Effort In = Reward Out

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user Divergent Learner
In conversations with teachers who are trying to get their administrators “connected,” or with principals newly embarking on the professional learning network journey, these questions always make an appearance: “What is the best way to get started? What tools should I use to connect?”


Almost every time, my instinct begs me to respond, I don’t know. The formulation of a network is a personal experience. While one educator finds Diigo to be a fantastic way to compile and share resources, that format might not gel with someone else. The ultimate success of this process is determined by the individual finding tools, techniques, and timelines that work for him.


Here’s one harsh reality of “growing” your PLN: There’s a certain level of stick-with-it-ness required. You can’t sit back and let it happen to you. Effort In = Reward Out. I see many teachers and administrators join Twitter at a workshop. They tweet hello, watch the welcome tweets flow in, and then don’t revisit ever again. Why? There was no reward out, because there was no effort in. They didn’t tweet, they didn’t seek out others to follow, they didn’t try to understand the tool and what it offered them. They quickly dismiss it as a waste of their time, of which they have none to spare.


In the spirit of sharing, and in an attempt to help others reap the benefits of forming and maintaining a learning network, what follows is an explanation of how I came to be a connected principal and learner. (Also take note of the timeline. This does not happen overnight.)

I joined Twitter. February 2007. For reals, it was that long ago. Tweeted twice at the conference where I created the account. Found it to be an interesting slice of ridiculousness, but not something I would consider imperative to my professional growth. And that was the end of that. I didn’t use it again for two years.

I started a blog. September 2008. My first month as a principal. I intended to document each and every day of my principalship. Nope. I stopped blogging.

I started another blog. November 2009. I’ve always enjoyed writing, filling journal after journal in my youth. The reflective element of blogging appealed to me, so I started The Principal’s Posts, first hosted on Edublogs. I wrote about professional learning communities and other topics we were exploring in my school. From my first post: “I find value in blogging. I believe new principals can find relief, humor, and a sense of community knowing others are experiencing what they are experiencing.”Thus, the why.

#edchat. Fall 2009. I found myself gravitating back to the land of Twitter. I learned about Tweetdeck, but I can’t honestly say I remember how. And then, one Tuesday evening, I experienced my first #edchat. People from all across the globe were having a live, true, engaging conversation about a topic in education. I remember watching the tweets fly by, thinking, “We are talking to each other in 140 characters. This is cool.”

Transparency. Summer 2010. So at this point, I was pretty into the whole blogging/tweeting/sharing/connecting thing. But, I was hesitant to become transparent. I didn’t identify myself by full name or school on my blog. My Twitter profile didn’t provide any of those identifying features either. I was fearful my superintendents or teachers or parents would read my blog and not like what they saw. Then, in June, I attended the a “net gen” conference geared towards administrators. Will Richardon and Jason Ohler were the keynotes. In Will’s breakout session he asked if any audience members were currently on Twitter. I reluctantly raised my hand- not many were raised in the audience- and he projected my Twitter profile to introduce this tool to the group. Then he asked if we blogged. And there, on three giant screens, my transparency trepidation was eradicated. He shared my blog with the audience, praising the things I was doing; things I considered to be quite insignificant. “Look at her visitor map. People are visiting from all over the world to read her blog.” They were. Transparency.

Reading others’ blogs. I started developing close connections with many in my PLN- reading their blogs regularly, relating to their passions and being inspired by their work with kids. I started commenting. I saw more comments come my way. Relationships were forming, ideas were flowing… I could get used to this.

Tweeting, tweeting, and more tweeting. Share, share, and share some more.

Writing, writing, and more writing. In August of last year I had the privilege of connecting with the fine folks at Connected Principals. It’s hard for me to describe just how meaningful it’s been contributing to the blog, working with so many amazing administrators in many different capacities, and just having that group of supportive peers there to confide in, look to for advice, write with, present with… you are all incredible!

I became a PLPeep. I was privileged to take part in a Powerful Learning Practice cohort last year with four of my teachers. Led by Sheryl, Will,  Robin, and Brian, we learned about the shifts in education, the necessary changes we as adult learners needed to make in order to best facilitate authentic learning experiences for our students, and our action research project brought us together as a team and yielded meaningful outcomes for students.

Meeting people. Face-to-face. EdcampNYC, Educon, EdcampBOS, ntcamp, TeachMeet, ISTE… so many wonderful memories, so many great friends, so much learned. These friendships wouldn’t exist without the digital connections that first brought us together, and a shared passion for educating kids. Someone tweeted as ISTE was ending, “It’s like the last day of summer camp, when you have to say goodbye to your friends.” My sentiments exactly. A transformation happens here. This is when you realize: this is a part of my life. Others have written about how  professional and personal lines get blurred. You learn to rely on that support, and you want to be a better contributor, because your network gives so much to you, that you want to give back.

That’s all it takes. 🙂 A little time, reaching out to others, a lot of learning. Effort In = Reward Out.

I wanted this post to be practical in the sense that I am going to highlight some of the tools I use, including frequency, methods, and purpose for use. Take note that this is what works for me. They might not work for you. You might not care about my methods, and you won’t hurt my feelings if you stop reading. Or if you already did.

