All posts by vsteadmin

Heather Hurley

Heather Hurley
Personalized Learning Supervisor
Arlington Public Schools



Educational Leadership Experience

I currently serve as a Supervisor in the Department of Instruction where I oversee the district’s personalized learning program. I was an elementary Assistant Principal at an Apple distinguished school, where I assisted in the management of an instructional program that included the successful integration of a 1:1 iPad and STEAM program. As an Instructional Technology Coordinator and Staff Development Director, I collaborated with various stakeholders on the integration of instructional technology. Additionally, I was the VSTE Conference Presentations Chair and I’ve been a board member for Learning Forward Virginia and Massachusetts ASCD organizations.

Vision for VSTE

The new Profile of a Virginia Graduate has been developed to describe the knowledge, skills, competencies, and experiences students should have in order to align with the expectations of higher education and businesses. Areas of focus include: emphasizing critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration, communication, and citizenship. I believe these skills are improved when a students’ learning environment becomes more personalized. There are many Virginia districts who are beginning the journey towards personalized learning. I would love for VSTE to begin looking at how technology supports the new Profile of a Virginia Graduate through the lens of personalized learning environments.

Biographical Sketch

I began my career as a classroom teacher in first and third grades, where my passion was to encourage every one of my students to love the process of learning. I am a graduate of Johns Hopkins University’s program in Educational Supervision and Administration; earned a M.Ed. in educational technology from Lesley University in Massachusetts, and a B.S. in education from Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts. I am a SMART Exemplary Educator, a STAR Discovery Educator, a member of the Discovery Educator Network Leadership Council, a Google Certified Innovator and a BrainPop Educator. In my free time, I enjoy photography, all things Marvel, cooking, wine and BACON!

Anita Harris

Photo of smiling woman with curly hair and a flowered dressAnita Harris
Instructional Technology Specialist
Cumberland County Public Schools

Educational Leadership Experience

As a classroom teacher, I was chosen to participate on the school leadership team, provide professional development and also be a technology lead teacher. I moved into the ITRT role and has been providing leadership, support and professional development to teachers, students and administrators. I also volunteer for several organizations including VSTE and ISTE, teach online courses for PBS TeacherLine and WHRO, present at conferences and currently serve as a VSTE Board Director, Secretary and Outreach Committee Chair.

Vision for VSTE

My vision for VSTE is for this organization to reach into every Virginia region seeking education advocates who are innovators and leaders in their districts that will also volunteer their time to help VSTE continue to provide professional development opportunities for educators, leaders and students so that all will seek to become more Future Ready. Also, as education continues to evolve, new challenges arise. VSTE leaders and members will need to continue to be flexible, adapt to new changes, collaborate and always seek ways to best support all stakeholders from every school and district across our state through helping to change the mindsets of community, school, and state leaders who are the final decision makers. Finally, my vision for VSTE is also to continue to move beyond borders to partner with other state and national organizations in advocating for educational technology access, tools, funding and support for all learners.

Biographical Sketch

I have been in education for over 20 years. I left the traditional classroom in 2006 to move into the Instructional Technology arena. I am an avid Social Media "Butterfly" who uses Twitter as my own Personal Learning Network where I learns and share anything and everything about education and especially educational technology. I have made it my life goal of being an “EdTech advocate who always seeks, always learns and always shares”.  My favorite quote is: "Your mind is a garden. Your thoughts are the seeds. You can grow flowers. Or, you can grow weeds." ~ Jason Mraz ~

David French

Smiling man with red tie and beardDavid French
Principal and Digital Learning Leader
Virginia Beach City Public Schools



Educational Leadership Experience

I am in my 29th year in education. The past 15 years have been as an elementary school principal. All of my experience has been in the Virginia Beach Schools. The past 7 years have been very exciting and rewarding to have been a leader in digital learning transformation.

Vision for VSTE

Schools are now more than ever challenged with how to meet the needs of today's learner- a different kind of learner. Teachers, administrators and leaders must be provided with leadership to encourage and assist with their growth and transformation as digital educators. The role of the educator in our world is quickly evolving from a traditional instructor to a digital, personalized facilitator of learning. Our schools need leadership to help with the transformational learning process and challenge we face.

