Working with Chicago Public Schools, Deneice McClary served as Personalized Learning Manager during The Broad Residency.
My alarm goes off and, like I do most mornings, I hit the snooze button. Fifteen minutes later, I get up and start my morning routine. While getting ready, I often plan my day and make mental lists of what I’d like to accomplish. My task list this morning is particularly long, as I am trying to get a lot done before I go on vacation.
I leave my apartment and make my way to the bus stop (which, luckily, is around the corner from my place). I have soul music from the late 90’s on today’s playlist, so I turn it up while I get caught up on current events and enjoy my morning commute.
I realize that I left my lunch at home, which is unfortunate because I know today is going to be hectic. I start the day the way I normally do: I make myself some instant oatmeal and write any emails I didn’t get to yesterday. This is my only quiet time; most of the department doesn’t get in until 9 a.m.
I have a lot of meetings I need to set up for the following week so that I don’t miss a beat once I return from vacation. The next couple of weeks will be critical. The personalized learning team — which consists of me, the deputy chief of teaching and learning and the education technology instructional lead — is seeking approval to launch a campaign to encourage our students to use a free badging platform. We are using this campaign as an entry point to increase student agency, which will be critical for personalized learning.
We meet with a vendor via Google Hangout to discuss the district-wide framework we are creating and how we think an outside team might help us by creating a professional development platform on which teachers can badge. The vendor states that other districts are asking them for the same thing. We hope that the sheer size of Chicago Public Schools puts a bit more pressure on them to develop something sooner rather than later.
Once we disconnect from that meeting, we all stay in the room to debrief and discuss our next steps. One colleague thinks it’s a good idea for the four of us to meet next week so we can develop one overall district strategy.
I leave the central office and walk to the nearby office of a personalized learning partner. They partner with CPS to create opportunities for schools to pilot innovative ideas and software for personalized learning. Right now, my mind is focused on the meeting I have with them to discuss a paper on Illinois policies that may have an impact on personalized learning programs.
I arrive at the partner’s office early. I find a seat, plug in and respond to a few emails.
We go over an outline for the paper, clean it up a bit and divide up the sections among the three of us. We also set a timeline for milestones and check-ins. It was a very productive working session.
I have some time before my next meeting, so I stay at the partner’s office and get started creating an outline for my sections of the policy paper.
I grab lunch and make it back to the central office before my next meeting. I am running on fumes and happy to finally be eating! I normally snack throughout the day, but I left my snacks at my desk. I grab a sandwich and inhale it while walking to my meeting.
I was invited to join a meeting with the network chiefs, hosted by a colleague in the chief administrative office. She knows I want the chief’s approval to communicate with principals about the campaign, and it’s been difficult to get a response from them via email. I am attending the meeting to ask them in person. As it turns out, the meeting ended early. Instead of staying downtown for the CAO meeting, they all went back to their offices. My colleague uses the meeting time to review progress on various work streams with her education technology committee members. I stay because the ed tech committee’s work is vital to our personalized learning strategy. I’ve been missing the weekly meetings due to schedule conflicts, so this is a good chance for me to catch up.
My personalized learning teammates and I walk to DePaul University to meet with their Digital Youth Network team and see a demonstration of their badging platform.
We get a high-level overview of the platform and what some of the learning pathways look like. This will help us explain the connection between our campaign and our personalized learning strategy as we seek approvals.
I walk back to the office and finish my day. I read some more articles for the policy paper. I also wrap up any outstanding tasks, as tomorrow will be busier and shorter for me. Dozens of emails need responses and I have to edit a presentation for the deputy chief of teaching and learning. I leave work on time because I have a host of personal things to do.
I pop in my ear buds and it’s back to the 90’s playlist for a bit of down time on the bus. I scroll through Facebook and get caught up on people’s lives. The commute home always takes a bit longer than in the mornings due to the traffic, but today’s commute isn’t that bad. I decide to make a quick detour to the grocery store and the dry cleaner.