For creating:
WordPress – For writing my blog (hosted by Blue Host. I transitioned to a self-hosting domain last year after using Edublogs for quite some time. Appreciate having my unique URL).  I blog as inspired. Also use WordPress for my school blog. I post as needed to keep our school community informed.
Blogger – We’re a Google Apps school, so I maintain a Blogger space to communicate with my teachers and also for a tech cohort group I facilitate. Update 3-4 times per week.
Wikispaces- I use our school wiki to share documents and FYIs for teachers to access throughout the year. Update as needed. I also maintain a wiki to house my resources from presentations and such.
PhotoPeach – To create simple slideshows to share on our school blog. As needed after school events.
Keynote – For presentations
iMovie– To create movies (school and life) I shoot mainly with this Flip. Love exporting directly to YouTube.
Pages – For all of my desktop publishing needs.
Evernote – For awhile, I did all of my list-making and drafting on here. If I’m at a conference, I will likely use this for note-taking.
Wunderlist– this is the note-taking app I prefer. Use it daily on my MBP, iPad, and iPhone.
iPhone camera apps I use: Instagram, PictureShow, PS Express, Photogram, Pixlromatic

For communicating & collaborating & connecting:
Twitter- every day, several times a day. On my phone and iPad: Twitter app. On my MBP: Tweetdeck. Tried Tweetdeck on the iPhone/iPad, hated it. Tried HootSuite on both, hated it more. I try to catch #edchat on Tuesday nights at 7 PM EST and #elemchat on Saturdays at 6 PM EST.
Google Calendar – My work and personal calendars are maintained on Google. My secretaries have access to my work calendar. I sync my Google calendar with my iCal account on my MBP/iPhone/iPad. Has been working smoothly. Access these daily.
Email – I use Gmail, Mac Mail, and my school webmail daily.
Slideshare to host presentations I want to share as needed; Scribd plays nicely with our school WordPress so I use that as well to share documents with parents online. As needed.
Google Docs– for collaborating on posts, presentations, etc. I draft a lot of my blog posts in a doc and then copy/paste into WP. I’m a Google Forms junkie. I use them for surveying staff following PD days and whenever I need survey data.
Skype – I’m l_hilt. Connect with me, many of my teachers are on board looking for connections for their classrooms!
Google+ – I will admit, I don’t love Google+. The intrigue of it all made me eager to start using, but I rarely check into that space more than once a week. It’s another thing. I need to find a way to streamline that and Twitter and Facebook. The hangout feature is nice. I’ve had some great conversations with other administrators and friends via hangouts.
Foursquare – Yeah, I check in there. Mary Beth tried to get me into Scvnger but, alas, I remain a I’m-at-Starbucks-now-and-I-want-you-all-to-know-about-it-Foursquare-girl.
Cloud App- I use this to easily share docs created on my MBP so I can access them on my work PC if needed.

For reading:
Browsers I use most often: Safari, Chrome (Mac); Firefox, Chrome (PC)
Google Reader– I have hundreds of feeds in my Reader. I name each one by the author  and categorize by area in education. Read daily. (I use the Reeder App on my iPhone to read on the go and find it very easy to tweet from there.)
Flipboard- I enjoy reading my Google Reader feeds through Flipboard as well as my Twitter and Facebook feeds, Flickr photos, National Geographic magazines, USA Today, and more.
Zite- This has been one of my favorite finds recently thanks to Will Chamberlain. Zite takes my interests and turns them into my own personalized magazine. Many of my favorite blog feeds find their way into the stream, but I also appreciate that it pulls from other sources, thus broadening my reading experiences.
Kindle app – I have a Kindle account and read most of my Amazon purchases on the iPad.
StumbleUpon – A way to spend a colossal amount of time online discovering some of the most fascinating content on the web.

For curating:
Diigo and Delicious – to save bookmarks of interest; I recently rediscovered Delicious after being a Diigo-only girl for quite some time, but have found that some services bookmark straight to Delicious more fluidly than to Diigo (Zite being one of them). We have a Diigo group for our district admin, and I need to more fluidly share my lists with teachers. Working on that. Many of my teacher teams use it, which is great.
bit.ly sidebar – When this little tool came my way, it made my tweeting life much easier. Install this on your favorite browser, and watch the tweets fly. Use it on Safari, Firefox, and Chrome.
Posterous– to post snippets of my favorite blog posts, articles, etc. a few times weekly
Tumblr – to compile inspiring images and quick-links a few times weekly
Flickr – Great to share school photos. Save in sets. Also upload slides to share. Sprung for the Pro account because last year I ran out of space for my school photos!
Pinterest – I’m silly-obsessed with this visually-appealing site. Browse/pin a few times weekly. You can use a Pin It Button to help organize goodness you find whilst browsing.
Read it Later– I save a lot of links here. The tricky part is remembering to go and read them. Later.

The schtuff:
I use a 13’ Macbook Pro, school-issued Lenovo tablet, iPhone 4, and iPad (the old-school one :), Flip, and I have a Canon digital rebel Xti if those photos really need to look good.

Things I used at one point but stopped using:
Scoop.it – I liked the idea of it. Wasn’t very good with the follow-through.
Quora – just didn’t have time for it.
Pearltrees – I’m not going to lie, I never used this. But I did create an account and thought I’d like to use it.
Probably hundreds of other things I can’t recall at the moment.

I want to reiterate that this can’t happen without people. People with whom you build relationships. People who care enough to show you a new tool and how it works for them; to encourage you when your blog has no readers but who stress the importance of reflection. People who tweet your posts. People who comment. People who work within your school building or district and take interest in how you’re connecting, then reach out and try for themselves. People in your local school community with whom you meet regularly in face-to-face situations to discuss students and learning. Social media can certainly bring us together with great ease, but it takes effort to build and maintain the relationships that open our eyes to new possibilities and to keep us going.

So while it is a personal process, it is unwise – and not nearly as fun – to embark on this journey alone.

If you’re still reading, thank you. Please, in the comments, tell me where I can save some time/consolidate some efforts/use different apps/methods. I know there are many things out there that are working for my PLN, and I’d love to hear about your favorites! It’s a privilege learning with you all.

My wish for you.

As many schools do, each year we have an opening assembly to welcome faculty and students back to school. I usually snag a few hundred photos and shoot some video of the first days of school, throw everything together in a quick iMovie and share with the school community at this event. I had already completed about 75% of this year’s back-to-school movie when I decided to try something different this year.

While driving home one day a few weeks ago, I began crafting a blog post in my head, as many bloggers often do.  This particular post included a list of things I wished for my students for the coming year. I decided, then, since we are focusing heavily on helping our children develop a love of reading this year, to write a story for our students and staff to present at our opening assembly. I wanted to model my love of reading and writing and share a creation with them! I used Storybird. I was rather pleased with how it turned out, and I hope our school community enjoyed when I shared it this afternoon. It was fun seeing my book on “the big screen.” 🙂 Hopefully other teachers and students will write some original stories to share as well!

