitment to read at least three a week. I print two articles and send one final email before I leave.
On the drive home I think about how what I am doing is impacting the lives of a million students in Massachusetts.
Spring has arrived early in Boston, and I enjoy the unseasonably warm weather. With a cup of coffee in hand, I am ready to take on the day.
I check and respond to email at my desk, look at my calendar and review my to-do list. I am juggling time between four initiatives, so planning is key to staying on top of my workload.
I spend some time with our strategic data fellow looking at statewide educator data. Our evaluation regulations require us to use multiple measures of impact on student learning for each educator profile, so each district will need to identify which measures they want to use. Our goal is to identify the measures that produce the strongest results across our districts.
I join our monthly leadership steering committee meeting for educator evaluation, which is scheduled to last two hours. I update the team on my deliverables, including the impact on student learning measures, a needs assessment for technology, a tool for collecting district evaluations and guidance for districts to support the development of rigorous student performance measures. I also learn about an evaluator training we might subsidize for districts across the state.
I leave the meeting with some good feedback on my technology investment recommendation and a clearer understanding of other work streams and potential dependencies I should monitor.
I have lunch with our chief financial officer. We discuss various topics, including organizational opportunities for improvement and an initiative to streamline our grant process. We also discuss how to better assess our ability to meet commitments. I jot down some ideas to share with my supervisor about how I can help.
I check email and read an article my supervisor sent me earlier in the week. I spend the next hour working on a presentation for the education technology advisory council about pending legislation. The update will eventually roll into an update for the board of elementary and secondary education next month. My presentation also includes current policy trends and some key decisions we will need to make to balance state and local education agency policies. I look forward to my first presentation to the board.
I spend some time working with a small management team finalizing an agenda and divvying up responsibilities for an upcoming urban superintendents network meeting. We convene superintendents from our largest urban districts every month. The meeting is two weeks away, but having a structured agenda and role clarity makes it easier to squeeze into my schedule. We finish up the meeting with 80 percent of the agenda worked out and agree to meet again next week.
I complete my weekly time sheet and other administrative tasks. Sometimes the paperwork required to complete a simple task is daunting. Working for an organization that wants to be innovative but is often burdened by bureaucracy has challenges. In the end, if I have to spend an extra hour doing paperwork to make a difference, it is worth it!
I meet with the strategic learning collaborative to discuss progress on deliverables. Massachusetts is piloting the initiative, which aims to offer open-sourced education software and improve the usefulness, variety and affordability of education technology. We provide an update on our various deliverables. I enjoy this initiative because it’s an overlap of my old career and new career in education.
I answer a few emails, stop by a few desks to answer questions and get informal updates on key deliverables.
I double check my to-do list to ensure I am prepared for tomorrow’s meetings.
I incorporate changes in my technology assessment presentation and schedule a time to discuss how these changes impact our approach and timeline. I confirm my participation in an upcoming education technology advisory council and answer a few other quick emails. Then I’m off to the gym.
On my drive home, I think about what topics I want to discuss with my executive coach next week and what areas I need to focus on to become a better leader.
Summer is in full effect, making for a great morning commute. Boston summers are fantastic.
I check email and review my calendar and to-do list. I am transitioning from supporting five separate initiatives to a leadership role, so it’s important I set aside time to prepare for and balance my commitments.
My first meeting is about data collection for educator evaluations. We will need a much more robust approach than what we piloted this year. We spend 45 minutes on the current and proposed approaches and 15 minutes on connecting this data set with other sets to provide both districts and the state with good insight.
Later this month, I will present a memo to the board regarding pending legislation. The board memo process takes a few iterations because it is for a public meeting and will therefore require multiple reviews.
I meet with a representative from the Massachusetts Digital Publication Collaborative. I will present the state’s vision for building digital learning capacity to a large convening of educators later in the month.
Back at my desk, I think about a state education agency’s role in building digital learning capacity in the classroom. Should we be building tools, subsidizing existing tools, funding innovation or some combination of the various approaches? In my new leadership role, I will establish our approach to expanding digital learning capacity statewide.
I grab lunch with my wife. We do not get to meet for lunch very often. It is a fun treat to have a lunch date.