I get home. I tell my boyfriend about my day and he tells me about his. We decide to order dinner. I call an Italian restaurant two blocks away. We pick up our dinner, eat and watch television. Later, I respond to a few more work emails. I get my clothes out for the next day. There’s no need to make lunch since it’s still in the refrigerator from this morning, so I get in bed. Tomorrow, I want to get to work an hour earlier. I hate waking up before 6 a.m., but I hate not getting my work done even more.
I am driving to a school and don’t need to be there until 9:15 a.m. I get up a bit later than usual, get dressed, eat breakfast and respond to a few emails before leaving the house. I love that I am not beholden to a bus schedule this morning and don’t feel rushed.
I drive to Spencer Technology Academy. I’ve been there before, so I arrive without getting lost or turned around. I was recently assigned to a new manager, the deputy chief of teaching and learning. Shortly
after I started, he was hired by the CEO to create a district-wide personalized-learning framework. Prior to this role, he was the principal of Spencer Technology Academy for eight years. As principal, he implemented personalized learning and launched a parent university to increase engagement. One of my new responsibilities is to help my manager launch three or four more parent universities across the city. I am at Spencer today to learn more and observe a few meetings.
The program begins late because the speakers are setting up and parents are still coming in. I help sign parents in and check emails while waiting.
The program opens with the family and community engagement manager welcoming the parents and talking about the group norms. She also talks about the activities planned for the parent leadership network for the rest of the year. The new principal of Spencer also welcomes the parents. My manager is the main attraction for this particular meeting. He’s giving the parents an overview of the district-wide parent university program. The program is made up of two entities: parent universities, neighborhood-based sites designed to offer resources to parents and community members; and parent engagement centers, school-based sites designed to do the same thing on a smaller scale for parents of the students attending the school.
My manager arranged for me to interview the family and community resource coordinator at Spencer so I could get a better understanding of their parent engagement strategy. The coordinator explains the history of how they created the parent university at Spencer and how it evolved over the years. She talks about some of their metrics for success and how they’d like to grow in the next year or two.
I take time between the interview and my next meeting to go to the restroom, eat the lunch I brought and catch up on emails. I also take a few minutes to prep for my upcoming meeting.
It is my turn to lead a bi-weekly meeting for my fellow personalized-learning focused Broad Residents. We call them “Hump Day Hangouts.” Twice a month, nine of us who are involved with personalized learning across the country come together via Google Hangout and share what we’re working on. We ask questions and give each other things to think about to make our work even better. We also share artifacts and materials with each other. My presentation goes fairly well and my classmates ask some good questions. They give me a few things to think about as I create a framework for a district this large.
During my interview with the family and community resource coordinator, she mentioned that today is their sister-to-sister support group meeting and I was welcome to sit in. I decide to attend to gain insight into their programming. It will also put me in front of parents so I can ask them a few questions. The meeting is very engaging. We sit in a circle and talk about whatever is on our minds. Some talk about their kids, some talk about their jobs and some don’t talk at all. I can tell that these women are close and share a bond. What I find amazing is many of them do not have children who attend Spencer. They participate in the Spencer parent university because they want to better themselves and this is where they feel comfortable doing so. After the meeting ends, I talk to a few of the parents to get their perspective on how their children’s schools handle parent engagement.
I follow my manager to Manley Career Academy High School. We are going to sit in on a principals meeting for Network 5. Chicago Public Schools has over 600 schools. For each school to be properly managed, the district is divided into 13 networks. Each network is bound by an area of the city and all elementary, middle, and high schools within that area belong to a single network. Each network is managed by a network chief who acts as the regional superintendent for that network.
We have some trouble finding the meeting due to a helpful, but confused, security guard who sent us to the wrong room. The principals’ meeting is well under way when we arrive. My manager introduces me to several principals during the break and we talk a little about our personalized learning work. The network chief invited my manager to the meeting so he could meet with a technology vendor. The chief wants to leverage the tools within her district but doesn’t want to make a final decision until my manager spoke with the vendor. It is a very interactive meeting. The vendor simulates the student and teacher experience with tablets they brought.
