An Interview with David Fife

David Fife is currently a vice-principal at Mitchell Hepburn P.S in St. Thomas, Ontario and is a long-time Twitter user.  Prior to becoming an administrator, he was a Learning Technologies Coordinator with the Thames Valley District School Board.

David is very transparent about his online presence.  He’s created a digital footprint page showing where he is active here.  http://www.davidfife.ca/my-digital-footprint.html

Doug:  Thanks for agreeing to the interview, David.  This should be fun.  We go back a long way – can you tell the readers where we first met?

David:  Thanks for the opportunity Doug, it’s a real honour! Although my memory isn’t as good as it once was I’m sure the first time we met was in 2005 at a Western Regional Computer Advisory Committee meeting at the old Thames Valley Educational Centre building in St.Thomas. A building I drive by daily to my job at Mitchell Hepburn. Sadly it’s no longer in operation, but we had many meetings and events there. Even then it was easy to see that you were a very respected educator, with a lot of experience that we could all learn from.

Doug:  Ah, the Community Education Centre – South.  In these days of mega structures, it’s hard to picture that as a board office.  The Western RCAC was a terrific group of educational leaders such as yourself.  Lots of great sharing happening there at the time.  I still see Cliff online and Alison certainly as established herself as a provincial leader.  Thames Valley was a powerhouse leader so it comes as no surprise that you made the move to administration.

You’re a bit of an oddity in the online admin world.  There are a lot of administrators who use social media but you’re incredibly active online sharing your learning.  What value do you see being this connected?

David:  I’ve often said that I have learned more from my PLN in the past 3 years than in any other time in my career, and that includes the courses I have recently completed to obtain my Master of International Education degree. The collective knowledge about pedagogy, leadership, school culture and what is working for kids that my PLN share every day is the reason I have stayed active on social media. I’m really not sure how I could have learned what I have over the last 3 years without them. I believe wholeheartedly with David Weinberger’s statement from Too Big to Know that “the smartest person in the room, is the room”. Social media, for me, is one big room. However, it’s not only the virtual connections I have made that I value. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many fantastic educators in my PLN in person. It is in these face-to-face conversations that I have learned even more about the people I connect with.

Doug:  That’s a common message that you hear quite often – meeting virtually enhances the eventual face to face experience.

If I was overhearing parents talking at a soccer match, how would they complete this sentence “Oh, Mitchell Hepburn!  That’s the school where …..”

David:  Another addition is required! Joking aside Mitchell Hepburn is a very large elementary school in an area of St. Thomas that continues to grow. What I hope parents would be saying is that Mitchell Hepburn is a school that provides students with exciting opportunities to learn with teachers and staff that care about them. A place where teachers work hard providing extra-curricular activities in areas of the arts and sports. A place where because of social media parents and community members have a view into the learning happening in each and every classroom. Mitchell Hepburn is a great place to learn because of the people committed to make it that way.

Doug:  What sorts of things with respect to computers and information technology is Mitchell Hepburn known for?

David:  We are a school on the move. We have recently closed our computer lab and have moved to a learning commons equipped with five S.O.L.E (Self Organized Learning Environments) stations. We have just recently been fully converted to a school wifi network which will help support our BYOD initiatives. Mitchell Hepburn is also fortunate to have 40 iPads, 20 netbooks and 15 Chromebooks to help support our BYOD and Google Apps for Education initiatives. Most importantly, however is that we have a core group of teachers like @pluggedportable that model effective integration of technology into the curriculum and support those that are willing to take the leap with the use of technology in the classroom.

Doug:  That’s a nice collection of different computing devices.  It should provide a rich experience for students.

In your former life as a Learning Technologies Coordinator, you were heavily involved with professional learning.  As a vice-principal, you’ll be providing leadership in this area as well.  Is there a difference is the approach between the two?

David: Yes there’s a bit of a difference. As a Learning Technologies Coordinator we provided professional learning experiences in a general sense for an entire system and provided some support to the school we were responsible for. These were generally big ticket items such as SMART Board training and software specific training.

As an administrative team we work with staff to develop a School Improvement Plan based on our most pressing student needs. Our professional learning then evolves from that. It’s my job to guide the professional learning opportunities based on our School Improvement Plan. It’s not necessarily technology related, but may have include some aspects of technology based on our student needs.

Doug:  What skills did you bring as Learning Coordinator to the role as a school administrator?

David: As a Learning Coordinator I was involved in many initiatives and pilot programs where I learned how policy and procedures at the board level work. Teachers often don’t see the bigger system picture, which is understandable because they are so involved in what they are doing at the school level. I’m able to explain to them how things go and this often is enough for teachers to understand the implications of what they are looking for and they begin to understand the complexities of working in a large district. The other skills that I think I’ve brought to the school as an administrator is that of listening and asking questions. So often as a Learning Coordinator I had to listen to issues that schools or individual teachers were having with technology. My job was to understand their concerns and ask questions to clarify and help to find solutions. It’s no different in the administrator role. I listen to students, parents, teachers and colleagues with the goal finding the answer or supporting them in any way I can. I always look to find a way to say yes. It’s not always easy but by asking the right questions I find that problems are easier to solve.

Doug:  On the Mitchell Hepburn website, there’s a private link to Library eBooks.  Can you tell us how that works?  How successful is it with students?

David: Library eBooks are a collection of eBooks that have been purchased by Thames Valley for use at all schools. Some schools have also decided to make their own purchases to add to their collection. The collection is not widely used at Mitchell Hepburn mainly due to issues with bandwidth. As many boards across the province are experiencing the ability to download or view anything multimedia is challenging. Therefore we have decided to stick with traditional methods of reading material, which is fine by me. I love the feel of a real book in my hands.

