Whats and whys and whos and hows.

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The first two weeks of school have been a whirlwind. I think typically that is the case, no matter what role you play in education. But I also think the beginning of the school year is the time when you and your students, your faculties and administrators, deserve to exist in a calm enough state of mind that you can start to build key relationships with one another in order to create the strongest possible start to the school year.

In the world of educational technology, when things are implemented without thorough planning, with inconsistent procedures, and with little thought to how things will impact actual classroom practices and the lives of teachers and students, you run the risk of raining on the parade of the eager teachers and students who are bustling with excitement and giddy energies the first few weeks of school, not to mention completely stressing everyone out.

I’m not interested in rehashing the specifics of the types of hiccups we’re encountering as we embark on several new adventures in adding new content providers, changing the way we manage rosters and accounts in certain systems, and attempt to provide professional development to teachers. Every school system in the midst of changes and new implementations is going to hit some rough patches. But there are definitely some essential elements of the planning and implementation process that, if neglected, can lead to major frustrations for all educators and students involved. These are the things I’ve been reflecting on this week.

This post is not going to contain a textbook-style list here’s-what-to-do-when-you’re-a-school-leader-in-charge-of-planning-stuff.

Rather it contains a common-sense-just-stop-and-think-about-what-you’re-doing-for-one-second kind of a list.

Questions to ask yourself when you decide to implement a new instructional technology initiative (or any initiative, really) in your district, school, classroom, or school community:

What do you plan to accomplish?

Have a clear goal. Have a purpose. It should be actionable.

Why?

Make sure that purpose is connected to an actual need in the world of teaching and learning. Not just in your mind- in reality, according to established needs of your district, schools, classrooms. You should probably consult with people who are in the “trenches” to find out what those needs truly are. There should probably be some kind of established system for doing so.

Who is going to be involved?

Think beyond yourself, your department. Who is going to be impacted by this implementation? ON EVERY LEVEL? Who’s going to have to deal with the fall out if things don’t go smoothly? Whose learning lives are going to be impacted? Whose voices should be included in the planning, implementation, and evaluation stages? Who will be encouraged to speak freely if things are not going well? Who will be celebrated when things do go well?

How?

How will the goal be accomplished? What steps will be taken to ensure ts are crossed and is are dotted? What’s the timeline, and is it realistic? Or are things going to be sprung on teachers/students/admin at the last minute? How are problems going to be addressed in a streamlined, timely manner? How are all of your stakeholders going to know that they will be supported throughout the change and implementation process? How are ideas and implementations going to be communicated? How is the effectiveness of the initiative going to be evaluated?

Yes, take risks. Yes, try new and exciting things every single day, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. But think carefully about the whats, whys, whos, and hows, and how every decision we make ultimately impacts one, two, five, twenty, hundreds, and potentially thousands of other educators, students, and school community members.

 

Photo Credit: appropos via Compfight cc

Questions about communication.

CC Licensed Photo Shared by Melvin Gaal

CC Licensed Photo Shared by Melvin Gaal

One of my district’s recent projects has been thinking through and seeking to transform the way we communicate via digital means. These are some questions that come to mind when I contemplate digital age learning and communication.

Dear Superintendent,

If I were a parent moving into your district, would I be able to access quality information about your schools online? Not just test scores and state report cards – but a real, true, authentic look into the classrooms and learning in your schools? Would I be able to Like your school’s Facebook page and follow your district on Twitter, and receive timely updates in my own social media streams or through a district app? Does information from your district come to me? Or do I have to go out and find it myself? Can I comment on and re-share district news?

Are there methods in place for informing me about issues in times of crisis? Is it clear where and how I should be locating that information and/or how the information comes to me? How can I easily find out about your district’s policies and procedures? Are directories readily available so I can contact who I need to, when I need to? How do you collect, store, and protect my child’s data? Who do you share it with and why? How can we access our child’s data at any time?

Are you proactive in publishing critical news and updates to community members or reactive after stories hit the local news?

Do your communications clearly share your vision for learning and the resources, concepts, programs, standards, and instructional techniques used to help students achieve? Do I know what your leadership team hopes to accomplish this year and beyond, in five years? Ten years?

Are all subgroups and populations equally represented in communications? Can I find as many stories about learning in the primary classrooms and emotional support classrooms as I can about high school sports achievements?

How do you accommodate for families who do not have Internet access available at home or Internet-enabled devices? Are your communications able to be easily translated for speakers of other languages? Are your district’s facilities opened up to the public to allow those without access to stay current and engage with your online spaces? Are paper communications used to reach all stakeholders in the absence of connectivity? What are you doing as a school leader to help local and government leaders get access for everyone in your community?

