Tools come and go. Learning should not. And what’s a “free” edtech tool, anyway?

This guy just found out Padlet is now a paid service and spent the day recreating his walls in an analog space.

I like free things. It’s neat when I can log into a service, do my thing, get the most bang for my buck – $0 – and then continue on my day.

But I’d like to think that educators, specifically those who use educational technologies, understand that nothing is truly free.

Not even free services, not by a long shot. More on that in a bit.

There was sadness across the interwebs when Google Reader went away. Simply designed, wildly impactful Google Reader. We’d been subscribing and bundling and organizing all the feeds that mattered to us and our learning and then, they took it away.

We had to find other solutions, and frankly, nothing really came close to replicating the experience we had with Reader. At least in my experience.

But we couldn’t stop reading, subscribing, learning, and sharing, in the absence of that tool. We had to find alternatives, we had to consider: What purpose did the tool serve? How can I replicate that with another service or via other means? And why should I bother? Is it essential to my learning to have a tool like this at my disposal? Or was it an extra? Something unnecessary? Something frivolous?

People are voicing loudly their criticisms of Padlet’s decision to move to a paid service. You get to keep your current Padlets, they’re not going away, +3 on your freebie plan. Additional walls and features are something like $99/year. Steep, for sure. More info on that here.

I’ve used Padlet since it was Wallwisher. I have 30+ walls saved. I used it as recently as last month with my grad students as a break from the drudgery of Blackboard interface. I demo it at workshops. I use it to get participant feedback during conference sessions.

Sure, it sucks that I will have to explore other alternatives, but I don’t need Padlet. You might not need it either. Your students probably don’t need Padlet. 

And yet, maybe they do. Maybe you do. That’s a decision you have to make as a leader of learning, with the people in your school that support technology integration and instructional design and who write the checks. Maybe ask your students, too. What do they get out of using this tool?

We love to shout “pedagogy first, tech second” and “don’t teach your kids tools, teach them skills” and yet when an announcement like this is made, we respond with rage and, heaven forbid, a closed mindset about what this really means in the grand scheme of the most important thing that should be happening in our classrooms: Learning.

If your students can no longer learn because Padlet (or insert any formerly-free-now-paid-tool) is now inaccessible to them, then I think it would be wise to come together as instructional teams and determine what it is that they were doing with Padlet in the first place, and how that experience can be replicated in a different way, if it is something that truly helped them learn.

It’s annoying, for sure. It’s unfair to continue to ask more from teachers, specifically money, when they’re already wildly underpaid and spend hundreds of dollars on classroom essentials and building classroom libraries, but ed tech tools moving from free to paid versions isn’t the most impossible obstacle we have to overcome. We deal with far more alarming problems in our children’s lives: poverty, hunger, racism, inequitable funding for schools, lack of leadership, placing value on the wrong things (standardized tests and assessment measures), failure to have the means to support communities.

Now, back to the “free” services discussion.

When you create an account with a free service, when you offer your name, email address, demographic information, school’s name, and you do the same for your students, you’re relinquishing your – and their- privacy and personal information on a number of levels. Certainly there are privacy policies and terms of use in place for these services that you should absolutely be reading, reviewing, and deciding as a school whether or not the costs of doing business with the service are worth your exchange of information. By the way, you should be communicating all of this to parents, too, and allowing them to decide whether or not they want their children’s information submitted to each service. More on that here.

Those are the costs, for freebie services. The companies may be using your personal information elsewhere. They may be tracking your activity, logging your data, and selling it to other companies. These things happen behind the scenes, aren’t always obvious to the user, and smart people like Bill Fitzgerald and Audrey Watters and other leaders in this space are trying to keep educators more informed about this. Companies love giving free perks to teachers with the expectation that teachers will share their use of the tools with colleagues and in social spaces to help build the brand. Some consider that exploitation, other teachers are happy to do it. When it’s done with classrooms of students who don’t have say in the choice and use of tools, that might be viewed as a questionable practice. And, let us not forget the many giant companies and corporations who are funding many of these ventures, and the motivation behind these “generous” fundings. What’s in it for them?

So what should your next steps be? And prior to bringing new technologies into your schools, what should you be thinking about?