I meet with a developer of a content management tool for curriculum development. As a growing leader in education, I am exposed to a lot of articles and tools, and it is sometimes challenging to keep your arms around everything. I try to maintain relationships with a cadre of innovative thinkers to hear what is happening outside of our organization.
I meet with vendors who are supporting the delivery of the model system and identification of other capacity-building tools and activities. The vendors provide detailed quarterly updates on the pilot implementation, and we meet monthly to discuss best practices and issues arising among the pilot schools.
On a separate note, there is a pending ballot initiative that will impact our current educator evaluation regulations. We discuss the potential effects of this pending ballot initiative on our work.
Back at my desk, I catch up on email and answer voicemail.
I meet with the commissioner to discuss the recent school district receivership, innovative ideas being piloted in education, building out technology infrastructure and digital learning tools. The commissioner exposes me to trusted thought partners who often lead me to valuable information and insights.
I stop by my supervisor’s office to get clarification on a few items and send a form to human resources to start the approval process on my new role. We have a few different approval levels, including getting a signature from the governor’s office, so I am interested to see how long this takes.
I check email one last time, line up some activities for the rest of the week, send out a few invites and don my Red Sox hat.
I catch a train to tonight’s Red Sox game.
Fall is perfect in New England. The leaves are starting to turn and a new school year has begun. Welcome back, students!
I have coffee and breakfast as I work through this week’s to-dos. I recently started a new office in the department: the office of digital learning. I am excited by our leadership’s support of the new vision and goals of my unit, but managing an office comes with a whole new set of challenges.
I split the next hour on a few deliverables: preparing for a check-in meeting with a direct report, drafting a back-to-school newsletter and reviewing data from a recent technology readiness survey. The newsletter will introduce me to district education technology leaders, so I want to ensure the content is particularly engaging and useful. For the technology readiness survey, we are working with districts to understand their connectivity and device capabilities to assess readiness for a shift to an online delivery of the annual student assessments. I finish the next iterations of the two deliverables and feel prepared for my one-on-one. I spend the last few minutes of the hour looking through articles.
I meet with a staff member. We have been setting goals and developing templates to better structure our status meetings. My management style is quite different from the previous director’s style, so I want to ensure my team feels empowered to make decisions and responsible for goals we jointly identify. Our team is experienced, and they give me a lot of historical context and insight into their areas of expertise.
I review an agenda for an upcoming cross-state convening. I prepare feedback on the agenda, proposed communications plan and a memorandum of understanding in preparation for a meeting with the commissioner and chief information officer.
The commissioner, the CIO and I discuss progress on the Shared Learning Collaborative, how it integrates with our current statewide learning management procurement, the pros and cons of being a pilot partner and how this initiative fits into our overall portfolio. I leave the meeting with a clear understanding of our current involvement, participation in the upcoming cross-state convening and how to address some of the issues with the memorandum of understanding. I am excited by our involvement in forward-looking initiatives.
I grab lunch with the project coordinator for one of my previous projects and the manager of our delivery unit. We discuss updates on our current initiatives, issues we are facing and ideas for collaboration. It is great to bounce ideas off peers who know enough about the initiative to foster strong thinking. I leave the meeting with ideas to better prepare communications for our leadership team and think through ways to avoid some of the pitfalls my peers identified.
The director of the office of planning and research stops by to discuss challenges with a current contract. I share some experiences from my consulting days and we settle on an approach to try during the next meeting with the vendor. I enjoy bringing my past experience into this new position. I hope the approach works!
I have created a policy workbook to categorize and prioritize key policy questions and highlight common trends. I fill in this workbook and send the document to my supervisor in preparation for a meeting next week. We will meet with key influencers to discuss questions and propose a policy position to the commissioner.
I attend a meeting to discuss the RETELL initiative. The initiative stemmed from a Department of Justice action requiring more targeted training for English-language learner teachers. My unit facilitates courses in Moodle our open-source statewide professional development tool. The additional training will be conducted in a blended environment — some face-to-face and some online. We walk through the process flow and identify areas to streamline implementation. I work with our technology counterparts to develop a process flow map. We leave the meeting with a list of issues and a few decisions but more work to do.
