Where’s the hype?

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user guccio@文房具社

Just a few hours ago, many of us lurked the Internets, like a bunch of goons, drooling over the prospects of Apple’s “big announcement” regarding the iPhone-5-release-but-actually-it’s-the-iPhone4S-instead-ha-we-fooled-you!-now-get-back-to-work!


What is the source of that widespread anticipation? A phone? Nah. How does Apple manage to leverage the loyalty of so many customers and fans in order to create such a buzz around a new product? A new idea?

And, more importantly: How can we create that hype in our classrooms?

I’m not talking about hype without justification, I’m talking about genuine enthusiasm about the “big reveal.” Hype surrounding what is yet to be learned… about what is yet to come… about what I have yet to discover I can understand and do.

How do our teachers help students develop a legitimate desire to learn more, do more, say more, be more? How do we encourage our teachers to design learning opportunities that leave students wanting more at the end of the school day? When parents ask, “What did you do in school today?”, don’t we want students belting out accolades about the day’s projects, debates, research, and collaborative interactions?

Yes. We want that. Right now, many of our students leave our schools empty-headed at the end of the day. They’re not pushed in their thinking. They’re not busting at the seams thinking about the next big reveal, or how they can get ahead of their learning to be the one who shouts, “Spoiler Alert!” before moving ahead with an idea before the “pacing guide” calls for it. (Did you ever witness that? When a teacher halts the class discussion because tomorrow’s concept is covered too soon? Painful.)

I don’t really have any answers for how we accomplish this, and I’m sure it’s different for every classroom and every school. I think engaging kids is #1. I think knowing how to design learning opportunities that embrace students’ passions and interests and allowing them to interact with peers within their own schools and with others around the world is key. We must allow them to use technology in order to facilitate learning experiences, and our teachers must partner with students to help support them, to challenge their assumptions, and to show them that they’re capable of greatness.

Apple disappointed many today, and while I’m not here to criticize their strategies (I love my iPhone and all things Apple), we need to instill in our organizations an intense need to bring on the hype. Get kids excited. Get teachers excited. Get parents and community members and board members excited and wanting more.

Then deliver.

Learning together.

CC licensed photo shared by A. Forgrave via Flickr

Today a team of my school’s teachers attended a workshop at our local IU called Improving Reading Comprehension (K-3), and I decided to tag along. There were several knowledgeable researchers/educators that presented ideas from the field of early literacy, and, even now just halfway through the day, I feel our team benefited from attending.

In fact, I feel we benefited more than any other team in the room.

And here’s why.

I visit the conference center many times throughout the year. I always wonder, Will I be allowed to use my laptop today? Given the history of being told to put electronic devices “away,” only to be used during formal breaks and lunch, I tweeted my angst this morning:

This directive physically aggravates and nauseates me, and one time I did go head-to-head with a presenter who asked me to leave a session on Day 2 because I used my computer too much (therefore I clearly wasn’t invested in the learning) on Day 1. Seriously?!

However, I was glad that when I arrived, most of my team of teachers were already using their laptops, ready to go for the day. Would this have been the case a few years ago? Probably not. But we’ve been working hard on trying to develop a collaborative learning environment, one where I encourage teachers to go out and find resources for use, reflect on their learning, and to share resources via Diigo or Twitter or any means necessary… so seeing this made me all warm and fuzzy inside.

Having the technology/tools available is one thing. Using them is another.

I opened Evernote to begin to take notes but realized most of my teachers don’t use this tool. Instead, I started and shared a Google doc through our school Google Apps and invited each teacher. Very quickly, we populated the doc with an outline of the day, the main components we’d be learning about, and then I sent a jovial chat to another teacher to wake her up at this early hour. The chat box quickly became a backchannel where we started a) offering critical feedback on the presentation and b) sharing ideas with one another.

Then this gem: 

In the words of Chris Wejr: “BOOM!” So we inserted a table into the doc and the resources and links spilled in as the day went on.