Wishes-for-a-New-School-Year-Brecknock-Elementary by lhilt on Storybird

My message this year focused on my desire for us to work together as a community of learners: the importance of working in a respectful, responsible, and safe environment in order for all of our needs to be met. I told them how proud I was with their ability to be flexible and embrace changes in our schedules. In addition to our focus on reading, I described various ways our students could serve in leadership roles throughout the school this year and stressed the value of teamwork and collaboration. I am grateful for the opportunity to address our school community in this manner, and I am looking forward to another fabulous year together!

It’s kind of magical.

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user susanvg

Yesterday was our full-day “in-service” for teachers at the building level. This is a day always filled with anticipation, nerves, and the feeling that I probably neglected to do something before the clock chimes 8 AM. But this year, a feeling of calm spread over me. The task of planning 6 hours of professional development for teachers can be daunting for a principal. But when you turn the learning over to the learner, things tend to run a bit more smoothly.

Providing teachers with the autonomy to do as they please on a day of learning isn’t something that would be met with success in any school. This type of opportunity comes only when teachers and administrators work in a culture of mutual respect and trust. For the past three years I’ve attempted to build this culture in our school, and I am now able to see the benefits of our efforts together. It was not without trials and tribulations, ups and downs, or successes and failures. But what results is special.

And it’s kind of magical.

I expressed these sentiments to my teachers yesterday. I told them that they don’t have the luxury of seeing this faculty as a whole as I do. How I notice every change in peer-peer encounter; every positive comment and word of encouragement; how formerly there were only questions raised without accompanying solutions offered; how they’re seeking out one another in times of need, when thirsting for knowledge, and using each other as resources in a collaborative learning environment.

So here are a few details about our opening day to avoid this being one of those fluffy posts void of any real information. 🙂

We started with a welcome and introductions of new staff members. My administrative assistant prepared a folder of important documents for our teachers and spent about 10 minutes highlighting the folder contents. I then wanted to get everyone moving around and discussing “life.” There is nothing that irks me more than encountering someone in the hallway after summer break and hearing the dreaded, “So, how was your suuummmmer?” question. Meh. So I turned to the intertubes to compile about 60 discussion-provoking questions. I printed them out in different colored ink, gathered strips of colored construction paper, and made sure each staff member chose a colored strip. This helped group our faculty members, and each group took turns choosing a question (“What do you keep in the trunk of your car?” “If you could be any comic book character, which would you be?”) and discussing the answers as a group. It didn’t take long before the room erupted with bursts of laughter and a lot of smiles. Mission accomplished!

I next had a responsibility to share with our staff building-wide achievement data. I compiled a simple Keynote highlighting some of our students’ accomplishments from last year, and the new approach our district is taking with data team meetings throughout the year. I stressed a sense of urgency in continuing to meet the needs of all of our learners, as well as the fact that we will all be transparent in our learning this year. All elementary buildings will be working together to enhance learning for students. I stressed that we will not equate our students to numbers. None of us should be afraid or unwilling to share our student data, successes, failures, ideas, and anything/everything related to the needs of our students. Together, we’re better.

I ended with this phenomenal clip of Michael McBride, a graduate of the Plano Independent School District, addressing 7,000 of his district’s teachers, eloquently describing how his K-12 teachers made an impact on his life. It was very moving, and I loved his message to teachers: “Act out. Misbehave! And teach with passion and excitement for every moment that you have inside the classroom and out.” Special thanks to Matt Gomez for including this video in a recent blog post! Made my day when I found it.

It was kind of magical.

“Wait, Lyn, what about the laundry list of informational items you have to share with teachers on Day 1? Schedules, lunch and recess routines, important dates, blah, blah, blah?” I’m blessed with a faculty full of teachers who are capable of reading print. This….is huge. 🙂 What that means is that I have the luxury of providing informational items in print for them to peruse and approach me with questions if necessary. About a week prior to opening day, I compiled a Google doc (it was a lengthy one, but I made them aware via email that it was a very important read) filled with informational items for teachers to read and consider before our meeting day. They were asked to email me with any concerns or questions. If a question arose several times, I knew it should be addressed whole-group. The only topic we discussed in our opening meeting was our changes to recess and lunch schedules. I was able to anticipate this need since teachers had the information ahead of time, and one teacher emailed me specific questions which helped guide our discussion. I received compliments that teachers enjoyed having that information in one place to refer back to as needed, and since it’s a living document, I can add/revise as needed.

Magic, indeed.

So, there I was, a full hour and 1/2 ahead of schedule. I was so thankful I now could provide my teachers with more time to meet in their teams. They used it wisely. I circulated about the building, peeking my head into various team meetings. Every conversation I encountered and work being done was meaningful in preparation for students’ arrival on Monday and the year ahead. Why don’t we trust our teachers with their time? Why do so many administrators feel as though they must dictate every second of teachers’ time on PD days? I can’t wrap my head around that.

We enjoyed a pizza lunch together. I’ve found having lunch together on this day to be a very important component of the team building process! We have a fabulous food services department who provides us with everything we need.

Then… the afternoon… the unconference! We’ve done differentiated professional development previously, including a Fed-Ex day and various teacher-led sessions during a district-wide technology day. In the past I would come up with a list of session ideas, plan the resources, run some of the sessions, etc. This time, I took a piece of blue poster board, whipped up an informal edcamp-inspired session board, placed some notecards on a nearby table, and asked teachers to sign up their conversation/session ideas to fill up the board. We had three session slots for the afternoon, and each session was filled with two or three options for discussion. We’re not a huge school, so it worked very well. I was especially blown away by the Daily 5 group that amassed in our kindergarten teacher’s room. The teachers are so excited to start this initiative this year! And where did the idea stem from? Not me. One of the teachers shared with me her Daily 5 conference experience this summer, and I thought it would be great to include others in learning more about it. In about one week, a “study group” had formed, so I ordered books for teachers. Word quickly spread, and now the study group includes representatives from all grade levels and special areas, too. Impressive.