Do you have an online presence as a learner? How do you model for your staff and students that you continue growing and learning as a leader? Do you communicate efficiently, effectively, and consistently with your staff?

Am I a welcomed visitor on your campus? How will I feel that I am welcomed?

Dear Principal,

I want the best for my children, as I know you do. When I want to learn more about your school, can I go to your school’s blog or website and see learning taking place? Does your online presence demonstrate to the public why your school is a special place to learn? Why are your teachers special? Students? Staff? Community? Who are they? What do they believe in? Does your school’s vision and mission shine through in all of your communications? What events and activities are being shared to spark excitement and interest in your school community? How are your postings and your online presence modeling respectful and powerful online communications? Can I see photos of learning in action? Do you use Instagram or Flickr or similar to allow glimpses into daily school life?

Does your district respect the demands on my time as a busy, working parent, offering various structures (online and offline) and opportunities for learning and for parent involvement? Are there Twitter chats or Google Hangouts or live streams of events that I can attend virtually if I can’t attend in person? Are things archived for easy access after events? Are there regular opportunities for parents to provide input on various aspects of school life?

Can I find common forms on your website, things I can access quickly and easily? Schedules, handbooks, menus, bus information, directory information, policies, procedures? Do you report daily or weekly happenings in the form of school news or interactive bulletins? Do you offer the same benefits for your staff through consistently-maintained information processes?

Am I met with smiles when I enter your school’s doors?

Dear Teacher,

You spend countless moments day in and day out creating stimulating learning environments and designing learning experiences for our children. Do you communicate the ideas shared in class with your students’ families? Do your students’ families know what your class values and admires and works to achieve? If my child was in your class, would snapshots of the week’s learnings be available to me through your class blog or website, or your class’s Twitter feed or Facebook page? How can I communicate my questions and concerns with you? How do you involve my child in the communication process? How is my child expected to share his learning with you, with me, with his peers, and with an authentic global audience?

Do you share what you do with other teachers who are looking to bring the best they can to their students? Do you freely share resources, ideas, content, and time with your both your local and global colleagues, knowing that in the spirit of reciprocity you, too, will benefit from what others share? Do your students know you are a learner first?

Is my feedback welcomed and encouraged? Can you help me understand the difficult work that you do in a way that helps me best support my child?

Am I met with smiles when I’m welcomed at your classroom door?

Dear Parent,

Don’t settle when it comes to your child’s school’s communication methods. You deserve to understand the full breadth and depth of your child’s learning experiences and to be embraced as part of the learning community. Your voice deserves to be heard and acknowledged. You should expect not only to be involved with your child’s school, but to be engaged.

 

What else should we be asking ourselves about the way we communicate in school communities?

Professional development by you, for you.

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Let your ideas run wild.

In the past several weeks I’ve received a number of requests for the resources I used to host a Fed-Ex Day at our school. I thought it may be easiest to share them in one space here so others can access as needed.

Incidentally, I find it curious and humbling that folks are still inquiring about the day’s details. When I think back on that day, held in November 2010, it feels like an eternity ago. As the principal that year, I had a lot of autonomy in the way I designed and hosted professional development for my teachers.

And that, my friends, is the key to making something like this work. Building-level administrators have to be given the autonomy to plan, implement and facilitate learning for their teachers in a way that empowers their teachers as learners. Without that freedom, (unless it’s orchestrated by the folks at the top, and to be fair, in some places, it is), this type of day doesn’t happen. In the years that followed, our district moved towards a standardized-approach for inservice days. Each elementary building follows a common professional development schedule built around district initiatives. While certainly this protocol serves to help the three buildings become more aligned in their efforts and open the lines of communication among teachers and grade levels, it doesn’t exactly support initiatives that address the unique needs of a building (or a particular set of teachers, like the specialists). And we all know that every school and the teachers within have a special culture, learning needs, and personalities. Don’t unique individuals deserve individualized professional development?

The reason I find the requests for my resources curious is that I didn’t do anything mind-blowing or creative. I simply reflected upon the ideas shared by Daniel Pink in his book, Drive, and brought the day known as a Fed-Ex day to our little school.  Aside from an hour or so of preparation in terms of sharing background materials with my staff, I didn’t do much of anything. (Although in writing this post, I was reminded of Obvious to You, Amazing to Others. It’s a quick view and a great reminder of why we need to share!)

Let me also share that Chris Wejr began incorporating FedEx preps into his school in October of that year, and his work should be used as a reference as well! Chris is an invaluable resource when it comes to motivation and the work we do with teachers and students. More from Chris here.

I blogged about our day, and shared it. And Dan Pink retweeted the blog post.

