Hanging Out with the Chrome Squad Hanging Out with the Chrome Squad

Hanging Out with the Chrome Squad

Erin Werra Erin Werra Documenting #SquadGoals
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Editor’s note: After discovering Royse City ISD’s Connected for Learning (C4L) program and its student-led IT team, the Chrome Squad, we couldn’t wait to learn more. We’re so grateful to Mr. Holt and the Chrome Squad for sharing their story, what they’re learning, and the immense impact their team has—not only on their district but all people they coach. Here’s what they told Advancing K12 over the course of two Google Hangouts.

P.S.: Follow them on Twitter @Chrome_Squad!

Six years ago, Royse City ISD embarked on the Connected for Learning (C4L) initiative. Educators devoted a year to studying initiatives and developing a well-researched technology program designed to withstand the fads and lightning-fast changes in edtech. 

Research emphasized the importance of professional development, so after spending another year training teachers, the district rolled out a 1:1 device program. RCISD devicesStudents in grades K–5 received touch devices. Chromebooks were the right fit for Royse City middle and high school students. During the first year of training, RCISD hired Cody Holt to run the C4L program.

“Originally there were going to be three people running the program. I’d do PD, someone would do bookkeeping, and someone would manage all the devices,” Mr. Holt explains. However, things don’t always go according to plan, and he soon found himself as the sole administrator of the C4L program. “But, they said, ‘You can use students,’” he adds, smiling. 

Building the First Squad

Mr. Holt embarked on a search for the first students who would become the Chrome Squad. It’s important to think in terms of hiring decisions, he says, and look for character traits and personalities the way you would when building a team for a business. The students' experiences would resemble internships. Though unpaid, students would be enrolled in a class and perform most duties during school hours.

He decided on four core values:
  1. Integrity
  2. Respect
  3. Teachable and self-taught
  4. Quality work (an umbrella term for critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity)

Mr. Holt asked teachers to provide nominations. His colleagues came up with 60 names (the next year the total nominations doubled). Mr. Holt enlisted a group of teachers to help vet nominees under rigorous standards—if there were any reservations, the nomination was discarded. About 20 students made it through to the interview round.

Laura, a Chrome Squad senior and blog team lead, looks back on her own interview, for which she was nervous after being pulled out of class. “Mr. Holt said, ‘Hey, do you want this tech internship?’ It was a complete surprise. A good surprise—I’m glad I accepted.” 

Maggie, who started a year later and also works on the blog team, had a different experience. She received an initial email notifying her of her nomination and inviting her to schedule an interview with a panel of Chrome Squad students, including Laura.

“I think it’s a good idea to have us interview them,” Laura recalls. “It’s good to get an idea of personalities, because if it’s not much fun interviewing or talking to them, I don’t know how easy it’s going to be to work with them.”

Mr. Holt is rarely on the lookout for technology skills during interviews. Those skills, he says, can be taught. He can’t teach someone to have a passion for helping others. Depending on which teams have departing members, he may look for specific skills including writing, video, or other specialties tailored to the eight current Chrome Squad teams.

Dividing Tasks to Amplify Success

The eight Chrome Squad teams include:
  1. Ninjas: Running a teacher professional development program
  2. Chromsierge: Serving as 1:1 tutors for teachers
  3. Blog: Writing informative and engaging blog posts
  4. Video: Promoting the Chrome Squad and sharing tips
  5. Inventory control: Handling physical inventory and shipping Chromebooks needing repair
  6. Tech tips: Sharing useful knowledge using a variety of mediums
  7. PR: Maintaining the website, building social media presence, and giving tours
  8. Connect store: Manning the storefront and keeping it stocked with high-demand items

This year there are 22 members of the Chrome Squad. Students may serve on multiple teams or focus on just one. Teams do a great deal of outreach, while still serving customers in the Chrome Squad Lounge. Some teams, like Chromsierge and Ninjas, provide support for over 460 teachers in the district, including a digital badging program which has awarded 2,223 badges to teachers over the past year and a half. PD badging

Goals are essential to Mr. Holt and the Chrome Squad and may overlap between teams. Each team sets a long-term goal to be accomplished over nine weeks. Teams map backward from their nine-week goal to set smaller milestones to reach weekly. Students assess progress and adjust as needed.

