Category Archives: Leadership

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.

Constructive conversations

7554741094I recently had the opportunity to use World Cafe for supporting conversation and action with a fine group of educators at the Bucks-Lehigh Edusummit. Ross Cooper was my co-host. Our goal? To discuss how to break from traditional professional development practices to more meaningfully engage teachers in their learning.

I know. We talk about PD and how it doesn’t meet teachers’ needs. We talk about it a lot.

But do we listen? Do we act?

A single conference session is not enough time to fully engage in the World Cafe method, but by modeling its use, we hoped administrators and teacher leaders would leave the session inspired to try the process in their own schools and better engage teacher voices in planning professional learning opportunities.

World Cafe was born in the United States through the work of Juanita Brown and David Isaacs in the early 1990s. From World Cafe’s About Us page:

The World Café (TWC)
Using seven design principles and a simple method, the World Café is a powerful social technology for engaging people in conversations that matter, offering an effective antidote to the fast-paced fragmentation and lack of connection in today’s world. Based on the understanding that conversation is the core process that drives personal, business, and organizational life, the World Café is more than a method, a process, or technique – it’s a way of thinking and being together sourced in a philosophy of conversational leadership.”

The essential elements hosts should include in a World Cafe experience include:

Image via

After a brief introduction to World Cafe, it was time to identify a question. Defining a “question that matters” is an essential element of World Cafe. A good question has no right or wrong response, evokes emotion, invites inquiry, opens up new possibilities, and perhaps even makes people feel a bit uncomfortable.

Our question for the day:

How do we break from traditional methods of professional development to engage teachers in more passion-based, purposeful professional learning?

We divided into three groups. Each table identified a “table host” who would remain at the table throughout all rotations and inform the next set of participants what the previous group discussed. Timer went up, and the conversations started.

Documentation of learning is important in World Cafe. In our abbreviated version we used digital means to document. One table started a set of Google Slides to share their reflections and others contributed to a shared Google Doc. Given more time in a more formal World Cafe, I would cover the tables in chart or drawing paper and provide markers and other types of artistic media for those who wished to document their learning through doodling or other creative means. Each table’s documentation is then shared out at the end of the cafe in a process known as the Harvest.

Conversations emerged quickly and passionately. Ideas emerge organically from community voices using World Cafe. World Cafe hosts do not facilitate or provide protocols for discussions. World Cafe operates under “recognition of conversation as a core meaning-making process”. I noticed nearly every participant in the room sharing openly in their table groups. It took some longer than others to open up and be comfortable with the format. As I introduced World Cafe, I definitely got a few incredulous looks from teachers who showed up to the session and were perhaps annoyed I wasn’t going to be providing any concrete materials or ideas.


Some of the conversations included stories about negative experiences with PD, and while I would have preferred things were framed in a more constructive light, I think when we ask people to share their experiences and speak from the heart, they aren’t going to censor out the difficult experiences they’ve had. From one such conversation, a teacher expressed her frustration with being asked to implement initiatives that were hastily rolled out, without teacher input or consideration of whether the new initiatives were really worth teachers’ and students’ time. During the Harvest, she very passionately stated that traditional methods of professional development “do not allow teachers to be creative risk-takers”, and yet that is a quality we seek to instill in our students every day.

Tony Sinanis, my friend and the conference’s keynote, addressed the group as we wrapped and said that he heard everyone discussing the importance of involving teachers in the professional learning process, and in his school, he actually involved students and parents in the process too. Could you imagine if more schools asked children what types of learning experiences they should design for their teachers?

Overall I felt this was a successful session thanks to the willingness of participants to contribute. We received positive feedback from many participants. A middle school principal said he was looking forward to using the technique in his school and another participant said it was the best session she attended thus far. Sometimes our teachers need more than “150 tech tips and tricks” to help them think constructively and innovatively about teaching and learning.

“Talk is cheap”? Perhaps, but if you truly listen to what your constituents need and then you devise a plan of action to address it, that combination of acknowledgment of needs and a willingness to act will help organizations grow.

Resources shared with session participants can be found here.

If you plan professional development opportunities for your organization, consider involving more voices in the process using World Cafe. Have you used World Cafe? Would love for you to share your experiences in the comments!

Coaching and feelings.

