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.

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

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

Those teachers are connected educators.

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

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

A connected educator is never alone!

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

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

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

And they will broaden the scope of your influence.

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

What’s a connected educator to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baby awake. Family time. Get ready for work.

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

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

Long commute home.

Family time.

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

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

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

Connect the dots.

Stronger, wiser, more numerous connections yield better outcomes.

Connect to win.

Someone needs you to lead.

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

The most prevalent was a sense of pure relief.

Done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someone needs you to lead.

 

Teaching is learning!

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

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

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

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

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

My approach would be different.

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

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

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

Access matters.

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

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

Chris
Deana
Stephanie
Mike
Josh
Jordan
Ron
Sue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Photo Credit: opensourceway via Compfight cc

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!

 

Professional development for educational leaders- a follow-up post and request for input

A short while ago I posted Learning as Leadersa personal reflection of my experiences with our state’s PA Inspired Leaders (PIL) initiative. Our state enlisted the services of National Institute for School Leadership, NISL, as one of two curriculum providers for our state’s program. NISL has “worked with Pennsylvania to develop state standards for school leaders, design training programs that give participants the skills to meet these standards, and create assessment tools that measure the effectiveness of the program.”

Apparently at least one person reads my blog, because the post and its contents found their way to the PA Department of Education and supposedly to the NISL folks in Washington. The PIL program leader contacted me the week after my post was published and asked me to call him to discuss my experiences.

I nervously called the program leader, not sure how the organization would view my constructive criticism. We had a great conversation, and he shared that he and others had been working to ensure the program could continue to be funded for the future. He closed by asking me to put together my ideas for how the program could become more collaborative/networked in nature and meaningful for participants.

I think this is a really exciting opportunity, and I’m pleased that I have the chance to share my thoughts on this issue, even if the ideas never come to fruition. That being said, I know some folks at PDE and NISL are likely bothered by the fact that I publicly reflected upon my program experiences. I’m okay with that, because, honestly, we’re asked to put our feedback in writing after every single session. The evaluation form asks participants to rate the facilitator, the session’s organization, content, etc. on a Likert scale, and I’ve watched my table mates simply check off boxes to be able to get out of the room in a timely manner. Many do not leave descriptive feedback in the comments sections. I know there are other participants who share my sentiments, whether they chose to express them on those evaluations or not. My reflections found an audience, and for that I am grateful, especially if it helps to bring about positive change.

I’d like to reiterate that the NISL program content is very powerful, and I’ve been able to apply many of the concepts learned in my work as an administrator. The course organization and content delivery, however, assume that all administrators in the PIL program are in need of the exact same type of professional development, delivered in a one-size-fits-all-we’re-going-to-lecture-to-you-now mode. That has been my experience.

The online content portal lacks depth and includes no capabilities to connect with other course participants. I’d be interested to know how many principals actually spend time engaged with the online material. It includes specified areas for reflection- a “journal” if you will- but the mechanisms for doing so are cumbersome and do not allow for a continuous flow of reflective thoughts to enhance practice. The inclusion of a reflective mechanism for both individual reflections and those that could be shared with colleagues across the state would be very beneficial.

And while the issue of “powering down” during training sessions was irksome to me, and while most of the administrators and PIL facilitators I encounter in face-to-face PD sessions are not yet utilizing technology tools to facilitate their own learning experiences let alone the learning of others, the changes necessary to better connect administrators across our state and develop cohesive networks of school leaders are going to necessitate the use of internet-based, social media and communication tools.

In my PIL experience, some facilitators were able to better engage participants than others. Those facilitators planned opportunities for meaningful participant-talk time. As I stated in my previous post, most of us are just longing to have the time to speak with other administrators and learn how they are handling issues and strategizing in their schools. Our PIL cohorts are localized mainly to our county, with a few principals from neighboring counties in attendance. Imagine the power if we connected PIL participants across the entire state via social networks and created the mechanisms for true learning communities to blossom?

Over my past five years in educational administration, no matter how many principals I speak with, no matter if the principal works in a small rural school or a bustling urban district, and whether he has 2 or 20 years in the principalship, one thing remains certain: administration can be a lonely gig. To be the most effective leaders we can be, we need access to one another. We need to develop strong networks of support, resources, and knowledge. There is great value in developing personal and professional learning networks. More and more educators are starting to realize this, and they’re learning to use digital tools to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge that exists in the minds and hearts of educators around the world. Consider, too, that the U.S. Department of Education has declared August Connected Educator Month and has worked with a number of learning organizations to plan and share webinars, online professional development, and opportunities for collaboration among educators worldwide. I have professionally benefited from being a connected educator, and I know many of my administrative colleagues have as well. There is power in the network.

So, where does that leave us with planning professional development for educational leaders?

I’d love your help. I’m asking my fellow administrators and educational leaders to please take a few moments of your time to reflect upon your own professional development experiences and share them with me through the survey below. Direct link here. Also feel free to email me lynhilt@gmail.com and/or send your thoughts via tweet @l_hilt.

Your honest feedback on learning as an educational leader and the conditions necessary to yield the most powerful professional development possible will help me craft my ideas to share with PDE. I greatly appreciate your time and involvement in my PLN! Many thanks.

Edcamp Leadership

Dr. Timony’s session at Edcamp Leadership – photo by Kevin Jarrett

One week ago I attended the first Edcamp Leadership, held in Monroe, NJ. The event was attended by a lot of friendly folks from New Jersey and surrounding areas, including administrators, teachers, tech integrators, curriculum specialists, and other fine educators. I was especially excited to meet valued members of my PLN Akevy, Shira, and Jason for the first time!