Doug:  Do you allow students to bring their own devices to class and attach to the school’s network?

David: Yes. As I mentioned earlier we have just recently been converted to a fully wireless school. With this we have 3 separate and distinct connections. TVDSB-Student is the connection that students can access with their Active Directory accounts on their own devices. TVDSB-mobile is a network that if students are using a school device such as an iPad, netbook or Chromebook the device will automatically connect to it. Finally we do have a TVDSB-Teacher connection that teachers can also connect to using their Active Directory account.

Doug:  How well does it work?

David: So far we have been very happy with the wireless connections. I must admit during the transition from having a few “hot spots” in the school to where we are now there was some frustration among staff. Of course we all wanted the work done immediately but to their credit our IT department did a great job making sure everything was working well before expanding the wireless connections to the entire school.

Doug:  How does the concept of equity work?  Do all students have access to a technology that they can bring in this way?

David: Our junior and intermediate division are primarily working with a BYOD scenario. Our challenge was with teachers that felt the computer lab was the only way to facilitate effective integration of technology. Thankfully with excellent modeling from their colleagues we are beginning to see more mobile and BYOD technology being used.

In order to support those students who do not bring their own device and for our younger students we have moved to an online method of reserving our school purchased devices. We have created calendars in Google Drive that all teachers can access through their Thames Valley Google Account to reserve devices. We encourage teachers to think and plan ahead and to work with our teacher-librarian on projects and ideas. Our vision is to utilize the devices as creation tools where students are engaged in demonstrating their learning in creative ways. As an example could be a primary teacher reserving 10 iPads so that their students could work in pairs using Explain Everything to demonstrate their understanding of 2-digit addition.

Doug:  I’m a regular reader of your blog and enjoy many of the insights that you share.  You have a feature you call “Tweets of the Week”.  What inspired you to do this?

David: There are just so many great tweets that I read every day. I decided to start “Tweets of the Week” for a selfish reason, I didn’t want to forget them! Now I get emails and Direct Messages in Twitter all the time about how much they enjoy reading them. So I guess I better keep doing it 🙂

Doug:  Nothing succeeds like success!  More importantly, since you’re so active, you must read a huge amount of Twitter messages weekly.  How do you determine what to keep for this purpose and how do you curate them?

David: That’s a great question Doug, one that a new user or someone who may have an interest in getting on Twitter will want to know. I have been using Hootsuite since I started on Twitter and quite frankly without using it, or some other tool most users would get frustrated with amount of information that is streamed on a constant basis. In Hootsuite I have a tab for my own feed with a stream for mentions, sent tweets, favourites, new followers and direct messages. I have a tab for Thames Valley and streams for specific hashtags that our board uses such as #tvdsb, #tvadmin, #tvinnovates, etc… I also have a 2 tabs that are for my favourite chats. Again the streams within each of these tabs were created using the hashtags for those chats such as #edchat, #suptchat, #cpchat and #kinderchat, just to name a few. Finally I have two tabs that are dedicated to list that I have created and added people to. For example a few of my lists are: leaders, administrators, active, edtech and fdk teachers. When I see a user in one of those categories tweeting out great content I’ll add them to that list, then their tweets will always be easy to find. This works for me.

I usually spend 10-15 in the morning, periodically during the day when I have a spare few minutes and lots of time at night reading all the streams under each of my tabs in Hootsuite. For someone new to Twitter or someone who is struggling with how to keep up I completely understand. But if they use a tool like Hootsuite and create a method of streamlining the flow of information that works for them I’m sure they will have a much better experience.

Doug:  When a student graduates from Grade 8 at Mitchell Hepburn, what sort of digital citizen do you hope they have become?

David: First and foremost I hope they come to realize the importance of protecting themselves and their privacy online. If we only do one thing when it comes to digital citizenship then it has to be that. Beyond the protection and privacy issues I hope that our students learn to become digital citizens that can critically analyze information on the web and that they become proficient at using web tools effectively to enhance their learning.

Doug:  Do you ever hold yourself up as a digital leader modelling social media for your students?

David: Not directly. Students always seem to find my social media accounts and are amazed at the number of followers I have. I am quick to let them know two things. It’s not the number of followers that’s impressive, it’s how much I learn from the people that I follow that’s impressive. The second thing I tell them is that with any amount of following you have the responsibility to behave in a manner that is professional, thoughtful, kind and respectful. I like to use the example of any number of professional athletes that tweet something that is highly inappropriate and within minutes they are forced into an apology and often delete their accounts. You can’t really hide on social media, you are there for the world to see. Shine your light in the right direction.

Doug:  That is a terrific piece of advice for anyone using social media.  “Shine your light in the right direction.”  Consider it stolen!

Thank you so much for the interview, David.  I appreciate it.  It was great to get caught up – it’s been a few years since we’d meet at the RCAC and you seem to have moved along nicely into administration.

You can continue to follow David’s journey on Twitter at @DavidFifeVP and through any of the social media connections in his digital footprint.  http://www.davidfife.ca/my-digital-footprint.html

Mitchell Hepburn has a presence on the web here – http://www.tvdsb.ca/Hepburn.cfm

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2 thoughts on “An Interview with David Fife

  1. Doug, you have certainly chosen one of our most “connected” Thames Valley administrators to highlight in this interview. Your broad range of questions were well crafted and created the conditions for Dave to share his many talents which go well beyond the walls of his school. Not only does he model his use of social media as a source for his own professional learning, he supports many of his colleagues as they begin their own journey of developing a Professional Learning Network. His school community is so fortunate to have an administrator who gets “it”, models “it” and most importantly, truly believes in the power of “it”.

    Liked by 1 person

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