We leave the principals’ meeting and I follow my manager to our next destination. We are driving to Westinghouse High School where the school board meeting is being held. This will be my first board meeting, so I am really excited to see what they are like. We arrive pretty late, so the parking lot is packed and there’s no street parking that I can see. I keep circling the building until I find a spot. It’s in the parking lot, but it’s marked “reserved.” I park there anyway, hoping I don’t find a ticket when I return.
My manager and I find seats in the back of the room. The chief accountability officer for CPS is talking about our new policy for measuring annual school performance. His presentation goes well and the board approves adoption of the new policy. I wish I could stay at the board meeting until it ends, but the sandwich I had for lunch is not enough to carry me through.
I am happy to see that my car is exactly where I left it! I text my boyfriend to see what he’s planning for dinner. I loved not taking the bus this morning because of the freedom I had. But by the end of the day, I just want to get home without dealing with traffic. I guess there’s no winning for me.
I get home and my boyfriend and I exchange stories about our day and eat dinner. I call one of my closest college friends to wish her a happy birthday and catch up on her life. Another college friend recently had a baby so I call her, too. I watch a bit of TV with my computer up so I can work on my Residency assignments before calling it a night.
I wake up and go through my morning routine. I make a fruit smoothie (my boyfriend and I are trying to eat healthier this year).
I have a doctor’s appointment, so I work from home until I need to leave. I respond to a few emails and focus on the agenda for an important meeting later this afternoon to ensure I am prepared. My boyfriend comes home from a 12-hour shift at the hospital and we catch up on the previous day over our smoothies. He gets ready for bed and I go to the doctor’s office.
After waiting for a bit, I get in to see my doctor. I am a new patient so the appointment is long and full of questions. Once the physical exam is done, I get my blood drawn and head to work.
The doctor took longer than anticipated, so I rearrange my to-do list while on the bus to make sure I hit the necessary things first. Once in the office, I run into my manager. He will be interviewing candidates for their open chief of staff position for most of the day. He wants me to lead a meeting with our grant writing department so we can talk through what we need to apply for a federal grant that’s due next week. He gives me some notes and is on his way. I make it to my desk and rearrange my to-do list again. I heat up my lunch and start on my first task. I am coordinating an interview day for job candidates and have some schedule changes that I need to address as well as assemble packets for the interviewers and interviewees.
Next on my list is setting up a tour of Intrinsic Schools for Broad Residents and alumni. Intrinsic was recently featured in an article in Education Week for being one-of-a-kind in the blended learning space. Intrinsic Schools is a public charter school here in Chicago that blends technology with great teaching so that their students can own their education and personalize their paths to college and career. On top of being an awesome school, it is led by a former Broad Resident. I go through my email responses to determine the best day and time for the tour and contact Intrinsic to coordinate it.
The third item on my list is making sure my CPS Connects newsletter goes out on time. CPS Connects is a digital badging initiative that I lead as a component of our personalized learning strategy. We are leveraging an existing city-wide platform and creating monthly playlists for students to help them own their own learning and reinforce that learning does not only happen in the classroom with a teacher standing in front of the class. Our monthly newsletter lets principals and teachers across the district see what badges our students are earning and what challenges and experiences are coming up.
Once I get through my tasks, I have a few minutes left to go to the restroom and make sure I am ready for my next two meetings.
I meet with my former manager. We both work at CPS but our interaction has been limited now that we aren’t in the same department, so we set up monthly one-on-ones to keep up with each other. I give him an update on what I’ve been doing for the past few months and he offers me some things to think about to ensure I have a well-rounded experience during my Residency.
I run to my desk to call in to my next meeting — the one I am leading for my manager. We get started late after waiting for a few people to dial in, but the meeting is extremely productive. We create a high-level outline of the areas we want to focus on for the grant. The initial proposal is due a week from today so we have no time to waste. While on the call, I set up a meeting for tomorrow so that my manager can make sure our outline is aligned to what he is thinking.
I am hosting a meeting to start planning our CPS Connects challenges for the following school year, so I excuse myself from the call before it ends. I am meeting with the directors of art, literacy and social sciences from the department of core curriculum, as well as our external partners from Digital Youth Network. CPS Connects evolved very suddenly over the winter break and it did not give any of us the time to plan how we were going to manage the initiative. We are excited to plan the next school year so we can execute flawlessly.