Biographical Sketch

I have been in public education for 29 years as a teacher, Assistant Principal, and Principal. I was presented with the 2012 Region II VDOE/VSTE Instructional Technology Leadership Award. For the past 3 years, I have been a presenter on digital learning and transformation at local, state and national conferences including VSTE, FETC, ISTE. I am also currently a co-presenter with Amazon Education on digital instruction.

Big Deal Book, April 3, 2017

VSTE partners with Big Deal Media to bring you the best in online resources for digital learning and professional development plus grant and competition opportunities and more. In this edition, you can Combine Learning with Playing, Collaborate Across Cultures & More.

Here are a few of our favorites from this sure to check the full Big Deal Book for more great resources!

Mobile Poetry Library

With The Poetry Foundation’s POETRY mobile app for iOS and Android, students can take hundreds of poems by classic and contemporary poets with them wherever they go.

Activities in Celebration of Reading

“Drop Everything and Read” (D.E.A.R.) is a national month-long celebration designed to remind people of all ages to make reading a priority activity in their lives.

Weekly STEM Podcasts

Covering the outer reaches of space to the tiniest microbes in our bodies, Science Friday is the source for entertaining and educational stories about science, technology, and other cool stuff.

Big Deal Book, April 3, 2017

Not everything in the Book is time sensitive so be sure to check out the archives.

Spring 2017 CETL Study Groups Scheduled

The VSTE CoSN Council has scheduled two sets of CETL® study groups in Northern Virginia. It will be led by Dr. Barbara Gruber from Loudoun County, a CETL certified educator.

Northern Virginia:
This study group will be held at the Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center, 14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway, Chantilly, VA 20151 and led by Barbara Gruber.

April 29, 2017, 10 AM - 1 PM
May 13, 2017, 10 AM - 1 PM
June 10, 2017, 10 AM - 1 PM
July 15, 2017, 10 AM  - 1 PM

Central Virginia:
Update: We have had to cancel this face to face study group. We are working to find an alternative, possibly online.

April 22, 2017, 10 AM - 1 PM
May 20, 2017, 10 AM - 1 PM
June 17, 2017, 10 AM - 1 PM
July 8, 2017, 10 AM - 1 PM

If you wish to attend the Northern Virginia study group, you must register by April 14, 2017.

Register now. 

The exam will be administered on Friday, July 28, from 8 AM to 12 PM, in Colonial Heights, Virginia.

Change Is Hard: Tips for a New Tech Coach

Image of post it note with the word change written on it.Change is hard. Resistance to change is hard. Staffing changes at schools are hard. Being a new teacher, or a new student at a school is hard. Being a new ITC (Instructional Technology Coordinator in Arlington Public Schools, similar to ITRTs. ) at a new school is equally hard, but recognizing some of the challenges, expectations, and possible limitations that may await you at your new school can help ease your transition.

Every school has its own climate and culture that has been built and modified based on the current administration. It’s always a good rule of thumb to have open communication with your administration, understand the climate, culture, and goals of the school prior to jumping in. This will help you navigate the landscape to figure out if you should you dive head first into the deep end or slowly roll out different processes and procedures. Whenever you take over someone else’s role, or come in behind someone you typically hear, “Well this is how it was done before”, or “This is how so and so did it.” That type of talk is not always helpful. It’s helpful to know what was done in the past but you are now the new person navigating the tech course for your building and you have to remain steady and stand your ground. Recognize this will not always be easy for you or your new co-workers.

Simultaneous to learning about the culture of the school, learning about the people in the school and building relationships is critical. Relationships have the biggest impact on the success of starting over at a new school. Who are the tech leaders? Who is willing to help? Who is good to avoid? Who are the reluctant learners? How best to interact with individuals and the various school groups? What does the Administrative team expect of the ITC? The list is long with items a new ITC needs to figure out and the connections that need to be made. Spending time just walking the halls, stopping in and talking to teachers during Back to School week is important. Being available to answer questions, provide guidance, and support any time is critical. Being open and willing to just listen is essential.

Job purpose misconception ---- Often the misconception is that if tech is in the job title then the person only deals with the cables and cords. The reality is that an ITC is a teacher at heart whose job is to help other teachers learn how to better support instruction and learning with technology. The learning has to come first, not the technology. This mind-set can be a hurdle to quality conversations and support. It’s important that you sell yourself as an educator, and that you are all on the same team.

