Why are difficult conversations so difficult?

This month in Modern Learners Community our theme is difficult conversations. I don’t think anyone particularly enjoys conflict. As a new principal, I fell into the “tries to avoid conflict at all costs” style of leadership, which frankly wasn’t helpful in most situations. I learned over time and with experience that conflict could be productive. That, through relationship building, a focus on listening, and acquired mediation and people skills, difficult conversations could, indeed, have positive outcomes. And, not only that, most of the time, those difficult conversations were necessary. 

Why are difficult conversations so difficult?

They evoke feeling.

They make us question things we believe.

They strain relationships.

What makes me most uncomfortable about these difficult conversations, particularly those around topics like racism and power inherent in school systems, is that I hadn’t really been asked to confront these ideas for at least my first 15 years of serving as an educator.  Not in undergrad. Not in grad school. Not as a classroom teacher. Began to scratch the surface as a principal, but my awareness of needing to evoke difficult conversations has come as the direct result from continued connections with other educators; by reading, reflecting, and listening to those whose life experiences and needs differ from my own.

Difficult conversations are necessary. And they arise when we’re placed in a space where learning needs to occur. Don’t shy away from the conflict. Don’t turn off the conversations. Learn.


How I’m Learning Lately

Reflecting on Educon contributions from Val BrownThankful for her willingness to share the resources from Teaching Tolerance that have been instrumental in guiding our work with educators inside MLC and beyond. My biggest takeaway from her sessions that weekend were that the same provocations and strategies we should use with students to confront issues of racism and power need to be addressed with every adult leading the way. We can’t do this work if we don’t first work to acknowledge our own biases and then take action to change.

Reading Digital Minimalism and joining in Doug Belshaw’s bookclub hosted via We are Open co-op’s Slack.

Listening to the Modern Learners podcast – now available on Spotify!

Watching Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Childhood memories. Tears upon tears. Feelings and truly honestly believing Fred Rogers gets me as a human being. To him, the world’s greatest evil is “people trying to make you feel less than you are.”

“Love is at the root at everything, all learning, all relationships, love or the lack of it.”

Writing in Modern Learners Community. And writing some more.

Curating a list of must-reads for the community. What’s on your to-read list?

 

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

A commitment: Write to learn.

Educon 2011

Last night in our regular Shifting Conversations, Live! event inside Modern Learners Community (we basically join up in Zoom and have the most thought-provoking and enjoyable conversations ever!), we discussed Bruce’s latest post: It’s Time for your Professional Learning Checkup.

We talked through many of the questions that Bruce shared in his post, and we admitted quite vulnerably how we described ourselves as learners. This caused us to think more about how our students see themselves as learners and what conditions we create in our classrooms that either make them feel comfort in the learning space or that cause them to feel anxious, or could block potential learning opportunities.

Many of the participants shared the power of writing for reflection, and how important writing was to their own learning process.

And it made me think of this blog, and how infrequently I post here. And it made me sad.

I spend a lot of time writing. Every day, every week, I write.

It’s just that the writing is going elsewhere – it’s being shared in our community or to contribute to other projects and it’s not making its way into this space. The one I crafted so long ago to serve as documentation of my learnings and wonderings.

So here we are.

The takeaways from last night’s talk align nicely with my To Do list for the next two days: Attend Educon.

This will be my fourth Educon, and the first where I’m not presenting.

This year, for me, it’s about listening and learning. Questioning and looking inward. Wondering and reflecting.

And I can’t wait.

In 2011, I had the chance to sit on a panel of speakers with Will Richardson, Pam Moran, Alec Couros, Karl Fisch, and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, all about Diversifying Your Rolodex: Discussing the lack of diversity in the ed tech space. It seems like decades ago. So much learning and life experiences since then. I was honestly petrified to sit among those esteemed leaders in the education space. (And now, I get to work alongside Will Richardson. Life is good.)

In 2012, I facilitated my first session for elementary-focused audiences and reflected about the session in this space, along with so many other questions that Educon 2.4 caused me to consider.

And in 2015, Andrew Marcinek and I thought we should dive into this whole idea of the “PLN” and what it means and why it matters. And how you can continue to grow and nurture that network to help you grow and learn in diverse ways.

So after each of those experiences, I reflected, I wrote, I learned, I revised, I wrote some more. And I have those takeaways with me for always.

Look for more posts from me in the coming days as I selfishly use my Educon time to learn from voices I have not previously learned from. To hear people speak that I’ve never before heard. To push myself outside of my typical learning spaces and to find educators who will open my eyes to new perspectives and ideas.

