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.

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.

 

Do you let your kids use Google?

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I recently attended Pete & C, PA’s educational technology conference. It’s the fifth or sixth time I’ve attended. I typically find some interesting resources and enjoy connecting with members of my PLN and hearing about all of the great work they’re doing in schools.

So there I was, minding my own business and feeling genuinely grateful that the session presenter, Lexie Konsur, was being up front about copyright and fair use issues in education and not telling us we needed to use only 30 second clips of video and 100 words of text and spewing other fallacy-ridden copyright guidelines, when a participant raised her hand and proclaimed something like,

“We don’t allow our kids use Google to find information.”

Stop.

She was talking about elementary students, of course, because it seems as though in our quest to shield and protect our youngest students from the perils of the intertubes we neglect to properly educate them about what resources are available via the web, how to access them safely and securely, what to do if they stumble upon something precarious, and how to think critically about the resources they’ve found and put them to good use.

I wanted to ask her, but didn’t, for fear of getting all riled up and embarrassing those sitting around me,

  • What DO you let your students use to find information online?
  • Is this how they find information when they’re not sitting in their classrooms?
  • Do they know what a search engine is? Do they know how it works?
  • Would they know what to do if, while browsing, they stumbled upon something harmful or dangerous?
  • Do they know how to manage digital resources and information to best support their research?
  • Do they know there are tools built into search engines like Google to help them narrow their searches productively?
  • What about YouTube? (I’m guessing that’s off limits, too. And, like, Wikipedia.)
  • How do YOU as the teacher find information online and conduct research? Would you be someone who could model your research efforts for students and demonstrate how to use Google appropriately and effectively?

This post is not meant to knock resource libraries like Discovery Ed or PA’s PowerLibrary – I love perusing those resources and know students find many valuable resources there while researching.

But not always. Sometimes the library is too small, the information can’t be found.

So, then, where do we send them to learn?

As we are making a move to Chromebooks next year in our primary classrooms, I’m genuinely interested to hear what others (at the elementary level, particularly) are doing to support students and their research. Thanks for reading!

First steps at protecting students’ privacy.

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I admit that at one point in time I was one of those educators who allowed students to sign into a site using a teacher’s credentials in order to gain access, for example, some of our intermediate students used Prezi for project work and signed in under the same generic Gmail account maintained by the teacher.

Nope:

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Over the past two years, however, thanks to the work of Audrey Watters, Bill Fitzgerald, and many others, maintaining the privacy and protecting my students online has become one of my main priorities as elementary technology coach. Prompted by a statewide communication last year from the education solicitors, our district set to work on making sure that parents were informed and involved in the decisions to allow their children to have accounts established at various educational websites and productivity services.

My scope is elementary, so I read a lot of Terms of Service/Terms of Use and privacy policies to make sure that our kids are even permitted to click on the website let alone establish accounts there. For example, we had been using Today’s Meet to organize classroom conversations in some of our intermediate classes. “No accounts are required, great!” was my initial reaction, and it worked well. I used it with staff in meetings, and I loved the ease and simplicity of use. Dig deeper, read its Terms of Use, and you’ll see that students under the age of 13 are not permitted to use Today’s Meet. Thus, I advise teachers to no longer use this service with elementary students, and it’s not on our approved list of educational websites for students <13 years old.**

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Let me please say that following are our initial steps in helping parents and teachers become more informed and involved in matters of student privacy and data use as it relates to educational service/website use. In no way is our procedure perfect. We need to continually work at improving this system to help ensure parents and students can be advocates for the way children’s privacy is maintained throughout their school careers (and lives). We also use  resources shared by Common Sense Media about privacy and protection to help students understand their rights as digital consumers and creators.

