Stop teaching digital citizenship.

Yeah. I wanted you to click on that title. Thanks for stopping by! ūüėČ

Yesterday I spent the day at #DigCitNYC, hosted by Google in their NYC location. 100+ educators/Google for Edu trainers/consultants/parents/teachers/ businesspeople/learners joined together to talk about the ideals of digital citizenship and how Google’s products & services can support those efforts.

Sometimes I feel like I’m living a double professional life. I spend much of my time inside ChangeLeaders Community, where, as community manager, I encourage members to push and challenge and share with one another and we try to think differently about school. We don’t emphasize the use of technology in schools. We don’t particularly care for ambiguous, overhyped buzzwords like personalized learning and digital citizenship, and we’re working hard to bring real change to organizations. We always try to put learning first. ChangeLeaders is a closed community run through Mighty Networks and intentionally serves as an interactive, safe space for discourse. No noise to inhibit learning.

I also work as an educational consultant and spend many days with teachers in my role as Google for Education Certified Trainer. Consulting days are often tool-centric. Technology-centric. Lots of free tools shared. People want to know what’s out there, how it works, and why they should use it. We tinker a lot, both with ideas and with apps & services. I try to muster all the energy in the room to keep things focused on what strong pedagogy infused with a kick of technology looks like, but we almost always use the little time we have to explore tools & tech & techniques.

Yesterday, Stephen Balkam from FOSI shared 7 Steps to Good Digital Parenting, Kerry Gallagher shared the latest from ConnectSafely, and Google team members and teachers shared as well.

Not surprisingly, there was lots of talk about “teaching digital citizenship.” Not so much about¬†learning.

Are we making these lessons relevant to students’ lives? I heard one teacher in the audience tell a peer, “We do teach this stuff. But they hear it, and then they just go back to doing what they were doing.” So for kids, when does it sink in? What stories do we need to tell? Do¬†they¬†need to tell¬†us?

Teachers, principals, parents… we’re still operating in fear-based mode when it comes to misuse of technology in schools. And absolutely, there need to be strict disciplinary measures taken for illegal and bullying behaviors. But for off-task behaviors? When I hear a teacher say something like, “If you’re not careful with the computers, you’re going to get worksheets,” I roll my eyes. Which is what his/her students probably do. Doesn’t seem much like a learning-forward sanction to me.

Lots of the digital citizenship activities out there are pretty contrived. Search for the digital footprints for these 3 make believe characters and fill out this worksheet sharing all you could find. How about, Use Google search and images to find out everything you can about your teacher? Or principal? Or a public figure that students are interested in? They’re doing it anyway. What’s going to be more effective? A worksheet? Or creating conditions for that type of activity to be done in class, with supportive adults, who can then finesse discussions and allow kids to really delve into their findings and implications? Are we considering the broader importance of helping students become digitally¬†literate, not just well-behaved online? I reviewed Doug Belshaw’s work on digital literacy back in 2013, worth a read.

Yesterday we worked in small teams to share two hopes and two fears on this topic, and it seemed the majority of groups hoped that we could better engage families and parents in this discussion, and fears were that many teachers don’t take seriously their responsibilities to include digital citizenship lessons in their classrooms because they see it as someone else’s job. Or, they don’t address these issues because they don’t have the resources.

The resources are out there, and most of them are free. Whether you choose from Google’s Be Internet Awesome or Common Sense Media or any of the ConnectSafely resources, you can put together a fairly comprehensive curricula based on the needs of your students.

The resources or lack thereof, in my opinion, aren’t the issue. The issue is that teachers, and many other adults in students’ lives, do not have command of their own digital lives, and they lack the confidence to discuss these issues in meaningful ways with students. The adults are still trying to make sense of their digital worlds, strike a balance with online and offline time, seek to understand just what the heck kids are doing and sharing via social networks, and I think for many adults, it’s easier for them to live in a bubble and ignore the digital crisis that’s emerging, or simply say to kids, “This is bad for you. No phones in class. No social networks. No internet. No no no.”

Take a step back from the curriculum, the scope and sequence, the online programs.

Look at your students.¬†Listen to your students. Work in time for morning meetings, advisory meetings, student-led forums, student digital health task forces. Educate the teachers. The administration. Help every adult who impacts a child’s life be confident with their own digital lives. Help them understand safety & security, privacy & data, the opportunities and the risks the internet provides. Together with the support of as many families and community members as possible,¬†make a plan to address this that involves student learning, not “teaching digital citizenship.”¬†¬†

Last week Will Richardson wrote¬†What is the internet becoming?¬†¬†We need to reflect seriously on the spaces kids are frequenting, their behaviors in those spaces, and whether or not we’re doing our best to mitigate the risks that come with online interactions while also taking advantage of the connections, enhanced communications and collaborative opportunities the internet provides.