Happy Educoning, all!

Connect to learn. Seek to understand.

I’ve advocated for educators to use social to connect, for learning, for quite some time. I do this even when my pleas have fallen on less-than-enthused ears, or when someone can’t quite comprehend the scope of how being a “connected educator” has changed who I am as a teacher, and as a leader, a thinker, a creator.

I know for sure that it has fundamentally changed me as a learner.

I’m currently teaching a graduate-level technology & communications course for aspiring principals, and networks & communities & PLNs & all the rest are part of our course explorations. My students are really stepping it up in terms of their blogging game. Would love for you to take a look and comment if you have the opportunity!  We recently reflected on Dean Shareski’s ideas around sharing and our Moral Imperative to do so as educators. See blogs by

Taylor, Steven, Laurie, Bernadette, and Ralph

 

So, yes, I feel good sharing about sharing. About making sure the educators I work and learn with can connect with others to develop supportive circles of friends and resource knowledge bases and be in touch with the latest and greatest in the world of education and educational technology and leadership.

But, you know, as much as social used to be a space where we went for inspiration, for support, and for meaningful conversations filled with constructive feedback, it’s kind of morphed into a space where I get a really icky feeling every time I’m there.

Last night I chatted with Jeff Bradbury and Sam Patterson on the Tech Educator podcast, and we talked about connected educators and learning with social and how the spaces have evolved so much since the beginning, both in good ways (many more educators participating, new tools to help us connect in different ways) and in bad ways (tendencies to stay in our bubbles, algorithms taking command of who we interact with and how, not amplifying marginalized voices, a constant stream of noise and promotion). The time spent recording our thoughts was not nearly enough to delve into all that is good and all that is broken in the world of social learning.

I don’t know if it’s the medium, or the message, or the heightened state of anxiety that exists among teachers and leaders and humans in general, but I may in fact start to steer teachers clear of open social spaces if they’re looking for genuine engagement and discourse.

I love a well-constructed, respectful conversation on Twitter. I enjoy people who post things that make me go, “Huh. I didn’t think about that perspective before.” Or, “Oh. That thing I just shared absolutely amplifies my privilege and maybe I need to think twice about what I say, how I say it, and whose voices I’m sharing.” In our quest to move Beyond the Buzzwords with our Modern Learners work, I do insert myself into chats such as #satchat pretty regularly and try to offer questions and comments that push the boundaries of what people are generally posting and thinking about some topics around “educational innovation.” But I always try to do that from a place of deep respect for the educators in this space and a genuine interest in moving the conversation forward.

There are people who enjoy sharing platitudes and pick-me-up statements via social, and I am not one of those people. There are people who love personally attacking other users, or amplifying their work just to smear it, and I hope I am not one of those people, either.

But I get why it happens.

They’ve had enough. They’ve seen enough. The levels of frustration they experience when they’re told what “good teachers” do or what “everyone” should try are beyond measure. They’re exhausted. They feel like they’re not being heard. They feel attacked.

And so what’s lacking in these spaces, and in leadership circles in general, is our inability or unwillingness to seek first to understand.

Seek to understand.

Before tweeting, before posting, before sharing…. read once. Read again. Do some background fact-checking and learn more about the person behind the account, or think about the message you wish to share and examine it from all possible angles. Where does the privilege lie? Where does the motivation come from? How might someone who isn’t in your position/race/class view this information? How can your subsequent interactions with users and content create a more robust learning space for people who are engaged? How can you amplify messages and voices that push us to be better? Better thinkers, better learners, better people?

There are alternatives to learning in open social, and more and more educators are gravitating to more clearly defined spaces that better support deep conversations around teaching and learning. They’re joining together as tribes of people who are committed to a movement. These types of communities are moderated, have clearly established norms, and they’re sometimes behind a paywall or require a subscription. But I think what people are beginning to realize is that there is incredible value in such a space, and the cost is minimal in the grand scheme of what is added to their learning, plus the fact that the platforms being used are algorithm and noise-pollution-free.

Our space is ChangeLeaders Community, and we’re growing, and it’s exciting. We need more voices, though –your voice. We need more diverse representations of leaders and learners and we hope you will consider joining us, for the betterment of the entire community.

I don’t tweet as often as I used to, and I certainly don’t blog with the regularity of my early blogging years, but these spaces are still such an important part of who I am as a learner and leader. Every day I find meaning in the interactions. I want us to commit to making these spaces the height of what we try to create

More to Explore/See/Do:

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

Tools come and go. Learning should not. And what’s a “free” edtech tool, anyway?

