Are you ready for Change, Leaders? A Community invitation.

Photo by William White via Unsplash

For the past several weeks, I’ve been working with one of the finest teams in educational leadership and innovative teaching & learning, and I’m pretty darn excited about it.

That team is Modern Learners.

If you’re not familiar with the work of Will Richardson, Bruce Dixon, and Missy Emler, be sure to visit Modern Learners now and listen to their podcasts, read the Shifting Conversations content, and get to know the lenses through which school leaders should seek to bring together shifts in beliefs and changes in practice, all influenced by the context of the world we’re living in today.

So what have we been up to? Will, Bruce, and Missy have ignited a spark in educational leaders through their work in Change.School, “a powerful 8-week online experience for educational leaders who are serious about designing and creating relevant, sustainable change in their schools and districts.” Change.School participants are serious, dedicated, innovative leaders who are looking to move their schools forward in powerful ways. As a result of the work in those cohorts, the need became apparent for a space where fellow administrative colleagues, building-level leaders, and teacher leaders could come together and delve into issues and ideas relevant for today’s school leaders.

Enter ChangeLeaders Community: 

“Where courageous educational leaders get real about learning and schooling.”

Networks are really important to me. I’m not the educator I was ten years ago, and connected learning is one of the reasons why. The ideals of connectivism really resonate with me, and I don’t think you can be a successful leader without a formidable, knowledgeable, supportive network. That being said, many educators have, in recent years, embraced the idea of developing a Personal Learning Network aka PLN, and using the connections made via social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Google+ to name a few), to support their learning and professional development. (If you are new to connected learning, be sure to read Why do I need to reinvent my PLN? and My Personal Learning Network is the most awesomest thing ever! to ground yourself as you continue navigating these waters.)

For the past two years or so, I’ve felt kind of meh about PLN-ing. Interactions from typical social spaces haven’t done much to influence my thinking and learning. There has to be more. It’s been hard for me to get excited about what I read, see, and experience in Twitter and on Facebook, even in groups dedicated to educational chit-chat.

And why is that?

Because networks are not communities, and well-crafted communities better support learning.

Networks are important, of course, because with every connection made, collective knowledge can emerge. In Network vs. Community by Clint LaLonde (2010), he shares a remark by George Siemens who attempts to distinguish between networks and communities. In short, there are more explicit norms and expectations for participation in communities. And in ChangeLeaders, we expect participation from our members and know that our community will thrive on member contributions!

Will our ChangeLeaders Community develop into a true community of practice? Our hope is, yes. A community of practice as defined by Wenger: “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” As Downes (2007) states, “Learning, in other words, occurs in communities, where the practice of learning is the participation in the community. A learning activity is, in essence, a conversation undertaken between the learner and other members of the community.”

CLC is about conversations, learning, and change.


So, here’s the thing. ChangeLeaders Community is something you subscribe to, and after your 30-day free trial ends, there’s a cost. That immediately turns some people off, and it causes others to shy away who, in my opinion, don’t stop to consider that the small expense is actually a huge investment in one’s own professional growth and learning. I use a number of free digital tools in my work and learning, but I have no problem paying for others that add value to my life. Good (usually) ain’t free.

The ChangeLeaders Facebook group was not a true learning community. It lacked versatile tools and capabilities to propel learning forward for its members. And, it seems as though every day, I see one or more of my Facebook friends jumping ship. Because Facebook. Through the ever-changing feeds and advertisements and algorithms, learning gets lost. And you’re bombarded with distractions.

CLC is a space that eliminates the clutter and allows its members to focus on the task at hand: How do I grow as a learner so I can ignite change in my organization? That can happen through the use of Mighty Networks and the continuing contributions of its members (over 300 members thus far!)

A CLC subscription is far less than a few Starbucks visits each month or a magazine subscription or the purchase of one of the latest educational fad/innovation books or a membership to a professional learning organization that you may or may not get any actual benefit from. We’re confident that through your willingness to engage in our community, you’re going to be challenged in your thinking and make real strides towards change, far more so than you could ever achieve in “free” spaces like Twitter or Facebook groups.

What will we explore in ChangeLeaders Community?

  • What learning is and what it isn’t, and the gap between what we know and believe about how we learn best and what we actually do in schools.
  • The trends, technologies, and changes happening in the world that really matter to our work in schools and that we need to understand in depth.
  • How educational leaders are building their own capacities to lead change in their communities.
  • What reimagined, modern practice in schools looks and feels like.