Due to COPPA language, we target our request for permissions to students under 13 years of age, which covers all of our elementary students as well as  a good number of seventh graders in our middle school. (However we really need to consider how we are informing all parents and community members, K-12 and beyond.) In opening week paperwork, parents receive this informational letter (modeled after the letter drafted for us by our solicitors), a consent form requiring parent signature, and the list of district-approved educational websites and productivity services where the child may have an account established. Not all teachers utilize all services on the list nor are they available to all students K-7, but we decided to compile them all on one list for ease of distribution. Parents receive a hard copy of the list in the fall, and we maintain this living list on this district site. If the district approves a new website for use, I update the living sheet and we send home an additional parent permission form to those students who will use the site. Homeroom teachers collect the forms and note any students who have not returned the consent form and forms are compiled/logged in the main office of each building. In the future we hope to integrate the logging of these forms electronically via our SIS and/or allow parents to consent via the parent information portal, but we’re not there yet. Parents are encouraged to contact building principals if they choose to opt out and/or if they have questions involving the educational use of any of the websites. They can choose to opt out of one or more services if they so desire. Learning accommodations are made for students who cannot interact with a digital service.

It’s a start. We still need to provide more parent and teacher education on the specifics of student data and privacy to help them protect their children in all elements of online and mobile interactions, not just their educational website use, which is supervised by caring teachers and school personnel.

I think it’s time we need to reign in our overzealous enthusiasm about the latest and greatest ed tech products and services. I get it. Shiny new things are cool and so are interactive websites and gee, the kids really are going to love it so I’m just going to set them up with usernames and passwords and let’s give it a try! I know, I know. We’re telling you to integrate and be all up in 21st century skills and now we’re warning you about doing so. Shame on us.

Just be smart. Read terms of use and privacy policies. Ask for help if the terms are so full of jargon and nonsense you can’t make heads or tails of the meaning. Be the adult. Inform and involve parents in decisions. Get your administrators informed, because sad to say, they’re likely not the most informed bunch when it comes to student data and privacy.

Protecting students’ data and privacy is becoming increasingly difficult every day, but that’s no excuse for not taking steps to do so.

It starts with you!

 

**At the time of initial publishing, the Today’s Meet terms were captured above. They have since updated their terms to read: “In order to create a TodaysMeet account, you need to be 18 or older, or be 13 or older and have your parent or guardian’s consent to this Agreement, and have the power to enter a binding contract with us and not be barred from doing so under any applicable laws.”

The point of this original post was not to call out certain services or products for their failure to acknowledge whether or not students <13 can lawfully use the service, but to relay the importance of reviewing terms (for educators and parents) before deciding whether to allow the use of tools.

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?

Professional development by you, for you.

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Let your ideas run wild.

In the past several weeks I’ve received a number of requests for the resources I used to host a Fed-Ex Day at our school. I thought it may be easiest to share them in one space here so others can access as needed.

Incidentally, I find it curious and humbling that folks are still inquiring about the day’s details. When I think back on that day, held in November 2010, it feels like an eternity ago. As the principal that year, I had a lot of autonomy in the way I designed and hosted professional development for my teachers.

And that, my friends, is the key to making something like this work. Building-level administrators have to be given the autonomy to plan, implement and facilitate learning for their teachers in a way that empowers their teachers as learners. Without that freedom, (unless it’s orchestrated by the folks at the top, and to be fair, in some places, it is), this type of day doesn’t happen. In the years that followed, our district moved towards a standardized-approach for inservice days. Each elementary building follows a common professional development schedule built around district initiatives. While certainly this protocol serves to help the three buildings become more aligned in their efforts and open the lines of communication among teachers and grade levels, it doesn’t exactly support initiatives that address the unique needs of a building (or a particular set of teachers, like the specialists). And we all know that every school and the teachers within have a special culture, learning needs, and personalities. Don’t unique individuals deserve individualized professional development?

The reason I find the requests for my resources curious is that I didn’t do anything mind-blowing or creative. I simply reflected upon the ideas shared by Daniel Pink in his book, Drive, and brought the day known as a Fed-Ex day to our little school.  Aside from an hour or so of preparation in terms of sharing background materials with my staff, I didn’t do much of anything. (Although in writing this post, I was reminded of Obvious to You, Amazing to Others. It’s a quick view and a great reminder of why we need to share!)