And magical.

Last night on Twitter two of my teachers offered words of encouragement in regards to this structure of professional learning. I hope it’s okay with them that I’m sharing.

So… where do we go from here? Despite some constraints on our time this year with central-office scheduled data team meetings, I will continue to work to provide opportunities for my teachers to collaborate together. We will use those data team meetings to springboard conversations about teaching and learning and how we can best serve students. I will provide time for my teachers to spend time observing one another and discussing what they see.  Many of my teachers have discovered the value of developing a professional learning network, and I believe their influence will help others reach out to our colleagues around the world to help bring new ideas into our school. I will provide support in any way I can- through monitoring and walkthroughs, allocating time, materials and resources to their efforts, to celebrating their successes and being someone they can confer with in times of concern.

I know my days here will only become more meaningful as soon as the children walk through the doors on Monday morning, but I’m very much encouraged by the learning my faculty and I shared yesterday. Wishing all of you a magical year!

Out with professional development, in with professional learning.

Image by Doug Johnson

As a classroom teacher I engaged in several years of “professional development” before transitioning to a role of technology specialist, my first opportunity to design and facilitate learning sessions for my colleagues. Now as a building administrator, I often think back to the PD I experienced as a teacher.

There are very few instances I can recall with clarity. I can’t tell you most of the the topics discussed. I fail to recall activities we completed. What this indicates, to me, is that I was not a learner in those instances. I do have a rather clear picture in my memory of the workshops offered by Apple trainers when we were learning to use our new MacBooks. Perhaps those days are memorable because I’m a Mac-junkie, but more likely, it’s because I was an active participant in my learning on these occasions. We completed projects. We collaborated in teams. We were given autonomy and owned the day. We learned.

Consider the last time you experienced professional development offered by your school or district. Were you engaged in learning? How do you know? How did your learning impact your practice and influence student learning outcomes?

Learning Forward, formerly known as the National Staff Development Council, has undergone an important shift in focus and message: from one of development to one of learning. Stephanie Hirsch, Learning Forward’s Executive Director, reported in Education Week on the council’s release of the newly revised Standards for Professional Learning.

These standards call for a new form of educator learning. The decision to call these Standards for Professional Learning rather than Standards for Professional Development signals the importance of educators taking an active role in their continuous development and places emphasis on their learning. The professional learning that occurs when these standards are fully implemented enrolls educators as active partners in determining the content of their learning, how their learning occurs, and how they evaluate its effectiveness. The standards give educators the information they need to take leadership roles as advocates for and facilitators of effective professional learning and the conditions required for its success. Widespread attention to the standards increases equity of access to a high-quality education for every student, not just for those lucky enough to attend schools in more advantaged communities.

The standards are of great interest to me as an administrator who is charged with planning and implementing professional learning opportunities for my teachers and staff. In particular, I was curious to see how the standards addressed the need for educators to connect and collaborate with other educators in a variety of ways to enhance learning opportunities. I wanted to know:

How do these standards guide educators in “taking an active role in their continuous development”?

Is there a balanced approach that includes and respects teachers’ desires to individualize learning through professional learning network connections?

Is there ample opportunity for teachers to own their learning, supported through the typical professional development structures of a school system?

Hirsch’s quote in bold is quite meaningful. I appreciate that the standards focus on teachers as learners. Teachers are not to be treated as vehicles through which schools deliver programs and policies. This, in my opinion, has been the focus of traditional professional development frameworks for way too long.

Teachers, like students, are first and foremost individuals who have passions, interests, and an inherent desire to learn. The goal for administrators should then become how to foster the learning spirit in each and every one of our teachers through a system of learning opportunities that cater to their individual needs. This, in turn, will ignite a true excitement for learning in our teachers, which will transfer into their practice. The result? Students who spend their days with teachers who exhibit a true desire to grow professionally and who model that learning matters.

The revised standards emphasize collaboration & community

Educators can access the Standards for Professional Learning via Learning Forward’s website. They are organized into 7 domains:

Learning Communities: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students occurs within learning communities committed to continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and goal alignment.

Leadership: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students requires skillful leaders who develop capacity, advocate, and create support systems for professional learning.

Resources: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students requires prioritizing, monitoring, and coordinating resources for educator learning.

Data: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students uses a variety of sources and types of student, educator, and system data to plan, assess, and evaluate professional learning.

Learning Designs: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students integrates theories, research, and models of human learning to achieve its intended outcomes.

Implementation: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students applies research on change and sustains support for implementation of professional learning for long term change.

Outcomes: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students aligns its outcomes with educator performance and student curriculum standards.

Am I thrilled to see that Learning Communities is a component of the standards? Absolutely. As I addressed in my recent Reform Symposium presentation, Teachers as Learners, adult learning is enhanced through collaborative opportunities with colleagues that focus on shared passions, visions, and goals. Learning Forward describes learning communities as necessary to ensure continuous results for students, the development of collective responsibility, and the achievement of goals.

Within this domain, it is encouraging to see the standards highlight technology use as an integral way to form and foster a virtual learning community:

While some professional learning occurs individually, particularly to address individual development goals, the more one educator’s learning is shared and supported by others, the more quickly the culture of continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and high expectations for students and educators grows. Collective responsibility and participation foster peer-to-peer support for learning and maintain a consistent focus on shared goals within and across communities.


Technology facilitates and expands community interaction, learning, resource archiving and sharing, and knowledge construction and sharing. Some educators may meet with peers virtually in local or global communities to focus on individual, team, school, or school system improvement goals. Often supported through technology, cross-community communication within schools, across schools, and among school systems reinforces shared goals, promotes knowledge construction and sharing, strengthens coherence, taps educators’ expertise, and increases access to and use of resources.

This component is often neglected in typical “professional development” plans offered by school systems. How can we work to include more variety in the types of learning communities we’re forming and supporting? This coming year several of my teachers are working to implement The Daily 5 framework into their literacy blocks. I purchased books for them to read, and they will be meeting in study groups and observing classrooms throughout the year to support one another.