ChangeLeaders Community offers

  • a space where you can find signal among the noise – carefully curated content in a dynamic interface that fully engages participants and acknowledges the importance of their contributions in this space
  • jargon-free, buzzword-free, platitude-free discussions focused on change
  • critical friends who will challenge your thinking and support your change efforts
  • contributions not only by community members, but also by Will Richardson & Bruce Dixon in their Shifting Conversations posts
  • frequent, live collaborative sessions via Zoom, during which members can come together, build relationships, and tackle difficult change issues (Monday, October 23, 8 PM ET- you won’t want to miss “ChangeLeadership: Laying the Foundations for Creating Relevant, Sustainable Change in Schools” led by Will & Bruce!
  • the opportunity to reflect on practice, set goals and develop artifacts demonstrating professional growth, all while supported by a group of critical friends and colleagues
  • perhaps even a bit of fun!?

We hope you will courageously join us, we really do. But if you don’t, no matter which networks you frequent and spaces you visit, be sure to participate. Give back. Often. Because as Siemens says,

Being connected, without creating and contributing, is a self-focused, self-centered state. I’ve ranted about this before, but there is never a good time to be a lurker. Lurking=taking. The concept of legitimate peripheral participation sounds very nice, but is actually negative. Even when we are newcomers in a network or community, we should be creating and sharing our growing understanding.

Welcome to Change, Leaders! Let’s create some change.

-Lyn Hilt, ChangeLeaders Community Manager

How will you say Yes! this year? (And what are you listening to?)

Lee Campbell

On work days, I typically find myself commuting in the car for hours at a time. Driving is not my favoritest thing. Podcasts have proven to save my sanity on many occasion. It seems as though anyone can create a podcast nowadays, but it’s tough to maintain a listener’s attention if the content is weak and the delivery is mundane, so I find myself dipping my toes in the various podcast waters until I find something that’s both informative and entertaining. Back in 2007, as the K-5 “computer lab” teacher, I helped our second graders use Garageband to record and share podcasts, and it was really cool to see 7 and 8-yr olds developing the skills to articulate their ideas and share what they learned via this platform.

This week I tuned into from the inspiring team at Modern Learners, and of course I couldn’t wait to hear the wisdom shared by superintendent Pam Moran, someone whom I’ve admired since our beginning days of connected learning and enjoy learning from time and time again.

In the episode Developing a Culture of Yes with Pam Moran, Will Richardson and Pam discuss the integral role of school leaders in cultivating a school climate and culture where taking risks, suggesting changes and promoting unconventional ideas are not only tolerated, but supported through to completion. Pam shares her early experiences as a connected leader and learner, reliving the story of how a teacher came to her and told her about the world of Twitter (quite a difference educational space back then than it is today) and how teachers were learning in new and different ways, and shouldn’t she try it out for herself? Not only did Pam find the value in building those connections and relationships as a leader, but she realized that if her teachers were reaching out and looking to use their newly acquired skills and information to innovate, she’d have to step up as a leader and support the changes in practice that resulted. And how could traditional PD continue to be as effective knowing teachers were crafting their own learning networks and learning anytime, anywhere?

A new school year is upon us. And as Pam reminded school leaders, it’s easy to say no. When I was an elementary school teacher, one of my fifth grade students, an incredibly talented, creative, intelligent, inspiring student, came to me and asked if she could orchestrate a production of The Point to perform for the class. I knew nothing of Harry Nilsson’s work or the storyline of The Point. But this student passionately convinced me that she and her classmates could perform the script she wrote and even I could play a role and we could teach so many life lessons through this performance. She was right. When I examined our daily schedule, I thought, We honestly have no time for this. We don’t have time to rehearse, to obtain props and to set up the stage and oh my goodness what have we done? But I knew, that she knew, that this proposed project was vitally important to her and her learning. So we found the time. We did it. She “did” Genius Hour before Genius Hour was a thing. She led her class through rehearsals, she worked closely with peers, she acquired collaborative, organizational, and social-emotional skills through that process that she would never have learned from whatever I was planning to teach from the curriculum that month. We performed for the school, parents attended, and it continues to be one of my favorite memories of my time as a teacher.

How will you say yes this year? 

P.S. Here are a few other podcasts on my must-listen lineup. What are you listening to?

The Longest Shortest Time

Contrafabulists 

The Creative Classroom

ReLearning

Elise Gets Crafty

Google Teacher Tribe

The 10-Minute Teacher Show

IDEO Futures

 

P.S.S. I drafted this post to almost-completion before this NYT article about edupreneurs and edtech was published. I’m currently trying to wrap my head around it all. I’ll be sharing my thoughts in a future post.

What it’s like to learn alongside you.

High-fives to Google Drawings session participant, Joann at the Garden State Summit ’17!

I love being a consultant. I know that to some educators, consultant is a dirty word. It need not be. As a teacher and principal, I, too, was skeptical of someone from “the outside” coming to our schools and classrooms to show & tell their way into our hearts and minds. In fact, I think I truly connected with and appreciated the work of maybe only a handful of consultants in my time as classroom teacher, coach, and principal. But most days, in this line of work, I leave with a smile on my face, feeling energized and privileged to work with the teachers and school leaders in my midst.