This guy just found out Padlet is now a paid service and spent the day recreating his walls in an analog space.

I like free things. It’s neat when I can log into a service, do my thing, get the most bang for my buck – $0 – and then continue on my day.

But I’d like to think that educators, specifically those who use educational technologies, understand that nothing is truly free.

Not even free services, not by a long shot. More on that in a bit.

There was sadness across the interwebs when Google Reader went away. Simply designed, wildly impactful Google Reader. We’d been subscribing and bundling and organizing all the feeds that mattered to us and our learning and then, they took it away.

We had to find other solutions, and frankly, nothing really came close to replicating the experience we had with Reader. At least in my experience.

But we couldn’t stop reading, subscribing, learning, and sharing, in the absence of that tool. We had to find alternatives, we had to consider: What purpose did the tool serve? How can I replicate that with another service or via other means? And why should I bother? Is it essential to my learning to have a tool like this at my disposal? Or was it an extra? Something unnecessary? Something frivolous?

People are voicing loudly their criticisms of Padlet’s decision to move to a paid service. You get to keep your current Padlets, they’re not going away, +3 on your freebie plan. Additional walls and features are something like $99/year. Steep, for sure. More info on that here.

I’ve used Padlet since it was Wallwisher. I have 30+ walls saved. I used it as recently as last month with my grad students as a break from the drudgery of Blackboard interface. I demo it at workshops. I use it to get participant feedback during conference sessions.

Sure, it sucks that I will have to explore other alternatives, but I don’t need Padlet. You might not need it either. Your students probably don’t need Padlet. 

And yet, maybe they do. Maybe you do. That’s a decision you have to make as a leader of learning, with the people in your school that support technology integration and instructional design and who write the checks. Maybe ask your students, too. What do they get out of using this tool?

We love to shout “pedagogy first, tech second” and “don’t teach your kids tools, teach them skills” and yet when an announcement like this is made, we respond with rage and, heaven forbid, a closed mindset about what this really means in the grand scheme of the most important thing that should be happening in our classrooms: Learning.

If your students can no longer learn because Padlet (or insert any formerly-free-now-paid-tool) is now inaccessible to them, then I think it would be wise to come together as instructional teams and determine what it is that they were doing with Padlet in the first place, and how that experience can be replicated in a different way, if it is something that truly helped them learn.

It’s annoying, for sure. It’s unfair to continue to ask more from teachers, specifically money, when they’re already wildly underpaid and spend hundreds of dollars on classroom essentials and building classroom libraries, but ed tech tools moving from free to paid versions isn’t the most impossible obstacle we have to overcome. We deal with far more alarming problems in our children’s lives: poverty, hunger, racism, inequitable funding for schools, lack of leadership, placing value on the wrong things (standardized tests and assessment measures), failure to have the means to support communities.

Now, back to the “free” services discussion.

When you create an account with a free service, when you offer your name, email address, demographic information, school’s name, and you do the same for your students, you’re relinquishing your – and their- privacy and personal information on a number of levels. Certainly there are privacy policies and terms of use in place for these services that you should absolutely be reading, reviewing, and deciding as a school whether or not the costs of doing business with the service are worth your exchange of information. By the way, you should be communicating all of this to parents, too, and allowing them to decide whether or not they want their children’s information submitted to each service. More on that here.

Those are the costs, for freebie services. The companies may be using your personal information elsewhere. They may be tracking your activity, logging your data, and selling it to other companies. These things happen behind the scenes, aren’t always obvious to the user, and smart people like Bill Fitzgerald and Audrey Watters and other leaders in this space are trying to keep educators more informed about this. Companies love giving free perks to teachers with the expectation that teachers will share their use of the tools with colleagues and in social spaces to help build the brand. Some consider that exploitation, other teachers are happy to do it. When it’s done with classrooms of students who don’t have say in the choice and use of tools, that might be viewed as a questionable practice. And, let us not forget the many giant companies and corporations who are funding many of these ventures, and the motivation behind these “generous” fundings. What’s in it for them?

So what should your next steps be? And prior to bringing new technologies into your schools, what should you be thinking about?

  1. Do I need this tool? Why? How does it really support learning?
  2. What are the costs, both monetary and otherwise, of using this service? Do the rewards of use outweigh the risks?
  3. Is there a paid service I could explore that will meet my needs and better protect the privacy of my information and my students’ information?
  4. How can I inform parents/community members about our use of this tool and what mechanisms are in place for parents to opt their children out of using it?
  5. When this tool and/or its plan changes, how will we adjust? What will our plans be to make seamless transitions to other tools or strategies when the inevitable happens?