As a new ITC in an elementary school, here a few tips to help you navigate change:

Observe: Do a lot of observing for the first few months. Sit in on grade level PLC meetings, observe student/teacher interactions. See how the school operates and how the humans in the building function.

Be open minded: Be open minded to change. It may be tempting to jump right in and put into practice the procedures, or PD established at your former school, but every staff and school is unique. Stay open minded to try new things.

Patience is a virtue: You won’t be able to get every single thing on your To-Do list checked off as fast as you always want to. Getting to know the staff and understanding how the school runs takes time.

Get to know everyone: The front office staff and the custodians run the school so get to know them. They will be your biggest allies. Having a candy jar in your office space is a great way to get people to stop by and chat.

Have good sense of humor: Smile, laugh, and have fun with staff and students.

Photo of woman with reddish hair, smiling
Meredith Allen
Photo of woman with short brown hair and glasses, smiling
Marie Hone

Meredith Allen and Marie Hone  are Instructional Technology  Coordinators from Arlington County Schools. They are also members of the VSTE Conference Committee. 

Leading Ed Forum Sponsor Information

The 2nd annual Leading Ed Forum will be held October 19 and 20, 2017, at the Daniel Technology Center in Culpeper, Virginia. This event is designed for school division instruction and technology leaders including chief technology officers, technology directors, and superintendents. Session topics will focus on E-rate, digital equity, 1:1 initiatives, and student data privacy.

Sponsorships for this event are available. Sponsors will be provided with a 45-minute breakout session and a table in the main gathering area for one day of the event. Sponsorships cost $2000.

Please contact Karen Richardson at [email protected] to learn more about this opportunity.

Federal Budget Threatens to Starve Education

From the ISTE Advocacy Network:

On March 16, 2017, The White House released the President's proposed "Skinny Budget" for FY18, a streamlined blueprint for next year's budget that does not contain much detail about specific changes. What is clear from this Skinny Budget is that the President is attempting to make good on his previously announced plans to shift $54 billion in domestic discretionary funding to defense spending and that the Department of Education would be one of the federal agencies that would suffer significant funding losses as a result. For education, the Skinny Budget proposes to cut $9 billion in funding, which it represents as a 13.5 percent decrease, below the current FY 17 levels.  While the Skinny Budget is silent on the ISTE-supported Title IV, Part A flexible block grant program, which would provide districts with funding for educational technology, it remains possible that the Administration will seek low or no funding for this program as the funding process plays out. While it is ultimately up to Congress to dispose of the President's proposals through the appropriations process and some Republican members have expressed skepticism about the President's proposals already, some significant education cuts are likely in the end.

If the Department of Education's overall funding level of $59 billion becomes law, it will take federal education support back to approximately FY08 levels. In his budget proposal,the President attains the majority of his cuts through eliminating: the $2.25 billion Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants Program, a block grant that school districts use to hire and train teachers and administrators; the $1.2 billion 21stCentury Community Learning Centers program, which provides funding for after school and summer programs; the $732 million Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity program, a higher education need-based aid program; and the $3.9 billion Pell Grant surplus. The Skinny Budget also indicates that more than 20 other programs would be eliminated, including the Striving Readers, Teacher Quality Partnership, Impact Aid Support Payments for Federal Property, and International Education programs. The budget would protect IDEA, funding it at the same level as last year, and increase Title I funding but with a school choice twist.

The central aim of the President's education funding proposals is to begin to shift a significant share of federal dollars towards supporting his goal of providing parents and students greater school choice. The Skinny Budget would accomplish this in three ways:

  • adding $168 million to the existing Charter Schools Grant program;
  • establishing a new private school choice program (no details provided) and funding it at $250 million; and
  • increasing Title I by $1 billion but allowing those funds to move with students to public schools of their choice.

This last move, known as Title I portability, was the subject of intense debate during the recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act but Congress did not incorporate the concept into the final Every Student Succeeds Act.

Now is the time to get involved and let your Congressional representative know that you support public education. Not sure who represents you? Start here.