  1. Do I need this tool? Why? How does it really support learning?
  2. What are the costs, both monetary and otherwise, of using this service? Do the rewards of use outweigh the risks?
  3. Is there a paid service I could explore that will meet my needs and better protect the privacy of my information and my students’ information?
  4. How can I inform parents/community members about our use of this tool and what mechanisms are in place for parents to opt their children out of using it?
  5. When this tool and/or its plan changes, how will we adjust? What will our plans be to make seamless transitions to other tools or strategies when the inevitable happens?

Would love to hear your thoughts on this issue in the comments here!


More to Read:

Edmodo’s Tracking of Students and Teachers Revives Skepticism Surrounding ‘Free’ Edtech Tools

Education Technology and the Power of Platforms

Education Technology and the Promise of Open and Free

The ‘Price’ of Free and Freemium Edtech Products

Friends don’t let friends use Chromebooks for CoolMath.

Photo by Kaboompics // Karolina from Pexels

This post was originally posted in ChangeLeaders Community… I’m the community manager there and we love to curate, share, and discuss topics of interest in the educational leadership and innovation realm. Think you’d like to join us? (You do.) Clickity click.


Bruce (Dixon) called my attention to GoGuardian‘s recently published “research” findings about how Chromebooks are being used in classrooms. Titled The 2018 Benchmark Report: A Four Part Seriesthe company is looking to provide insights into “emerging trends” in Chromebook usage. If you are using Chromebooks in your schools or are thinking about how to approach technology integration in your organizations, do give it a look.

But read it with an open, inquisitive mind. I, for one, am still on the hunt for the actual research publication that helped generate the infographics shared on the GoGuardian site. I would love to know more about which types of schools were included in the research study (it mentions 5 million K-12 Chromebook users, but are the students enrolled in schools who pay to use GoGuardian’s services?), how the data was collected (seems to me most of it was pulled right from the tracking features included with GoGuardian), and other components of the research framework. Until I find that, I’ll have to take some of these published findings at face value.

Survey says!

Andy Losik (STEM teacher, Helpful Guy) recently blogged a reflection to these findings: An American Chromebook Crisis: new report shows sad trends of how students are using the devices.

Crisis? Clickbait for sure.

Sad trends? Perhaps.

As Andy summarizes,

In short a huge amount of Chromebook use is being spent on educationally questionable video games, low level assessments, and YouTube with the two highest trending websites for over 5,000,000 learners (after G Suite for Education) being CoolMath Games and Renaissance Learning, the parent company to Accelerated Reader and other assessments.

I totally believe this is happening. But I’m apt to believe this is a people problem, not a Chromebook problem.

Before Chromebooks were made readily available at a seemingly irresistible low price point, there were computer labs. There were PCs. There were Macbooks. There were iPads. And I’ve worked in districts that use all of these devices, and those who are 1:1 with Windows devices or with iPads are just as susceptible to this problem as Chromebook-using schools, where the devices are used as: expensive paperweights, and/or digital replacements for traditional student assignments, and/or venues through which kids use digital content providers meant to “personalize learning”, and/or a place where kids get to play games of choice as behavioral incentives, and/or only in the classrooms where teachers are comfortable with the presence of the devices, and/or only in a situation where the Haves get access and the Have Nots are at a disadvantage because they do not, and/or ways to keep kids quiet.

CoolMath, for one, a game website that a) perhaps just recently infected Missy’s computer, and b) requires little to no preparation for use in the classroom, is among the top visited sites according to the survey.

Wildly disappointing, which means the purchase of these devices is a really expensive investment in something that amounts to not much more than babysitting.

In terms of G Suite for Education use, check out this summary:

Now I don’t love the heading here, it’s a bit confusing to someone who knows Google Sites is an application in and of itself, but compared to Google Docs (which likely includes use of Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Drawings – could be for substitution-level projects, could be for more detailed creations, we don’t know), YouTube is the next most frequently visited site in the Google realm according to this survey.

That could be a red flag if students are using YouTube for basic consumption. Lots of districts run into bandwidth problems because students stream music and videos from YouTube all day while they’re working. (I stream Pandora or Spotify while I’m working, don’t you? I don’t know very many people that work and create in complete silence). Which is why a lot of schools block YouTube in its entirety.

But what we also know is that YouTube is the place to go when you want to learn something new. When you need detailed instructions on how to do something, when you want to hear from others about their own experiences. It’s a place to share learning. It’s a place to help you kickstart your own learning.

It’s one of the places you can go when your school doesn’t provide you with the resources you need to help you move forward on your own learning journey.

How are students using Chromebooks? From the report:

Let all of that sink in. How many of the above bullet points involve student creation or critical thinking? How many do you think are a result of personal learning for students? Probably not even the ones stamped PERSONALIZED CONTENT.

