The Secret Life of Successful Educators: Josh Allen at the Intersection of Tech and Family Life

Josh Allen is an Instructional Technology Facilitator at Papillion-La Vista schools in Nebraska. He is an organizer of EdCamp Omaha and on the Board of Directors of the Nebraska Educational Technology Association. Josh is also the joyful father of three ridiculously cute kids. In this interview, Josh shares some of his insights on technology, family and work/life balance.

First of all, I love your picture blog, The Allens in Pictures. What inspired you to start it and how do you maintain it so well?
I think I started in 2009 as a way to keep all of the relatives up to date on the kids. Picture a day blogs were kind of a cool fad back then. My wife and I both have iPhones, so our Photo Stream syncs so I don’t always have to be the one taking pictures.  I now only spend a couple minutes a day from my phone. I see others that have a theme for the day or week. I just catch a glimpse of what happened that day. It’s usually nothing glamorous, but it’s our day. It’s never something I push on people, but it’s funny when someone at work comes and mentions it. Just this morning someone commented about our youngest starting to walk, which was our picture yesterday. I enjoy the feedback I get from friends and family. I’m not sure my Grandma would let me stop at this point.

Also, are there any techie devices or apps do you use that help you be a better family man/parent? Could any of these be applied successfully in the classroom?
Lately, I’ve been talking with quite a few people (some may be getting sick of it) about the website If This, Then That (IFTTT, You create “recipes” that let web services talk to each other. On a personal level, I have created a recipe so that anytime I use the hashtag “#mykids” on Instagram, a copy of the picture and description is sent to Flickr. Earlier this month, the Nebraska Educational Technology Association (NETA) held it’s first fall conference in conjunction with another state group. I am on the NETA Board of Directors. I set up a similar recipe where anytime I used the conference hashtag in Instagram, the picture and description posted to the NETA Facebook page (of which I’m an admin).

For educational purposes, it’s a great way for schools who utilize a variety of web services and/or social media to get those to talk to each other. It seems parents are on Facebook and students are on Twitter. IFTTT is one way to get a message to multiple platforms to communicate with multiple audiences wherever they are. There are also recipes for Evernote, Pocket, Google Drive, Calendar and Mail, among others. IFTTT works with over 70 different services. So no matter where your school is technology wise, you will probably be able to find something to help save you time. It’s a simple way to create automated workflows and backups between the things you are already using. I love browsing through their website to see what others have created and get ideas on how I can be using the web smarter.

Do you think you think it is possible to achieve a balance between work and family life? How do you go about trying to achieve it?
Is it possible? Yes. Is it easy? Absolutely not. The blessing and the curse of so much new technology is how easy it is to stay connected. Jeff Utecht has a great image on the Stages of PLN adoption. As technology has evolved and I’ve gotten a better understanding of what an Instructional Technology Facilitator is supposed to do, I’ve also added three kids to my life. I haven’t always been very good about achieving a work-home balance. Because technology is always at my fingertips, I have to sometimes make a conscious effort to put the phone or iPad down. I think I’ve made it to Step 4 (Perspective) on Utecht’s image. I still have my phone near me to take pictures of the kids, but I do a better job of leaving work until work time…or when the kids go to bed.

I’ve been participating in a book group with some other men from my church. In two different books, we heard the same story about how a father wrote in his journal that a day spent with his kid fishing. No fish were caught, so the father considered it a wasted day. But the son talked about how wonderful that day was for the rest of his life because of all the things they talked about and the focused time he got from his dad. I replay that story in my head almost daily. Playing cars with my son may seem like a waste of time to me, but it could have a huge influence on him. I may not realize the impact in that moment. I may not realize it that year. While I need to work to support my family, I also need to support them with my time. And not in the same room, checking my phone. Kids pick up on that quickly. Spend time in the moment with your kids. Care about what they care about, even if you don’t. As both a teacher and a parent, I feel spending time as a family can be the most important thing parents can do for their kids.

In what ways has parenting confirmed, challenged and/or changed your approach to technology in schools?
I’m not sure that parenting has changed the way I think about technology. I think I have a little more heightened awareness for monitoring student use at home and cyber bullying. My kids are still pretty young (oldest just entered kindergarten), but I’ve started thinking more about how we’ll handle those two issues specifically as they get older. As I watch my kids learn on our iPad, it definitely does confirm that, with proper guidance, there are lots of engaging ways for kids to learn. I hear people complain about the games kids play on devices. Well, who puts those games on there? We are very intentional about what goes on our iPad. We still read physical books and our kids love drawing on paper, but more importantly, we give them options for how they want to learn. As an educator, that’s all I’ve ever wanted for students.

You can find more of Josh on Twitter and on his blog Technology Fridge

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