Photo by Peter Alfred Hess via Flickr CC
Photo by Peter Alfred Hess via Flickr CC

I’m developing online courses using an LMS I’ve never used to author anything before. I won’t name the LMS, you can probably guess which of those available might be the only one to frustrate me to the point of actual tears. For serious. Tears came out of my eyes.

I found it so counterintuitive, organized in a way that, to me, was overwhelming and confusing and redundant and alarmingly annoying and with every second I was forced to interact with it, I wanted to scream. My blood pressure raised, breathing became faster… I vented to my husband and yes, indeed, he agreed that the platform was frustrating to work with, that it wasn’t just me, and several in my PLN agreed.

But that doesn’t much matter, because I don’t get to choose the tool. The organization does. And the point of this post isn’t to say it’s the right or wrong decision or all instructors should be able to choose their platform because certainly that would create issues with continuity and what not.

For heaven’s sake, I’m a tech coach! I can’t be so easily frustrated by technology! Can I?!

What this experience made me realize is that, beyond having someone show me click-by-click where I needed to go to add elements to my course, beyond accessing the readily available video and screencast tutorials for the LMS, I needed someone to empathize with my situation.

I needed someone to care.

I needed a coach.

A skilled coach can sense that you’re struggling. Can look at the situation and try to understand why. What elements of the situation are causing angst? What skills, if acquired, will help reduce anxiety and lead to success? What strategies can the coach use to simultaneously calm your fears, address your concerns, and enhance your skill set?

Some teachers aren’t open to coaching, not because they wouldn’t appreciate the development, but because they’re not comfortable admitting they’re uncomfortable. They don’t want to let their guards down. We see a teacher who’s reluctant to innovate and we consider them stubborn, traditional, grounded in their ways. What they allow us to see isn’t enough to understand why. We need to know what they’re feeling.

If you’re a teacher struggling, whether it’s with technology integration or with a new instructional strategy, don’t be afraid to communicate honestly about your emotions surrounding the situation. That can only help your coach better design support strategies for you.

If you’re a coach and you don’t acknowledge the feelings of those with whom you work, you’re doing it wrong. The person comes first. Development won’t happen without essential relationship-building.

My increasing frustration working with a new LMS made me realize that when I coach teachers, I need to find out why they’re nervous or reluctant about tech integration, why they’re over-the-top zealous about it, why they display negative feelings about it. Everyone’s past experiences shape them as a teacher, as a learner, as a leader. I know I didn’t always put feelings first in my approach to working with teachers, and I would go back and change some of my strategies if I could.

The real value of a coach is having someone willing to be by your side when the learning gets tough. Whether it’s coach-teacher, teacher-student, admin-teacher, remember to acknowledge the fears, the needs, the aspirations of the person you’re learning alongside.


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.


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!


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!


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?

It changes us.


I remember the moment in time when I learned how to copy and paste.

My parents bought our family an Apple IIGS when I was in junior high school. It was our first personal computer. It was the device on which I learned to word process.

As early I can remember, I wrote stories. I filled journals and spiral-bound notebooks. But access to this device changed me. It changed my writing. I developed skills formerly unknown to me. I needed those skills to adjust to the medium. I wrote more fluently. I mastered keyboarding. (Shockingly without the use of a formal typing program, I was just motivated to learn to type fluently so I could write and create, go figure.)

When I hear, “It’s not about the technology, it’s about what we do with it,” I agree and disagree. It’s not about the tool specifically. But it is. It’s about how it changes us. How it changes the process. The product. The questions. The answers. How we find information. How we learn to understand what is relevant and real and what is crap. These shifts are because of the technology. Because of the tools with which we choose to interact.

It’s about what it can help us become. More fluent writers. Risk-takers. Creators. Sharers. Activists. Educators. Learners.

It’s about how it can help us help others. How it gives voice to the voiceless. How it brings people together in times of adversity and in times of celebration.

To deny our students of discovering who they could become… how they could invent… how they could make an idea or thing come to life… that isn’t okay, especially not if it’s just because we’re too busy with test prep or traditional models of classroom instruction or doing things as we’ve always done because that’s how we do it. That doesn’t allow for the kind of autonomy and questioning and discussion and reinventing that our kids deserve.

