Connecting with others through social media? Good.
Getting too comfortable in the same circle of colleagues and not taking the time to branch out into new networks or interact with new members of the virtual community? Bad.
Over the past few weeks I had the privilege to meet, face-to-face (what a luxury!) some new friends at Pete & C, #ntcamp Burlington, and Teach Meet NJ… I’ve also connected with some pretty amazing folks on Twitter as of late, and I would like to share the wealth.
You may already know and love many of the people on this list, and I can imagine that to be true, because of the fantastic work they’re doing for kids. I regret I can’t spend more time listing the names of the hundreds of educators that influence me daily!
Chris Lindholm – Chris is an assistant superintendent from Minnesota. He blogs about many facets of leadership and is a great supporter of the resources and ideas shared on #cpchat!
Corrie Kelly – Corrie has been quick to respond to many of my queries about integrating technology into our classroom activities with elementary students. She is a valuable resource!
Pete Rodrigues – Pete is, first and foremost, a great sport who allows me to bust on him several times per week on Twitter. Great sense of humor aside, he is an aspiring administrator who shares meaningful thoughts about learning through his posts and virtual conversations. And at one point in his life, he built a suit of armor. #enoughsaid
Ryan Bretag– Ryan’s blog, Metanoia, is a must-read for me. I am always impressed with his well-articulated ideas and his continual focus on student learning. Sometimes his posts make me think so hard my brain hurts. In a good way.
Kimberly Moritz – Kim is a very inspiring superintendent from New York. I had the chance to meet her at Educon and respect her tireless efforts for kids and her thoughtful blog posts.
Lesley Cameron – Lesley is a third grade teacher from Alberta, Canada, who shares her wonderful ideas and classroom happenings on her blog here. I appreciate her positivity, her willingness to take risks, and her dedication to her students. She clearly is becoming quite a leader in her school and beyond.
Marc Siegel – Marc was a participant in the session at #tmnj11 that I co-presented with Eric Sheninger. He was vocal in sharing his concerns about how to best influence his school and district administrators to move in a positive direction with change. Marc seemed genuinely invested in his students and helping make a difference in their lives. Check out his blog, too.
Greg Stickel – wins the positivity award. He is very supportive, comments regularly, shares resources freely, and is a great contributor to our virtual conversations. Hoping he starts to blog soon. 🙂
Again, there are many people here I didn’t highlight… but I’m thinking this may be a regular post topic…. who has been adding to your learning lately? Share with us!
Saturday I greatly enjoyed my day at #Ntcamp Burlington. It’s fantastic to connect with some of the people that inspire me the most. Thank you so much to Patrick and Andrew and the rest of the #ntcamp crew for everything you taught me this weekend.
Those relationships matter.
I was pleased also to meet some fabulous new teachers, fresh in their professional journeys. They asked all of the right questions. They honestly reflected on their new roles, wanting to learn more. They listened eagerly to one another and their passion for teaching shone through with their words.
Forming new connections matters.
Saturday evening I received a phone call from my Dad, which was the first sign that something was wrong, because he doesn’t often call my cell on a Saturday night. As I stood in the post-#ntcamp venue, he told me in a very composed voice that “we just lost Grandma.” His mother. Grandma hadn’t been doing well, but at the moment when I received that news, I was a few hundred miles from home, and I didn’t like it.
Knowing there was nothing I could do about that, and that I was flying home the next day, I returned to the group of #ntcampers and told some of them the news. There was an instant outpouring of care and concern for me and my family, from people who didn’t know my family. Yes, I was away from home when I received this upsetting news, but in a way, I was in my “other” home, surrounded by people who are a genuine part of my life. Relationships formed through social media around a shared passion for teaching, learning, and kids.
Caring about people matters. Passion matters.
My dad is the oldest of five and is now charged with taking care of everyone. I am also the oldest of five. I now need to take care of everyone. As we spent some time with my grandfather yesterday, I noticed my Dad and I assumed the same sort of robot-like, “we’re in charge here” stance. We deflected emotional waves with humor and common sense prevailed, not emotion. We felt a need to stay composed in front of the people that depended on us.