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We engaged in an email conversation, which was pretty exciting for me, and I was so happy to share my staff’s successes with him as well as educators who might find the day as inspiring as we did. And I called Chris to talk about it. :)

Yes, I know Dan Pink isn’t an educator. I get it. There are plenty of skeptics out there when it comes to incorporating the ideas shared by Pink in Drive with the work we do in education. I don’t see any fault in finding inspiration from those outside of education and adapting the ideas to make them work for you, your teachers, and your students. The key is that you have identified your needs, you provide autonomy to your learners,  you support their learning along the way, and you assess the effectiveness of your efforts. The FedEx day certainly isn’t going to look the same in the school as it does in the business world. And why should it? We’re different beasts. Own it. Make it yours.

Here are the resources I shared with others. Please feel free to use/adapt to meet your needs:

  • On our school wiki I posted the resources introducing Drive and the background activities like What’s Your Sentence? and the RSA Animate video featuring Pink’s work on motivation that I asked teachers to review before attending our session. It also includes the Google form that teachers used to “deliver” their content/ideas at the conclusion of the day.
  • Here are our sentences. This, as other administrators have found, is one of the most inspiring parts of the day!
  • Here’s my original reflective post, Inspiration Delivers, on my former blog space and here it is on this space.
  • Here’s another reflective post sharing our Edcamp-style PD day later in the year.
  • And here’s a Google doc of resources sharing ideas for “innovative” professional development.

It is now three full years after our Fed-Ex day was held. Innovation Days and Genius Hours and 20% time and  EdCamp-model professional development days -and learning sessions for students- are being designed and shared with the educational community on a daily basis. Students and teachers are sharing how much they appreciate the freedom to learn in ways that best support their needs, and how excited they are to explore topics about which they are passionate.

always get this question when presenting these ideas to other administrators: “But what about the teachers who abuse this freedom? Who sit alone in their rooms and grade papers or work on things that don’t help them develop professionally?”

Then you deal with those folks on an individual basis. You don’t punish the 98% of teachers who want to do the right thing because of the 2% of knuckleheads who can’t seem to handle the autonomy. HT: Tom Murray

I’d encourage anyone who plans professional development to always keep the learners in mind. It doesn’t matter what you call it. “Inservice Day” will do. Use technology, or don’t. But respect your learners and their time.

Shameless plug: I’ll be presenting some ideas about professional development at FETC in January. My session is on Friday, Jan. 31 from 10-11 AM. Hope to see you there!

 

Photo Credit: billy verdin via Compfight cc

Tell me about it.

medium_3784049371How do you approach the process of investigating a new product, app, program, instructional strategy, device, software, hardware, curriculum, [insert new initiative here]?

From a purchasing standpoint, price point is important, I get it. But most affordable does not translate into most effective for kids, teachers, and learning.

What about purpose? What about total cost of ownership? What about value added? What about ease of use? What about technical support?

In my new role, I’m able to provide insight into the myriad of decisions that go into educational technology planning, purchasing, roll-out, professional development, and support processes.

Is my voice always heard? The voices of the teachers and principals? No. We still have to work to do strengthening the lines of technology + education communications. That will only come with the establishment of trust and mutual respect over time.

But when I’m considering a new app, a new program, a new strategy, what I really want to do, more than research the product online, more than listen to a sales pitch, more than look at the financial bottom line, is talk to someone. 

Oh, you’re using that product? Tell me about it.

How do you like it? How does it work? What are the glitches? How does it support student learning? How is it supported? What can you tell me that a vendor can’t tell me?

I use phone calls. I use email. I ask our blossoming Google+ instructional tech community. I inquire during our monthly IU13 tech integrators meetings. I tweet about it.

Being connected means that I have access to educators with experience, some very similar to my own, and some very different from mine. I have access to smart people who have implemented, assessed, questioned, purchased, developed, and shared their ideas with me.

I am lucky.

From an educational perspective, the input and voice of teachers, students, coaches and principals MUST be sought with every technology purchase consideration.

And helping to guide our research are the voices of educators from around the world who share their ideas and experiences with others.

Does your school/district/division have a plan for including educational voices in the technology integration decision-making process? I’d love to hear about your framework and strategies to ensure a) educational voices are heard and b) the results of those decisions are evaluated and assessed to ensure we’re always doing what’s best for kids.

P.S. I know “education” and “technology” should be synonymous. I get it. Using technology meaningfully should just be part of what we do. Right now, we and many other schools are still working to build that bridge, so…. tell me about your successes so we can learn from you.

photo credit: MyDigitalSLR via photopin cc

Connect to win.

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A little birdie told me it’s Connected Educator Month. If you’re reading this, and if you’re new to “connecting,” you might be curious about a day in the life of a “connected” educator. About how we find the time. About the tools we use to connect. About the time we spend communicating with others. About how we manage to do anything other than tweet, blog, and Hangout. You may be apprehensive about connecting and sharing digitally.