I start the meeting with introductions. I give a brief recap of our successes and lessons learned over the past five months. I lead the team in a brainstorming session to discuss ideas for next year. The directors don’t want to finalize anything until they talk with their teams so we’ll need a follow-up meeting. I take notes to document all the ideas we discuss and write down the questions we’ll want the
curriculum team to answer as well as create a template they can use to organize their brainstorming session. I share with everyone via Google Drive and then our meeting ends.
Now that both my manager and I are done with our meetings, he calls me in for an impromptu check-in. After about 20 minutes spent debriefing my grant and CPS Connects meetings, we are joined by our favorite communications strategist. She stops by to get some feedback on a few one-pagers she’s putting together for a luncheon my manager is attending later in the week. He is being honored by the Urban League. He’ll have a chance to talk about the innovations he’s implemented and wants to have some reference materials for the audience to keep. The overviews look great. I proofread it and give her a few small changes.
I go back to my desk and wrap up my day. I answer some last-minute emails, put the finishing touches on work from earlier in the day and begin my action items from today’s. I also make a to-do list for tomorrow and post it on my monitor so I know where to start when I get in. I have a call with my Residency advisor soon, so I head out.
I hop on the bus and talk with my Residency advisor. He’s interested in learning how a recent high-level resignation might impact me and my work. I tell him that I’m okay and that my work is still moving forward. I don’t anticipate any major shifts, but I promise to keep him abreast of any changes that come my way.
I meet a friend of mine for dinner. We haven’t seen each other in months, so we have a lot to catch up on. We share work stories, talk about our lives and then call it a night.
My boyfriend has left for work by the time I arrive home. We text a bit so I can tell him about my meeting. He starts to get busy, so I wish him a light shift and put the phone down. I turn on the TV and catch up on my shows. While watching television, I pull out my laptop and respond to a few emails about the interview day. It looks like the schedule needs to be changed again so I work on that. I then read up on the grant to get more details about how the money can be used so that I am prepared for tomorrow’s meeting on the subject. Eventually I feel my eyes get heavy so I go to bed.
My alarm goes off so I get out of bed, throw on some workout clothes and ride my bike to the gym. I am one week into a new morning workout routine and, right now, it’s more about forming the habit of waking up early than the actual workout. I do some stretches, run on the elliptical machine for 30 minutes and end with more stretches.
I get home and get ready for work. I make my morning blueberry and banana smoothie and am out the door to catch my bus.
While enjoying my commute, I read a daily update email from the chief accountability officer at Chicago Public Schools. He sends an email every morning filled with things going on around the office, within schools and around the city. He has a pretty strong following and I sometimes forward them on to friends. Today I learn that the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup the night before. I don’t really follow hockey, but I am happy for the city and it explains why everyone is wearing Blackhawks gear.
As soon as I get to the office, I finish up some emails that I started to draft on the bus. One of the network chiefs and I keep missing each other and I see I have a note from her. I am trying to get some of the schools in her network on the south side of Chicago to be digital summer hubs. We are partnering with Digital Youth Network, which provides resources to promote self-directed learning and increase students’ digital literacy skills. I give her a call and leave her a voicemail.
I am a bit rushed this morning because this is the last week of school and we are still pulling together materials that we want principals to give to students before they leave for the summer. I am making some last-minute changes to a flyer when my manager comes to my desk and asks me to meet with him.
We go to his office and I give him an update regarding the deliverables we discussed yesterday, which he wants done by Friday. I am putting together a presentation that we will use to present personalized learning to principals at their annual principal institute in July. He gives me some feedback about the presentation structure. He also wants to talk about our parent engagement work stream and put together a “next steps” document with action items and dates for the schools and partners so that everyone knows what’s going on. I created such a document back in May, so we make a few alterations and he sends it out to the partners. Before ending the meeting, I talk to my manager about an opportunity that was presented to me to take over the coordination of the monthly senior leadership team meetings. The team is comprised of 185 senior leaders across the central and network offices and the meetings occur every other month. Coordinating these meetings would be a tremendous opportunity for me to branch out beyond my current role and get more exposure to senior leaders with whom I do not normally interact. He thinks it’s a great idea and I let the current coordinator know that my manager is on board!
