We sat down with Denise Manganello, a district administrator with over thirteen years of experience with education technology, to get her insight on pressing questions and industry trends.
1. Weld North Education: You moved from the classroom into an administrative role. What advice can you give teachers transitioning from classroom to administrative roles?
Denise Manganello: The biggest advice I have is don’t forget where you came from. When I first became an administrator, I wrote down the little things that used to annoy me, and I reflect on those things every year before the teachers return. I don’t want to turn into the type of administrator I disliked as a teacher.
I’m ready to work with the students, but also respect the teachers, and respect the new demands that we place on them every year. I also constantly evaluate how I can support teachers and help their focus stay on the students and not on the state mandates.
If you’re a new leader, the best thing to do is listen and reflect because you don’t really know what you’re doing either. I would say it takes about three years to feel comfortable in the role, but until then, it is essential to listen to your colleagues because a new title doesn’t mean you know everything. It’s best to learn and grow with the team of educators around you.
2. Student engagement is a concern for most teachers in the Teacher’s Collective Forum, what measures do you take to keep students engaged with digital coursework?
Unfortunately, I don’t have a black and white answer. You have to look at each student individually and look at what is working and what’s not. The nice piece about Edgenuity is the dashboard and progress monitoring, so you can quickly look, and if you see someone in the red, regardless of their grade, you have to intervene. Don’t wait and see if they catch up because if you wait too long they get overwhelmed at the amount of coursework remaining.
We usually assign courses like a traditional school, where every student will have a semester to complete four to five courses across various subjects. But that doesn’t work for everyone. Sometimes students prefer the block schedule, and if we realize this before the student gets too behind, we can still help guide them to the path of success. For credit recovery students, I strongly suggest one class at a time; otherwise, it can get overwhelming and difficult for the student to keep up.
We do a weekly communication committee group, so every Wednesday, the educators get together and look at the data available in the system and you can see what’s going on with these kids at a granular level. We have it so nice in the digital world because data is not subjective, and it’s largely collected for us. So we as a group, get together and identify trends for each individual student. We also assign a cyber-education advisor, so every student has one point of contact who can inform our communication committee meetings and provide more personal communications to the student.
We also focus on celebrating student successes. We use the remind app, and I text kids a lot. A quick, “good job” or “I’m proud of you” makes a huge difference. Most of our student meetings in the past were sad and negative, so we also try to name one kid who is achieving more than they had last week. We recognize that student with a congratulations email and details about why they’re being recognized.
We tried doing a “student of the week” recognition, but the kids didn’t like it. We have found success with one-to-one recognition and also sending something straight to the parents. We like to focus on effort, so it’s more than just the grade, but looking at their history. For example, they retook the test when they didn’t have to because they wanted to improve their grade. We have found that by recognizing the effort and communicating directly with the students and parents, the success rate has gone up.
3. You oversee several school districts using Edgenuity. How do you foster communication across districts? What role does technology play in supporting collaboration?
It’s difficult. We’ve grown quickly, so adding the right amount of staff to balance the number of students and defining how teachers work with the students has been critical. As I mentioned before, we have weekly data meetings and have added a coordinator to run those meetings across the sites and report back to the larger group. We also send monthly newsletters and PowerPoints to keep communication consistent across all of the schools. We try to bridge gaps across the districts in our area to ensure students are receiving the same education regardless of the economic status of their location.
The biggest thing we’ve done to help foster communication is the custom Moodle course we built. It contains the key things school districts, and teachers need after they’ve been trained. Specific instructional articles, templates, email instructions, all of those specific things we can’t cover in one training, are included. Also, very specific things like special education, how to write IEPs, and how to comply with NCAA regulations is included as a reference. We get a lot of questions about online education, too, so we include information proving that it’s the same value or better. Organizing those resources has been a huge part of our communication plan across the districts.
4. How do you keep up-to-speed on the latest technologies and digital platforms for students and teachers?
I get a lot of emails. I also use Ted Talks and blogs to help stay informed. I tell the kids, when they’re frustrated or stressed out, “what is the why?” And instruct them to keep digging to find a solution. That’s when I increase my research too; I’ll try to find a solution when problems present themselves or someone needs me.
I also try to think outside the box. Every student does not need to go to college, so, does every student need the same path to graduation? Now we can create individual paths with technology. We can create a school within a school. And if a student doesn’t want to take world history, then what about human geography? That way, they’re still learning about social studies, but you give them a different course title, so they are in control of their path and their education. And technology has enabled us to do that.
5. Do you track your screen time? How much time do you spend on your phone each week?
I do track screen time, and I spend way too much time on my phone! I’ve averaged 2 hours and 54 minutes per day, but an hour and 14 minutes on social media for networking. I’m actually pleasantly surprised at those numbers because I feel like it’s usually been higher. In seven days, I’m averaging 5 hours and 52 minutes, 19 hours on social, six on others, and five on phone activity (email, phone, text).
I love technology to a fault, I think. I think you have to have time to put your phone down and be with your family and friends. So I use the do not disturb feature from 10 pm – 5 am. I also put the dimmer light on so I will get off my technology quicker. I wish I would’ve followed what I make my children do. They keep technology out of their bedroom in a docking station. But I don’t practice what I preach. I use my phone more than my laptop, so I can pull up my student data reports on my phone and listen to books or Ted Talks, it’s important to accept technology is in our lives and focus on finding a balance.
Anything else to add?
One of the big things with all the WNE companies – is to not restrict yourself as a user from giving feedback and comments. People need to understand that Edgenuity, Imagine Learning, Compass Learning, just WNE as a company listens. We’re constantly doing pilots because WNE values our feedback. Any comments or suggestions go to humans, and they use it to improve the product. That’s one of the reasons that we stay because WNE employees listen, and things have been developed based on our suggestions.