Let me start this post by saying I truly believe there’s no right or wrong way to connect. Many folks are skilled collaborators within their local schools and districts. That’s important. One of our teachers started a writing club this year to discuss and explore best practices with teachers in our elementary schools. They meet face-to-face each month.

Those teachers are connected educators.

I’m going to make an appearance at one of their sessions and discuss blogging, its benefits, and how it can amplify the shared ideas of teachers and students alike. I’m going to push those locally connected educators to stretch a little further. Expand their reach. Encourage them to share their wisdom with others. But without the initial face-to-face connections this group has established, the opportunity to share about blogging would not have as easily presented itself.

Connected educators are vulnerable. They make their learning transparent and therefore are open to critique and criticism. They ask questions, they challenge assumptions, they create things and ideas, they get messy, they remix, and they support one another and their kids. It’s hard to put yourself out there. The good news is, you’re not alone.

A connected educator is never alone!

In our school district, have teachers who tweet. We have far fewer administrators who tweet. We have one former administrator who tweets a lot. We have kids who blog, parents who comment on blogs, schools that post news to blogs, and a superintendent who’s looking to expand our district’s use of social media to share the wonderful experiences and learning of our students and school community.

Fact: You can be a connected educator without using Twitter and without reading or writing a blog.

But the tools are available. Many are free. Most are easy to use. They bring ideas your way. They help you forge relationships with exceptional educators. They help you add nodes to your networks.

And they will broaden the scope of your influence.

On a typical day, I wake up early. After some quick mommy math, I calculate I’ll have approximately one hour of uninterrupted time before waking-up-baby needs snuggling.

What’s a connected educator to do?

Coffee. iPhone alerts. Facebook friends, tweets, and emails. Respond to a teacher’s concern about not being able to print a document. Mobile connectivity is key for me.

Twitter. Use Tweetdeck to check the #cpchat stream for articles and posts I can pin to the Connected Leadership board.

Feedly. Take the time to do something I don’t do enough: comment on a blog post. This one from Pernille Ripp, questioning, Where are all the connected female educators? 

LOL reading John Spencer’s post, How many teachers  does it take to change a lightbulb? Share to Facebook, because sometimes my teacher friends are really down on themselves about the state of our profession and they need a good chuckle.

More Feedly. This looks interesting. Save to Pocket. Share out later after reading.

Collaborate with a district and county colleague via Twitter, devise a new hashtag to organize what we share with our tech integrators group.

Baby awake. Family time. Get ready for work.

Long commute. Sirius XM, talk radio, and time with my thoughts.

Help teachers get set up using a math website with students, reference the tutorials on our Elementary Instructional Technology blog. Discuss administrivia with a colleague. Set up a new Twitter account for the district. Check out the latest being shared in our Instructional Technology Integrators and Coaches Google+ community and approve membership requests. Jump into a CEM event led by Scott McLeod for a few minutes. Work with third graders and help them sign into Google Apps for the first time.  Collaborate on a document together. Best practices in design. Google presentations. Communication with a connected colleague, Rachel (whom I met through our Ed Leadership in the Digital Age eCourse through PLP) about a Skype-in session later in the week. Kidblog tasks. Problem solving. Brainstorming. Comment on student work shared with me through GAFE. Create a tutorial to help out a teacher. Eat food. Check out the tweets being shared from #masscue2013. Think about the app a neighboring district created and how useful it is and how we want one. Contact the district for more info. Read the school app resources Eric Sheninger shared with me yesterday via Twitter. Share cyberbullying lesson resources from iSafe and Common Sense Media with district guidance counselors. Finalize elementary technology curriculum drafts. Start working on the new district Facebook page. Consult Diigo for my bookmarks on digital storytelling to share with a teacher looking for more information. Smile at as many kids as possible.

Long commute home.

Family time.

Evening now, baby asleep, finishing this blog post. Going to try to engage with #cpchat tonight which has been a source of inspiration throughout #ce13.

I could read some more feeds. I could tweet. I could check work email. I could pin tasty-looking recipes, get lost in a bunch of nonsensical Facebook posts.  I could install Mavericks.

Instead, I think I’ll play Dots. It’s pretty addicting. And it’s very simple.

Connect the dots.

Stronger, wiser, more numerous connections yield better outcomes.

Connect to win.

Someone needs you to lead.

leadershipday2013When I resigned from the principalship this spring following a maternity leave, many emotions emerged.

The most prevalent was a sense of pure relief.

Done.

Done with administrivia. Done with mandates. Done with headaches and up-all-night-anxieties. Done with new initiatives and state evaluation systems and paperwork and meetings.

