Another Beginning

Posted by on Jul 5, 2010

Life is unexpected. Just when you think you’ve crested a hill and can look long at the path stretching before you, opportunity arises and you find yourself taking a road unanticipated. I won’t say I’ve taken the one less traveled by, but I have taken another.

Today, I officially began my job as the Director of Technology and Communications in Oak Lawn-Hometown District 123. It is a role about which I am incredibly excited. Because there’s great opportunity here. And I earnestly believe I can seize it.

I’d like to say I’m beginning this position with a long list of answers sitting at the ready for implementation. But that would be a dishonesty. Because at this point, I have more questions than answers. I’m hoping, however, that the right questions can prove more powerful than me thinking I have the right answers. I’m hoping such for what it could mean for our students, our staff, and our community. And what it could mean for learning.

It seems to me as I’ve observed the advent of modern technology increasing in utilization in education, there has grown a rift between those in the Director of Technology role and many of the others in an educational institution.  Somehow the two sides seem to be at odds.  Neither understands the other. As it is most often manifested, the one side is prone to thinking in terms of restricting what takes place in the technological environment, while the other side believes those running the technological environment know very little about education. I know I’m speaking in broad generalities, but it is what I have observed in many places.

I don’t want that to be my case.

I was a classroom teacher for eight years before I left one of the most incredibly rewarding professions in the hopes of making a difference on a broader scale. However, I learned quickly that there is little more rewarding than directly investing in the lives of students in a classroom each day. It is simply an amazing endeavor. I left that not to take a position where my actions matter little to the experience of students and those who are working so hard to help them learn how to learn. I left teaching with the hope that I could make a difference in a different way.

It is now, standing once again on the edge of great new change, that I begin with questions. I’m hoping these are the right ones. Or at least the ones that will lead me to the right ones. And the right ones are those that will make a difference in the lives of the students, staff members, and community where I have the privilege to serve.

As is always the case, your input and help in crafting and molding both these questions and my potential to make a difference is extremely important to me. Here is my beginning.

1.  How is what we’re doing with technology making a difference for learning?

2.  How can we support teachers and do everything we can to help them help their students learn?

3.  How can we support teachers as they continue to learn?

3.  Does the environment we create build trust?

4.  How can we communicate more effectively and better meet the needs of our community?

5.  Are we reliable?

6.  Are we making a positive difference?

I hope these questions guide the work that I have ahead. And I hope I keep questioning the questions. And I know I will keep learning.


  1. Joan Young
    July 5, 2010

    Thanks for sharing your questions with us and I wish you the best in your new position. As I read you questions, I wanted to say, “yes, of course!” to all of the questions about making a positive difference and building trust. I think many of us in education are using technology to connect with other educators around the world and share how we are using tools to excite kids about learning and facilitate a deeper level of critical thinking. We can support teachers by spreading the stories, providing examples that show relevant application and creating an environment where teachers model the willingness to take risks in learning.
    We can use Twitter, blogs and other media to communicate and raise the bar for each other so that we continue to ask these valuable questions. Thanks again for a stimulating discussion.

  2. Brendan Murphy
    July 5, 2010

    Congratulations. Good luck.

  3. Ben Grey
    July 5, 2010

    Joan- As I was thinking through the questions, I also thought the answers seemed obvious, but I think it’s in the implementation where they become challenging. Or forgotten. And I love the point about creating an environment where teachers model the willingness to take risks in learning. I might add that to the list of questions.

    Brendan- Thanks so much. I appreciate it.

  4. Tracy
    July 5, 2010

    Great blog post. Thanks for your honesty. I notice this ‘rift’ in many places and am always harping that we are all on the same team. I, too, left the classroom after four years in hope of making a bigger difference. Good luck in your new position, I am sure you will do great things!

  5. Andrew Forgrave
    July 6, 2010

    Ben, congrats and best wishes for your new role. No doubt it is not exactly the same as your previous role, and so you are well served in looking to approach your new job with questions. I like the simplest, “How can I help?” question, which, while less specific in focus, emphasizes your unique opportunity to support and assist the classroom teachers who are looking to use technology to support learning for their students (and themselves!). Your observations regarding the need to “stand with” everyone else in your district and avoid “rifts” reflect a reality that many in your role must work at to accomplish. I’m sure that if you keep learners and educators foremost, the other aspects will follow!