So, what is the real crisis?

The problem emerging with Chromebooks is that because they’re shiny and new, because they’re relatively inexpensive, because the districts next door are going “all in” with these devices, administrative teams are being influenced to take the plunge. Why invest in a few hundred Macbook Pros, for example, when we could outfit every single student with a device?! 1:1 with Chromebooks!

We will be so innovative!

There are schools whose students learn, create and share masterfully with Chromebooks. There are schools who are 1:1 with Macbooks whose students fall short of what we’d consider ideal creation and don’t really make their learning visible.

What makes the difference?

The real crisis surrounding technology integration is a leadership crisis.

It’s a vision crisis. It’s the crisis that most of our schools are built around teaching cultures, not learning cultures. It’s a lack-of-clarity crisis.

Wrong: Hmm, should we get more devices? Maybe Chromebooks. They’re on the cheap. Teachers, can you think about how these can support your instruction? Teachers, can you think about how these will allow you to deliver content? Can we think about programs we can subject students to that will allow us to more easily collect assessment data? Will our test scores go up if our kids start using these devices? How can we control what kids do on these things?

Right: What do we know about how modern learners learn most powerfully? What do we believe are important elements of a classroom experience that will help students thrive as learners? How can the use of device(s) support all students in this capacity? What types of devices will allow students to be the do-ers, the programmers, the creators? Moving forward, what’s our plan to make sure that happens? How can we foster environments where students are agents of learning, where they decide the how, when, where, what of using devices?

GoGuardian’s report doesn’t necessarily make me reconsider the use of Chromebooks in schools. It makes me even more cognizant of the fact that school leadership and technology teams need to recommit themselves to establishing purpose, defining learning in their organizations, and developing strategies and device acquisition plans that will allow students to uncover learning in this information-at-your-fingertips age. That rarely involves the purchase of one type of device and/or one type of program that will meet the needs of individual learners.

Would love to hear from you in the comments. From your perspectives, what’s working with technology integration? What’s not? Can you provide examples of how the devices are supporting powerful learning, and could you explain why you think that is?

 

P.S. In full disclosure, I am a Google for Education Certified Trainer and I do a lot of work with G Suite, Chromebooks, and learning with teachers and administrative teams across the country. But for me, as often as possible, I try to help them make sense of it all. Why do you need these devices in the first place? What can students learn with these devices at their disposal, and how will they share that learning?

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

Lee Campbell

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

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

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

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

How will you say yes this year? 

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

The Longest Shortest Time

Contrafabulists 

The Creative Classroom

ReLearning

Elise Gets Crafty

Google Teacher Tribe

The 10-Minute Teacher Show

IDEO Futures

 

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

Thoughts on professional learning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They do the work.

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

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

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

Blogging with buddies! #ETCoaches

Earlier this year I participated in a few #EdublogsClub blogging challenges to help make writing in this space more of a consistent habit.  I’ve also recently signed on to be part of #ETCoaches Blogging Buddies. What I love about this initiative is that willing edubloggers have been placed in groups with other bloggers looking to form collegial relationships around their blogging efforts.

What I remember most about blogging “back in the day” is that there were many readers: educators of all kind, including classroom teachers, technology specialists, and principals, who flocked to Twitter each week to share and comment on one another’s thoughts. Most of this was shared via the #cpchat and #edchat hashtags. Comment threads were a mile long. We faithfully organized and checked our Google Reader feeds and reading and commenting was part of our daily routines.

Why blog? Cory Doctorow, 2002:

Blogging begets blogging. I blog because I’m in the business of locating and connecting interesting things. Operating a popular blog gives people an incentive to approach me with interesting things of their own devising or discovery, for inclusion on Boing Boing. The more I blog, the more of these things I get, as other infovores toss choice morsels over my transom. The feedback loop continues on Boing Boing’s message boards, where experts and amateurs debate and discuss the stories I’ve posted, providing depth and context for free, fixing the most interesting aspects of the most interesting subjects even more prominently in my foremind.

Over time those to read lists of RSS feeds became long and tangled and messy and we didn’t pay enough attention to what was being shared, how it was applicable to our roles and schools, and it became more and more difficult to keep up.

The digital spaces that educators flock to today are very different than those from the early days of “connected educators.” There are so many more voices, and diverse perspectives present that were not well-represented before. This is good. But what it requires is a consistent and pervasive effort to think critically, time manage, publish, and give back in order to read and use what’s being shared in digital spaces in constructive ways.