Back at my desk, I catch up on email and answer a few voicemails. I have been working with a Harvard researcher to develop materials that will help people better understand technology needs for our students. We need to focus on getting infrastructure in schools, devices that are up to date and proper training and support for staff and support personnel. I find this work very exciting and very challenging.
I spend some time finalizing a grant my unit authorized to pilot the use of tablets to deploy our new statewide learning management system. I sign the necessary forms, make copies and put them in the commissioner’s inbox for final approval to release the funds to districts. The process is paper-intensive and requires a lot of steps. We will move to an online grants management system to streamline this in the future.
I leave the office for a meeting with a Harvard professor. We grab a coffee and discuss some key policy trends in technology enablement, blended learning and other areas. The professor shares a policy framework and some research about other states successes and lessons learned. I thank the professor for spending time with me and head home to incorporate the feedback. The professor also connects me with someone from another state’s education agency who is experienced in this area.
I begin my commute home. Traffic is less than ideal at this time of day. The radio keeps me company in bumper-to-bumper traffic. I get home, update some of my slides, check email and draft an agenda for a meeting with our new deputy commissioner, a former superintendent from one of our urban districts. I also check my fantasy football roster for the week.
The New England winter is fast approaching. I bundle up for my commute and hope we get enough snow to allow for a trip to hit the mountains soon.
In my new role, I spend a lot more time in the field giving presentations and getting feedback from district leaders. But today, I am in the office.
The first meeting of the day is focused on vetting vendors for an upcoming request for proposals. The team is looking for a qualified vendor to develop an optional survey tool for educator evaluation. More and more research is revealing some strong correlations between survey results and student outcomes. I was previously part of the educator evaluation team, but my focus on this project is technology. I enjoy the opportunity to catch up with my old teammates. We target next steps and questions that can be addressed at a future date.
I review the latest version of the state senate’s draft regulations for digital learning. The bill gives the department of education more regulatory oversight. I begin working on a few deliverables impacted by the new bill: high-level application plan, status update for an upcoming check-in with the deputy commissioner and a job description for a new staff member. This will be a significant addition to my team’s workload, and I need to ensure we balance competing priorities.
I take the subway to meet a few Broad Residency alumni for lunch. I check emails on the way and respond to a few easy ones to keep the inbox under control.
During lunch, we catch up and discuss our individual initiatives. We discuss our paths into the Residency program and how we are currently impacting education. We chat about national and local policy trends and ask questions to encourage a focused approach. I appreciate the helpful insights and sharing what we’ve learned.
I have an impromptu meeting with a staff member working on Digital Learning Month. I am excited to be on board and look forward to building awareness across the state. We plan to leverage examples of effective classrooms and schools, host a statewide event and encourage schools and educators to share how they will celebrate Digital Learning Month. I believe that the more student-driven examples we have, the more impactful the awareness campaign will be.
I also work on a presentation for a meeting later in the week with the Massachusetts Educational Technology Administrators Association. I am working to shift the focus from a new statewide online assessment to an opportunity to integrate digital learning tools into the classroom.
I enjoy some extra time thanks to a cancelled meeting. I practice for my meeting with the commissioner to introduce the Digital Learning Initiative. In collaboration with other state organizations, this program will help infuse technology in the classroom. The presentation is long and I figure out what to cut. I want to ensure I have time to get to my last slides, which highlight risks and identify areas on which I can use some help. I finish up the hour printing out materials and finalizing my delivery.
I have a brief meeting to update progress on our initiative to better support training for teachers working with English-language learners. We have developed a training curriculum that will be rolled out to about 30,000 educators across the state over the next three years. While the scope is a bit daunting, we will deploy the training using a blended learning model, with some work in the classroom and some online. This is the first time we have deployed a course that models blended learning, and I am driven to make sure it represents good pedagogical practice.
I make some final preparations for the digital learning meeting with the commissioner.
It’s show time. The meeting starts ten minutes late, so I am happy I did a dress rehearsal and had the key slides identified. We get through the content in good time and I have a clear path forward. I enjoy the opportunity to collaborate with our leadership on key initiatives. Most importantly, I have buy-in to move forward with some key components.
