A Day in the Life
The Broad Residency Class of 2014-2016
Oakland Unified School District
Director of Personalized Learning
I wake up and get a 30-minute workout in to kick off my day. I avoid looking at my phone until 7 a.m., when I answer the wave of emails I received since midnight and dash off some questions to my colleagues about meetings for the day. I juice some produce to ensure I get my vitamins, and I get in my car by 7:30 a.m. to beat the morning traffic.
I rehearse for today’s two-hour design thinking workshop. A group of 15 elementary school teachers representing this year's 14 pilot sites will work on a game-based learning system. This learning system includes game puzzles that start off simply and get more challenging as a student progresses. It’s akin to Mario on the original Nintendo game: your sole goal is to get Mario across the screen. In this case, a kid solves visual math challenges to get the mascot across the screen. As the director of personalized learning, I’m supporting all education technology decisions for my district, and this learning system is one my five work streams. In the last 10 minutes, I pull up Asana and review the project tasks to lead the conversation around the OUSD1 implementation, the district’s pilot of a learning management system at 25 schools. I down some almonds to keep the energy going.
My teammates from tech services and our IT officer arrive. We discuss key decisions for what to launch next semester, given teacher and student feedback over the past three months. As we move to a digital district for our 45,000 21st-century learners, having a well-functioning, integrated and effective platform is a basic infrastructural need, and I’m project-managing this pilot. Right now, half of our schools have quality wi-fi, and we’re working to get the rest of the schools up and running by May. We also bought 10,000 laptops for our 86 schools, getting us closer to a 4:1 student-to-device ratio in our schools. Given all of these infrastructural changes, our focus now is on bringing in the right instructional strategies and tools to support our teachers using the tech to support learning, rather than focusing on tech for tech’s sake. We decide to scale parent alerts and digital data walls for the other pilot schools in the spring, given that they address some key teacher needs.
I frantically drive a few miles to talk with the chief of schools about an opportunity for us to understand each school’s personalized learning readiness level. The chief of staff has a fire drill at a school that makes him 30 minutes late; we find a way to merge two half-hour meetings into 20 minutes and provide the quick download on both topics to the chief of staff. I jot down next steps, run to my car, check my email while going down the elevator and respond to a few burning questions — then I run off to join the game-based learning system group.
I down more almonds as I realize I may not have time to eat. Spending 80 percent of my time at school sites means that I bring food every day because I never know when I might be stranded without a meal. But this is the best part of my day. I share design thinking with the teachers and they devise four ways to include the game-based learning system into the math block. They also design 14 ideas for supporting various types of teachers as they adpot the system at their school sites. I share some brownies with the teachers as we wrap up, and I eat some of the stew I brought.
I meet with the director of a personalized learning nonprofit about partnering with some local schools trying to adopt project-based learning. I connect him with two schools and realize we have a wonderful new thought partner with experience transforming schools himself and can truly help us. This is the third work stream supporting the Next Gen Learning Challenge grant opportunity of $1.8 million. With the help of this director, our schools’ pitch will be truly transformative models for our students — models that have a shot to win this amazing grant and network opportunity.
I finally have some time to sit and read through my emails. Tomorrow is an eight-hour school tour of Rocketship and the Milpitas school district, so I research both to ensure I can provide background to the 10 teachers who will join me.
I type up the teachers’ ideas on the game-based learning system and send thank-you emails to the teacher leaders who co-led the work. They jumped into a new concept they learned only a week before and led our teachers through the learning process. I drive home to beat the traffic rush and catch my next meeting.
I join a Google Hangout to discuss bringing 3-D printers into our schools. These people have six 3-D printers they want to share with Oakland kids — for free! I write some emails to a few teacher leaders and principals to connect with these folks. I hope we make something happen here.
I eat chicken stew and review the integrated learning grant our schools received. We’re meeting with the county about it on Wednesday. I wonder how it connects to personalized learning and the blended-learning work at the schools and, more importantly, how to help teachers see that this new opportunity isn't “another thing” they have to do. This work to build a district-wide integrated personalized learning strategy was supposed to be 75 percent of my work. But with a recent re-organization, I lost five part-time staff and my former boss. Now, I’m running five work streams instead of two.