This is easier said than done. Depending on your role, your life, and responsibilities outside of education, you perhaps don’t have time to compose and post to a blog regularly, let alone dedicate time to reading and commenting. My blogging life is very different now than it was before I had kids. Priorities shift and time spent online diminishes (for good reason!) and I consider myself lucky when I stumble upon a gem of a blog post that is worth sharing via Twitter or when I read one that truly moves me enough to sit down and concentrate and compose and share a comment.

The Blogging Buddies guidelines are simple:

  • Blog at least once per month.
  • Offer feedback in the form of blog comments to all others in your group on at least one of their posts per month.
  • Practice best digital citizenship. Discourse is encouraged, rudeness is not allowed. It is okay to disagree with one another (how else will we grow?), but this should ultimately be an encouraging experience. If you find yourself getting heated on any particular topic, remember the LARA method- Listen (or read, in our case), Affirm, Respond, Add.

Check out the links below to visit the blogs of the buddies in my group! I’m sure they’d love to hear from you. Also be sure to follow the blogging buddies list on Twitter to read the latest and greatest from a dedicated group of blogging professionals.

Robin – Pence Passion

Susan – Susan Zanti’s Blog

Rachel – Tech from the Trenches

Erin – Reflections in Tech

What have you been reading? What have you been writing? It’s not too late to join #ETCoaches Blogging Buddies!

I see teachers who…

In my consulting role I have the opportunity to work with teams of teachers, administrators, and on occasion push into classrooms to work with students. Recently I’ve been working with K-2 teachers and students who are learning to craft digital stories on the iPad, using apps such as Book Creator, Scribble Press, GarageBand and iMovie. This initiative came about as the result of an eventual shift in curriculum away from an adopted (textbook/series-based) literacy program to one that is more project-based and technology-infused. A grant was written to obtain the iPads and to fulfill the grant, teachers are working with students to publish a variety of digital storytelling projects that demonstrate their creativity and ideas learned.

Each class has achieved a different level of proficiency using the apps and story publication. This is due to the varying age level and developmental level of students, for sure, but it’s also due to the mindset and willingness of the teacher to embrace this initiative and the resources she has been given.

So what did I see, and what have I seen through both my district coaching and principal roles,  in classrooms where technology use has been embraced?

I see teachers as learners. I see teachers who:

  • Make the time. They examine what they’re currently doing: the books they’re reading, the activities and projects students are completing, and they think: how can technology enhance and transform these projects? How can we change what we’re doing instead of add on one more thing? 
  • Have routines and procedures in place, especially for collaborative projects and times when teamwork is expected. Student roles are established and clearly defined. Management is evident, which in turn leads to students being able to lead, learn, resolve conflicts, and create in an environment with fewer distractions.
  • Plan. Anyone who has ever tried to incorporate technology meaningfully into the classroom and who has tried to “wing it” knows it can be less than successful. Know the purpose. Use with intent. (And perhaps your students will unveil a purpose you perhaps never before considered…)
  • Model. These teachers get hands on. They create! They’re not afraid to tinker, not only during their own professional learning sessions, but in front of a student audience, allowing them to observe what it’s like to try something new.
  • Have high expectations for project performance. In my digital storytelling workshops I emphasize the importance of students making meaning, not just making media. Bernajean Porter is a key resource for anyone looking to ensure meaningful content and idea development through digital project work!
  • Learn alongside students. It’s so encouraging as a coach to see a teacher who sits down with a student or a group of students and taps, swipes, creates, questions, and troubleshoots alongside his little learners.
  • Showcase student work. One teacher in particular was so enthused with her students’ creations and couldn’t wait to have them share their projects with me. These teachers find a way to make sure their student voices are heard. Publishing to an authentic audience is a great way to do so. In addition, they utilized the sharing features from each app to publish to Google Drive and share with parents and families via links. Another group’s publications will be shared with local pediatricians’ offices as waiting room reading material!
  • Embrace the noise. Learning is messy. Collaboration can be loud. Conflict resolution is a pretty intense process that rarely involves whispering. Movement to different learning spaces throughout the day is not the quietest of activities. Find ways to help your students thrive in the busiest of environments.
  • Ask for help and actively seek out resources to learn more. Not every teacher I’ve worked with in a coaching capacity is comfortable asking for help. They’re very fixed in their methods and they have a very narrow focus: teach the written curriculum, the way it has traditionally been taught. When a teacher (or principal or coach) asks for help and embarks on a journey to learn more, see more, do more, think differently… kids win.