I’d miss the interactions with students, of course. But the rest?

I haven’t once wished I was back in the principal’s chair since I left.

This post is for Scott McLeod’s Leadership Day 2013 event. Its initial title? Why I’m glad I’m not the leader anymore. I thought perhaps that might not fit with the day’s intent, and it certainly wouldn’t get my post shared with a #savmp hashtag anytime soon.

But then I began to reflect on my new role as instructional technology coach, and the work I’ve done with teachers over the summer thus far.

The realization sunk in: I am still a leader. A leader in new ways, in a different form. In a supportive leadership role, where I’m not evaluating anyone at the end of the day, but instead providing guidance and instructional leadership. (And yes, I know that’s a role of the principal as well. Just one of many.) I’m helping teachers find new and meaningful ways to integrate technology in teaching and learning. I’m meeting the needs of individuals, grade level teams, and schools. I still have the opportunity to work with the administrative team I admire so much, and I get to collaborate with so many more teachers and students across the district.

After a day of coaching and facilitating professional development sessions, I feel happy. I feel energized. A million ideas race through my head, and I want to keep busy and plan, plan, plan.

I can tell by the genuine enthusiasm and efforts of the teachers I’m working with, along with feedback I’ve received, that they’re appreciative of my work in this new role. They need me to lead. This is a new position, and I’m providing a resource that was formerly unavailable to the elementary staff.

No matter what your role: administrator, teacher, coach, paraprofessional, student… someone needs you to lead. You might not hold a formal leadership position or assume a title. Your leadership efforts might go unnoticed to those you don’t serve, but that doesn’t matter. Someone needs you to lead. You know things others don’t, and your experiences are unique and will be valued by others.

Leadership isn’t about rank, position, or power. It’s about sharing. It’s about having the confidence and willingness to serve. Lead your teaching colleagues in an exploration of a new instructional strategy. Lead a student in finding his passion. Lead your department in strengthening their communication methods. Lead a global Twitter conversation. Lead something, somewhere, somehow.

Someone needs you to lead.

 

Teaching is learning!

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When you’re an administrator, you’re forced to take a step back from the majesty that is teaching and those daily, engaging interactions with students. Yes, some admin teach a course or class or small reading group or two, but, let’s face it- it’s not the same.

Last week I had the privilege of teaching my first (and hopefully not my last) educational leadership graduate course for Cabrini College. #edg646 (yes, we have a hashtag now), Technology & Communications for Administrators. I wondered about my students and their backgrounds. How long had they been teaching? Why were they pursuing a principal’s certification and a career in administration?  Would they engage in our discussions? Would I overwhelm them with too much technology, too fast, in our compacted 5-day week together (5-7 hours per day!)

Would I lose my mind being away from baby for those long hours, five days in a row?! (I almost did.)

I can say, without a doubt, that my students- and the whole experience- far exceeded my expectations about how the week would go. On our first night together I encouraged them to approach our course with an “open mind.” That I would be sharing ideas, tools, strategies, and skill sets that may seem “out there,” or undoable in this time of highly standardized education.

Before the course began I read some of the other syllabi that adjunct instructors were using with this course. There was no talk of connected learning and leading.

My approach would be different.

I asked my students to Be Curious. Learn. Connect. Share. Reflect.

Our first night together we participated as a class in #edtechchat. I was the guest moderator. In order to do so, I worked at the last minute with the hosting school’s IT director, school principal, neighboring district IT director, and a school board member (it helps to know people) to have Twitter unblocked.

It was that night I realized that it doesn’t matter if you have one device or five hundred available to you and the students. BYOD, BYOT, 1:1, whatever, who cares, if you can’t connect, your learning is limited.

Access matters.

#edtechchat moves quickly. A few watched the conversations unfold using Twubs or Tweetdeck. I was almost certain they’d develop a distaste for Twitter, because I did little in terms of introducing the tool to them. We just jumped right in. It was a little scary. But also a tad bit exhilarating.

They embraced it! They also developed as reflective writers. I included a handful of blogging assignments in the week’s to-dos. Some were initially hesitant to share, but when I asked if anyone objected to me tweeting out their posts, everyone said they were okay with it. They located other educators’ blogs, commented, reflected, and engaged one another in discussion. I’d love for you to read their work and comment if you get the chance. I hope they continue using their blogs to reflect upon their work moving forward. Many have shared that they’re eager to do so. Here they are on Feedly. And here are the individual links:

Chris
Deana
Stephanie
Mike
Josh
Jordan
Ron
Sue

Their final projects made me smile. I was purposely ambiguous in designing the task:

Your project for this course is to share what you have learned about yourself as a leader and the role technology will play in your educational leadership endeavors, as well as how you will continue to explore and learn moving forward in this area.