Would love to hear your thoughts on this issue in the comments here!


More to Read:

Edmodo’s Tracking of Students and Teachers Revives Skepticism Surrounding ‘Free’ Edtech Tools

Education Technology and the Power of Platforms

Education Technology and the Promise of Open and Free

The ‘Price’ of Free and Freemium Edtech Products

Friends don’t let friends use Chromebooks for CoolMath.

Photo by Kaboompics // Karolina from Pexels

This post was originally posted in ChangeLeaders Community… I’m the community manager there and we love to curate, share, and discuss topics of interest in the educational leadership and innovation realm. Think you’d like to join us? (You do.) Clickity click.


Bruce (Dixon) called my attention to GoGuardian‘s recently published “research” findings about how Chromebooks are being used in classrooms. Titled The 2018 Benchmark Report: A Four Part Seriesthe company is looking to provide insights into “emerging trends” in Chromebook usage. If you are using Chromebooks in your schools or are thinking about how to approach technology integration in your organizations, do give it a look.

But read it with an open, inquisitive mind. I, for one, am still on the hunt for the actual research publication that helped generate the infographics shared on the GoGuardian site. I would love to know more about which types of schools were included in the research study (it mentions 5 million K-12 Chromebook users, but are the students enrolled in schools who pay to use GoGuardian’s services?), how the data was collected (seems to me most of it was pulled right from the tracking features included with GoGuardian), and other components of the research framework. Until I find that, I’ll have to take some of these published findings at face value.

Survey says!

Andy Losik (STEM teacher, Helpful Guy) recently blogged a reflection to these findings: An American Chromebook Crisis: new report shows sad trends of how students are using the devices.

Crisis? Clickbait for sure.

Sad trends? Perhaps.

As Andy summarizes,

In short a huge amount of Chromebook use is being spent on educationally questionable video games, low level assessments, and YouTube with the two highest trending websites for over 5,000,000 learners (after G Suite for Education) being CoolMath Games and Renaissance Learning, the parent company to Accelerated Reader and other assessments.

I totally believe this is happening. But I’m apt to believe this is a people problem, not a Chromebook problem.

Before Chromebooks were made readily available at a seemingly irresistible low price point, there were computer labs. There were PCs. There were Macbooks. There were iPads. And I’ve worked in districts that use all of these devices, and those who are 1:1 with Windows devices or with iPads are just as susceptible to this problem as Chromebook-using schools, where the devices are used as: expensive paperweights, and/or digital replacements for traditional student assignments, and/or venues through which kids use digital content providers meant to “personalize learning”, and/or a place where kids get to play games of choice as behavioral incentives, and/or only in the classrooms where teachers are comfortable with the presence of the devices, and/or only in a situation where the Haves get access and the Have Nots are at a disadvantage because they do not, and/or ways to keep kids quiet.

CoolMath, for one, a game website that a) perhaps just recently infected Missy’s computer, and b) requires little to no preparation for use in the classroom, is among the top visited sites according to the survey.

Wildly disappointing, which means the purchase of these devices is a really expensive investment in something that amounts to not much more than babysitting.

In terms of G Suite for Education use, check out this summary:

Now I don’t love the heading here, it’s a bit confusing to someone who knows Google Sites is an application in and of itself, but compared to Google Docs (which likely includes use of Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Drawings – could be for substitution-level projects, could be for more detailed creations, we don’t know), YouTube is the next most frequently visited site in the Google realm according to this survey.

That could be a red flag if students are using YouTube for basic consumption. Lots of districts run into bandwidth problems because students stream music and videos from YouTube all day while they’re working. (I stream Pandora or Spotify while I’m working, don’t you? I don’t know very many people that work and create in complete silence). Which is why a lot of schools block YouTube in its entirety.

But what we also know is that YouTube is the place to go when you want to learn something new. When you need detailed instructions on how to do something, when you want to hear from others about their own experiences. It’s a place to share learning. It’s a place to help you kickstart your own learning.

It’s one of the places you can go when your school doesn’t provide you with the resources you need to help you move forward on your own learning journey.

How are students using Chromebooks? From the report:

Let all of that sink in. How many of the above bullet points involve student creation or critical thinking? How many do you think are a result of personal learning for students? Probably not even the ones stamped PERSONALIZED CONTENT.

So, what is the real crisis?

The problem emerging with Chromebooks is that because they’re shiny and new, because they’re relatively inexpensive, because the districts next door are going “all in” with these devices, administrative teams are being influenced to take the plunge. Why invest in a few hundred Macbook Pros, for example, when we could outfit every single student with a device?! 1:1 with Chromebooks!