But, as I am sure we will find in the coming days, emotion matters.
I love this picture of my grandparents. My Grandma’s gaze? The love in her eyes? That’s what matters. My Grandma has taught me so much in my life. She quilted beautifully. She made every grandchild (all 14 of us) a quilt when they were born, moved to a “big kid bed,” and got married… she taught us how to bake and cook…. when we were kids we’d have sleepovers at Grandma’s and she’d treat us to blueberry pancakes in the morning…. she taught us the importance of family and loving one another….she bragged incessantly about our accomplishments… “this is my granddaughter, she is a principal now!”… she was a wonderful teacher because she recognized the value in relationships.
Sometimes we allow mandates, rules, policies, naysayers, standards, testing, data, accountability, etc. to overshadow what really matters. People matter. Kids matter. Forming relationships for learning matters.
I encourage everyone to take a step outside of the web of what doesn’t matter today. It’s easy to get entangled in that web. It’s messy and it can suck you in pretty easily. Look around you, appreciate what you have, and do something extraordinary to make someone’s life more meaningful today.
At some point this evening I will arrive in fabulous Burlington High School country for #NTcamp Burlington, which will be held at Burlington High School, home of Patrick Larkin and the Red Devils. 🙂 Only Mother Nature and Southwest Airlines know exactly when I will arrive, but when I do, I know a lot of great connecting and learning experiences await! Why? Because NTcamp…
…uses the unconference model to promote engaging, participatory driven professional development for teachers, librarians, administrators, technology specialists, and college students. NTCamp is not only for new teachers, but also for anyone in the education field looking for a variety of professional development packed into one day. While the focus remains on professional development for new teachers, those who have had years of teaching experience will not get bored.
Check out the NTcamp blog to read about the day’s events, view the schedule, and find out how you can participate virtually through the LiveStream sessions and interactive Twitter feeds. To learn more about the origins of the “unconference,” read Patrick’s great post and thank Dan Callahan and MaryBeth Hertz the next time you see (or tweet) them!
To kick off the day, I’ll be participating in the Connected Principals panel with Patrick Larkin, Larry Fliegelman, and Eric Juli. I’m really looking forward to this experience and encourage you to take part by submitting questions for the panel! Use the hashtag #ntcamp to follow along with the happenings tomorrow. Thanks to Andrew Marcinek and the rest of the organizers for working so hard to make this day of learning come together!
I’m excited about the opportunity to present to a group of administrators and educators at next week’s Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo & Conference. Through this session, I hope to engage attendees in conversations about the shifts in learning and how our role as administrators as transparent learners is imperative as we lead the way with these efforts. I’ll describe my own experiences with social media use and how it has benefited my practice, my school, and my teachers and students. This is the session description:
This session will explore the role of the networked administrator, who, as the school’s lead learner, recognizes the value and use of social media to develop professional connections, build relationships and capacity, help create organizational efficiency, and bring innovative learning experiences to students and staff.
I can count on the fact that there will be at least one audience member live and in person (one of my teachers is attending the conference, so his participation is mandatory :), and I did consider that often at conferences like these, administrators are often few in number. I’m fully prepared for an audience of two. Knowing that more participants will likely add to increased value in the conversation, I decided I’d attempt to Livestream my session in the event that anyone out there who had the time and interest would like to tune in. I’ll sign onto Skype as well to engage any virtual audience members in addition to the Livestream chat that may emerge (l_hilt). Thanks in advance to future administrator and all-star Greg who is going to help me out. Fingers crossed that the venue’s technology supports this effort. If not, hopefully the resources shared below will still be of use to someone out there.
The session is Monday, February 14, at 4:00 PM EST.
This is a topic I’m quite passionate about, simply because of the amazing transformation in my learning over the past year since I’ve been more involved in connected learning through social media. I highly respect and admire the other principals, administrators, teachers, and educators I’ve engaged with and learned from through Twitter interactions, blog posts, and in face-to-face encounters. In my experience, in talking with other administrators in this area, the concept of learning with others through social media is a foreign concept. I feel I owe it to this group of influential educators to share the benefits, ideas for use, and personal stories about how we as leaders need to model our learning for those whom we lead.