My hope? The children in our care now, the ones who are trying to finesse their digital literacy skills, will be the people who can help bring rational thought, joy, and truth back to online spaces. They can be the ones who start to demand honesty in publications and news reporting outlets, respectful discourse in online communities, and equal treatment of all.

We have to put our own insecurities aside and help them do it.

 

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: ‚ÄúCommunities 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.‚ÄĚ 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

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

Lee Campbell

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

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

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

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

How will you say yes this year? 

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

The Longest Shortest Time

Contrafabulists 

The Creative Classroom

ReLearning

Elise Gets Crafty

Google Teacher Tribe

The 10-Minute Teacher Show

IDEO Futures

 

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

The Spaces Where I Learn and Work

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

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

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

My 2001 Classroom!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

Constructive conversations

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

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

But do we listen? Do we act?

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

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

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

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

principles
Image via www.theworldcafe.com

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

Our question for the day:

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

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

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

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

IMG_9638

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

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

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

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

Resources shared with session participants can be found here.

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

Coaching and feelings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I needed someone to care.

I needed a coach.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reconsidering what’s “required”

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

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

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

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

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

If moments of genuine discovery are going to make their way into my classroom, something has to give ‚ÄĒ and that ‚Äėsomething‚Äô is going to end up being content that is currently listed in my ‚Äėrequired‚Äô 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!

About a community.

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Last week at IntegratED in Portland (a conference filled with crazy-inspiring people, blog post on that coming soon), I had the chance to facilitate a session about developing digital learning communities using Google+.

We explored driving questions such as, What are the essential ingredients of a strong learning community? Of a digital learning community? Are they one and the same? Can they be? Should they be? Participants shared their thoughts on communities here, and together we summarized the responses into five essential components of a powerful learning community:

  1. Active participation
  2. Trusting culture
  3. Openness to new ideas and new learnings/willingness to learn by participants/risk taking
  4. Purposeful, goal-driven
  5. Connecting out to a wider community -outreach

So, how can a digital learning space like a Google+ community help support these ideals? The goals of the participants were varied. Some wanted to join pre-established Google+ communities to grow professionally. Others wanted to set up their own communities to promote sharing among their local colleagues and beyond. We then considered some key questions when both searching for communities to join and creating new spaces.

“Is it a place you want to spend your time?”

Two years ago I started the Instructional Technology Integrators and Coaches community, with the intent of finding support among other educators in the technology specialist/coaching roles as I transitioned to a new position in my district. Full disclosure: I created this community out of pure selfishness. I wanted to surround myself with people that were smarter and more resourceful than me to support my work in schools.

Now, with over 3,500 members (and yes, I realize¬†they’re not all contributing members), the community has blossomed into an active space where educators can pose questions, share resources, provide feedback, and search through archived conversations on topics ranging from¬†collaborative learning activities to account management¬†to digital citizenship to best practices in a 1:1 classroom.

It is a place I like to be. I enjoy reading each and every post and the responses that follow. Moderating duties do not exhaust or irritate me. (Although as more members joined, I did seek help moderating- thankful for Doug and Susan who also devote their time to this community!) Which brings me to more questions to consider.

“Do you believe in the community’s purpose? Is it moderated by people who care? How can you tell?”

From the beginning, I did not want this community to become a place where people simply linked to their blog posts or shared their edu-events or plugged their stuff without engaging other members of the community. Do people occasionally do this? Yes, they do. I miss the boat sometimes and maybe should remove¬†more promotional posts than I do. But if a post is flagged as spam, even from a reputable educator, it’s usually because the post was shared out among several communities. And, if there was no¬†other content added to the post aside from the link, I typically choose not to post it in our community. All members have to be approved before they can post. I look at the profile of each member who requests to join, searching for some sign of an educational affiliation. I don’t approve requests from companies or vendors, even those with an edtech focus. I block people who take advantage of their memberships, and¬†remind people of our community’s purpose via comments on their posts and in posts I write.

In a digital learning community, just as in a real time, face-to-face community, purpose matters. Intent matters. Etiquette matters. Respect matters. Members in our community freely give their time, ideas, and feedback to others. They deserve to learn in a space that honors what they give as professionals.

To make the most of your experience in a Google+ community, find (or create) a community that has a clear purpose, is well organized, has moderators that help make the learning experience streamlined and meaningful, promotes opportunities for discussions, has a variety of resources shared around the common purpose,¬†displays evidence of respectful participation and engagement among a diverse membership,¬†and openly accepts and encourages members’ ¬†critical questions, thoughts, and ideas.

Google+ communities as well as Hangouts and other community tools can help¬†create spaces for “intellectual collisions” that can promote sharing and innovation¬†in your organization. But the success of this type of community has little to do with the technological aspects of the shared space and much more so with the people involved. While Google announced earlier this week that Google+ was undergoing some changes, I don’t believe Communities will be leaving us anytime soon. But, even if they do, I know there are a band of people who will come along with me to whatever space we inhabit next.