So what do I try to do differently? For one, in my role as Google for Education Certified Trainer, I have the privilege of working with many schools who have established relationships with Google for Education Partner Rich Kiker. This is an advantage for me as a trainer because people trust people, they don’t trust products, or brands, or technologies. They trust that the teachers and leaders sharing ideas and strategies are people who care. Who, down to the core, know that the teachers with whom they work are responsible for children and their learning experiences. I also get to serve schools whose staff members have seen my presentations at conferences, heard of my work through other educational leaders, attended previous professional development sessions I’ve facilitated, or who employed me. (Going “home” to Elanco next week and can’t wait!) My audience usually has an awareness of who I am, what I do, and what I believe in.

Sidenote: I want to share my two cents about people, about educators, and the roles they assume and the career paths they choose. No, I am not currently “in the trenches.” I am a consultant, an adjunct in a higher ed program, and I am a full-time mother to a 4 1/2-yr old son and 18 month old daughter. That is the choice I made, and I couldn’t be more privileged and thrilled to serve in that role. So while we are quick to judge others in the edusphere for the roles they assume or don’t assume, while we celebrate #momsasprincipals and #dadsasprincipals and #peopleasprincipals and #principalsasprincipals and the amount of time they and other groups spend connecting/blogging, there are always reasons why others come and go in these connected educator spaces. I’m sorry, Twitter, and my trusty old blog, but my commitment isn’t to you, not anymore.

Back to business. How can we help? When I start planning to work with a school or team, I generally follow these steps. (Wait, you train in G Suite for Edu. Can’t you just re-use the exact same Google Chrome or Google Drive or Google Classroom slide sets over and over again? No. I can’t. Well, I could. But that would be lousy instruction, now, wouldn’t it?)

  1. Get to know the people! School demographics, leadership, teacher experiences, student populations, grade levels served, community information…. I try to get to know as much as I can about the schools I serve. Another advantage I have as a consultant? I get to share the stories and experiences of other teachers, other districts, other schools with all of the groups I serve. I help connect those who might be existing solely within the walls of their classrooms or schools and who lack diverse and unique perspectives.
  2. What do they already know? What do they want to know? Even if I’m booked for a specific workshop or presentation, I typically like to find out the comfort levels, skillsets, and interests of the people sitting in front of me. Sometimes that happens with a pre-workshop Google Form, sometimes it happens with a quick survey at the start of the day.
  3. Using the info collected, I plan out the agenda for the day. What makes sense, pedagogically, given the needs of the group? How can I infuse as many hands-on and discovery learning opportunities in even the most technical of training sessions? How can I get people talking to one another, sharing ideas, connecting beyond the confines of the walls of the building? What’s great about an agenda, though, is how quickly it can change, how quickly it needs to change, once I’ve developed a better awareness of who is actually in the room. We’ve been known to abandon agendas completely if it becomes clear that it’s not meeting the needs of the participants.
  4. Resources, resources, resources. I share a lot of resources. Sometimes I need to do a better job making them more streamlined in nature, but I publish my session resources and CC license them, encourage teachers to share with their colleagues, and keep the links live for as long as forever. Because I want teachers to have the opportunity to go back and review, revisit, reinvent the things they’re doing in the classroom even after our sessions have ended. There is also a lot of differentiation that goes into my resource and activity planning. I put a lot of faith in the teachers to take ownership of the day. I’m reviewing the basics, but you already know this? Move along in the resource guide or the differentiated design lab I’ve created. Challenge yourself. Look ahead, tinker, build, create… don’t worry about not maintaining eye contact with the presenter, you need to do the work.
  5. I reflect on the effectiveness of my efforts. During the day, I’ll read faces and interpret body language. I’ve been known to call out participants if it seems as though they aren’t being challenged. Tough to do? Yes! But important, because it is very overwhelming to attempt to meet the individual needs of 20, 40, 60, or even 100 participants in the room. At the end of the day, I’ll often share a survey for workshop participants so I know how I can improve my sessions in the future. I won’t lie, sometimes the feedback is tough to read! Overall, though, it has been very encouraging and filled with constructive ideas for how to improve my craft.
  6. I get busy making it better.

I make a lot of mistakes. I am constantly thinking about what I can improve. I think about my ten years as a classroom teacher and cannot believe some of the pedagogies I employed and the strategies I used. It’s all I knew, at the time. I think about my tenure as principal and how now, knowing what I know, I would never approach a disciplinary or teacher evaluation situation in the manner I did. It’s what I knew, at the time. As an instructional coach, I could have done more for certain teachers and sought to work more collaboratively with departments and team members.

We use what we know at the time. And as a consultant, it’s my job to learn alongside you and help us both awaken to the possibilities, so that we can know and do more, in this time.