The students’ creativity really shone through with their submissions. They spoke passionately about what they learned, and most utilized new tools in their publication process. I was almost moved to tears when reading their final course reflections in their last required blog post. I also was humbled to read the kind feedback shared on the course evaluation form I asked them to complete. I was so proud that they embraced the ideals of connected leadership and learning!

I learned a lot last week, and I know I can do better the next time around. I hosted the resources and course outline on a wiki here, if you’re interested in viewing what we discussed. I’m so proud of everything my students accomplished.

Without my network, this course would have been far less meaningful. I appreciate the feedback I received from Jon Becker when I reached out and told him I was teaching this course, and did he have any advice? My students found the experiences shared by our guest speakers, Tom Murray and Joe Mazza, to be a highlight of our week together. I can’t even name all of the blogs, Twitter handles, articles, videos, images, books and other resources shared with my class that I amassed via my interactions with my wonderful PLN. To you I am grateful.

I think, by the end of the week, my students understood the importance of networking as a means by which we develop the relationships that can make our work in schools so powerful.

So, yes. I was “instructor”. I was “facilitator”. I used technology to streamline the process of communicating and publishing information and resources for my class. I served as a “guide on the side.”

But I was also the teacher. And I loved every minute of it.

 

Photo Credit: opensourceway via Compfight cc

Principal Evaluation: A book review

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No stranger to the work of James H. Stronge (our district used The Teacher Quality Index to design our teacher selection/hiring process), I was pleased to review a copy of Principal Evaluation: Standards, Rubrics, and Tools for Effective Performance to learn more about Stronge’s frameworks for principal evaluation.

I’ve written on the topic of professional development for principals and administrators and principal evaluation in the past, and, like teacher evaluation, the process of principal evaluation is tricky business. The job of the principal is multifaceted and complicated. Developing a framework to fairly evaluate the effectiveness of a principal’s areas of influence has to be a near impossible task. Every principal’s role is different due to the unique compositions of our schools and communities. To standardize it is laughable.

However, are there certain characteristics all strong principals possess? Most agree there are. So what are those characteristics, and how can we measure the extent to which a principal possesses them? (Because, as we all know, in public education, if we can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist.) Ahem.

Stronge’s book is organized into three parts:

  • How to Build an Evaluation System That Works – provides a conceptual framework for designing a principal evaluation system and how to build a system using a solid foundation of research-based performance standards
  • Comprehensive Set of Principal Performance Standards, Indicators, and Rubrics – presents seven performance standards and indicators with corresponding rubrics.
  • Principal Evaluation Steps, Guidelines, and Resources – a practical set of tools that districts can use to implement a system in their schools

So why is a principal evaluation model needed? Stronge states that meaningful principal evaluation is important “because quality principals matter, and because principal evaluation matters.” He presents the reader with a wealth of evidence about the value of the principal in effective schools, including their impact on teaching and learning and establishing a positive climate for their schools. Stronge emphasizes that people matter when it comes to improving school effectiveness, and that we need quality evaluation systems in place in order to discern if our principals are effective. Without these systems, we can’t hope to improve principals in order to increase school effectiveness.

Stronge’s standards are comprehensive and include:

  1. Instructional Leadership – Creating a Vision, Sharing Leadership, Leading a Learning Community, Monitoring Curriculum & Instruction
  2. School Climate - The Principal’s Role, The Stakeholder’s Role, Trust, Shared Leadership
  3. Human Resources Leadership – Selection, Induction & Support, Evaluation, Retention
  4. Organizational Management - Safety, Daily Operations, & Maintenance, Fiscal Resources, Technology Resources
  5. Communication & Community Relations – Effective Communication, Communicating with Families, Communicating with the Larger Community
  6. Professionalism – Professional Standards, Ethical Behavior, Professional Development
  7. Student Progress - Indirect Influence, Focus on Student Goals

Standards 1-6 are performance standards that represent what the principal should know and be able to do. Standard 7 represents the need to evaluate principals based on the results of their work. These standards are aligned to the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) standards. 

Stronge makes the point that

principals exert both direct and indirect influences on schools and the people who work and learn there. Thus, the framework of principal effectiveness should not only contain standards related to the processes of leadership, but also to the outcomes.

The model is outlined in the next section of the book. The framework includes performance standards with accompanying performance indicators and a performance appraisal rubric for each. Here’s an example (p. 66):

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Stronge identifies the standards, performance indicators, and appraisal rubrics as the “basic building blocks” for principal evaluation in his system. The remainder of the text details how to document principal performance, rate performance, and use principal evaluation for professional growth and improvement. Recommended data sources include self-evaluation, informal visits and observations, document log (principal’s blog, anyone? Perhaps used in conjunction with the self-evaluation process for reflection? portfolio building?), climate surveys, goal setting.  The rating section of the book details how to calculate scores based on the evidence collected and accompanying rubrics using a four-level rating scale. I glazed over that chapter.  The last section of the book includes information for districts wishing to implement the system.