We will be so innovative!

There are schools whose students learn, create and share masterfully with Chromebooks. There are schools who are 1:1 with Macbooks whose students fall short of what we’d consider ideal creation and don’t really make their learning visible.

What makes the difference?

The real crisis surrounding technology integration is a leadership crisis.

It’s a vision crisis. It’s the crisis that most of our schools are built around teaching cultures, not learning cultures. It’s a lack-of-clarity crisis.

Wrong: Hmm, should we get more devices? Maybe Chromebooks. They’re on the cheap. Teachers, can you think about how these can support your instruction? Teachers, can you think about how these will allow you to deliver content? Can we think about programs we can subject students to that will allow us to more easily collect assessment data? Will our test scores go up if our kids start using these devices? How can we control what kids do on these things?

Right: What do we know about how modern learners learn most powerfully? What do we believe are important elements of a classroom experience that will help students thrive as learners? How can the use of device(s) support all students in this capacity? What types of devices will allow students to be the do-ers, the programmers, the creators? Moving forward, what’s our plan to make sure that happens? How can we foster environments where students are agents of learning, where they decide the how, when, where, what of using devices?

GoGuardian’s report doesn’t necessarily make me reconsider the use of Chromebooks in schools. It makes me even more cognizant of the fact that school leadership and technology teams need to recommit themselves to establishing purpose, defining learning in their organizations, and developing strategies and device acquisition plans that will allow students to uncover learning in this information-at-your-fingertips age. That rarely involves the purchase of one type of device and/or one type of program that will meet the needs of individual learners.

Would love to hear from you in the comments. From your perspectives, what’s working with technology integration? What’s not? Can you provide examples of how the devices are supporting powerful learning, and could you explain why you think that is?

 

P.S. In full disclosure, I am a Google for Education Certified Trainer and I do a lot of work with G Suite, Chromebooks, and learning with teachers and administrative teams across the country. But for me, as often as possible, I try to help them make sense of it all. Why do you need these devices in the first place? What can students learn with these devices at their disposal, and how will they share that learning?

Are you ready for Change, Leaders? A Community invitation.

Photo by William White via Unsplash

For the past several weeks, I’ve been working with one of the finest teams in educational leadership and innovative teaching & learning, and I’m pretty darn excited about it.

That team is Modern Learners.

If you’re not familiar with the work of Will Richardson, Bruce Dixon, and Missy Emler, be sure to visit Modern Learners now and listen to their podcasts, read the Shifting Conversations content, and get to know the lenses through which school leaders should seek to bring together shifts in beliefs and changes in practice, all influenced by the context of the world we’re living in today.

So what have we been up to? Will, Bruce, and Missy have ignited a spark in educational leaders through their work in Change.School, “a powerful 8-week online experience for educational leaders who are serious about designing and creating relevant, sustainable change in their schools and districts.” Change.School participants are serious, dedicated, innovative leaders who are looking to move their schools forward in powerful ways. As a result of the work in those cohorts, the need became apparent for a space where fellow administrative colleagues, building-level leaders, and teacher leaders could come together and delve into issues and ideas relevant for today’s school leaders.

Enter ChangeLeaders Community: 

“Where courageous educational leaders get real about learning and schooling.”

Networks are really important to me. I’m not the educator I was ten years ago, and connected learning is one of the reasons why. The ideals of connectivism really resonate with me, and I don’t think you can be a successful leader without a formidable, knowledgeable, supportive network. That being said, many educators have, in recent years, embraced the idea of developing a Personal Learning Network aka PLN, and using the connections made via social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Google+ to name a few), to support their learning and professional development. (If you are new to connected learning, be sure to read Why do I need to reinvent my PLN? and My Personal Learning Network is the most awesomest thing ever! to ground yourself as you continue navigating these waters.)

For the past two years or so, I’ve felt kind of meh about PLN-ing. Interactions from typical social spaces haven’t done much to influence my thinking and learning. There has to be more. It’s been hard for me to get excited about what I read, see, and experience in Twitter and on Facebook, even in groups dedicated to educational chit-chat.

And why is that?

Because networks are not communities, and well-crafted communities better support learning.

Networks are important, of course, because with every connection made, collective knowledge can emerge. In Network vs. Community by Clint LaLonde (2010), he shares a remark by George Siemens who attempts to distinguish between networks and communities. In short, there are more explicit norms and expectations for participation in communities. And in ChangeLeaders, we expect participation from our members and know that our community will thrive on member contributions!