But some of my teachers took their learning a step farther. This week I was so pleased to see some of them engage in the #daily5 hashtag chat on Twitter. I had no idea they knew about the chat (I didn’t!), yet they sought out support and felt the desire to collaborate with other teachers who have experienced implementation of this framework. I watched as they shared ideas and knew they were indeed learning from this experience. This wasn’t dictated by our PD plan. It was something they had a passion for learning more about, and they used their PLN to facilitate their learning in this area.

I am also pleased that Leadership is a component of the Learning Forward standards. The Standards state that Leaders of professional learning are found at the classroom, school, and system levels. For far too long we have neglected to recognize our own teachers as experts in the field. Our teachers need to be given the opportunity to lead learning for their colleagues. It is essential to allow teachers to run district and school workshops and design and implement their own PD. How is this supported?

To engage in constructive conversations about the alignment of student and educator performance, leaders cultivate a culture based on the norms of high expectations, shared responsibility, mutual respect, and relational trust.

What do we need professional learning to be?

We need teachers to

  • be active participants in the learning process, one supported through a culture of trust
  • determine what content is important to learn
  • decide how they will best learn and implement this content
  • collaborate with others in communities of learning
  • assume leadership roles in the learning process
  • evaluate how effective their learning has been, including systemic reflection

To become more familiar with the Standards for Professional Learning and how they can support the frameworks you develop for teacher learning in your school, I recommend reading the research-base supporting each component, as well as checking out the FAQs and More FAQs shared by Learning Forward.

If you are a teacher, how will you take ownership for your learning this year? How will you communicate your needs to your administrators? If you are an administrator, how will you design and implement opportunities for your teachers to learn this year?

Written for the Powerful Learning Practice Voices blog. Originally posted on August 18, 2011.

The bar has been raised.

“How do we get reluctant administrators on board with utilizing technologies to communicate, connect, and collaborate?”

This is one of the most prevalent questions I encounter when chatting with educators on Twitter, through informal conversations, and in presentations I’ve shared. It came through loud and clear in the Connected Principals ISTE session that teachers want their administrators to value the opportunities to use technologies to enhance learning opportunities for students and to encourage collaboration and connected learning.

I decided to roll with Scott McLeod’s prompt suggestion of: Using the National Educational Technology Standards for Administrators (NETS-A) as a starting point, what are the absolutely critical skills or abilities that administrators need to be effective technology leaders?

How do reluctant administrators begin? By owning up to the fact that their participation and leadership in this area is essential. It’s crucial. This is one of my favorite graphics that Scott created:

In my opinion, it can happen…. I’ve seen many rogue teachers propel their classes forward in a manner not necessarily supported or understood by the administration. But it’s not easy. And it’s not systemic. And it won’t be as meaningful for all kids as it needs to be.

The NETS-A was developed with a critical understanding that the bar has been raised for school leaders. A school leader who wishes to “create and sustain a culture that supports digital age learning must become comfortable collaborating as co-learners with colleagues and students around the world” (aka “I don’t do technology” is no longer acceptable.)  Also, this framework seeks to help school leaders propel their organizations forward as members of “dynamic learning communities.” Vision is vital.

The NETS-A are organized around 5 major themes: Visionary Leadership, Digital Age Learning Culture, Excellence in Professional Practice, Systemic Improvement, and Digital Citizenship. 

If you are an administrator, read the descriptions of the components of each category and ask yourself, “Am I there yet?” If so, how will you influence and develop others in order to contribute to the shared vision? If not, how will you begin to develop professionally in order to get there? So you can get your teachers and kids there?

Visionary Leadership: Educational administrators inspire and lead development and implementation of a shared vision for comprehensive integration of technology to promote excellence and support transformation throughout the organization.

Key ideas: all stakeholders; purposeful change; maximize digital resources; exceed learning goals; support effective instructional practices; develop and implement technology-infused strategic plans; advocate for this vision at the local, state, and national levels

Digital Age Learning Culture: Educational Administrators create, promote, and sustain a dynamic, digital-age learning culture that provides a rigorous, relevant, and engaging education for all students.

Key ideas: ensure instructional innovation; model and promote effective use of technology for learning; provide learner-centered environments to meet the individual needs of students; ensure effective practice in the study of technology and infusion across curriculum; promote and participate in learning communities that allow for global, digital-age collaboration

Excellence in Professional Practice: Educational Administrators promote an environment of professional learning and innovation that empowers educators to enhance student learning through the infusion of contemporary technologies and digital resources. 

Key ideas: allocate time, resource and access to ensure ongoing professional growth in technology fluency and integration; facilitate and participate in learning communities to nurture administrators, teachers, and staff; promote and model effective communication and collaboration using digital tools; stay current on the latest educational research and emerging trends in educational technology to improve student learning

Systemic Improvement: Educational Administrators provide digital-age leadership and management to continuously improve the organization through the effective use of information and technology resources.

Key ideas: lead purposeful change to maximize achievement of learning goals through appropriate use of technology and media-rich resources; collaborate to collect, analyze, and share data to improve staff performance and student learning; recruit highly competent personnel who use technology creatively and proficiently; leverage strategic partnership to support systemic improvement; manage and maintain a robust infrastructure for technology

Digital Citizenship: Educational Administrators model and facilitate understanding of social, ethical and legal issues and responsibilities related to an evolving digital culture.

Key ideas: ensure equitable access to appropriate digital tools and resources to meet the needs of all learners; model and establish policies for safe, legal, and ethical use of digital information/technology; promote and model responsible social media interactions; model and facilitate a shared cultural understanding and involvement in global issues through the use of communication and collaboration tools. (ISTE, NETS-A, 2009)

When I read over these components, none appear glaringly over-demanding.  I cannot image an instance where an administrator wouldn’t consider these competencies important enough to at least begin to acknowledge, given the needs of our children who walk through our schools’ doors each day. Is it going to happen in a year? No. Will competencies and the expected skill set of a principal change continuously throughout her career? Yes. Are the daily demands of a principal exceedingly unreasonable and intolerable some days? Absolutely.