And it just continued in this fashion. Kelly got the ball rolling. Steffany made connections with reciprocal teaching. Margaret wanted to learn how these comprehension strategies would fit into our Daily 5 work (and was frankly a little bummed she didn’t bring her laptop today. She was always peeking over Kelly’s shoulder to read the backchannel chat!) Jena and Julie raised conversational topics in the chat box and populated the table. (Although I think maybe Julie was off-task all morning getting acquainted with her new WordPress class blog. It’s addicting! Just kidding, Julie! 🙂

Possible to get this kind of collegial interaction without social media use? Perhaps. But it would require more time…. far more time. We would have had to research resources on our own time, compile them all together using some sort of antiquated method which may or may not have included paper. Shudder. Then we would have needed to find a meeting time that suited everyone’s schedules. Sitting around a table, probably disgruntled we could be using this time for something else, we would have tried to recall the session components and bring it all together in some sort of cohesive conversation.

No thanks.

This morning I shared this piece I found through Zite involving the use of social media to enhance professional learning communities. The author shares:

A professional learning community is based upon respect, responsibility and collaboration. It reflects the need for all members of the community to view themselves as learners. This creates flexibility, openness to change and adaptability, which are definitely requirements for successfully managing the fast paced, continually changing context education exists within.

This is what we want for our teachers in our schools. How does social media facilitate the learning process among a group of learners? Social media provides

1. Time to collaborate

2. Leadership support

3. Information 

4. Ready access to colleagues

Our team’s use of a simple collaborative tool today certainly provided us with all of the above. If you’re interested in our Google doc, I can share it when we’re finished with our day. Right now it’s contained within our Google Apps domain and can’t be shared w/outside users. (Don’t get me started on that one.) Our plan is to share the doc with our colleagues following the session and then have the teachers that attended serve as resources for further discussions and learning.

Every year, schools send out pockets of teachers to workshops, to be involved in graduate programs, to engage in book study groups, etc. to enhance professional practice. If we continue to allow teachers to keep their learning to themselves, and if we are charged with leading learning initiatives and do not plan for and facilitate the vital element of social learning, we’re doing a disservice to the organization as a whole, and therefore, a disservice to our students.

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!

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!

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?

I learned to love to read.

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user alex.ragone

Sometimes we as administrators take for granted how easy it is to contact a teacher during the instructional day. Call the room. Leave a personal voicemail. Email them. Send a Skype message. While the lines of communication are open, they can also potentially interrupt instruction and learning. Flashback to the early 1980s, when I was in first grade. My teacher, Mrs. Koller, whom I adored, needed to step outside into the hallway to have a conversation with another staff member. Times were different then… no one had to arrange for coverage by a certified teacher to watch her class of  sprightly six-year-olds. We would be just fine on our own.

I can still picture very clearly in my mind where we were sitting when the other teacher popped her head in the door to get Mrs. Koller’s attention. My classmates and I were seated criss-cross-applesauce on the carpet. Mrs. Koller was seated in her rocking chair, the place from which she engaged our minds and hearts by reading aloud to us. When her colleague requested her attention, she had a variety of options. She could have had us talk quietly to our neighbors until she returned. She could have asked us to return to our seats and complete another task. She could have given us no directions and allowed the free-for-all to ensue. 🙂

Instead, she looked at the group of students seated patiently at her feet. She handed Charlotte’s Web to me, and said, “Lynmarie, I would like you to continue reading to the class. Please sit in my chair!”

My heart swelled with pride. My mind raced! Would I be fluent enough for my classmates to understand me? Would I be able to hold their attention? I pulled myself onto what felt like the world’s most distinguished chair, and confidently read the next several pages of the story to my classmates. I remember feeling so incredibly proud that she chose me for this task. Perhaps it was because I was seated near the front of the circle. Perhaps it was because she was confident in my abilities to read the text. For whatever the reason, it is one of my most cherished memories from elementary school.

She trusted me. She empowered me. She believed in me. I always loved stories, but when Mrs. Koller handed that book to me, I learned to love to read.


Thanks, @thenerdyteacher, for encouraging us to take the time to remember and share the wonderful things school has done for us!