For those of you unfamiliar with the Edcamp model, the day’s learning sessions are created and presented by the event attendees. Participants sign up on the “board” to share sessions throughout the day. Attendees then choose from the menu, and the “vote with your feet” rule applies: if you don’t like the session you’re in, up and leave and head to another session. There’s a focus on conversation and making sure the day is meaningful for you as the learner.

I attended a number of sessions, ranging from learning more about Evernote and its use in schools to a discussion about personal preconceptions and how they shape our supervision and evaluation of teachers. Here are some highlights of the sessions I attended last week.

Evernote – There are a lot of uses for Evernote in schools, most of which I’ve never fully explored. I mainly use Evernote for personal notetaking, thankful I can access my notes from any device. I will sometimes use the web clipper, but again, I’m not sharing my clippings with the world. I asked the Twitterverse how they’re using Evernote in schools, and many admin chimed in that they use them for note-taking during observations and walkthroughs, which can then be shared with staff (and some even include photos). Our session facilitator referenced Nick Provenzano’s Epic Evernote Experiment, which I recommend to any teacher interested in learning more about how to use Evernote with students in the classroom.

Google Sites for ePortfolios – I stopped into a session about the use of Google Sites since we are a Google Apps school, and I’d like to encourage the use of portfolios for student use. This Livebinder of resources was shared.

#satchat - Brad Currie and Scott Rocco began #satchat to involve educators in rich discussions of educational topics. Held Saturday mornings at 7:30 AM EST (thus my struggle to attend on a regular basis ;)), the Brad and Scott are passionate about learning and leading and did a fine job facilitating a session about the power of the PLN. To learn more about #satchat and the tools and features they use to support this endeavor (such as Storify, which I used only once, but found I really like), check out this post.

He, She, They, We: Tools for Faculty Evaluation and Development with @DrTimony - I always try to attend David’s sessions, because he’s wicked smart and I go in hoping some of his intellect will jump off of him and land on my shirt or my shoes or something and somehow seep into my brain. Our central question was, “How do our unspoken perceptions influence evaluation before decision-making occurs?” He referenced Michael Polanyi and tacit knowledge and its impact on our supervisory roles of teachers. We talked about good design and how something that is designed well requires few, if any, instructions to work it properly. How do our inherent feelings lead us to reasoning (making excuses to ourselves); how do our pre-cognitive decisions made by our brain (our brain is out to get us, I remember that clearly from EdcampNYC) force us into an agenda our brain has already put in place? When we start to process our perceptions, we start to make good headway. We can then intervene on our pre-cognitive decisions and prejudices. And while we can’t always change our prejudices/feelings that we have, we can use mechanisms to help us deal with them. We discussed frameworks for supervision and evaluation and the tools we could use to ensure we’re observing in an objective, constructive manner. Shira suggested asking four nonjudgmental prompts during walkthroughs to assist with this process: “I Notice, I Wonder, What if?, How might?” These questions help shape reflections and conversations following the learning walks.

David continued to stress the importance of observing in a purely supervisory role, not evaluative in any way. I struggled with this concept, because as an administrator, truly everything I see in a classroom could be taken into account in an evaluation. Do I think supervision needs to exist in its truest form to promote professional learning? Definitely, but it’s really hard to make that distinction sometimes. I know other administrators share that sentiment. On the whiteboard David reminded us Supervision = Coaching; Evaluation  = Judging.

Many participants shared that they became uncomfortable when being observed, whether by a single administrator, a team of observers, or by peers. One teacher said her students “froze” when the admin team walked in with their laptops. That, to me, indicates a bigger problem: the administrators/observers aren’t a regular presence in the classroom or school. The culture of the school should support a sense of openness: We don’t teach behind closed doors here, everyone is welcome at any time!

Conversations swirled around the term “effective practice” – determined by whom? What is the evidence of effectiveness? Are we asking students, “What are the characteristics of the most effective teacher you ever had?” Will those responses be the same for every student? Does every effective teacher practice the same way as every other effective teacher? What tool are we using? Checklists? Rubrics? David remarked that we use these standardized tools in a “prophylactic sense.” We want to be protected from what we might write in a more qualitative fashion in an observation report.

So, do our supervisory and evaluation methods operate under the assumption that everybody gets the same thing? Or does everyone get what they need? What’s alarming to me, is that in Pennsylvania and many other states, the teacher and principal evaluation systems have been revamped to be highly standardized, insanely time consuming, and tied to standardized test scores. I am being trained in this system in a few weeks and am eager to find the opportunities for teacher autonomy in professional development that districts can hopefully intertwine into the standardized process. A colleague of mine who has piloted the new system shared the details surrounding the 11+ page paperwork completion process for one formal observation, and I think I blacked out for a minute or two.

Some final thoughts on Managing Change, a session led by @dle59 (sorry, can’t find your actual name on your Twitter page!), who shaped the conversation around Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My CheeseYes, change is uncomfortable. Yes, we work with people who are entitled. “I’ve been teaching for 25 years! I’m entitled to doing things my way!” Yes, change is possible, even in large organizations, and many come to realize that it was silly of them to resist change in the first place. A great analogy was shared by a participant who asked us to consider professional athletes who are in the game too long. “It’s sad to watch, actually.” And then there are others, who realize that physically they can’t perform the way they used to, the way that’s necessary for the growth and performance of the team as a whole, so they find other ways to contribute to the profession. Look at your role. Find ways to be effective in this time of change.