But I think where it begins is with connections. It begins by developing a supportive network of peers that can enhance your comfort and familiarity with the components of these domains. I think where it begins is with no excuses. Try something new. Read about the latest. Communicate in a different way than you did before. You’ll find that you like it. Empower your teachers and students to help you develop in this area professionally, and share what you learn with others.

In last year’s post for Leadership Day, I reflected upon my experiences utilizing various technologies in my role as an administrator. I conjectured about how it came to be that I became so comfortable with the tools and connecting, collaborating, and communicating via social media. I re-read the list of ways in which I used technology to communicate with my school community and further my own professional growth, and this made me realize that my knowledge base has blossomed in so many different directions since Leadership Day 2010. I owe much of this to to the ever-expanding network of professionals I have the privilege to engage with each day and my own self-driven desire to continue to learn more about the benefits of connected learning. Thank you to everyone who continues to contribute. A post recently written by Jon Becker really made me think. Yes, many of us are good at sharing, collaborating, creating. But what do we have to show for it? How can we demonstrate our growth in ways that demonstrate the impact on student learning? I am going to set a goal of sharing more of those stories this year. Of working to ensure what happens in our classrooms isn’t necessarily about the latest tool or gadget, but rather has a focus on learning.

It’s Leadership Day 2011! I hope you’ll add to the conversation!

Reform Symposium 2011

The Reform Symposium is almost here! It begins tomorrow, July 29, and lasts through Sunday, July 31. You don’t want to miss this experience! It is a free, online, worldwide educational conference featuring fantastic presenters, all of whom wish to share ways in which they work to enhance educational experiences for our students.

I’ll be involved in two sessions this weekend. You can learn more about the sessions by viewing my video intro (excuse the lack of bells and whistles, we can’t all be @stumpteacher 🙂 and by reading details below!

Friday, July 29, at 2:30 PM EST, I am honored to participate in a keynote panel discussing the important relationships between leaderships and teachers, and how we can foster a collaborative spirit among all educators. You will have so much to learn from panelists David Britten (@Colonelb), Patrick Larkin (@Bhsprincipal), Dwight Carter (@Dwight_Carter), Pam Moran (@pammoran), and Becky Fisher (@BeckyFisher73)! Moderated by Lisa Dabbs (@teachingwthsoul), you won’t want to miss the sure-to-be-meaningful discussions! Click here to access the webinar link!

On Sunday, July 31, at 11:00 AM EST, I will be leading a session entitled Differentiated Learning: It’s Not Just for Students! This session will explore avenues through which administrators can provide differentiated professional development opportunities for teachers. I’ll share some examples of PD that have worked for us in our school and ways that providing autonomy, time, and support to our teachers have inspired continued learning and growth among our staff.  Click here to access the webinar link!

Hope to see you there!

Learn more about the Reform Symposium!

Updated 8/6/2011  -Thanks to all of the participants who spent time in my session last weekend! I enjoyed our conversation!

Link to my archived session     Link to wiki with resources

Reform Symposium 2011

View more presentations from Lyn Hilt

Link to the spreadsheet of all archived sessions

Getting to “I Can”

Educator Kiran Bir Sethi shared this inspirational message in November 2009, so perhaps you’ve already heard the story of how she and her colleagues in India’s Riverside School empowered their students to lead change among themselves, their school, their community, and their country. I just recently viewed this talk and found her message to be so simple, so real, and so attainable that I wished to share it with you.

Sethi sought to design a process that could “consciously infect the mind with the “I Can Button.” She believed that if learning was embedded in real world contexts, thus blurring the boundaries between school and life, that children would embark a meaningful learning journey. The steps of this process involve students seeing the change, changing themselves, and then leading the change in others.

Aware – Enable – Empower

Feel – Imagine – Do

This process directly increased student well-being and allowed students to become more competent and less helpless in their own learning. I was so intrigued by Sethi’s descriptions of the authentic examples of how her students changed the perceptions of child labor in their community. Having first lived the experience, they enabled themselves to transform their own thinking. These experiences changed mindsets. They caused her students to passionately educate and lead adults in their community to understand more about this issue. And these weren’t high school students taking to the streets with their message- these were 10 and 11-year olds.

The “I Can” mindset is a shift from “teacher telling me” to “I can do it.” Isn’t this what we want for all of our students? How can we make this happen in our classrooms on a daily basis? This technique may seem well-suited for lessons involving the social sciences, but what about math? Reading? What about the pressures for students to succeed on those pesky standardized tests?

The Riverside School parents had the same questions. While they appreciated that their children were becoming better human beings, they said to Sethi, Show us the grades. As she replied in her talk, And we did. Her students outperformed the top 10 schools in India in math, reading, and science. When children are empowered, they have the tools they need to do well in all aspects of their lives and education.

The Riverside School students influenced their city to devote time and “give to the children” because in the future, the chlidren will give back to the community. As we debate over tax increases to fund our schools and deal with incessant budget crises across our nation and beyond, I sometimes think our taxpayers and politicians fail to recognize that an investment in our students’ education is an investment in human capital. We want our children to return to the communities that educated them, and use their gifts to enhance our lives in many ways. Sethi’s students inspired their communities to recognize this important fact.

Sethi ends with, Contagious is a good word.  As we work to inspire children to say, “I can,” their enthusiasm will empower us as a learning community to say, “We can.”

How will you infect your learning community this year?

You know who you are.

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user always be cool

So a little bird tweets me that there is some sort of list out and about that has my name on it. Neat-o!

Only, upon further inspection, I examined the list and realized, Hey. Let’s all simmer down here. The fact that my name appears on that list is silliness. I know for a fact there are other edu-tweeters out there that are waaay more influential than me. (And have a significantly higher Klout score, for what it’s worth. (Not much.)) Plenty of fantastic people are represented, from whom I learn an awful lot on a daily basis. But this post is not going to debate who should or shouldn’t be on that list. To do so would give it even more attention than it warrants.

What’s worth recognizing is that the list exists. And why is that? Because someone is paying attention to us. We, as a collective network of educators who care about children and their futures, are sharing with one another on a regular basis and helping to influence our practices in positive ways. People are noticing.