Let me also share that Chris Wejr began incorporating FedEx preps into his school in October of that year, and his work should be used as a reference as well! Chris is an invaluable resource when it comes to motivation and the work we do with teachers and students. More from Chris here.

I blogged about our day, and shared it. And Dan Pink retweeted the blog post.

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We engaged in an email conversation, which was pretty exciting for me, and I was so happy to share my staff’s successes with him as well as educators who might find the day as inspiring as we did. And I called Chris to talk about it. 🙂

Yes, I know Dan Pink isn’t an educator. I get it. There are plenty of skeptics out there when it comes to incorporating the ideas shared by Pink in Drive with the work we do in education. I don’t see any fault in finding inspiration from those outside of education and adapting the ideas to make them work for you, your teachers, and your students. The key is that you have identified your needs, you provide autonomy to your learners,  you support their learning along the way, and you assess the effectiveness of your efforts. The FedEx day certainly isn’t going to look the same in the school as it does in the business world. And why should it? We’re different beasts. Own it. Make it yours.

Here are the resources I shared with others. Please feel free to use/adapt to meet your needs:

  • On our school wiki I posted the resources introducing Drive and the background activities like What’s Your Sentence? and the RSA Animate video featuring Pink’s work on motivation that I asked teachers to review before attending our session. It also includes the Google form that teachers used to “deliver” their content/ideas at the conclusion of the day.
  • Here are our sentences. This, as other administrators have found, is one of the most inspiring parts of the day!
  • Here’s my original reflective post, Inspiration Delivers, on my former blog space and here it is on this space.
  • Here’s another reflective post sharing our Edcamp-style PD day later in the year.
  • And here’s a Google doc of resources sharing ideas for “innovative” professional development.

It is now three full years after our Fed-Ex day was held. Innovation Days and Genius Hours and 20% time and  EdCamp-model professional development days -and learning sessions for students- are being designed and shared with the educational community on a daily basis. Students and teachers are sharing how much they appreciate the freedom to learn in ways that best support their needs, and how excited they are to explore topics about which they are passionate.

always get this question when presenting these ideas to other administrators: “But what about the teachers who abuse this freedom? Who sit alone in their rooms and grade papers or work on things that don’t help them develop professionally?”

Then you deal with those folks on an individual basis. You don’t punish the 98% of teachers who want to do the right thing because of the 2% of knuckleheads who can’t seem to handle the autonomy. HT: Tom Murray

I’d encourage anyone who plans professional development to always keep the learners in mind. It doesn’t matter what you call it. “Inservice Day” will do. Use technology, or don’t. But respect your learners and their time.

Shameless plug: I’ll be presenting some ideas about professional development at FETC in January. My session is on Friday, Jan. 31 from 10-11 AM. Hope to see you there!

 

Photo Credit: billy verdin via Compfight cc

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

Community.

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Years ago, when I heard the word community, I thought of my childhood home and the town in which we lived, a rural town where I was free to walk to the playground, the park, the pool, and my friends’ houses. Community made me think of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street.

Now I know community to be so much more.

Even our social studies curriculum today asks our kindergartners, How do people in a community cooperate? and discussions focus around jobs and services and firefighters and post mail deliverers and teachers and police officers and store clerks.

But now we know that community can extend far beyond the physical space. That relationships are forged, ideas exchanged, and services rendered without ever having to leave the comfort of our familiar spaces.

Something fun I’ve learned about virtual communities – they exist because we want them to exist. We create them. They emerge out of a need, out of shared passions. Members don’t have to share physical space in order for the community to thrive. These spaces just need our time and attention, and they’re strengthened by the members’ desires to come together for a shared purpose.