To keep up to date with the budget and other issues, join the ISTE Advocacy Network.

No Longer the Sage on the Stage

Members of the VSTE Board of Directors will be taking time to periodically share their ideas and passions with the VSTE membership. For this edition, Board Vice Chairperson Michael Speidel discusses his own path to personalized learning. 

No Longer the Sage on the Stage.

I have long been an individual who believes that, if you would like your school to change its instructional practices, you must model and be the change that you wish to see.  A few years ago, while conducting a professional development session on how to use our learning management system, I came to the realization that the individuals in the class were all at very different points in their learning. That evening, I struggled with ways that I could meet the needs of all of the learners in the professional development session.

The next day, I developed a “choose your own adventure” professional development activity based on our learning management system. Teachers in the next session would take a pre-assessment that would determine where they would begin their training. Because this was during the “flipped” classroom craze, much of the choose your own adventure professional development was done via YouTube videos that I had created. Besides some of the odd looks that I got from participants as I explained how they were going to learn about our learning management system, the other interesting reaction was that of fellow presenters. Many other presenters looked at me with a “Okay… what do I do now?” face. The presenters were so used to being the sage on the stage that initially this new method of training was something that was uncomfortable to them. Slowly, they began to understand that they could be the coach on the side and help all of the learners meet their needs at one time. This was my initial introduction to personalized learning.

Why Personalized Learning?

This past summer I read a book by Todd Rose called The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World that Values Sameness. In the book, Rose details the history of how the concept of the average individual came to be. There is one example in the book that struck me which was the transition from propeller planes to jet engines. Prior to 1950, all Air Force cockpits were designed around the average pilot.  The US Air Force would measure pilots on 10 various body measurements and then design a cockpit around the average measurement of those 10 standards. As the US Air Force transitioned to jet airplanes, they found an increased number of pilot related crashes. Confused about what could be the cause of these crashes, the US Air Force commissioned a study to re-measure 5000 pilots to see if the average measurements had changed and were resulting in the pilot related crashes. The Air Force believed that, if they designed the cockpit around these average measurements, they would have designed a cockpit that would work for the majority of US pilots. When the study was completed, the US Air Force found that, of the 5000 pilots who were measured, not one pilot had the same body measurements as the “average” pilot would have, so they had developed a cockpit that works for no one!

When you think about today’s society, it is a society that is based on the average. Admissions offices, HR departments, banks and doctors make life-changing decisions based on averages. As a matter of fact our entire educational system is based on the systems of average.  When you think about all of the students that you had in your classroom as an educator, you know that all those students had strengths and weaknesses. There were no two students who were the same, and there is no such thing as the “average” student. In fact, there is no such thing as the average teacher, the average administrator, or even the average school. This simple yet flawed theory is the reason why personalized learning is so important.

Personalized Learning vs Personal Learning

The terms “personal” and “personalized” have become buzzwords in both technological and educational spheres, with “personal” learning environments and “personalized” search engine results making headlines. Often, the terms are used interchangeably. The difference between personalized learning and personal learning sometimes seems like a matter of semantics, but that could be that terms are used interchangeably when they’re actually not the same.

In a personalized learning environment, much of the content is served up through various platforms; many that are specific to content. Often, these are educational platforms that do not leave much room for personalization. Personalization of learning comes in with how the educator designs their lessons. Personalized learning is like being served at a restaurant. Someone else selects the food and prepares it. There is some customization – you can tell the waiter how you want your meat cooked – but essentially everyone at the restaurant gets the same experience.

On the other hand, in a personal learning environment the learner is the individual who gets to select what and how they wish to learn. Often, personal learning is an item that is equated to project-based learning. Personal learning is like shopping at a grocery store; You need to assemble the ingredients yourself and create your own meals. It’s harder but it’s a lot cheaper, and you can have an endless variety of meals. Sure, you might not get the best meals possible, but you control the experience, and you control the outcome.

Ultimately, if students are to become lifelong learners, they need to be able to learn though a method that works for them. Students need to understand how to forge their own processes, and we as educators, have the responsibility to ensure that they have the necessary skills and tools to meet their varied needs.

Michael Speidel is an instructional designer for Virtual Loudoun at Loudoun County Public Schools.