I’m thinking about my network. I can easily name ten people who influenced my practice today. Do I need to publicize it in a list? No.

You know who you are.

This influence is not limited to the intertubes, of course. I’m considering the people who’ve shaped me into the educator I am trying to be today. Most of those people aren’t on Twitter. They don’t blog. They don’t have Facebook accounts, can’t get into Google+ no matter how many invites they receive (thanks for nothing, Google), and they surely were not at ISTE. But their influence, care, compassion, and support have forever changed me. They’re the people that demand I put the phone away when we’re out to dinner. Or at an administrative retreat. (I was taking notes, I swear!)

You know who you are.

Tonight I was all set to compose my post-ISTE reflection post, and it seems as though I am now going to combine both my reflections of that event with my ramblings about online popularity. They’re weirdly related.

Cliques. Clusters. Cadres. Cohorts. Cavorting. Cackling. Keynotes. Abuse of alliteration. Cafes. Conversations. Contempt for Comic Sans. Connected Principals. Some sort of fancy dance. All of this and more, at ISTE 11! Many of the ISTE reflection posts have focused on the power of relationships, the importance of conversations, and the jr.-high-esque social mentalities that can ensue when you bring a whole bunch of people together. #sigh

I’d like to highlight two of my favorite memories from ISTE. First, this: Kids displaying their awesomeness. Like this sharp-dressed young man:

who eloquently explained how his school’s project involved using technology to improve our Earth’s ecology. I listened to his podcast using ear buds that probably 100 other people placed in their ears. And I didn’t really care. He shared his thoughts in carefully dictated English, his second language, mind you. This group had it made. They sent out recruiters – pint-sized bits of adorableness- into the crowds to ask attendees, “Do you want to hear our presentation about technology and ecology?” Heck yes, I do. And then they led me to the booth. Gold.

To the kids who inspire me every day, from those in my first sixth grade class to the children I only briefly interacted with at ISTE: You are amazing. You know who you are.

My second favorite memory of ISTE is Irene from the Newbie Lounge. I wish I had taken a photo of  Irene. She was truly awesome. By no means in her first years on the job (or her first twenty years), Irene sat on the couch with her iPad 2 and called out, “Can you help me with this?” as I walked by, with just a few minutes to go before our Connected Principals panel session. (Thanks, by the way, to everyone who attended. It was slightly overwhelming.) I wanted a bottled water desperately. I glanced at the mile-long concessions line longingly and then thought, What the hell am I thinking? This person needs me. So I sat with Irene for about twenty minutes and walked her through the process of bookmarking a website on her Safari browser. She was truly astounded that whenever she wanted to visit that wiki filled with resources from the last session she attended, she could just go to her bookmarks and … poof! There it was. She was so happy. I was so happy.

Irene, thank you for centering me and helping me realize how much I love being a teacher. I will agree with others that the shared conversations in hallways, cafes, museums, sidewalks, and #Edubros venues were certainly well worth the price of admission. I became a tad bit emotional having to say goodbye to some very good friends on my last day there. Yes, I said it, friends. Real live avatar-people that turned into friends. Shocking! Thank you to the presenters and attendees, young and old, who inspired me at ISTE.

You know who you are.

I guess, that in the end, that’s all that really matters. That you know the positive influences you have on the work and lives of others. I agree with Kristina that many of us felt as though something was missing before we developed this supportive network of professionals via Twitter, blogging, and other media. The connections have certainly added value to our lives.

Yet in a way I also disagree. I am not so sure that something was missing so much as it was lost. Lost inside of each of us. After experiencing powerful learning, working to positively influence others, and doing the right things for kids, every one of us should be able to examine our personal accomplishments and be proud. Be very, very proud. We will make mistakes, falter, and lose our way. We will share ideas and then take too long to act on them. Just pick yourself up, put a plan in place, do something, and continue to be awesome. No list can define our ability to do so. Only you can make that happen.

You know who you are.

Leading the charge.

In many school districts, when summer arrives, administrative teams come together for the annual “admin retreat.” When I first heard this term, I envisioned principals and central office personnel packing up their camping gear, overdosing on bug repellant, and venturing into the Pennsylvania woods somewhere to discuss the trials and tribulations of the role of the administrator. For the past two years, my experience with the admin retreat has consisted mainly of day-long meetings (drowning in data) held in overly air-conditioned rooms (how can I concentrate on all of this delectable data if my body temperature is 92 degrees?) at a local conference center or golf course banquet hall (greens fees not included).

Not so this year.

Kudos to my superintendent for exploring alternative options for our retreat this year, as we spent the day immersed in stories of leadership through the lens of the American Civil War, on the battlefields of Gettysburg. Battlefield Leadership, led by former school administrator Dr. Michael McGough, was highly engaging, personally relevant, and one of the most meaningful days our administrative team has spent together.

Interwoven through his detail-rich tales highlighting the people, places, and events that comprised the battle of Gettysburg, Mike used examples of Civil War leaders’ thought processes, strategies, and character traits to shape our understanding of various leadership styles and provide us with essential principles for educational leaders. He often referenced Jim Collins’ Good to Great, John C. Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, as well as wisdom shared by Lee Iacocca in Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

I’d like to share with you several of the leadership principles and ideas we discussed yesterday.