Shameless plug: Want to work with us? Check out Hilt Consultants and/or comment here and/or tweet me @lynhilt and/or email me anytime lynhilt@gmail.com. Thanks for reading!

Thoughts on professional learning.

Philadelphia School District Headquarters via Flicker by It’s Our City cc-by-2.0

I’ve written about professional learning aka “PD” more often than not in this space. It’s something I truly enjoy facilitating and I’ve created and shared professional learning opportunities through my role as principal, instructional coach, and now as consultant. Some were great, and some not so great.

This post is going to be short and sweet (I say that, and then 10,000 words later, TLDR), but I just wanted to take the time to commend the current group of School District of Philadelphia teachers who are working towards earning their Google for Education Certified Educator Level 1 status. We have spent six hours a day for the past three days together, (one more to go!) in a room with no windows, exploring G Suite for Education. The teachers who are attending our “bootcamp” offered through Kiker Learning are spending their summer vacation days learning and learning some more. They’re not getting paid, but through their time and dedication, could possibly earn Level 1 certification at the end of the bootcamp with a successful exam performance.

I can tell that this week has been the first tried-and-true experience with G Suite for many of the teachers in my group. I know others are already proficient with the basics and could have probably passed the Level 1 exam on day 1 or 2.

Here’s the great thing about this group that I noticed almost immediately – they’re willing to do the work. 

I tell my workshop participants at the start that I have provided a variety of digital materials (tutorials, examples of the apps in action, etc.) and that if I am reviewing or demoing something they already know how to do, they should take it upon themselves to explore what matters most to them. 

I say that every time, to every group.  But this group has been more self-directed than most.

If we are practicing formulas and sorting and chart creation in Google Sheets, when I glance around the room, I can tell which teachers are already proficient spreadsheet users, because they’re doing something else. They’re not on Facebook. They’re not online shopping. They’re browsing through the digital resources provided, looking for a challenge, previewing content and apps they haven’t yet explored in depth.

They’re owning their learning. They’re tinkering. They’re creating.

There’s no consequence for these teachers if they don’t pass the exam. They can take it again 14 days later, and hopefully, with additional preparation, earn a passing score. But if they don’t, it won’t impact their job status. It might hurt their ego, but in the end, no Google Educator label is going to make a difference in the day-to-day work they do with their kids.

Even if every single one of the teachers in my group doesn’t pass the exam (that will never happen!), I wanted to share how much of an impact this group made on me.

For their willingness to ask questions. To ask me to slow down. To ask me to repeat concepts. To ask me to demonstrate.

To sit side-by-side with peers, to teach! To lead! For the very best kind of busy conversations that as a teacher, I hate to interrupt because “we have to cover the content!” Knife to the heart.

To laugh. We laugh and we find joy in our work. Teachers are developing relationships with one another, with peers who they’ve never met before this week. They’re thinking through the work they’re doing, and how it applies to their roles in the classroom, and theyre getting excited about the possibilities.

Sometimes, we encounter an app or service whose features have been limited by district constraints. This isn’t unusual in a school setting. This group simply rolls with it. They think about how they can embrace constraints and still do the work. They rarely complain, or badmouth kids, or colleagues, or administration.

They do the work.

I am compelled to blog about this group because I have worked with many many teacher and admin groups throughout my tenure as “connected educator” and consultant, but for some reason, this group is magical. It makes me smile. These teachers make the commute into the city a mere annoyance, and the consecutive days away from my kiddos more bearable,  and I look forward to my continued work with them.

If you are in my bootcamp class, and you are reading this post, I am very proud of you! You inspired me to be a better teacher. I hope that through our work together, you can achieve much success in whatever area of Google for Education you choose to focus. An exam score doesn’t define you. Your actions, your relationships with students, and your attitudes shape you into the exceptional educators you are.

It has been an honor and a pleasure working with you.

The Spaces Where I Learn and Work

This week’s #EdublogsClub prompt asks us to share insights about our learning spaces and processes, including tours of our classrooms, offices, and work spaces.

I smiled when I read it, because I planned to share a bit of news this week via my blog, and that news fortuitously intertwines with this week’s prompt.

I remember my first years of teaching…. “decorating” my classroom was one of my favorite school year preparation activities. I loved sharing inspirational posters, bright colors, inventive bulletin boards, and creating spaces where my students could post and share their own work. Desks were in groups or in pairs or we used tables, and my earliest years of teaching sixth and fifth grades are among my favorites in my career! My classrooms were beyond colorful, beyond cluttered, and if I had the chance to do it over today, I’m sure I’d make some changes.

My 2001 Classroom!

I inherited the principal’s office from my predecessor and it served as a functional workspace. In my second year I decided to move my office to a more central location in the intermediate hallway and this larger space afforded me the chance to personalize it and make it an enjoyable space for kids. The putting green, basketball net, bookshelves filled with kid lit, and beanbag chairs were put to good use! I loved being out of the “main office” area and in the heart of the school.