What am I missing? What do you see when working with innovative teachers and learners?

 

The Spaces Where I Learn and Work

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

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

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

My 2001 Classroom!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

My Blog Story

Edublogs is hosting monthly writing challenges in the form of shared prompts this year, and I’m thankful for the inspiration to help me revive, refresh, and share my thoughts in this creative space.

#EdublogsClub1 prompt: Write a post that shares your blog story. 

I became an elementary principal at the start of the 2008-2009 school year. I created my first blog via Edublogs, The Principal’s Posts, and wanted to blog every day that first year of the principalship, to create a finished story that would enlighten prospective principals about the highs and lows of such a position.

I think I lasted two days. 🙂

I quickly adjusted my expectations and used the blog as a space to share my thoughts about teaching, learning, and leading. I didn’t identify my school district name or even my own full name in those initial posts. I, like many other administrators, was nervous about the prospect of learning transparently.

That quickly changed, however, thanks to Will Richardson.

In 2010 at a technology conference for administrators, Will addressed the audience during his keynote and asked if anyone was currently blogging. I awkwardly raised my hand, and it appeared I was the only one to do so. He asked if I would mind if he projected my blog on the (double) screens for the audience to view.

“Why yes, I would mind very much,” is what my brain said, but my mouth replied, “Sure…”

He proceeded to point out some quality features in my blog, like my use of hyperlinked writing and tags. But he quickly pointed out that he couldn’t really identify much about the author or contact information if he wanted to communicate further about any of my ideas. From that day forward I added my name and contact information to the blog and realized that since I was blogging professionally, sharing my ideas in constructive ways, there was nothing that I should be ashamed of sharing by clicking Publish. Read more about that experience here.

There’s power in personal and professional publishing, public relations pro tip #1 for principals.

#alliteration #tellyourstory

Since then I’ve moved my blog to its own domain, I’ve shared posts via Twitter, Google+, and Facebook, I’ve been published in collective spaces like Connected Principals and Voices of the Learning Revolution through Powerful Learning Practice and Learning Forward, and I’ve been recognized for my blogging efforts and my connected education work. Blogging has brought me so many opportunities to continue to learn, grow, and share, and that would not have been possible without those connections. I also love sharing about the power of blogging in schools through my consulting and professional development work. I’ve seen firsthand how blogging can inspire even the most reluctant writers to share their ideas in meaningful ways. I think there’s nothing more powerful than a blog used by a teacher or principal to forge home-school connections.

I read many other blogs when time permits. While I used to use Twitter as my go-to source for finding blogs of interest, I’ve found Twitter has become a very congested space that makes identifying truly innovative voices a very difficult task. A fan of the old Google Reader, I had a bundle of blogs titled “Read These Blogs” that I made sure to catch up on each week. My reading time has diminished some since welcoming Thing 1 and Thing 2 into the family, but I use the Feedly mobile app to read as much as I can during my spare time. I continue to have a Read These Blogs collection in Feedly, and they include many educational leadership and technology blogs such as those of Audrey Watters, Bill Ferriter, Scott McLeod, Rafranz Davis, Silvia Tolisano, Dean Shareski, Pam Moran, and Pernille Ripp. Here’s a look at some of my Feedly collections:

My advice for new bloggers is to write for YOU. Don’t write for page views. Don’t write for RTs. Write to share your ideas, to reflect, to ponder. Write to unleash your creative spirit. Write to make a difference. Schedule time in your day to write. Write every day, something, somewhere. You don’t always have to click publish. Don’t be discouraged if you hit a lull or encounter writer’s block. I used to blog several times a month, and now I’m lucky if I blog several times a year. Life happens, responsibilities shift…. your blog is a space you can always call home and it will welcome you back with open arms when needed.

While I appreciate this challenge to help motivate me to write, I also appreciate that I will be introduced to a number of new educational bloggers and will strive to comment on three others’ posts per week. I was stoked (a Bill word) to read this post from Mr. Ferriter this morning about his commitment to comment more in 2017.  It’s what I miss most about blogging “in the old days”… the camaraderie, the conversations, the constant connections that emerged in the blogging platforms themselves.

Happy blogging!

What’s a PLN, and why do I need one?

Photo by Daria Shevtsova via Unsplash

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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