I jumped to the “Professionalism” section of the rubrics so I could see what was included in terms of personal professional development recommendations for administrators. Forming a PLN and sharing with connected networks are important venues through which an administrator can grow. I’ve lived it. This could be included in performance indicator 6.9: Assumes responsibility for own professional development by contributing to and supporting the development of the profession through service as an instructor, mentor, coach, presenter, and/or researcher. Stronge highlights research from various sources that indicates the need for principals to serve as “lifelong learners” and to participate in development networks with other principals. There are few references to technology use in the framework. One is in the description of the Organizational Management standard, where it is expected that principals support implementation, include technology use in their school’s vision, and support scheduling and use of equipment. There’s nothing specific in terms of technology in the performance indicators, and no compelling argument is made in terms of ensuring principals themselves stay current and/or model the use of technologies themselves. To be fair, the framework states performance indicators “include but are not limited to,” so districts and schools could easily craft their own to meet the standards based upon individual needs.

In summary, Stronge’s model is very comprehensive. With so many performance indicators (there are 13 alone under the Instructional Leadership standard), it is definitely no small undertaking to attempt to implement and use this system with all principals in a school district. I shudder at the thought of the paperwork that accompanies this framework (like all similar frameworks). I’d hope for districts to consider putting the emphasis on self-directed learning using these standards as a guide. The principal could determine where he/she needs support and improvement, develop a personal growth plan, and work with their colleagues and expanded networks to achieve their goals. I think the many important qualities of administrators such as trust-building capacities, climate shaping, and instructional leadership are covered thoroughly.

What are your thoughts on Stronge’s model? What essential elements has he included? What’s missing? Can this model be used realistically in our schools today? What positive experiences with principal evaluation models have you had?

For districts interested in utilizing Stronge’s work to craft their administrative evaluation models, ASCD offers a study guide on the work here.

Until we meet again…

there-are-far-better-things-ahead

Dear Principalship,

It’s been quite a ride.

I transitioned into administration in the summer of 2008, not knowing what to expect. But, after 9 years in the classroom, I welcomed with open arms (and a whole boatload of nervous) the new adventures you’d bring.

It’s hard to summarize in a single post the valuable leadership lessons I’ve learned over the past five years. I’ve blogged about many of them. I don’t want this post to be a total rehash of everything I’ve ever written about the life of a principal, so suffice it to say that serving as the principal of Brecknock Elementary School has allowed me to learn about myself as a person, teacher, leader, manager, caregiver, organizer, disciplinarian, partner, mentor, mentee, coach, supervisor, friend, teammate, and student.

I laughed, and I cried.

I will greatly miss interacting with my students on a daily basis. (Understatement of the century). When I thought my day couldn’t get any worse, I’d see one of their smiling faces, or one of the kids would say something so innocent and ridiculous I’d laugh my head off. Thank you, students.

I worked with a large number of teachers during my principalship. New teachers, veteran teachers, and teachers somewhere in between. Teachers with a variety of strengths, needs, and all inspired by the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child. Thanks to the teachers who supported me, challenged me, and everything in between :)

Thanks also to all of the members of my PLN who’ve supported me over the past five years, who’ve read and shared my work on leadership, and who’ve joined in the conversations both here on my blog and on Twitter. Thanks also for your support of my webinars and conference presentations. I appreciate everyone at Connected Principals (not sure if I’m permitted to post there anymore :) and the educators who contribute to #cpchat and #edchat. I’m so grateful for the contributions of these communities. Much love also to Powerful Learning Practice and all of the plpeeps! You’ve all nurtured me as a learner and leader, in one way or another.

The bad news? I suppose I’ll need a new title for my blog!

The good news? I’m not going anywhere!

I’ll be serving as our district’s elementary instructional technology integrator beginning next school year. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work closely with teachers and staff seeking to best integrate technology into our classrooms and to help bring about “the shift” that is so necessary in the ways in which we approach teaching and learning for today’s learners. I’ll have the chance to design professional development, co-teach, coach teachers, and facilitate student project work. The position will afford me with the freedom to pursue my passions and to help teachers get connected and transform learning experiences for their students.

Thankfully I will still have many leadership opportunities, and this summer I’ll be teaching both my first college course to prospective principals (tech for administrators!) and an online course for admin through PLP (check out the details here, because I’d love for you to learn with me!), so I’m very excited about my continued role working with school leaders.