As an instructional technology coach, I used a desk/counter space/table in the hallway in each of the elementary buildings I served, and my classrooms were the teachers’ classrooms!

Well, the time has come where I no longer have an office in a school, or a classroom space that is my own. For the past year I’ve been on leave from my school district after the birth of our daughter, and last week I submitted my resignation.

While on leave I’ve had the great privilege of developing my skills as a consultant, most notably with Kiker Learning offering Google for Education trainings on a variety of instructional topics to a broad range of participant audiences. Professional development is truly my passion. I absolutely loved that aspect of the principalship: designing… facilitating… watching teachers learn and grow…. and before I moved into administration I enjoyed learning alongside my teaching colleagues.

As anyone who has raised two young children knows, these moments are fleeting. I can’t thank my husband enough for supporting my work in this way and affording me the opportunity to stay home with our babies. Serving as a consultant allows me the flexibility to do so while also continuing to learn and serve schools. It is truly an honor to work with so many dedicated teachers, administrators, students, and staff members across the Northeast. I’m thrilled about what’s next and can’t wait to see where future opportunities take me!

My home has now become a place that needs to support my creativity and productivity, whether it’s at my office desk, in the family room, or at the kitchen bar island. I can say that working from home is one of the most difficult challenges I’ve faced in my career! It’s even more incredible trying to find a home-work balance when your work is often done in your home!

I can’t wait to see the variety of different spaces where I’ll work and learn this year. Every school, classroom, teacher, principal, and student I have the chance to interact with strengthens Maybe it will be in your classroom, school, or district?! 🙂

To learn more about opportunities to learn with me, visit the Hilt Consultants, LLC website or the Work with Me page of my blog.

Thanks for reading!

What’s a PLN, and why do I need one?

Photo by Daria Shevtsova via Unsplash

 

In January at FETC I’ll be sharing all about the power of personal/professional learning networks, and I hope you’ll join me! (Thursday, 1/26, at 4:20 PM) From the session description:

What’s a PLN, and why do I need one? This session will explore the power of networked learning for educators and administrators and how, through the use of digital technologies, there are numerous opportunities for educators to engage in professional learning with colleagues from around the world. Teachers and administrators congregate in powerful learning communities using tools such as Twitter, Google+, Instagram, and more to share resources, support and inspire, and challenge thinking to help us move forward as professionals. This session will explore the power of connected learning, how to begin establishing practices that will help you connect, and the ways in which connected educators transform teaching and learning for themselves and their students.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk with educators about the value in developing their own learning networks on several occasions. At Educon a few years ago Andy Marcinek and I delved deep into the topic of making sure your PLN is as relevant as possible and the need to reinvent your network. And on the local level, I’ve been advocating for (wait, begging) my fellow administrators to start connecting to surround themselves with supportive resources and colleagues around the world. I’ve written about how easy connecting can be and how it looks different for each educator. I’ve shared how my PLN has evolved over the years and how connecting isn’t the same now as it was “back then.”

Sometimes in our quest to get more educators connected we neglect to delve into the fundamentals of network development and learning, which I share throughout the chapter I authored in Learning Forward’s Powerful Designs for Professional Learning on the use of social media and educator learning. Read my chapter here. If you’re new to the ideas of connectivism and personal learning networks, I encourage you to read the works of George Siemens (also very much enjoyed My personal learning network is the awesomest thing ever!!), Stephen Downes (I especially appreciate his distinction between personal and personalized learning), and Dave Cormier (get to know and love and/or become extremely uncomfortable with rhizomatic learning), who I referenced in addition to other connected learning pioneers throughout my chapter.

It’s been important for me to share my process, how I started, the tools that helped me connect, and the challenges I’ve faced. When I work with educators who are new to networking in the digital age, I make sure to tell them that it takes time and it takes effort to build a quality network.  I share this post (I still use some of the tools mentioned, others have been replaced) and explain why online communities such as our instructional technology coaches’ community on Google+ can be powerful places of learning. I also share the ideas of Harold Jarche through his personal knowledge mastery framework.

I’ve been a “connected educator” since 2009, when I first started my blog and sharing via Twitter. The spaces have evolved over the years, the conversations have shifted. The voices have become more prevalent, and my network has become more diverse. My participation in these spaces has changed as well. This is a good thing, for the most part. The echo chamber is a very real and concerning effect of surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals, and it’s for that reason that educators in these spaces need to celebrate differences and promote equity. Don’t add to the noise. Share something that will help others make meaning and the world a better place. Make it a priority to think about what you’re sharing, who it might impact and how, and why you’re sharing it.

What advice do you have to those looking to establish a viable network to promote learning? Share in the comments here or send me a tweet. Hope to see you at FETC!


