(Cross-posted on the Google for Work Blog.)

Editor's note: Continuing our EdTech leadership series, today’s guest author is Adam Seldow, Executive Director of Technology for Chesterfield County Public Schools in Virginia. In June we shared that Chesterfield purchased 32,000 Chromebooks for distribution to middle and high school students over the course of two years. Today, Adam explains how Chromebooks have impacted Chesterfield, and gives advice to other schools planning technology roll-outs of any size..

In the last few weeks, we’ve distributed approximately 14,000 Chromebooks to our middle school students in record time. This has been a welcome change — in the past with other tools the IT department had many hurdles. With Chromebooks, deployment has been easy. The simplicity of the devices combined with a lot of planning helped us enjoy a smooth (and painless) deployment. Below are our top six tips for districts preparing for their own Chromebook roll-outs:

1. Be transparent and communicate often 
Communicate often—more than you think you should. We communicate via our Anytime, Anywhere Learning website, which includes a section where people can submit questions. We post the answer to many of the questions we get on the site. Having a public website has two benefits. One, it informs the community when they have questions, and two, it unifies our message and provides the school administrators with a clear way to communicate about technology.

2. Check off prerequisites to make sure you’re ready to start
Before you get close to deploying devices, make sure the technology prerequisites are in place. For example, we tested and reconfigured our wireless network a number of times. We tested the Chromebook configuration and our settings in the Google Admin console a number of times. We gave Chromebooks out to a few kids to take home last year to test the home content filtering. We tested and tested and tested again. We had huge support in this preparation from our vendor, Dell, and their sub-contractor TIG (Technology Information Group), who had logistics like this down to a science.

3. Empower the schools in the planning 
In order to be successful when deploying Chromebooks, we involved the district's schools in planning. We met individually with each Principal and discussed everything from which room we’d use for Chromebook distributions to how they could enhance existing curriculum to benefit from the new technology. These meetings helped the schools realize that we weren’t going to take a one-size-fits-all approach for each school. The Tech Department alone should not run device distribution.

4. Make professional development fun and engaging 
We did three things that made our teacher training event a success:
(1) we made it fun; (2) we put the teachers in the students’ shoes; and (3) we made the full training optional. We asked for volunteers from the middle schools to join us for a two day training over the summer called “Camp Chromebook.” We didn’t know what to expect for sign-ups, because we weren’t offering to pay teachers to attend. On the day registration opened, all 300 spots filled up within a few minutes. At “Camp”, the teachers became the students: they went through a dry run of our onboarding process and visited different classes to learn different topics. Camp also helped us load-test our wireless network since we had 30-40 Chromebooks in each room. It was an unbelievable success, not to mention a really fun way to help faculty get to learn hands-on about the devices. When these teachers returned to school, they shared their knowledge with others who didn’t attend.
CIO by day, channeling "Camp Chromebook Director" Adam Seldow for training

"Campers" (teachers and administrators) at Camp Chromebook hard at work during training
5. Streamline the distribution of devices 
We aimed to get each school’s Chromebooks distributed in two days. To do this we:

  • Worked with schools over the summer and the early weeks of schools to send and collect all the necessary paperwork (e.g. parent permission forms, acceptable use policies, fees). 
  • Created a card with a scannable barcode for each student to show they had paperwork completed. 
  • Distributed devices to students during their English classes (since that is the only subject that every student has every year) and gave them cards with barcodes and their student ID number.
  • Brought students to the gym or media center by class. We’d scan the card and then have the student walk to stations to pick up their Chromebook, their charger, and their device case. We already had everything unboxed and ready to go. 
  •  Returned students to their English class immediately for an onboarding session

6. Have students and teachers learn about Chromebooks together 
After receiving their devices, students returned to their English classrooms for a 15 minute onboarding session led by one of our designated technology coaches. We had a technician on hand for any immediate support (e.g. spot changes for passwords). The session walked them through set-up: from logging in to taking selfies (what is it with people and selfies!?) and navigating the home screen. We also had each student activate the content filter, a critical step to keep them secure on the web.
After receiving their Chromebook, students returned to class for a 15 minute training session
Chromebooks have met their promise of easy set-up and management. I am happy to report that we exceeded our goal of getting all devices to each school in two days per school. When we roll out devices to other grades next year, I think we can get it down to one day per school. But we’ll keep “Camp” as two days — that was too much fun and too useful to shorten.