Find yourself some good people. I am thankful each and every day for the voices that contribute to our community.

Here are my slides from the session and here’s the link to the page¬†where participants accessed resources.

How are you using Google+ communities in your teaching, learning, and professional growth?

“Why do I need to reinvent my PLN?”

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Participants discuss digital learning communities in our #educon session.

At Educon this weekend, my friend and colleague Andrew Marcinek and I wanted to talk PLNs. Personal learning networks. Professional learning networks. In conversations together over the past year or so, it had become apparent to us that it was time for a change. Anyone who has¬†participated in learning networks¬†for a significant period of time¬†has likely noticed the “echo chamber” effect or have perhaps found the seemingly identical streams of tweets and links shared on a daily basis relentlessly ungratifying. We felt compelled to discuss how to critically examine, deconstruct, and reinvent your PLN in order to become and remain contributing members of meaningful learning networks.

I was¬†inspired to develop a conversation around this topic by many posts regarding the demise of Twitter, specifically this¬†work shared by Bonnie Stewart about all that is “rotten” in the state of Twitter and one of my favorite posts in recent years from George Siemens who declared his PLN “the most awesomest thing ever!“, asking us to truly think about the ways in which we engage in learning in digital spaces.

The session was live-streamed, so our attentive SLA student assistant, Miriam, kept us posted about the backchannel conversations emerging in the streamed space. One of the earliest questions was from Lisa Durff, who quite frankly inquired at the start of our session:

“Why do I need to reinvent my PLN?”

Andy summarized the highlights¬†of our session¬†in his reflective post here,¬†so I will spare you that account from my perspective, however I’d like to share some of my own reflections and struggles with PLNs and the strategies I will use to¬†be a more engaged participant in my networks. This, perhaps, will help answer the “why” posed above.

I need to think critically about who I follow, and why.

One of our participants asked me how I keep up with the stream of information since I follow 3,000 or so Twitter users. Simple: I don’t keep up with it. Early in my connected experience I was told, you will never read every tweet that comes through your stream, so don’t even bother trying. While I’m not at the point where I will reset my account¬†to “Following¬†Zero” as I know others have done, I will take some time to weed through my following list and unfollow accounts that aren’t adding anything to my learning. Because, as Scott McLeod reflects after Tony Baldasaro’s choice to unfollow¬†folks:

Tony’s post reminds us that social networks are like gardens (thank you, David Warlick). They require some nurturing and, yes, some pruning now and then. Sometimes they may even be like prairies, requiring a full burn to nurture new, positive growth.

Twitter, Google+, Facebook… who I add to my circles, who I connect with, how and with whom¬†I engage in conversations… these are the decisions that will have great impact on my learning. There are people who, when I first followed, seemed to share a lot of information relevant to my work. I now see them as posting mostly self-promotional material and/or pie-in-the-sky quotes and things that honestly make me cringe. I seek to engage with a more diverse network, with a group of people that question and challenge my assumptions, and who inspire me on a daily basis.

I need to consider which platform will help meet both my needs and those of the engaged audience. 

Do I tweet a request for help? RT someone’s shared link? Start a new post in Google+? Use a service like IFTT to cross-post to all of my spaces? Since delving into our comprehensive Google+ tech coaches community for questions, answers, and to share ideas and resources, I can honestly say I’d recommend new users make a relevant Google+ community a major component of their PLN. In fact, during our Educon session, while social media¬†services¬†were not an intended focus, many of the participants wanted to learn more about workflow options, tools like Tweetdeck to make organization of the info a bit easier, and the benefits of using Google+. We somewhat veered from our planned discussion topics at that point,¬†but it’s what the learners¬†wanted to learn.

I need to acknowledge that there are educators brand new to “connecting,” and that my advice to blow up your PLN may not be applicable to newbs.¬†

I hear that. But, I would be doing those new users a disservice if I wasn’t frank¬†about the time commitment involved in developing¬†a strong PLN, or the truth that inevitably, they¬†will¬†need to reinvent the ways in which they engage. It is important¬†not to sugarcoat this experience because someone just sent out their first tweet. I don’t want new users to be deluded into thinking their PLN will a) grow quickly and effectively and require little effort to get started b) last forever exactly as is and c) offer the same quality of resources and support day in and day out. It’s not going to happen. If your engagement with your PLN is exactly the same as it was three years ago- if your relationships with those in your network haven’t evolved or the platforms you use haven’t caused you to reconsider how you contribute and when – then kudos to you, you don’t need to reinvent your PLN.¬†I don’t think many of us can claim that’s true. So while I will continue to support and hopefully inspire those new to the experience, I will also be honest about what lies ahead, the good and the bad.

How about you? What challenges do you face as a connected educator, learning in networked spaces? The more we discuss the dilemmas surrounding quality participation in learning networks, the more meaningful our contributions can be for one another. Thanks for learning with me.