Sidenote: This blog has been hosted for many years using Bluehost. Due to its outrageous comparative costs and frequent outages, I’ve made the switch to Reclaim Hosting and couldn’t be happier. The transition was seamless and personal communication and support unrivaled.  If you’re a blogger, you should check it out. Like now.

So you want to be innovative?

Image via Unsplash
Image via Unsplash

Excuse me while I take a break from all the things (in case you’re wondering, work-from-home-mom is one exhilarating and exhausting ride) to share some recent wonderings and things I’ve noticed about leadership and educational innovation. Would love to hear your thoughts.

  1. You can lead an administrator to water but cannot make him drink the Kool-Aid.  You can nod your heads in agreement. Yes, we need to be innovative. Yes, project-based learning is good. Yes, let’s give our students more agency. Yes, innovative professional development. Yes, Chromebooks. But what you DO matters more than anything you say. You read a book about innovative leadership and disruptive education? Great. You participated in an online course where you learned the importance of shifting your thinking in terms of what modern learners need? Awesome. Now what? Are you going model for your teachers what it means to be a digital age learner and leader? Or are you going to revert to traditional practices and use the “I don’t have time for this” and “I’m buried under too much administrivia” and “I just can’t figure out Google Drive” excuses for why you continue to use stagnant leadership practices? These are challenging questions because they require really hard work and effort to address. I have worked with school districts whose principals range from uncomfortable to highly fluent , not only in the use of technology, but in mindset. (Buzzword alert). Seriously, though, forward-thinking administrators hold in high regard the need to constantly reinvent, change, take risks, and choose to do so on a daily basis. Teachers can see it. Students notice. Yes, sometimes you have to move out of the way and allow your people to innovate. But you have to do it, too.
  2. One-size-fits-all is bad. Do you like how I used a black & white statement to address this point? Statements like, We are moving to a paperless environment. You are no longer allowed to use paper in your classrooms, causes teachers to force uses of technology that almost always end up in lost instructional time and annotated PDFs. In recent G Suite for Education trainings with teachers I have had many a teacher wonder how they can “digitize” their worksheets. A worksheet on the computer or tablet is still a worksheet, my friends. How can you ask students to demonstrate their learning or apply those worksheeted concepts in another format? In a more collaborative or creative way? Ask me then how to integrate the technology into that practice. MacBooks for all! Chromebooks for all! iPads for all! Hopefully technology leaders have figured out by now that no one device can do it all. Of course you need to have purchasing and implementation plans and it wouldn’t be wise or manageable to allow every teacher or student to have his choice of a preferred device. Consistency is good, but it’s important to acknowledge that certain devices and platforms may support certain programs (i.e. special education, the arts, English Language Learning) better than others. How will you give teachers and students a voice in the decision-making process?
  3. Failure to be willing to veer from an established plan is almost as dangerous as not having a plan. You’re the leader of some team or group or school or district. Someone comes with you with an idea that is a bit unorthodox and certainly isn’t part of the established plan for <insert process here>. How do you respond? Do you feel one-upped? Are you embarrassed you didn’t think of it in the first place? Or are you invigorated, knowing you surrounded yourself with the smartest and most talented people possible in order to grow as an organization? Do you allow off-the-cuff, experimental, beyond the box thinking? Or do you stifle any and all attempts at innovation? Leaders, whether innovation happens or not starts and ends with you.
  4. Abiding to the “we need to prepare kids for X” mentality. When I was a classroom teacher, statements like this could be heard at every level, from K through 12. We need to teach this curriculum and do these activities and make kids rotate teachers and organize note-taking this way and teach them how to write down their assignments in an agenda book because OMG they’re going to move to the next grade level eventually and they will have to do those things in that grade!!!!! Can you believe it?! Do we need to help create conditions in which students are motivated and driven to complete assignments and projects in a quality manner and stay organized throughout project work and cooperate with teammates and communicate about deadlines? Sure. We can create conditions for that. Should we maybe focus on fostering an environment of respect and rapport and delight and curiosity and making sure we prepare our children for LOVING TO LEARN? Yes.
  5. It’s okay to admit that you don’t know it all and you probably exist in a silo. Me: Born and raised in rural Pennsylvania. Taught in rural Pennsylvania. Principal in rural Pennsylvania. Sheltered much? Not cognizant of my own white privilege? Not even remotely. In recent years I’ve been interacting with so many people, from so many parts of the world, teaching and learning and leading in many different environments. They brilliantly lead and learn and advocate and address situations that I would never in a million years have to address in my life. I have been learning a lot, but I continue to have a need to read, research, reflect. I can’t help schools and teachers and teams innovate and help us progress forward if I exist in my world and my world alone.
  6. Take advantage of the time you’re given. There are not many opportunities for professional learning embedded into a school’s yearly calendar. So when you’re afforded time, take advantage of it. Workshop? Get hands on. Try some of the tools and techniques you’re shown. Collaborative team time? Make it productive. Produce. Not thrilled with the PD options you’re given? Tell someone. Advocate for yourselves as learners! Promote the #edcamp concept and other innovative methods of professional learning. Tell them what you need to be better. For kids.
  7. You need support? You can find it. You are not alone. Leadership can be an isolating gig. I remember those early days as a new principal. It seems like an eternity ago! This was before #leadupnow and #satchat and #momsasprincipals. (That’s a thing). It was just #edchat and Connected Principals. Look how far we’ve come as a connected group of educators! Spaces to share voices, spaces to ask for help, spaces to challenge conventional thinking. Spaces to share the good and address the bad.

