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

Photo by William White via Unsplash

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

That team is Modern Learners.

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

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

Enter ChangeLeaders Community: 

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

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

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

And why is that?

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

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

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

CLC is about conversations, learning, and change.


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

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

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

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

What will we explore in ChangeLeaders Community?

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

ChangeLeaders Community offers

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

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

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

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

-Lyn Hilt, ChangeLeaders Community Manager

What is ethical leadership?

I’m playing catch-up. The week 3 #EdublogsClub challenge was to write a post about leadership. I’ve done much reflection and writing about leadership over the past several years of blogging. (Check out my Leadership category to browse my posts.) It seems like now, more than ever, we should examine how we can assert ourselves as leaders in not only our educational roles, but in our lives as citizens and members of the human race.

I’m currently teaching Management & Decision-Making in the educational leadership graduate program at Cabrini University. We spend early units in the course reading J. Stefkovich’s Best Interests of the Student: Applying Ethical Constructs to Legal Cases in Education. This book is a must-read for any future or current school leaders and educators. If you haven’t taken the time to familiarize yourself with the ethical framework that influences and governs the decision-making processes, I can’t think of a better time to start than now.

We discuss the ethic of care, the ethic of justice, of critique, and profession. My students were asked to decide which of the four ethics, if any, outweighed the others in terms of importance. Many pointed to the ethic of care. We need to keep the needs of individuals at the center of the decision-making process. But often the needs of individuals clash. What then? Another student held the ethic of justice in high regard. The laws. The policies. The plans and procedures. Surely those things exist to keep order, to guide the leader’s way and ensure justice in an organization? Perhaps. Enter the ethic of critique. Who makes the laws? Who decides the policies? Are the needs of all constituents considered equally when these plans are developed and instituted? Whose voices have power? Which voices are silenced? An educator’s chosen profession holds him in a high regard. We expect professionalism out of his actions, beliefs, & communications. There is an ethical code that exists, sometimes formally and always informally, among those in our profession. We serve children, we serve communities. We must stand as the pillars of those communities.

I was introduced to the Autoethnography project by Curt Rees. He uses this project with his graduate students as well. When I asked last year’s cohort to complete this project, they shared how very meaningful it was to examine their own educational philosophies to determine how their past experiences and biases have shaped them into the educators they are today. Many were brought to tears through the creation process and as they shared with classmates.

There is something very moving about about embracing the opportunity to look within. To examine strengths. To acknowledge weaknesses. To commit to improving. To be determined to make a difference in places where you never before thought your voice, hands, and heart were needed.

Our strength lies within. Our strength lies in community. I know that ethical leadership begins with knowing yourself. Being truthful about who you are and what you stand for. It begins with knowing those you lead. Who they are as human beings, at the core. Only then can you advocate for them. Only then can you act justly.

Only then can you lead.

So you want to be innovative?

Image via Unsplash
Image via Unsplash

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

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

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

Reconsidering what’s “required”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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?

Connect to win.

Dots-1.0-for-iOS-teaser-001

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

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

Those teachers are connected educators.

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

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

A connected educator is never alone!

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

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

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

And they will broaden the scope of your influence.

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

What’s a connected educator to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baby awake. Family time. Get ready for work.

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

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

Long commute home.

Family time.

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

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

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

Connect the dots.

Stronger, wiser, more numerous connections yield better outcomes.

Connect to win.

Someone needs you to lead.

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

The most prevalent was a sense of pure relief.

Done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someone needs you to lead.

 

Teaching is learning!

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

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

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

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

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

My approach would be different.

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

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

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

Access matters.

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

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

Chris
Deana
Stephanie
Mike
Josh
Jordan
Ron
Sue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Photo Credit: opensourceway via Compfight cc

The care effect

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There was an article in the most recent issue of Wired magazine that sparked my thinking. It didn’t detail the latest gadgets or technological innovations, or deal with the field of education, yet it immediately made me consider this question in regards to our roles as school leaders and educators:

Do we show them we care?

Dr. Feelgood, written by Nathanael Johnson, explores the beneficial effects of alternative medicine. Despite the fact that science is often unable to prove its ability to be effective in curing patients, the same scientific studies show that patients treated by alternative measures often end up feeling better.

Huh?

Johnson reminds us of the placebo effect: when sick people are given a treatment, even if it’s just a placebo, their condition often improves. But not always. So further studies commenced, and researchers discovered that when patients are treated by doctors and care providers who approach treatment with kindness and care, they report marked reduction in symptoms. Researcher Ted Kaptchuk from Harvard Medical School concluded “the empathetic exchange between practitioner and patient” made the difference. This approach to healing has been coined the care effect:

“the idea that the opportunity for patients to feel heard and are for can improve their health.”