I have an all-day event tomorrow, so I create and share the agenda for our Wednesday personalized-learning team meeting. I will also pitch the personalized learning budget for the next school year to my advisor, the chief academic officer, on Wednesday. I polish off the presentation, re-check the budget calculations and rehearse the story and questions.
That seems like enough for one day. Tomorrow is a 5:15 a.m. wake-up call to make the 6:00 a.m. bus for a school tour. I get ready and head to bed. As I doze off, I ponder if slow-cooking and packing lunch every day will ensure I stop skipping lunch or just mean I eat the same meal for lunch and dinner five days a week.
I wake up groggy but excited to spend a day with my people: the more than 70 Next Generation Learning Challenge visitors who have arrived in the Bay Area to see our innovative schools. I juice — as part of my new year’s resolution to stay healthy — and pick up my colleague to drive down together. Over the holidays, I moved to Oakland. I’ve been loving the 10-minute drive to almost everywhere.
We get some food and the founder of a local charter school network kicks off the session as our guest speaker. It’s fascinating to hear one of the most innovative educators talk about pitfalls, but that’s part of their success model. They always think about designing what’s best for kids. They continue to innovate and improve, knowing that innovation is not an event or destination, but rather how people behave and think. She emphasizes the need to engage parents, which often comes too late in the process. It’s rare to hear a leader dream so big.
We hop on the bus and head to a school where the founder has taken the concept of classroom management and rigor to the next level by reinventing something old — coaching — into a new approach that acts as the foundation of the school. Weekly feedback cycles include video and written feedback as well as tactical next steps to create opportunities for teachers to build effective classroom management skills. Case in point: We walked into a first-year kindergarten teacher’s class and were amazing by her seamless transition times and ability to engage every child at all times. We don’t even typically see this in a seasoned teacher’s classroom!
We get a chance to tour a Milpitas school with the superintendent and one of his top principals. The superintendent and principals have developed a shared understanding of what blended learning can be in the classroom and the value of personalized learning in increasing student agency. They have redefined the culture of Milpitas USD and, with it, indirectly built a foundation of trust that has empowered teachers to lead their schools to transform to a blended-learning model in just three years — much faster than the traditional five-year plan. Drucker wasn’t kidding when he said culture eats strategy for breakfast.
We get on the bus to head back to the hotel. My colleagues and I co-host a breakout on the realities of ed tech. I sneak in some emails on the bus. I’ve been working on a $300 million request for proposals. Fingers crossed that they invest in us and accelerate the amazing work that is happening.
I run a Q&A for folks interested in ed tech. What are the top tools? How do you learn about what works and doesn’t work? Afterwards, we regroup with the broader team and share the lessons learned from the various breakouts.
A blended learning consultant calls me to discuss his proposal to support one of our OUSD schools this year. We discuss scope and send the proposal to the principal.
Some of our Broadies are in San Jose today! It’s always a great day when you get a chance to see your Residency buddies and just catch up. They’re often the ones who really understand what you’re going through. After the whirlwind we each had for the past month, it is a much-appreciated time to clear out some mental space.
We head to dinner nearby. I meet a former Broadie who is in Baton Rouge building a cohort of amazing schools. I would love to spend more time in schools like he does.
I head back to the hotel and get ready for bed. It’s another 7:00 a.m. start tomorrow, and we’re going to see a few schools. It’ll be my first time visiting them, and I’m very curious to see them in person.
I wake up and start juicing, which is my new way to get my vitamin intake every morning. I review my schools’ planning-grant applications quickly to remind myself of each one’s innovation focus. We announced our Next Generation Learning Challenge winners in March and today is the second workshop for designing their spring/summer pilots. It is one of the better days when I get to spend it with principals and teachers designing innovative school models to better serve our students. In case there’s no wi-fi available, I pull up the slides to discuss updates with my manager and hop in the car to head to one of our K-8 schools.
While sitting in the parking lot, my boss and I get a chance to check in for the first time in a few hectic weeks, and we review my game plan for the next few months. As the 10 NGLC schools and another cohort of 25 blended-learning schools are kicking off, my focus will shift from outreach to supporting schools in getting new ideas off the ground. It’s an exciting time to support our teachers in bringing ideas to life. We discuss some priorities for next steps and clarify some of the dozen other work streams I’m leading.