It’s time for my first meeting of the day. My manager and I meet with a vendor representative to discuss the next steps with our partnership. We hired this organization to assess schools for our personalized learning pilot. Their assessment is aligned to our framework and personalized learning continuum. We are using the continuum (made up of four distinct stages) to tailor the professional development and support we provide to the schools. Today we review the timeline for the school selection process. The representative makes a few suggestions and, for the most part, agrees with our process.
I have 30 minutes before my next meeting so I go back to responding to emails about the changes to the flyer for our summer digital badging activities.
I find my manager and bring him to the conference room for our next meeting. Our guests represent an organization that hopes to transform the learning landscape by promoting connected learning. We have been meeting with them for a while and are trying to establish a monthly meeting cycle in order to solidify our partnership. We both provide updates on our work streams to see where things could naturally intersect. I think we’re going to be working very closely with them on our digital badging initiative as well as our parent engagement initiative. They are really good at connecting organizations and are very much in tune with what’s going on throughout the city. We make a list of follow-ups for our next meeting and say our goodbyes.
While I was in the last meeting, I got a text from the principal at Joseph Lovett Elementary. He will be part of the Chicago Public Education Fund’s summer design program in which he and his teacher team will learn all about design thinking and use it to solve a real problem they have at their school. I plan to work with them so that I can see the design process in action. Today, he invites me to a meeting his team is having at 2:00 p.m. This puts me in a bit of bind because my schedule is open, but I did not drive to the office today. That means I have to go home and get my car and then drive out to the school. It also means I will most likely not make it back to the office. I run the idea past my manager and he agrees that I should attend the meeting. I spend the remainder of my time wrapping up things that I need to do in person here in the office. I have a few impromptu meetings with folks and send out urgent emails related to action items from my earlier meetings and this flyer that I just can’t seem to get approved.
I pack up, hop in a cab and go home to get my car. Arriving at my car, I realize that I have not eaten lunch (of all the days to forget to pack a lunch!). I will need to stop for food before I go to the school. I look at Google Maps and see there’s a lot of traffic so I decide to get to the same side of town as the school before I worry about eating. Traffic is absolutely awful, but I finally make it to my exit and get off the freeway. I grab a sandwich and inhale it as I continue to the school.
I show up a bit late for the 2:00 p.m. meeting, but I gave the principal a heads-up about the traffic while I was in the car. I introduce myself to the team and we get started. They are in the early stages of figuring out what problem they want to solve using design thinking. I interject a few times to ask questions and provide suggestions. The meeting is very productive and gives me some background on the school.
The principal pulls a teacher from another school and me out of the meeting to give us a tour of the school. The building is massive and he takes us to multiple classrooms to visit with students. The building will be undergoing some major remodeling over the summer. There are two separate buildings on campus; the middle school students are in the main (larger) building, even though there are fewer of them. The primary students are in the annex. During the summer, however, this will be switched. The principal is taking care to make sure both buildings meet the needs of the students. Over the summer, the buildings will be painted and receive new furniture. He hopes to create more interaction between the primary grade students by removing their doors.
After the tour, I sit down with the principal and assistant principal to talk about the principal institute presentation. I mention that my manager and I are going to talk about our personalized learning framework. I review the outline of the presentation with them and answer their questions. I apologize for the tight turnaround and request that I have their draft by Friday so that my manager can review it before he goes on vacation. The meeting ends and I take a few minutes to get updates on what I’ve missed since leaving the office.
I leave the school and face the traffic once more. It takes me just as long to get home as it did to get there, but at least I am not hungry this time.
My boyfriend and I have plans tonight, so once I get home, I change clothes and we head to the car. We meet up with a friend who is leaving Chicago and having a goodbye happy hour. After about an hour, we head to another friend’s house for a dinner party. We meet some cool new people at both events.
All in all, it’s been a great day, but all the driving has got me beat! I don’t even bother looking at emails when I get home. I get ready for bed and call it a night.