Back at my desk, I answer emails and summarize the previous meeting for a few key stakeholders. I am working with the leadership of other state organizations to help in the awareness campaign, and I anticipate they would appreciate a brief update on the initiative and key next steps. I reach out to the co-chairpersons of the education technology advisory committee to confirm our meeting later in the week. I think about more ways that group and other state organizations can help build awareness.
I review my internal plan to ensure my priorities align with the focus of the discussion. My team is working on key elements, but we may need to shuffle some things around in the short term. With the digital learning initiative and senate bill on the horizon, we will need to get creative. We also have a big online assessment readiness survey closing at the end of the week, and we need to turn that data around for a discussion with the state treasurer in early January. I finish up a few emails.
I’m off to my car to get home in time to watch some football.
Why is it still snowing in the spring! At least March Madness is in full swing. I get ready and head to work.
It has been about seven months since I started my new role. The office now has some clear short-term goals and longer-term opportunities to pursue. I still spend a lot of time in the field to get a pulse on key issues and recalibrate priorities to ensure we are serving districts well.
My first meeting of the day is with the state virtual school team. The governor signed the commonwealth virtual school bill into law on January 2. The team is currently focused on finalizing the review process while drafting regulations and a new accountability model. The various virtual school models provide some interesting challenges in balancing innovation and accountability. Several existing statutes and regulations need to be assessed.
I spend the next hour reviewing existing charter school and collaborative regulations to identify potential regulatory overlaps. The application cycle is similar to our existing charter application cycle, so that is a good starting point. I highlight areas with clear overlap and document several additional areas that need to be addressed. Managing all of the statutes and regulations is complex. I collaborate with our legal team to ensure I am not misinterpreting anything.
I finalize an interview protocol. The department has a very structured interview process. I have a new staff position that will focus on digital learning tools and professional development to improve digital literacy for educators and students. Having the right person in this role will be key to effectively expand the department’s ability to deploy tools and support to districts.
I grab lunch with our new associate commissioner of educator preparation, policy and licensure. I worked in that unit during my first year in the Broad Residency, and I find it valuable to chat with new leadership. I’m curious about new perspectives and perceived challenges. I briefly reflect on my experience in that unit and offer to help in any way I can. We identify a few areas where we would like to collaborate with local colleges.
I put the finishing touches on a presentation for senior staff to showcase a model district embracing digital learning and help our department model good digital learning. I brought in a model district to “show, don’t tell.” The district has a one-to-one program in the high school and middle school, and they are working to migrate to a fully online curriculum. I find the “show don’t tell” model to be effective.
I pack up and head to the state capitol for a meeting with the state treasurer.
Over the last few months, I have been collecting data from multiple sources to develop a high-level analysis of the bandwidth, infrastructure and device capacity of our schools. The state is assessing the migration from our current paper-based state assessment test to an online assessment test in 2015. Several other states have already moved to that format, but it will be a new endeavor for Massachusetts. The meeting consists of leadership from various state departments, and I am admittedly a bit overwhelmed to be in a meeting of this caliber. But that is why I took this job: to work with leaders to move education in a direction I passionately believe is valuable to our students. I share the results and rough figures on what it will take to not just be prepared for online assessment but fully equip our 1,800 schools to support next-generation learning.
I take the train back to the office, thinking through things that went well and areas where I could have better articulated my concerns.
I put the final touches on a presentation. Some Princeton University students are visiting the Boston area to learn more about education technology and innovative learning.
I meet with 15 students and share a bit about the department’s current achievements and challenges. We have a great discussion around the importance of digital literacy as a critical skill. I hope I have encouraged some talented students to contribute to education in some capacity, regardless of the career paths they choose to pursue.
I meet with a vendor to discuss the current landscape and challenges. I worked with our procurement department to piggyback on another state’s learning technology initiative, so we discuss what that would look like in Massachusetts. While I do not have a ton of free time, I do like to meet with vendors to understand what is available as we assess opportunities. I also collaborate with the leadership of a group seeking to expand education innovation.
I answer a few emails and put together an outline for a presentation next week to plan for the online assessment. I make sure I am prepared for my meeting tomorrow morning and pack up.
I run to the car to get home in time to catch the second half of a basketball game. Unfortunately, my team loses.