It feels good to reflect. I’m looking forward to a year of continued conversations, learning and leading, and connecting with you.

Reconsidering what’s “required”

Busy student bloggers. Blogging isn’t “required”… should we make time for it?

Recently I read a post by my friend Bill Ferriter titled Making Room for Uncertainty in the Required Curriculum

Bill shares this article that states that instruction centered on facts has largely failed our students. Teachers are handed required curricula, complete with scope and sequence, and in some schools teachers are expected to teach lesson A on day 1 and lesson B on day 2 and continue onward and upward and they’d better make sure they cover everything that’s expected to be covered. This approach leaves some kids in the dust and fails to challenge others. And it completely overwhelms teachers. I tackled that in a post years ago.

The top form of resistance I encounter as an instructional technology coach when trying to urge teachers to consider the use of more inquiry or project-based, technology-infused activities in their classrooms is their fear of losing time and therefore not being able to cover the required curriculum.

Bill, a teacher in practice, tells it like it is:

If moments of genuine discovery are going to make their way into my classroom, something has to give — and that ‘something’ is going to end up being content that is currently listed in my ‘required’ curriculum.

As a former principal, I’d prefer to stumble upon those moments of “genuine discovery” in my classrooms rather than check a teacher’s lesson plans to ensure they’re on track to cover required curriculum. Not all leaders share that mentality, however. Because standards and testing and accountability. What if a teacher gives her students the freedom to spend time blogging in class, but her students’ mid-term reading proficiency scores aren’t any better than any other students’ scores? Should they carry on? Do we stop to consider the “untestable” impact of their blogging practices? Their connections to other classes and cultures worldwide? Their constantly improving writing practices and the digital citizenship skills learned? Perhaps the principal is concerned because due to blogging, these students are losing time completing the lessons of the prescribed language arts curriculum. But if we’re not inspiring and challenging our kids and allowing them to make important discoveries leading to enduring understandings, then “covering” curriculum doesn’t much matter, does it?

The comments on Bill’s post also made me ponder our ready access to information and how we find it and use it. We’ve all heard the “If you can Google the answer, it’s not a good question” argument and “If kids can look up the answers online to cheat, then it’s not a good assessment” line. Perhaps, although every question and every assessment has its own context worth considering. David Jakes goes on to reply that he uses Google to answer questions every single day, which allows him to better understand the work he’s doing. And, as David says, they shouldn’t be the only questions we’re asking, but they help us make connections that lead to bigger understandings.  I have to agree.

Sometimes I think teachers quickly email a colleague or submit a help desk ticket to tech support or their instructional coach without pausing to think, The resources I need to answer this question are readily available to me. I can find the answer to this. 

I want to tell them: Google it. Seriously. I can’t tell you how many times I received a query for help, I typed the exact question into Google, and seconds later the answer was listed for me in step-by-step format. Next I’d relay this information to the inquirer either by linking to the answer online or by summarizing it. In the time it took the staff member to compose an email with their question, they could have conducted online research to find the answer themselves.

Would the learning be more powerful if the teacher or administrator conducted the search on his own? Struggled through the process a little? Discovered new venues through which to answer questions?

I think so. And we’d be modeling something powerful for our students. I hear teachers complain constantly that our kids stink at Google searches… are we any better?

Would it take more time? Perhaps. What I think many don’t realize is that “tech savvy” folks aren’t tech savvy because they are born that way. They devote themselves as learners first. The learning is hands-on and minds-on. They’ve Googled. They’ve trial and error-ed their way through developing blogs and learning the ins and outs of Google Drive and have connected with other educators to make sure they surround themselves with people who are smart and willing to share. And much of these learned content and skills are not “required.”

The freedom to veer from the required curriculum requires administrators who believe in their teachers’ abilities to learn alongside their students and to roll with it… to identify students’ needs and passions and provide them with the FREEDOM to learn. A curriculum is great, it’s neat, it can serve, when well-written, as a guide for teachers to help students know and understand important content. But we can’t expect our teachers to innovate given the constraints we’ve placed them under. It’s very possible to provide this type of freedom while still maintaining high expectations for learning. I’d wager you may even have some happier, less-stressed teachers and students on your hands. #eduwin

I will continue to ponder how we can best free teachers and students from the constraints of what’s “required” to provide conditions better suited for innovation… would love to hear your thoughts on how you’ve made this happen in your schools!