  • “A leader without followers is just a person taking a walk.”
  • A leader understands her role in the organization.
  • A leader doesn’t allow his followers to forge ahead without first surveying the lay of the land. He leads from the front, but he always gauges where his team is, and knows how he will adjust if necessary.
  • Great leaders always have a plan B. And a plan C. A great leader is always focusing on his next move in checkers, not the move he’s about to make.
  • True leaders breed other leaders.
  • Powerful leaders know the people they’re leading. Build relationships.
  • “The absence of leadership is chaos.”
  • The people you’re leading should always know exactly what you’re asking them to do. When there are communication lapses, it causes frustration for both the leader and his followers.
  • Leaders understand that they are part of the emotional framework of the organization. They lead with civility and compassion.
  • Always be willing to adjust long-term goals based on short term successes and strategies.
  • What one thing made Lincoln such a powerful leader? Unwavering vision. (Did Lee lack this quality?)
  • A leader knows the difference between winning and not losing.
  • A great leader concerns herself with the critical mass. She does not base her effectiveness on the accolades of the two people who think she walks on water, nor the two people who criticize her every move.
  • Ego-driven leaders are not true leaders.
  • You’ll never hear the bullet that hits you.
  • Leaders effectively and eloquently react to unexpected circumstances.
  • Leaders are directly responsible for some successes, and others are delivered to them by successful team members. Know the difference. Recognize and celebrate the team members who bring the organization success.
  • It is essential for a leader’s followers to respect the leader and what he does. It is not essential for a leader to be well-liked by everyone in the organization.
  • Leaders know when to admit defeat and take responsibility for it.
  • Leaders have the desire to express a lot of things… but true leaders know what’s appropriate to express and how to do so.
  • Leadership is time, place, and situation sensitive. Leadership can be studied, refined, and augmented to meet any condition.
  • When issuing directives, make it clear whether you want the task completed effectively or efficiently. Dedication to one may be at the cost of the other.
  • A great leader knows where a person best fits within the organization. He delicately and personally evaluates each person’s performance and moves them to another role if necessary for the good of the organization.
  • Leaders make sure to differentiate between fact and opinion when someone else delivers information to their door.
  • It’s not degree or pedigree… true leaders are born of hard work. True leaders are tired at the end of the day.
  • Leaders understand the power of words and know how to use them.

We were asked to consider each thought in the context of our role(s) within the learning organization, and I encourage you to do the same. At the start of our day, we were given green and yellow index cards. Our task was to consider our goal-setting, our strategies, our actions, and jot down things we wished to stop doing on the yellow cards, since these things were not contributing to or aligning with our ultimate visions. On the green cards, we were to document ideas for how we might improve in an area or do things differently. At the conclusion of the day, we sealed the cards in separate, self-addressed envelopes, which we will receive anytime over the course of the next six months. These short messages will serve as reminders of our day together and all that we have learned.

If you would like to inquire about this learning experience and how it can serve your organization, Mike can be reached at drmike3@comcast.net. Many thanks to Mike and my administrative colleagues for a day immersed in history, learning, and camaraderie.

Fill the empty.

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user esti

He who has seen everything empty itself is close to knowing what everything is filled with.
Antonio Porchia

The classrooms are empty. Our hallways are vacant. When I walk in cafeteria, no little hands pass me their milk containers to open. No whistles, shouts, or cheers can be heard on the playground. No one is inquiring, “Are you busy?” while peering inside my office. The flood of emails in my inbox has ceased. No calls from the office letting me know a parent has stopped by to see me.


I sat with one of my teachers in an end-of-the-year conference after students’ final dismissal on Monday, and our conversation continued on into its twentieth minute and beyond. Her eyes were clearly glossy and she seemed quite overwhelmed with the idea of going back into her classroom, knowing the students wouldn’t be there.

“It’s not the same without them. I don’t like it in there.”


The last month of school was quite the learning experience for me. Wrapping up my third year as principal, I figured I could stick with my same routines and timelines and finish off the year at a relatively low stress level. I was mistaken. It made me consider how very different each year of teaching is as well. No teacher and no administrator can be satisfied doing things the way they’ve always been done. Our roles encompass the ever-changing, spontaneous, magical, surprising, evolving world of personal learning. No two days are the same, and that’s why I love this role so much. For a few different reasons, I wasn’t quite prepared for the changes this year brought. Too bogged down playing “catch up” to appreciate my role. Unable to make connections between the tasks I was fervently completing and student learning. Unable to articulate and find time to share with others. This is very overwhelming place for an administrator to be, but I am certain every one of us has felt this way.


Many administrators are twelve-month employees and therefore find themselves in need of a shift in motivation throughout the summer months. The children and teachers that inspire and excite us for work each day aren’t present when we arrive at our school buildings, and it’s easy to get bogged down with menial tasks: checking things off lists; tidying up files and paperwork; finalizing schedules; budgeting, ordering, etc. My former principal used to tell me how torturous the summer months were for him, and that he’d purposely schedule time to drive to other elementary schools within the district where summer school classes were hosted so he could visit with students! He felt empty otherwise.

Another source of emptiness may derive from the necessary reflection that occurs once the hustle and bustle of school days has passed. I don’t know about you, but I have made mistakes this year. Others have made mistakes as well. These mistakes have caused strain in our organizations and lives. While it is very hard to do, I am trying to forgive myself for these mistakes, and not forget, but rather learn from, the decisions I’ve made. It’s imperative to look ahead with a positive outlook. It’s essential as a leader to reflect critically and use that newfound knowledge to make wiser decisions in the future. It’s never healthy to hold grudges against oneself or others, or carry over negativity from one school year to the next. Clean slates. Fresh starts. Opportunities for growth. Forgive and learn.

Admittedly, there are definite positives to completing managerial tasks over the summer. Doing so ensures you’re not missing any action in the classroom. It helps you become more prepared for the year ahead. The more things you “cross off the list” over the summer means the less time you have to devote to those tasks in the fall.

So while I accept that there are many tasks I need to complete this summer – sitting in all-day data analysis meetings, tweaking master schedules, developing an improved system of school communications, working on our elementary technology integration matrix, etc., I plan to do so from a perspective that requires me to consider, “How will this positively impact learning for my students and/or teachers?” If the answer is, “It won’t,” then, quite simply, I’m not going to do it.

Ryan Bretag shared a great piece recently called Bringing Ideas to Life. He shares that while many educators talk about the innovative and wonderful things they’re planning to do in schools, where we fall short is with the action and implementation of those goals. This summer I want to focus on making sure my actions match my shared philosophies. That the ideas we brainstormed together as a faculty this year are brought to fruition. With each summer brings amazing opportunities for learning. People to meet. Books to read. Ideas to share.

I’m going to fill the empty. But only with the good stuff.