Will our ChangeLeaders Community develop into a true community of practice? Our hope is, yes. A community of practice as defined by Wenger: “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” As Downes (2007) states, “Learning, in other words, occurs in communities, where the practice of learning is the participation in the community. A learning activity is, in essence, a conversation undertaken between the learner and other members of the community.”

CLC is about conversations, learning, and change.


So, here’s the thing. ChangeLeaders Community is something you subscribe to, and after your 30-day free trial ends, there’s a cost. That immediately turns some people off, and it causes others to shy away who, in my opinion, don’t stop to consider that the small expense is actually a huge investment in one’s own professional growth and learning. I use a number of free digital tools in my work and learning, but I have no problem paying for others that add value to my life. Good (usually) ain’t free.

The ChangeLeaders Facebook group was not a true learning community. It lacked versatile tools and capabilities to propel learning forward for its members. And, it seems as though every day, I see one or more of my Facebook friends jumping ship. Because Facebook. Through the ever-changing feeds and advertisements and algorithms, learning gets lost. And you’re bombarded with distractions.

CLC is a space that eliminates the clutter and allows its members to focus on the task at hand: How do I grow as a learner so I can ignite change in my organization? That can happen through the use of Mighty Networks and the continuing contributions of its members (over 300 members thus far!)

A CLC subscription is far less than a few Starbucks visits each month or a magazine subscription or the purchase of one of the latest educational fad/innovation books or a membership to a professional learning organization that you may or may not get any actual benefit from. We’re confident that through your willingness to engage in our community, you’re going to be challenged in your thinking and make real strides towards change, far more so than you could ever achieve in “free” spaces like Twitter or Facebook groups.

What will we explore in ChangeLeaders Community?

  • What learning is and what it isn’t, and the gap between what we know and believe about how we learn best and what we actually do in schools.
  • The trends, technologies, and changes happening in the world that really matter to our work in schools and that we need to understand in depth.
  • How educational leaders are building their own capacities to lead change in their communities.
  • What reimagined, modern practice in schools looks and feels like.

ChangeLeaders Community offers

  • a space where you can find signal among the noise – carefully curated content in a dynamic interface that fully engages participants and acknowledges the importance of their contributions in this space
  • jargon-free, buzzword-free, platitude-free discussions focused on change
  • critical friends who will challenge your thinking and support your change efforts
  • contributions not only by community members, but also by Will Richardson & Bruce Dixon in their Shifting Conversations posts
  • frequent, live collaborative sessions via Zoom, during which members can come together, build relationships, and tackle difficult change issues (Monday, October 23, 8 PM ET- you won’t want to miss “ChangeLeadership: Laying the Foundations for Creating Relevant, Sustainable Change in Schools” led by Will & Bruce!
  • the opportunity to reflect on practice, set goals and develop artifacts demonstrating professional growth, all while supported by a group of critical friends and colleagues
  • perhaps even a bit of fun!?

We hope you will courageously join us, we really do. But if you don’t, no matter which networks you frequent and spaces you visit, be sure to participate. Give back. Often. Because as Siemens says,

Being connected, without creating and contributing, is a self-focused, self-centered state. I’ve ranted about this before, but there is never a good time to be a lurker. Lurking=taking. The concept of legitimate peripheral participation sounds very nice, but is actually negative. Even when we are newcomers in a network or community, we should be creating and sharing our growing understanding.

Welcome to Change, Leaders! Let’s create some change.

-Lyn Hilt, ChangeLeaders Community Manager

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

Lee Campbell

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

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

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

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

How will you say yes this year? 

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

The Longest Shortest Time

Contrafabulists 

The Creative Classroom

ReLearning

Elise Gets Crafty

Google Teacher Tribe

The 10-Minute Teacher Show

IDEO Futures

 

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

Thoughts on professional learning.

Philadelphia School District Headquarters via Flicker by It’s Our City cc-by-2.0

I’ve written about professional learning aka “PD” more often than not in this space. It’s something I truly enjoy facilitating and I’ve created and shared professional learning opportunities through my role as principal, instructional coach, and now as consultant. Some were great, and some not so great.

This post is going to be short and sweet (I say that, and then 10,000 words later, TLDR), but I just wanted to take the time to commend the current group of School District of Philadelphia teachers who are working towards earning their Google for Education Certified Educator Level 1 status. We have spent six hours a day for the past three days together, (one more to go!) in a room with no windows, exploring G Suite for Education. The teachers who are attending our “bootcamp” offered through Kiker Learning are spending their summer vacation days learning and learning some more. They’re not getting paid, but through their time and dedication, could possibly earn Level 1 certification at the end of the bootcamp with a successful exam performance.