Each team has a student manager. During summer training, managers craft activities to help choose their team members for the year. Their day-to-day tasks incorporate leadership activities.

 “A lot of my job is managing what other people are doing,” Cade, Chromsierge manager, explains. During a typical day he helps with service calls, for which every Chrome Squad member is responsible, but also strives to enrich his team’s experience. “I’m looking for resources to share with my team, sending emails, and giving updates.”

Karina, one of Cade’s Chromsierge team members, describes the final day of summer training. “New members had auditions for which group we’d be placed in,” she recalls. “It was fun and welcoming, and each team had an activity they designed and set up so new team members could have a taste of what the team does. It also let them see how new members would work in their environment.”

Service-Oriented Student IT

Despite different responsibilities within each team, the Chrome Squad’s primary focus is always customer service. It’s the number one skill Chrome Squad students say will impact their future most. Mr. Holt encourages students to take risks when solving customers’ problems.

“I can tell them to try a solution, hopefully it works, and if it doesn’t, that’s okay,” Maggie explains. “I may not know the answer, but I’ll find the answer for you.”

Most of the ongoing training throughout the year is self-paced, with students pursuing new resources and skills, then reporting back to the team. “It’s a learn-as-you-go thing,” Uriel, an inventory control and Ninja team member, remarks. “You get better at the skills you already have.”

Chloe, one of the younger members on the inventory control team, recognizes her own growth, which will help her achieve her goal of becoming a music or history teacher. “It makes me push my boundaries,” she says. “That will help with college friendships, and I can get computer jobs to help pay for college. It’s given me opportunity.”

Courteous, dedicated service has resulted in a huge culture shift at RCHS. “There’s less of a wall between teachers and students,” Cade explains. “They’re coming in for help, we’re here to help them. We’re all on the same team.”

Extraordinary Opportunities

Some of the first questions guests often ask the Chrome Squad are about their activities and opportunities off campus. The Chrome Squad has presented at TCEA, along with other smaller conferences in Texas and neighboring states. They’ve also visited Google’s Mountain View Headquarters and their offices in Austin.

“We were at TCEA two or three weeks ago—I never saw myself doing that!” Victoria, a blog team member, exclaims. “Even if you think you may not be able to do something, if you actually work hard on it, and actually try, you’re going to be successful.”

Students are allowed 10 off-campus extracurricular days by Texas law, so Mr. Holt rotates who attends. Often, students give a panel discussion, so they can feed off each other’s answers. It makes it a little less nerve-wracking to speak to 200 educators at once. 
district visits
The Chrome Squad also welcomes districts who want to get a firsthand look at their program. A whopping 75 districts have visited in two years. As for visitors’ first impressions? “They’re surprised at how much we get done, because they have similar starts with the same or even better resources,” Cade says. “They’re surprised at how streamlined our processes are.”

Mr. Holt explains how the guests’ perspectives change when they see how the Chrome Squad operates. Districts recognize the need to shift their thinking from setting a rubric for student-led IT teams, to letting the organization grow itself.

“At first, they approach with a very complicated point of view with lots of plans,” he says. “We approach it from a business model and stay business-minded. If something doesn’t work, we change it.”

“It’s kind of funny,” he continues. “Adults don’t think the kids can do it. But I set the bar here, and they set the bar higher than I did. They’re driven to make it work.”

Your Very Own Squad

For districts looking for even more inspiration, the Chrome Squad shares plenty of resources and offers consulting support. You can find out more by visiting the C4L website, reading their blog, and following them on Twitter.

Follow-up Resource: Soft Skills for Tech Jobs

In saturated tech job markets, what sets promising new hires apart? Find out in Wanted: Soft Skills for Tech Jobs.


Erin Werra Erin Werra Documenting #SquadGoals
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