P.S. I’m on leave from my tech coaching position this semester, blessed with the opportunity to keep a new, tiny human nourished and entertained while simultaneously giving her older brother the exact same amount of love he had in his pre-baby-sister-days and maintaining some semblance of an organized household. #supermomma

Given those responsibilities I still can’t stop reading and connecting and learning, it’s a curse. I’ll also continue consulting and presenting and webinaring so be sure to contact me if you and your organization are looking for an energetic, passionate learner and leader!

Blogs and Smores and Texts, Oh My!

This summer I worked on solidifying the ways in which I communicate with my staff to support their learning. As an instructional technology coach who works in three elementary schools with 100+ staff, digital communication is essential. I can’t be in every school every day, and I certainly don’t have the luxury of face time with all of my teachers on a consistent basis. Now in my third year of coaching, I feel like I have established a communication plan that is going to work well for us. I will keep tweaking and evaluating the effectiveness of what I share, but here are some ways I’ve going to reach out and stay connected with my staff this year:

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Elementary Instructional Technology Blog – This Edublogs site (our district uses Edublogs K-12) is my main hub for communication. A place where I share resources weekly, house content provider and device tutorials and must-knows for teachers, and link to other important spaces and places like our @elancoelem Twitter and Pinterest feeds. Whenever I receive an email question re: “How do I do this?” or “What are the login credentials for that?”, the answer is almost always found in this space. I encourage teachers to subscribe by email, and although I don’t email blast every post I write, I do, on occasion, email the elementary staff en mass with a link to a blog post that I feel is beneficial to everyone.

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The Google – This summer I published a 2015-16 Elementary Tech Updates Google doc, shared internally via GAFE. I utilized Google Doc’s Table of Contents feature to allow teachers to jump to topics of interest and it helped better organize the updates. Did every staff member read it? I’m not sure, but there’s pertinent information there that they’ll definitely need to know before starting the year. If I receive a question that’s answered on the doc, I’ll reference it and make sure teachers know how to access it and to read it as soon as possible. I’ve used Google Drive shared folders to share unit or lesson resources easily with teams, teachers, and administrators, and I’ll use Google Classroom with staff to support some asynchronous professional learning opportunities this year. In addition, since our elementary schools run on a common schedule, we’re going to to utilize Google Hangouts during common planning times so I can meet virtually with two schools while I’m physically meeting with the third, allowing a PD session to expand to all three buildings and not limit the learning to where I am physically stationed. We’re hoping this platform inspires our teachers to reach out to one another across building lines more often! The secondary tech coach and I also use Google Forms to ask teachers to self-evaluate on the Spartan Digital Competencies we’ve developed, and to set goals for the year in instructional tech integration. This allows us to better focus our coaching efforts.
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Smore – I fell in love with Smore’s easy to use interface and designs for creating interactive flyers a few years ago, and I’ve been using them to create Tech Tidbits to share on the elem tech blog and through social media channels. I plan to continue using Smore to share resources I find while browsing online. Its ability to easily incorporate text, photos, videos, and links, as well as share via link or embed code, makes it a no-brainer choice for me to spice up my communications!

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Remind – My first experience with Remind (then Remind 101) was about five years ago when I was elementary principal, and we signed up for the service to announce weather-related closings and delays to staff, eliminating the need for a clunky phone chain. (No one wants to answer the phone at 5 AM on a potential snow day!) I loved that it was opt-in, that there was no exchange of phone numbers or email addresses, and that it was dead simple to communicate quickly with a large number of people. I didn’t consider using it to support professional learning until Kyle Pace shared his strategy of connecting with conference participants to continue sharing resources with his Kyle’s GAFE Tips & Resources class. What a great idea! I love receiving Kyle’s updates via text. I read a lot on my mobile device, and it’s simple to access his shared links, be inspired, and save them to spaces where I can access later.

This year I’ll use the Mrs. Hilt’s Tech Tidbits class to share resources, tips and tricks via Remind. Join us! Here are the instructions to join my class:

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 9.05.18 AMHere’s the full set of directions if you’d prefer to subscribe via email. I plan to start sending updates once the school year begins later this month, and I promise not to bombard the system!

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Wired Wednesdays – This year I’m offering after-school, hour-long professional learning sessions on a variety of tech topics. Since the elementary has a limited amount of common planning time devoted to instructional tech PD, I’m hoping teachers will take advantage of these sessions and join me for some fun Wednesday afternoons!

Along with face-to-face team meetings and check-ins with teachers, I’m hoping these digital communication strategies will help inspire my teachers and provide them with the resources they need to successfully use technology to support student learning!

How will you communicate with staff and your school community this year?