A few weeks ago I was having lunch with some of my uber-talented sixth grade students. We were talking about school life (amidst the music and occasional ping pong game and mini-dance party) and they also began blogging their thoughts about what their ideal school would look like. Common themes: more social time, less structure, more freedoms, more interest-specific explorations.
One thing that struck me as interesting was a response when I asked, “How do you think your teacher decides what to teach you?”
Very thoughtfully, the student replied, “I never really thought about that! I don’t think she decides. I think it comes from the higher-ups. It’s not like teachers have the freedom to say, Okay, we’re going to learn about candy today!”
So. Do our students indeed view the teacher as the imparter-of-knowledge? Or do they view the teacher as a mechanism through which someone else decides what’s important for children to learn?
I followed up. “Do you think teachers should ask you what you want to learn about?”
“I think some people wouldn’t take it seriously and would just be joking about it.”
“But if that was the norm. If, every day, you came into class knowing you could explore the topics that most interested you. How would that go?”
With that thought in mind, she began describing how she’d center her daily learning experiences around theatrics and drama…there would be role-playing, acting, performing, and creation. Because, in her words, she was going to be “the world’s greatest actress.”
What can we do to promote this passion-driven learning in our schools? How can we, as administrators, help children find that which they love and involve them in their learning experiences that promote, celebrate, and honor those passions?
Not many of us can resist reaching into a bowl of sugary sweet candy goodness. Let’s work to make our children’s learning experiences just as irresistible.
InLinchpin, Seth Godinasks us to consider the task of emotional labor: doing important work, even when it isn’t easy. It’s the type of labor we often avoid, due to its difficulty and the fact that to some people, emotional labor is a gift given without reward. In reality, emotional labor perhaps yields the greatest benefits, to both the giver and the recipient of those efforts.
The act of giving someone a smile, of connecting to a human, of taking initiative, of being surprising, of being creative, of putting on a show- these are things that we do for free all our lives. And then we get to work and we expect to merely do what we’re told and get paid for it.
Godin’s message is to bring your gifts to work. Your initial reaction to this idea may be, “Why should I? I just want to leave work each day and go home and do things I enjoy and be around people I actually like.”
What gifts do you bring to your school? Clearly you seek to display your strongest leadership qualities on a daily basis, in the hopes of modeling and shaping learning for your staff and students. What art do you create on a daily basis, at work, that allows your organization to flourish?
If you believe that your role as administrator or teacher or parent does not fit the definition of “artist,” I ask you to consider the following:
Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.
Art is about intent and communication, not substances.
Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.
Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.
Art is the product of emotional labor. If it’s easy and risk-free, it’s unlikely that it’s art.
I didn’t want this to post to be filled with feel-good fluff and void of actual instances of how I know emotional labor is being expended each day in schools, and how this work benefits our kids. In our elementary school, there are artists creating at every turn.
My guidance counselor recently designed a “break the mid-winter-blahs” picnic lunch day for the entire school using her gifts of compassion and her awareness of our school climate.
For a few weeks of the year physical education teacher transforms our gymnasium into an amazing obstacle course, complete with hanging “vines,” hula-hoops, clever contraptions made of PVC-pipe, and opportunities for rolling, tumbling, running, laughing, and learning.
One of my kindergarten teacher’s many gifts is her unrivaled ability to break into song, dance, skit, funny character voice… basically whatever theatrics is necessary…to excite and energize her students and engage them in learning.
My 3/4 hallway has this amazing chemistry. You can feel it when you walk through the hall. It hits you in the face. I love their contagious energy!
An incredible group of teachers and staff imagined and implemented a now-annual Day of Service for our entire school community in honor of a teacher who lost her battle with breast cancer last year.
Grade 2 teachers designed a Parent Blogging Night, where they will introduce parents to the learning opportunities their children will be involved in using blogs and where parents will help their child write their first post!