I’m embarking on a new role as technology integrator, and I know I need support. I created the Instructional Technology Integrators/Coaches community on Google+ because selfishly I was hoping there were others out there who would share their ideas and resources with me. Just yesterday after only a few months of existence, our community reached over 400 members. I’m so grateful to the teachers, administrators and coaches who have taken the time to post ideas, ask questions, ignite conversations, and share resources with the group. Please consider joining us if you have not done so already!

It’s just one of many communities I have embraced as part of my learning network. First there was Connected Principals. Then PLP. EdcampsETMOOC. The #edchat crew and now the #edtechchat team. There are countless ways for educators to become members of dynamic, nurturing, knowledgeable communities.

It takes time and a willingness to contribute. The payoffs are huge.

When do our students need to know this? Upon entering kindergarten, are children already cognizant of their role in the global community? Why should we limit their view of what a community is and can be by simply discussing jobs and services within the city limits? Certainly I want our young children to know how the fine folks who serve them support a community in need. But, there’s a whole wide world and a global community waiting for them. A textbook definition of community just doesn’t cut it anymore. There are a multitude of ways we can help children become contributing citizens in their global learning community. Through Global Read-Alouds and Skype in the Classroom and Kiva and quadblogging and the experiences shared in Connected Learners and sophisticated service projects and collaborative work as students progress through their school years.

And most importantly, by sharing with students that you, too, are a member of communities that extend beyond the school’s walls.

 

This post is dedicated to @Joe_Mazza who reminded me that I used to blog a lot more often.

 

Photo Credit: greekadman via Compfight cc

Looking forward to learning with you!

On Monday, August 13, 2012, I’ll be facilitating four webinars for the Simple K12 Teacher Learning Community as the “spotlight” presenter. Join me!

10 AM EST – Getting Your School Started with Blogging – the what, hows, and whys of blogging for schools interested in getting started with student, teacher, and/or administrator and school blogs

11 AM EST – Google Apps for Streamlining Tasks: An Administrator’s Guide – easy ways to utilize Google Apps to make your life (a little) easier as a school administrator

12 PM EST – Innovative Professional Development: Host a Fed-Ex Day! – ideas for how to spice up professional development opportunities for your staff including the use of the #edcamp model, Fed Ex days, and other non-traditional types of PD

1 PM EST – Free Web Tools for Administrator Communication and Collaboration -an overview of some of the online, interactive tools administrators can use to enhance communications and collaboration within their learning organizations and among networks

Click on any of the above links to register. While much will be shared to guide the administrator in learning more about these topics, teachers and other educators are encouraged to attend. Hope to see you there!

A conversation with Heidi Hayes Jacobs

Photo by Dan Callahan

It was a privilege to spend my time at ASCD as a member of the press. On Sunday at an author’s luncheon, I had the chance to speak with Heidi Hayes Jacobs along with several members of my PLN. I read her book, Curriculum 21, shortly after its publication, and also enjoyed Jacobs’s TedxNYED talk. She asks all educators to consider, “What year are you preparing your students for?” and the content and ideas she shares cause you to reflect deeply about your school’s current practices and how shifts in curriculum, organization, professional development, and the types of learning in which our students engage are imperative. Joining in the discussion were Mary Beth HertzJosh Stumpenhorst, and Jason Flom among others, all passionate educators looking to lead this shift in their schools.

 “We need a new type of pedagogy and a new type of teacher.”

Jacobs shared her views on the varied pedagogies, including “antiquated pedagogy” (“drive-by” teaching, when there is no relationship between teacher and student); classical pedagogy (teachers are sensitive to their students and know how to engage with them, when to talk, and when to be silent; classical pedagogies are timeless), and the new pedagogy, where teachers realize they’re going to need to shift their roles. She referenced David Langford who referred to the student-teacher relationship as “colleague-colleague” relationships. We’re all colleagues… we’re all learners here.

Teachers (and administrators) need to be learners.  They need to be literate in digital media, and they need to be globally literate. These two characteristics are interconnected, but different. Mary Beth shared that she’s working to establish the colleague-colleague/learner-learner relationship with her students as many of us are, and Jacobs mentioned that the latest in value-added teacher evaluation methods tied to high-stakes testing are “irrational” and will do little to support new pedagogies.