If you’re reading this post, please please comment with the names and blogs and Twitter profiles of people I should connect with to help me be the best I can be in my new role. What hashtags should I follow? What do I need to know? What can I learn to extend my thinking and strengthen my skills in this area? Reach out to me here, on Twitter, via email… thanks in advance!

I could write this farewell post ten thousand times over and remember fondly a different aspect of the principalship each time. I’m looking forward to change, growth, and to new beginnings.

Goodbye, Principalship. Until we meet again… because we will, someday.

 

 

 

What is digital literacy?

I’m playing #etmooc catch up (again) and will begin sharing all of my reflective posts here as well as my original learning with #etmooc blog space because of the demise of Posterous, which has both saddened and irritated me.

Digital literacy is the topic that made the etmooc learning space so irresistible to me… I think as educators we spout off about wanting our students to be digitally literate, but not many of us (myself included) have a firm grasp about what that actually means, and quite a number of us are still attempting to become digitally literate ourselves.

Whatever that means.

It turns out, defining digital literacy isn’t such an easy task. The etmooc community was fortunate enough to hear Doug Belshaw speak on this topic in a recent webinar. I’ve followed Doug on Twitter for quite some time, and it turns out his dissertation investigates just what is digital literacy… and his TED talk can be viewed here.

Doug explained that digital literacy is quite ambiguous, and he doesn’t have all of the answers when it comes to defining these terms. He made a point to ask, How can we define digital literacy when we don’t know what literacy is? There are over 30 definitions of digital literacy represented in one of the first texts about the topic (from Gilster, published in 1998!!), so it’s no wonder that as educators we have a difficult time trying to figure out what it is and how we can ensure our students are “digitally literate.” (Doug also pointed out that often we like to attach literate to a term in order to make it sound more important :)).

Doug shared this quote from his research (Martin, 2006): “Digital literacy is a condition, not a threshold.” It changes the way we teach. It’s a relationship and represents the way we orient ourselves with the world. Digital literacy doesn’t include a sequential set of skills. There’s a lot more “messing around” involved, and it’s subjective and highly contextual. Digital literacy in a K-12 setting varies greatly from that in a collegiate setting.

From his research, Doug crafted Eight Essential Elements of Digital Literacy:

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He explained each along with “soundbites” from his research to guide the discussions.

Cultural – We need to pay attention to the culture in which the literacies are situated.

Cognitive – We can’t just consider the procedural ways in which we use devices and programs. It’s the way we think when we’re using them.

Constructive – We can’t be passive consumers of technology/information. We should strive to use digital tools in reflective and appropriate ways to be constructive and be socially active.

Communicative – Digital tools and power structures change the way we communicate. An element of digital literacy is how we take command of that structure and use it to communicate effectively and contribute meaningfully.

Confident – Doug believes that in order to be a proficient user of technology, one must have the courage and confidence to dive into the unknown, take risks, make mistakes, and display confidence when “messing around” with new tools.

Creative – Doug shared this quote from his research, which, to me, said it all:

“The creative adoption of new technology requires teachers who are willing to take risks… a prescriptive curriculum, routine practices… and a tight target-setting regime, is unlikely to be helpful.” Conlon & Simpson (2003)

Critical – Digital literacy involves an understanding of how to deal with hyperspace and hypertext and understanding that it’s “not entirely read or spoken.” Can we critically evaluate the technologies we’re using?

Civic - Something I think many schools are beginning to embrace, we must use technology to improve our lives and the lives of others in our world.

There was a discussion in the session about the term “digital native” and most participants disagreed that digital natives actually existed, and instead the term “digital wisdom” was suggested as an alternative.

So, as someone who is currently working on drafting a sort of elementary “technology curriculum” for her district, based around ISTE’s NETS for Students and aligned to our content curricula, I see a great need to infuse these digital literacy elements into that plan. But, alas, how to do that when digital literacy is so “grey?” How to make a plea for these characteristics and competencies to be modeled by our teachers and administrators when due to our current state, teachers may just revolt if I ask them to veer from the script they’ve been tasked with delivering to spend time on topics and tasks that won’t be progress monitored, standardized-tested or used in their professional evaluations? Alec’s comment in the chat caused me to mutter, “Uh, yes” under my breath when I read it:  “Which is where curriculum planners always get stumped by deliverables.” How can we design standards for digital literacy when we’ve proven how contextual it is? And how best to marry these digital literacy elements with the strictly enforced content area curricula our district prescribes?

All questions I shall continue to ponder.

This is a fantastic digital literacy slideset shared by Doug. Check it out, and ask yourself: In my school, how do we approach these eight elements of digital literacy with our students? Teachers? Administrators? Community? If we don’t, how can we start? If you have ideas/advice/resources to share, please do so in the comments below!