Johnson describes other studies in the field of nursing that support the healing power in the relationship between practitioner and patient. While “nurturing is no replacement for science,” the author stresses that mainstream medicine has a lot to learn from alternative medicine, where practitioners tend to show empathy and involve patients in conversations about care, rather than just dole out treatments.

Two weeks ago our school community lost a bright and shining soul, a young girl in first grade whom we all loved deeply. She valiantly battled cancer day in and day out, but you wouldn’t know it when you interacted with her. She always greeted us with a smile, a funny comment, and compliments, blended together with a perfectly charming amount of six-year-old sass. At the end of my pregnancy, she asked me if she could kiss my baby, and she wrapped her arms around my middle and placed a perfectly sweet kiss on my belly. She showed us she cared, and she made everyone around her feel special. Her care effect was unwavering.

As school leaders, when problems arise, do we just TREAT the issue? Or do we examine the patients and what they need? Do we consider the feelings of staff? Of students? Of community? Do we approach difficult conversations with care and concern? As classroom teachers, do we consider the individual needs of the children sitting in front of us? Do we recognize that one-size-fits-all is a ridiculous notion? Can we learn from the people, especially the sweet children around us, who always manage to approach life’s toughest situations with concern and dignity?

As Johnson concludes, “We need to stop thinking of care as just another word for treatment and instead accept it as a separate, legitimate part of medicine to be studied and delivered.”

It’s a difficult task, to lead and manage a learning organization. It’s stressful, it’s overwhelming, and at times we struggle through and think we’ll never again see the light. Remember this is why we do what we do. When challenges arise, focus on the care

Photo Credit: recompose via Compfight cc

First week reflections.

We’ve wrapped up our first week of school, the start of my fifth year as principal at Brecknock. As a principal, you just never really know how the year will begin.

I did know a few things before students arrived on Monday:

  • that last spring and this summer my staff spent a massive amount of time becoming familiar with our new literacy program and revised language arts and math curricula, and that this learning would continue on throughout the year and then some; and I knew this was a source of anxiety for many.
  • that our administrative team, particularly the elementary principals with the leadership of our central office staff and our elementary “data man” as he is so fondly called, collaborated on a variety of initiatives and grew more cohesive as a team.
  • that the new enrollees kept coming in… to the point where we had to add an additional section of students to one of our grades at the end of the week before school began- talk about stressful for all stakeholders involved!
  • that we took a lot of time this summer to develop communication methods such as a Google sites staff handbook and hosted various common forms and resources via Google docs to help share information and ideas quickly and efficiently.
  • that the state’s new teacher effectiveness measures are going into effect next year, and the models and protocols that will be used require intensive time and efforts from teachers and administrators alike in order to truly impact teaching and learning.
  • that we have a building renovation project beginning this spring that will last about 18 months… a huge undertaking for any organization to endure.
  • that I had a “good feeling” in my gut about this year… spending time talking to staff who stopped in this summer, seeing smiles and feeling great energy despite the numerous challenges we continue to face… I just got a really positive vibe about the year ahead.

And when the students arrived, they just reconfirmed what I also already knew: We are truly blessed to work in a school with such amazing kids. (I know, I know, every principal says that.) But really, we are lucky. The school came back to life when everyone reconvened this week. My counselor and I cautiously supervised our common spaces, cafeteria and playground and I made the rounds to classrooms often, and with every glance I noticed respectful, responsible, and safe students, working cooperatively to learn with one another and their supporting adults. And lots and lots of smiles.

Today was our opening week assembly and, since our air-conditioning is on the fritz, we planned just a short whole-school gathering in our multi-purpose room. One of my favorite things to do the first week is to play principal paparazzi and snag lots of photos to share at our assembly and with parents. Together with a short Prezi, we celebrated the start of a new year.

I don’t know what the rest of the year holds, and this year, for me, I have to be willing to relinquish control of what will transpire as the year goes on after I depart for my family leave time. A leader wants to be able to say that the team carried on in his absence… that the impact made was long-lasting after he’d gone. I know many things will change, but I also have high hopes that much will remain the same. Many of the special qualities of our school were in place long before I arrived. The power truly lies in the collective positivity and dedication of those within the organization. Making kids the priority… that’s what makes great schools great.

Wishing all of you a happy and memorable school year!