I head to the school library and help the NGLC team set up for the day. The NGLC school leaders start to trickle in, and I greet each of the excited faces. We still can’t get over the fact that our schools won $720,000 in planning-grant funds to pilot personalized-learning models. What a big opportunity for Oakland schools to show what we can really do!
We have a packed agenda today. Between the past session and this one, the schools have had about a month to engage in interviews and focus groups with their teachers, parents and students. The teams spend two hours getting to a “How might we…” solution statement after they refine their ideas. As one of the facilitators of today’s session, I walk around supporting each group’s efforts to synthesize their ideas and get to a shared solution.
I find some time to debrief with each of my schools to understand their models and work with the other facilitators to pair up schools for their peer reviews. I listen to the peer reviews and take notes on how schools can increase collaboration. It’s rare for educators to see other classrooms within their own school, let alone another one. The more we can find similarities between schools so they can partner and learn from each other, the more we can improve the efficiency of the schools’ learning curve.
The day is over and most schools have prototypes! I regroup with the facilitators and we quickly debrief next steps as we clean up the space and thank the host school. We realize we have a lot of follow-up work to help each school define its prototype and we divide up the tasks.
I head home and go through the emails from the day. I review a survey presentation I’m sharing next week with all the principals. I want to ensure the checklist is in place, things are framed in a way that makes it easy to get going and that I have some schools piloting the survey so we’ll have data to share with the principals in a week. This will be the first time our district is surveying the cross-section of technology and learning.
I can’t wait for us to have 10 real school models of personalized learning in a year. I want that it’s not just a pipedream that’s available to more affluent, socioeconomically advantaged neighborhoods. I’m dedicated to our mission of seeing every student thrive and I know this day will have been one of the key milestones in seeing that happen.
It’s Friday, so I get into my weekly routine of making dinner and vegging out in front of the television to catch up on my shows. Friday evenings are my nights off from nonstop meetings and phone calls so I take care of some personal errands and enjoy some non-brain time before I get ready for an early bedtime.
After being out on vacation and missing my workouts, I start bright and early. I then do the usual juicing, breakfast and head off to work.
This is the first week back from summer, so our school and central-office leaders organized a week for leadership development. Today is safety training day. Our new chief of police shares the updates on lockdowns, school security officers, cameras, our central-command office and more. It never ceases to amaze me how much a principal is responsible for. People normally don’t ever think, “I’m going to get a master’s so I can track who enters my school’s doors.” They are incredible people.
We learned more about how to manage student safety and discipline through our new multi-tier system of support, which differentiates between the types of offenses and appropriate kinds of responses. The district is working hard through our restorative justice approach to minimize disciplinary measures, such as out-of-school suspensions, that typically categorize students instead of helping them more effectively communicate their needs by understanding their own behaviors and emotional state. Everyone is hopeful that a restorative justice approach will improve safety and culture.
It is lunch time, and I catch up with some of the principals who are just returning from their summer. We check in on the progress made over the summer on their pilots and plan to get their schools’ personalized learning models up and running this fall. I also catch up with the communications team and the website lead to figure out strategies for shifting toward a user-focused website design. I quickly grab a to-go lunch on the way out.
It’s time for our check-in with the program director of an organization providing us with a professional development series for principals. We discuss what we need to best support our principals as well as opportunities to continue to expand this work.
I meet up with a few local innovators to discuss bringing more Montessori learning concepts into our schools. Given our focus on writing this year, many of the practices could be critical for us to quickly prepare students. We figure out next steps for pilot ideas.
I check in via email with 25 schools that are piloting various education technologies this fall. I am trying to determine which ones still need to develop professional development ideas.
I meet with the founder of a behavior tracking app for students to share their feelings with their teachers. We discuss opportunities with our schools before I meet with our English/language arts lead to figure out what role technology will play this school year. We plan a few options to facilitate the introduction of these tools to teachers.
I respond to email before planning for the superintendent status report. This will be my first week sharing personalized learning updates on the chief academic officer’s report and I want to get it right.
As a commitment to my boss to strive for work-life balance this year, I head out to pick up weights for my new workout plan. I then eat dinner and plan for the next day. I finally get to do some laundry and catch up on personal emails.
I get ready for bed as I think about all of the great smoothies I will be able to make with my new NutriBullet.