Students offer to stay in from recess to assist a teacher. They offer to make posters and visit you at lunch time and give you their ice cream and deliver cupcakes to you when it’s their birthday.
Dedicated parents in our parent-teacher organization write grants for technology and run science exploration clubs for our young scientists. Another parent blogged with a third grade class on his recent business trip to Shanghai and visited us upon his return to share this experience with our students.
None of these given gifts are written as requisite activities in teachers’ job descriptions, nor in any of those instances do you see the words standardized testing, curriculum map, or homework. They clearly all involve love, care, and learning.
How will you be an artist today? How will your emotional labor and efforts change your organization? Take a risk. Your passion-driven efforts will not go unnoticed, and you will find that when you expend emotional labor, although sometimes exhausting, it will be deeply gratifying. What we often forget, as Godin reminds us, is “The act of the gift is in itself a reward.”
The relationships between consumers and producers in life cycles and food webs is introduced in the elementary years. Children genuinely enjoy exploring the relationships among animals and other organisms in our world.
As I navigated through the websites Stumble Upon recommended for me this morning, I got to thinking: We’re really good at consuming. How are we doing with producing? Sharing?
We’re in the midst of planning an upcoming professional development day for elementary teachers, and they were surveyed to find out what tech integration topics they’d like to explore. One of the responses indicated “websites for use in the primary classroom.” I guess I understand where that response is coming from, but a few keyword searches in a short amount of time could result in a list of such websites. Consuming.
I’m meeting monthly with a group of elementary teachers who volunteer their time after school to explore ideas and tools that will help them become more adept learners, and hopefully bring that knowledge into their classrooms for use with students. We discuss the “shifts” in education- the importance of connected learning- the tools and applications that can be used for students to authentically demonstrate their learning- there’s honestly too much to explore in the short time we have together, but I do appreciate the time these teachers are spending stepping outside of their comfort zones and working to produce. Not only are they creating projects as we explore certain tools, but they’re producing new ways of thinking and transforming their mentalities about teaching and learning.
I often hear, “Well, they have to start somewhere,” in reference to teachers taking on new roles and trying new things in the classroom, but at what point do we apply a little more pressure? How long do we allow teachers to either a) ignore technology and the “shift” or b) use it in superficial ways that don’t necessarily add to student learning before we push them to step outside of their comfort zones? Do we have time to allow them to continue to consume without at least attempting to produce?
Administrators need to provide opportunities for their teachers to become producers of content and ideas. Why? Because our students are natural producers. They act, they sing, they dance, they draw, they make up jokes, they journal, they create websites, they problem solve through social interactions, they establish their own YouTube channels and comment on peers’ work… they produce. If we don’t foster that love of creation in our schools, it will diminish.
Dean Shareski says, “If you generally think of the Internet as a ‘place to look up stuff’ you’re missing the best part.” Agreed. How will you help your teachers become producers and share their ideas? How will you help design learning opportunities for your students to do the same?
Without producers, the consumers will eventually dwindle away, won’t they?
Many times, the best opportunities for learning do not occur in classrooms. This is especially true for administrators, as we perhaps have fewer chances to interact with students in the classrooms than our teachers do.
Consider a student that is “sent to the office.” (That phrase makes me cringe a little, but I know it happens more often than I care to believe.) Each administrator has a preference for dealing with student behaviors and potential discipline scenarios. The policies and techniques will vary according to student ages, school district policies, and by administrator philosophies. My sincere hope is that each situation is handled with an element of care and respect for the child as an individual. No two children are the same. Why should any two conversations about behavior be the same? Consistency and fairness can be obtained without doling out blanket consequences.
The poem above resonated strongly with me. The students who are most often referred to my office are those that are craving positive relationships with the adults in their lives. It is unlikely that a consequence alone will instill in them a desire to change behavior. What will? They want to be heard. They want to be valued. They want you to understand. So you have to listen.