I can tell that this week has been the first tried-and-true experience with G Suite for many of the teachers in my group. I know others are already proficient with the basics and could have probably passed the Level 1 exam on day 1 or 2.

Here’s the great thing about this group that I noticed almost immediately – they’re willing to do the work. 

I tell my workshop participants at the start that I have provided a variety of digital materials (tutorials, examples of the apps in action, etc.) and that if I am reviewing or demoing something they already know how to do, they should take it upon themselves to explore what matters most to them. 

I say that every time, to every group.  But this group has been more self-directed than most.

If we are practicing formulas and sorting and chart creation in Google Sheets, when I glance around the room, I can tell which teachers are already proficient spreadsheet users, because they’re doing something else. They’re not on Facebook. They’re not online shopping. They’re browsing through the digital resources provided, looking for a challenge, previewing content and apps they haven’t yet explored in depth.

They’re owning their learning. They’re tinkering. They’re creating.

There’s no consequence for these teachers if they don’t pass the exam. They can take it again 14 days later, and hopefully, with additional preparation, earn a passing score. But if they don’t, it won’t impact their job status. It might hurt their ego, but in the end, no Google Educator label is going to make a difference in the day-to-day work they do with their kids.

Even if every single one of the teachers in my group doesn’t pass the exam (that will never happen!), I wanted to share how much of an impact this group made on me.

For their willingness to ask questions. To ask me to slow down. To ask me to repeat concepts. To ask me to demonstrate.

To sit side-by-side with peers, to teach! To lead! For the very best kind of busy conversations that as a teacher, I hate to interrupt because “we have to cover the content!” Knife to the heart.

To laugh. We laugh and we find joy in our work. Teachers are developing relationships with one another, with peers who they’ve never met before this week. They’re thinking through the work they’re doing, and how it applies to their roles in the classroom, and theyre getting excited about the possibilities.

Sometimes, we encounter an app or service whose features have been limited by district constraints. This isn’t unusual in a school setting. This group simply rolls with it. They think about how they can embrace constraints and still do the work. They rarely complain, or badmouth kids, or colleagues, or administration.

They do the work.

I am compelled to blog about this group because I have worked with many many teacher and admin groups throughout my tenure as “connected educator” and consultant, but for some reason, this group is magical. It makes me smile. These teachers make the commute into the city a mere annoyance, and the consecutive days away from my kiddos more bearable,  and I look forward to my continued work with them.

If you are in my bootcamp class, and you are reading this post, I am very proud of you! You inspired me to be a better teacher. I hope that through our work together, you can achieve much success in whatever area of Google for Education you choose to focus. An exam score doesn’t define you. Your actions, your relationships with students, and your attitudes shape you into the exceptional educators you are.

It has been an honor and a pleasure working with you.

Blogging with buddies! #ETCoaches

Earlier this year I participated in a few #EdublogsClub blogging challenges to help make writing in this space more of a consistent habit.  I’ve also recently signed on to be part of #ETCoaches Blogging Buddies. What I love about this initiative is that willing edubloggers have been placed in groups with other bloggers looking to form collegial relationships around their blogging efforts.

What I remember most about blogging “back in the day” is that there were many readers: educators of all kind, including classroom teachers, technology specialists, and principals, who flocked to Twitter each week to share and comment on one another’s thoughts. Most of this was shared via the #cpchat and #edchat hashtags. Comment threads were a mile long. We faithfully organized and checked our Google Reader feeds and reading and commenting was part of our daily routines.

Why blog? Cory Doctorow, 2002:

Blogging begets blogging. I blog because I’m in the business of locating and connecting interesting things. Operating a popular blog gives people an incentive to approach me with interesting things of their own devising or discovery, for inclusion on Boing Boing. The more I blog, the more of these things I get, as other infovores toss choice morsels over my transom. The feedback loop continues on Boing Boing’s message boards, where experts and amateurs debate and discuss the stories I’ve posted, providing depth and context for free, fixing the most interesting aspects of the most interesting subjects even more prominently in my foremind.

Over time those to read lists of RSS feeds became long and tangled and messy and we didn’t pay enough attention to what was being shared, how it was applicable to our roles and schools, and it became more and more difficult to keep up.

The digital spaces that educators flock to today are very different than those from the early days of “connected educators.” There are so many more voices, and diverse perspectives present that were not well-represented before. This is good. But what it requires is a consistent and pervasive effort to think critically, time manage, publish, and give back in order to read and use what’s being shared in digital spaces in constructive ways.