It’s about the choices we make with technologies. About how we choose to use them to communicate. To publish. To interact with others. Our kids deserve the chance to make those choices. To understand those choices. To have guidance with those choices.

It changes our present, it changes our futures.

Being a connected educator has changed me. It has caused me to understand things I never before understood. It provides a glimpse into the perspectives of people and groups of people that in my unconnected life I did not previously know.

But after years of connecting, it’s caused me to become jaded, too. I’m not likely to become easily excited about a new tool. I cringe when I hear the words “personalized learning” used in conjunction with technology and schools and children. Children. 

So, it is about the tools. It’s about how they change us. It’s about how we are vulnerable when learning about the roles they can and should play in our lives. In our kids’ lives. So we should help them learn and take command of the tools. To create, not just consume. To interact significantly and meaningfully and respectfully. And we should act on their behalf when systems or companies or organizations or people try to impose uninspired, one-size-fits-all uses for technology.

Ramblings of a sometimes blogger.


When you blog, you eventually self-impose schedules and deadlines for posting, and having a nearly-two month lull in posts can really make you wonder, What’s the point? Why am I writing, anyway?

Because I’m a blogger, and a writer, and it’s what I do, albeit inconsistently. We blog to reflect, to share, to celebrate, to question, to converse about things that are important to us.

We just wrapped up a somewhat frantic and frazzled start to the school year. I’m sure many of you experienced the same.

The sweet:

  • After our initial surveys with BrightBytes, findings show our district is moving in the right direction in terms of using technology to support learning. Our teacher beliefs about the positive impacts of educational technology are high, access is good, and we are working towards better implementation of programs and practices to ensure our students and teachers are creators, not just consumers, of digital information.
  • I’ve been able to work with many classes this fall getting students started with their new Edublogs accounts. (Teachers, too). We’re still working through the organization of it all (our kids share teachers so in some ways it can get tricky organizing the Edublogs “Classes”), but I think we’re making progress. This has helped me reflect on blogging as an educational practice, which I’ve done many times before. As much as I want every student and teacher to see the value in blogging, it’s not going to happen immediately. And some kids are just never going to click with the medium. I’ve come to realize, that’s okay. But then, I spend time with a third grader, one who’s struggled with literacy since I first met him in kindergarten, and to see him be so entranced with his own writing space that he spends an hour writing a post about each season of the year, then asks me to spell the months of the year on his whiteboard so he has them handy later to write about all of the months of the year- that was kind of magical. His eyes sparkled and he was so excited to share his learning in this way. That’s why I continue sharing different methods for exploring and sharing learning. If I can impact one teacher, one student — then it’s an #eduwin. What are your favorite resources for supporting blogging in the classroom?
  • I found some fun new things to use. Like Workflowy. And Paper. And Write About. I trashed some accounts, like Foursquare and Jolicloud. #digitalcleanup What are your favorite recent finds for productivity and creation?

The sour:

  • New, new, new. New content providers. New rotational learning “model” and frameworks and coaches and consultants. New devices with a steep learning curve. New teachers and teams. New students. New frustrations and findings and forehead-smacking.
  • I’m still noticing a huge disconnect between the business of “tech” and the business of teaching and learning. Communication lines are frazzled, crossed, or nonexistent. They need to be repaired. That starts with leadership. Students-come-first-leadership-soaked-in-humility.


  • The Hour of Code is quickly approaching, and I’m excited that we’re involving students Gr. 1-8 in programming activities through as well as Tynker. Last year was our students’ first introduction to programming activities in school through HOC, and sparks were definitely ignited.
  • Learning Forward’s third edition of Powerful Designs for Professional Learning will be published in the coming weeks, and I contributed a chapter featuring the use of social media and networks for learning. I’ll be in Nashville at Learning Forward’s annual conference sharing the key ideas from my chapter at a pre-conference workshop. If you’re coming to the conference, join us!
  • We are wrapping up our last week of the educational leadership in the digital age ecourse through Powerful Learning Practice. I’m so glad to connect with dedicated educators like Rhonda, Nicole, Tony, and Rachel, who’ve contributed so much to my learning over the past five weeks.