  6. Ben Grey
    July 6, 2010

    Tracy- Thank you for the vote of confidence. I am going to work hard to make sure there aren’t silos where I’m at now.

    Andrew- I think there’s a real danger in many administrative positions to allow the administrivia to take over as the greatest point of focus instead of the learning taking place in the institution. It’s my goal to always look through the lens of learning.

  7. Chad Lehman
    July 6, 2010

    Ben, first of all, good luck in the new position, you’ll be great! In my District, there is certainly the “rift” you mention. We have a Manager of Technology Services and we have the curriculum people. One side knows very little about the other. I don’t think it’s intentional, I just think it’s not very high on their priority list to learn about the other side. We would benefit greatly from someone working with both sides, but with budgets the way they are, this isn’t going to happen soon. Increased communication and understanding of each other’s roles would benefit the students and the teachers. The money that’s being spent would (hopefully) be used in a better way.

  8. Robin Ellis
    July 6, 2010

    Congratulations on your new position. In relation to your questions and your new title I am curious to understand the structure of the organization as they relate to your questions. In your new district are the technology and curriculum and instruction departments working together? Will you have the opportunity to meet with curriculum directors and together talk about a vision for learning that includes the use of technologies available when they make sense? I have found that when the two don’t work together answering some of your questions above may be difficult to answer.
    In my previous position I worked as part of the curriculum department within the technology department. The idea was to create communication between the departments and have those in one understand that those in the other were trying to accomplish around learning in the classroom. I believe truly successful organizations need to have positive working relationships between the two. I am interested to learn more as you move into this journey.

  9. Damianne President
    July 6, 2010

    I’ve spent my whole teaching career working at small overseas schools. The questions that you pose here are some of the questions that I grapple with individually, as well as within my communities. After one year in my current post, I’m still challenged to find balance in supporting students, teachers, other staff and parents so that they may successfully use technology to meet their needs.

    Good luck in your new post. I look forward to reading about your discoveries.

  10. Ben Grey
    July 6, 2010

    Chad- Thanks a lot. What you describe is what I’ve seen too often in too many districts. One of my greatest goals is to ensure that culture doesn’t permeate where I now work.

    Robin- Great points. You are absolutely correct that too often the technology department is siloed away from the curriculum department. In my new role, I will be a member of the Executive Cabinet and will report directly to the Superintendent. This means that I oversee both the hardware and instructional aspects of technology. And I will absolutely be working closely with our Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction. It’s very exciting to see the potential here.

    Damianne- Thank you, and I will be sharing my experiences and discoveries here as they unfold. I’ll also look forward to your feedback and insights as this happens.

  11. Greg Noack
    July 6, 2010

    Ben, Congrats on your new position. I’m looking forward to reading about your work. I read your post yesterday and have been thinking about it off and on today. As I contemplate other ways I can use my talents, it gives me hope that a teacher can leave the classroom, move into a district position, and stay focused on ‘making a difference’. Too often I have seen administrators move into their office and become swallowed by the job. What I think is most important about your post is that you are asking questions. It’s about the process, not the product, and if you aren’t asking questions, you have disengaged from the process. Thanks.

  12. Robin Ellis
    July 8, 2010

    Ben I agree the potential is exciting, I look forward to learning as you share your thoughts in your new position.

  13. Weekly Town Crier
    July 9, 2010

    […] speed ahead, Mr. […]

  14. Jocelyn Wallace
    November 23, 2010

    Ben – Your transparency is refreshing and your questions at the end of the post are key. They actually made me think of my blog post for today – giving tips and encouragement to solve problems through visual thinking. I’d love to see one of your questions sketched out using the diverge/converge model! It might be a fun exploration — to apply the model but use one of your questions as the starting point instead of the one I illustrated:

    Keep pressing forward, Ben!



Leave a Reply