This is easier said than done. Depending on your role, your life, and responsibilities outside of education, you perhaps don’t have time to compose and post to a blog regularly, let alone dedicate time to reading and commenting. My blogging life is very different now than it was before I had kids. Priorities shift and time spent online diminishes (for good reason!) and I consider myself lucky when I stumble upon a gem of a blog post that is worth sharing via Twitter or when I read one that truly moves me enough to sit down and concentrate and compose and share a comment.

The Blogging Buddies guidelines are simple:

  • Blog at least once per month.
  • Offer feedback in the form of blog comments to all others in your group on at least one of their posts per month.
  • Practice best digital citizenship. Discourse is encouraged, rudeness is not allowed. It is okay to disagree with one another (how else will we grow?), but this should ultimately be an encouraging experience. If you find yourself getting heated on any particular topic, remember the LARA method- Listen (or read, in our case), Affirm, Respond, Add.

Check out the links below to visit the blogs of the buddies in my group! I’m sure they’d love to hear from you. Also be sure to follow the blogging buddies list on Twitter to read the latest and greatest from a dedicated group of blogging professionals.

Robin – Pence Passion

Susan – Susan Zanti’s Blog

Rachel – Tech from the Trenches

Erin – Reflections in Tech

What have you been reading? What have you been writing? It’s not too late to join #ETCoaches Blogging Buddies!

I see teachers who…

In my consulting role I have the opportunity to work with teams of teachers, administrators, and on occasion push into classrooms to work with students. Recently I’ve been working with K-2 teachers and students who are learning to craft digital stories on the iPad, using apps such as Book Creator, Scribble Press, GarageBand and iMovie. This initiative came about as the result of an eventual shift in curriculum away from an adopted (textbook/series-based) literacy program to one that is more project-based and technology-infused. A grant was written to obtain the iPads and to fulfill the grant, teachers are working with students to publish a variety of digital storytelling projects that demonstrate their creativity and ideas learned.

Each class has achieved a different level of proficiency using the apps and story publication. This is due to the varying age level and developmental level of students, for sure, but it’s also due to the mindset and willingness of the teacher to embrace this initiative and the resources she has been given.

So what did I see, and what have I seen through both my district coaching and principal roles,  in classrooms where technology use has been embraced?

I see teachers as learners. I see teachers who:

  • Make the time. They examine what they’re currently doing: the books they’re reading, the activities and projects students are completing, and they think: how can technology enhance and transform these projects? How can we change what we’re doing instead of add on one more thing? 
  • Have routines and procedures in place, especially for collaborative projects and times when teamwork is expected. Student roles are established and clearly defined. Management is evident, which in turn leads to students being able to lead, learn, resolve conflicts, and create in an environment with fewer distractions.
  • Plan. Anyone who has ever tried to incorporate technology meaningfully into the classroom and who has tried to “wing it” knows it can be less than successful. Know the purpose. Use with intent. (And perhaps your students will unveil a purpose you perhaps never before considered…)
  • Model. These teachers get hands on. They create! They’re not afraid to tinker, not only during their own professional learning sessions, but in front of a student audience, allowing them to observe what it’s like to try something new.
  • Have high expectations for project performance. In my digital storytelling workshops I emphasize the importance of students making meaning, not just making media. Bernajean Porter is a key resource for anyone looking to ensure meaningful content and idea development through digital project work!
  • Learn alongside students. It’s so encouraging as a coach to see a teacher who sits down with a student or a group of students and taps, swipes, creates, questions, and troubleshoots alongside his little learners.
  • Showcase student work. One teacher in particular was so enthused with her students’ creations and couldn’t wait to have them share their projects with me. These teachers find a way to make sure their student voices are heard. Publishing to an authentic audience is a great way to do so. In addition, they utilized the sharing features from each app to publish to Google Drive and share with parents and families via links. Another group’s publications will be shared with local pediatricians’ offices as waiting room reading material!
  • Embrace the noise. Learning is messy. Collaboration can be loud. Conflict resolution is a pretty intense process that rarely involves whispering. Movement to different learning spaces throughout the day is not the quietest of activities. Find ways to help your students thrive in the busiest of environments.
  • Ask for help and actively seek out resources to learn more. Not every teacher I’ve worked with in a coaching capacity is comfortable asking for help. They’re very fixed in their methods and they have a very narrow focus: teach the written curriculum, the way it has traditionally been taught. When a teacher (or principal or coach) asks for help and embarks on a journey to learn more, see more, do more, think differently… kids win.

What am I missing? What do you see when working with innovative teachers and learners?