Chris Wejr reminds us in his post The Power of Positivity that the positive connections we make with students and families are crucial in helping to build relationships and a community of learners. Make time every day, every week, all year long, to build those relationships with your students. Don’t wait until students appear outside your office door. Go to them. The cafeteria. They playground. Their sporting events. Their classrooms. Their homes. Be a positive part of their lives. And if they have to visit your office? Make it a comfortable place to be. I’ve heard so many people question why my office isn’t a cold and sterile place where children fear to be sent. Really? Do I want to be known as the person children fear in our school? Absolutely not! For that reason, my office is equipped with a basketball hoop, putting green, tabletop football and ping-pong, and giant beanbag chairs surrounded by books to read. I want students to visit! I want to hear all about their days and what they love about school and what they would change and what they are doing this weekend and what their favorite movies are and what hilarious new jokes they heard on the bus.
Will you be that someone? The person who looks a child in the eye? Who helps him learn more about this tricky business that we call life? By engaging in thoughtful, caring conversation and collaborative problem-solving with students in need, students will learn to trust and believe in themselves as learners, and set out on the road to making better choices. They’ll know they have a supporter in you.
And you? I guarantee you will leave the conversation having learned a thing or two.
Yesterday I attended my first “unconference,” Edcamp NYC, held at The School at Columbia in fabulous New York City, which was definitely a day of learning that warrants reflection.
The session board filled up quickly upon arrival, and I’m thankful that everyone took the time to share their expertise and talents with others. That’s what this day of learning is all about.
I had the pleasure of meeting and learning from Lauren Goldberg, whose involvement with the Peers Forum for Excellence in Teaching has shaped her experiences with best practices in teaching and learning. Along with Kevin Jarrett and David Ginsburg, we discussed the current emphasis on covering curriculum and how we can shift to a curriculum design that focuses on “the big ideas,” spanning content areas and centering on student learning. I enjoyed hearing from an elementary math instructor at The School at Columbia who detailed their assessment practices: 1:1 interviews with students, portfolios with authentic student work samples, and plenty of anecdotal notes on student progress. There are two teachers in each classroom, so while one teacher leads instruction, the other transcribes the lesson, which is saved to Google docs. When it comes time to report on student progress, the transcripts of learning can be accessed by any teacher, who can draw upon students’ actual learning experiences to shape their report. Amazing! I absolutely loved hearing about Lauren’s experience with a school-wide topic of study, and would love to bring this practice to our school. She described a school whose study topic was “India,” and every grade level, across all content areas, sought to plan experiences that helped students engage with that topic in some way. My other take-away from Lauren’s session is the list of ideals shared in their learning organization: Caring, Responsibility, Respect, Honesty, Excellence, and Joy. The two most important ideals? In Lauren’s words, “You just can’t learn without excellence and joy.”
Next I had the pleasure of stepping way outside of my comfort zone and learning from Dr. David Timony, who declared, “Your brain is not your friend and may actually be out to get you.” Frightening, eh? Our group discussed the fallacy in learning styles, the differences between traits (characteristics of a person that are generally not going to change; the ways you look, act, things you do) and states (temporary; affected by an interaction with education). We pretty much debunked the ideas of learning styles, multitasking, and differentiated instruction (the importance of what most consider differentiated instruction “is that you’re teaching the same thing four or five different ways!”) and how some of the things we think we know, but really don’t know, about our brains are severely impacting our educational organizations and student learning. Recommended reads: Self-Efficacy, the Exercise of Control (Bandura), Polanyi’s work on tacit knowledge, and What Kids Can Do. Recommended viewing: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
I caught the end of the Skyping session led by Mary Beth Hertz and Dan Callahan, demonstrating the power of this tool in the classroom. At the start of their session they actually Skyped with an #edcampcitrus crew, and when I arrived, teams of teachers were discussing the use of Skype with students. Great resource from the session found here.