She applauded those educators who are using digital tools to establish an online presence to reflect upon their learning and for use with students, and she said it’s difficult for teachers to get started with this without knowing what “quality” looks like in this area. When she first began blogging, she looked to Mike Fisher for inspiration. We need to show teachers examples of quality digital learning and share with one another. Mary Beth described trying to explain the power of connected learning to non-connected educators as “trying to imagine a sunset in a room with no windows.”

Jacobs raved about the global forum they presented at an opening session of ASCD, where schools, students, and teachers from China, Mexico, and New Zealand came together via Skype and other digital platforms to engage in powerful learning with one another.

As for professional development, it is essential in bringing about school-wide improvement, but it must be differentiated. She reminded us to “declare our century” and shared her disappointment in examining standardized tests from the 70s whose questions mirrored those from the 90s. Where is the progress? She urged us to look at our school websites. “Does it look like you’re selling car insurance?”

A focus of Jacobs’s work has always been mapping and standards, and she shared with us her current ventures working with Common Core 360 to create the LiveBook and LivePlanner, professional development platforms for teachers. She spoke excitedly of the capabilities of the highly customizable platform, an “interactive ebook experience that gives educators the theory, research, and case studies behind curriculum integration.” She described it as a “new type of reading experience.”

The conversation shifted to ebooks and textbooks and what our kids need educational  materials to be. Jacobs believe “every kid should have an annotated clearinghouse” that they, themselves, develop. We need to help children become curators and develop digital literacy skills.

I asked how school leaders can get this process started. What must every educational leader understand in order to help their schools progress? She believes every admin and teacher needs to commit to “upgrading.” Look at what you’re doing now, and make a change to at least one aspect of your leadership. When she and her team work with administrators, they spend the day forcing a culture of sharing- getting them using the tools, opening their eyes to the opportunities for globalization. She encourages admin to “get rid of meetings” and connect virtually. In regards to professional development, we discussed the #edcamp model, and how an autonomous learning model such as those provided in #edcamp settings would address the needs of a variety of adult learners. Jacobs helped us visualize a quadrant that organizes adult learning needs.

  • High Curriculum, High Tech Competencies – These teachers need autonomous learning, feedback, modeling, and the opportunities to share
  • High Curriculum, Low Tech Competencies – Need 1:1 support with the tools to help make ties to their strong curricular knowledge base
  • Low Curriculum, High Tech Competencies – Workshop model can be successful to reach these teachers
  • Low Curriculum, Low Tech Competencies – These teachers “need a career change” or “a lot of support.” (That honesty was refreshing.)

“The biggest mistake you can make is selling something in education,” she said. When administrators are working with their teams to decide how to proceed with instruction, curriculum, schedules, anything – imagine there is a student sitting at the table with your team. The guiding rule of the discussion is that any idea or concern that is raised has to be in the child’s best interest. While all team members won’t always agree, it will always be a good conversation if the child remains the focus. According to Jacobs, it’s a “no brainer” that we need to use technology in our schools. We have to prove it’s NOT good for kids before we should say it shouldn’t be used in schools, but ultimately, the first issue should not be ADULT comfort with the technology. “It’s not whether we use technology, it’s how.” Technology purchasing decisions are another great challenge today’s school administrators face. Today’s high school juniors have very different technology needs than our incoming kindergarteners do. How do administrators best manage to prioritize, purchase, manage, provide professional development for, and support learning with a large variety of tools?

Jacobs is an optimist in that she believes that many times, people are willing to change, they just don’t know how. We want our children to be able to live and learn independently of us, and frankly we’ve done students a disservice by creating such dependencies on the adults in the classrooms.

Jason keenly stated, “I want to be obsolete by the end of the year.”

Jacobs emphatically replied, “Yes!”