Despite my blogging hiatus, I think of this space in many passing moments. It’s a place I feel comfortable reflecting, even if in recent years it’s become a place where I post less frequently. I also post to our elem tech blog regularly, so when I feel like I’m slacking off here, I think, Hey, at least I posted in that space!

How do you stay motivated to write and share throughout the busy school year? Are there any blogging challenges coming up that could help encourage you to post regularly? I’m kind of intrigued by this Blogging from A-Z challenge and might give it a try.

Happy learning.
Photo Credit: VinothChandar via Compfight cc

First steps at protecting students’ privacy.


I admit that at one point in time I was one of those educators who allowed students to sign into a site using a teacher’s credentials in order to gain access, for example, some of our intermediate students used Prezi for project work and signed in under the same generic Gmail account maintained by the teacher.


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Over the past two years, however, thanks to the work of Audrey Watters, Bill Fitzgerald, and many others, maintaining the privacy and protecting my students online has become one of my main priorities as elementary technology coach. Prompted by a statewide communication last year from the education solicitors, our district set to work on making sure that parents were informed and involved in the decisions to allow their children to have accounts established at various educational websites and productivity services.

My scope is elementary, so I read a lot of Terms of Service/Terms of Use and privacy policies to make sure that our kids are even permitted to click on the website let alone establish accounts there. For example, we had been using Today’s Meet to organize classroom conversations in some of our intermediate classes. “No accounts are required, great!” was my initial reaction, and it worked well. I used it with staff in meetings, and I loved the ease and simplicity of use. Dig deeper, read its Terms of Use, and you’ll see that students under the age of 13 are not permitted to use Today’s Meet. Thus, I advise teachers to no longer use this service with elementary students, and it’s not on our approved list of educational websites for students <13 years old.

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Let me please say that following are our initial steps in helping parents and teachers become more informed and involved in matters of student privacy and data use as it relates to educational service/website use. In no way is our procedure perfect. We need to continually work at improving this system to help ensure parents and students can be advocates for the way children’s privacy is maintained throughout their school careers (and lives). We also use  resources shared by Common Sense Media about privacy and protection to help students understand their rights as digital consumers and creators.

Due to COPPA language, we target our request for permissions to students under 13 years of age, which covers all of our elementary students as well as  a good number of seventh graders in our middle school. (However we really need to consider how we are informing all parents and community members, K-12 and beyond.) In opening week paperwork, parents receive this informational letter (modeled after the letter drafted for us by our solicitors), a consent form requiring parent signature, and the list of district-approved educational websites and productivity services where the child may have an account established. Not all teachers utilize all services on the list nor are they available to all students K-7, but we decided to compile them all on one list for ease of distribution. Parents receive a hard copy of the list in the fall, and we maintain this living list on this district site. If the district approves a new website for use, I update the living sheet and we send home an additional parent permission form to those students who will use the site. Homeroom teachers collect the forms and note any students who have not returned the consent form and forms are compiled/logged in the main office of each building. In the future we hope to integrate the logging of these forms electronically via our SIS and/or allow parents to consent via the parent information portal, but we’re not there yet. Parents are encouraged to contact building principals if they choose to opt out and/or if they have questions involving the educational use of any of the websites. They can choose to opt out of one or more services if they so desire. Learning accommodations are made for students who cannot interact with a digital service.

It’s a start. We still need to provide more parent and teacher education on the specifics of student data and privacy to help them protect their children in all elements of online and mobile interactions, not just their educational website use, which is supervised by caring teachers and school personnel.

I think it’s time we need to reign in our overzealous enthusiasm about the latest and greatest ed tech products and services. I get it. Shiny new things are cool and so are interactive websites and gee, the kids really are going to love it so I’m just going to set them up with usernames and passwords and let’s give it a try! I know, I know. We’re telling you to integrate and be all up in 21st century skills and now we’re warning you about doing so. Shame on us.

Just be smart. Read terms of use and privacy policies. Ask for help if the terms are so full of jargon and nonsense you can’t make heads or tails of the meaning. Be the adult. Inform and involve parents in decisions. Get your administrators informed, because sad to say, they’re likely not the most informed bunch when it comes to student data and privacy.

Protecting students’ data and privacy is becoming increasingly difficult every day, but that’s no excuse for not taking steps to do so.

It starts with you!

Whats and whys and whos and hows.


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.


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 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?