Following lunch (“Are you really going to eat that, Nick?”), it was time for Things that Suck, hosted by Dan Callahan. A popular session whose format is borrowed from Barcamp Philly, Things that Suck asks participants to consider a topic, then physically move to sides of the room indicating their stance on the topic as either “Sucks” or “Rocks.” Indifferent folks stand in the back middle. (I have to admit I spent a lot of time in the middle on most of the issues.) And then the debate ensues. Topics we discussed: the federal department of education, differentiated instruction, the current structure of schools, homework (by far the most heated, opinionated conversation- secondary English teachers represented loud and clear their ideas about homework), and your school’s discipline policy (the topic where I found myself on the “Rocks” side. Hey– I’m the principal.) A most spirited, thought-provoking session. Think of how meaningful this type of session could be in your classroom with students!
It was a pleasure meeting one of my Connected Principals colleagues, Larry Fliegelman, who agreed to moderate an end-of-the-day session with me entitled (hat tip to Deven Black), “Talk back to administrators.” How many teachers would love to candidly speak to administrators about what’s on their mind, yet don’t often have the opportunity? We wanted to give them the chance to do so by leading a discussion about the qualities of administrators that teachers most need and appreciate. We ended up hearing from Deven, David, another instructional consultant for New York City public schools, and two teachers, one of whom has served children for over 40 years. We discussed best practices in teacher supervision, the importance of administrators defining and developing vision in their schools, the absolute necessity for administrators to be visible in their schools and develop relationships with students, the struggle for administrators to put their leadership responsibilities well above managerial tasks, and the use of peer evaluations and “critical friend” reflections in professional development.
Each of the four sessions I attended were filled with insights that made me reflect upon my own practice and how our school operates. Something George Couros has taught me is that it wouldn’t be enough for me to passively soak in the wealth of information being shared; the real learning would occur when I’d take that next step and consider how I’d put into practice those ideas to positively impact my school. I’m excited to start uncovering our curriculum, designing learning experiences that focus on the big picture, trying alternative forms of assessment, helping my teachers understand the science (or lack thereof) behind “learning styles,” evaluating our differentiated instruction and homework practices, and strengthening my supervisory role and increasing teacher ownership in lesson observations and teacher professional development.
A few weeks ago I starting drafting a blog post titled redundancy.
I was becoming pretty flustered. I felt like I was saying the same thing over and over again. I felt like the articles, blog posts, and tweets I read and composed just yappity-yapped the same ideas. I kept thinking, “This is super… now what??”
But here is the thing…read between the lines in most of these descriptions and you get the sense that we see it, we want it, but we ain’t gonna get it very soon. Budgets are being cut. The people in charge don’t really see this vision. We haven’t figured out that assessment thing very well. And so on.
But as one of the “people in charge” (so I like to think), I have to muster up all of the stickwithitness in my soul to make change happen in my school. For my kids. I have to suck it up when the district officials impose more budget cuts and think creatively to do more with less.
Not all teachers are on board with the shift in thinking I’m trying to embody within our school walls. I can’t force them to collaborate. I can’t make them follow me blindly. I can only demonstrate the incredible power in sharing knowledge with one another, for the benefit of our children. I am going to provide my teachers with learning opportunities that allow them to see the benefits of autonomous, masterful learning with a purpose in action.
I have to model for them that I am passionate about learning. Every day I want to learn something new. I want to do something differently, better than I did the day before.
I will take risks, and I will fail. But I will learn from the experience. When I do fail, I know there will be people to support me.
We can do this, you know. We can, little by little, individual by individual, exalt student learning opportunities to the levels they deserve to be. There are success stories everywhere. I think of the VanMeters and the Identity Days and the Karl Fischs and Dan Meyers of the world. I think of organizations such as PLP that are raising an awareness as teachers and administrators taking on the lead learning roles in their schools. I think of my Connected Principals colleagues, who, in a matter of a few short months, have become such an integral part of my professional life. I think of the countless teachers and administrators who blog and share their experiences and make me want to be better.
Right now we’re swimming upstream in a river of redundancy. We’re not clear how we’re going to join forces to completely revolutionize education for our students, but that begs the question- can we win the war before we win the battle?
Start with you. Your school. Your teachers. Your classrooms. Your students. Your community. And for heaven’s sake, SHARE what you are doing. Help us all become better at serving our kids.