I Can’t Do That

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cropped-image.jpgIf you have read my blog posts or heard me present, you will know right away that I am a huge proponent of using technology in our field of education. My philosophy on its use is simple and comes down to the fact that educational technology has to improve learning and teaching.  However, as we infuse educational technology into our schools we have to deal with a generational gap when it comes to effectively using this technology. As you read this you will immediately go to that place in your mind where you rationalize that our students, who were born into this technology generation, have the upper hand and our staff, who have immigrated into it, are at a disadvantage. I am of the belief that this concept is not true. I feel both students and teachers are at a disadvantage when it comes to effectively using educational technology, and it is our responsibility, as educators, to assure that both have a comprehensive knowledge of how to properly use technology for learning and teaching.

Why would our students be at a disadvantage and not be able to use technology effectively for learning? Simply put, because the technology they use and the purposes they use it for on a daily basis have little if anything to do with education. Their daily use has everything to do with communication and socialization. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this reason but their primary use is not educationally focused. Therefore, as educators, it is our responsibility to show them, teach them, and infuse in them the power of educational technology for learning purposes. This is happening at some schools across the country but it is not the primary focus when schools and districts infuse 1 to 1, BYOD, apps, new software, and campus wide wifi. Instead we say here it is, and now go use it. But I’ve heard from students, friends of my own children, and my own children this phrase, “I can’t do that.” The “that” is use the educational technology effectively for their learning. It’s not because they don’t want to, it’s because they don’t know how.

For our teachers the problem is similar. Technology is being infused into our schools and classrooms at an expeditious rate. But how to use it, when to use it, and how to assure that its use is improving the teaching and learning are secondary issues to having the technology available. Again, I am in full agreement that we need educational technology in our schools. But even our teachers feel the stress of infusing technology and the phrase “I can’t do that” is common when trying to figure out how to balance an engaging classroom environment, new Common Core Curriculum, standardized assessments, and the infusion of technology. I don’t blame them for the stress they are feeling but I realize that it’s my responsibility to alleviate that stress and help them in the process.

The solution starts with assuring our focus is on teaching and learning, and transforming our view of educational technology as something that is added to our list of responsibilities as educators to one that its use will help us teach more effectively and our students learn in new and better ways. In the process of transforming education through these devices, apps, software, wifi, etc. we need to explain the purpose, model the use, demonstrate the power, and teach both educators and students how this technology can and should be used in educational settings. The technology is here, we just need to remember that its presence alone does not produce a better educational environment for our students and teachers. But it can and will if we put a focus back on how these amazing tools can and should be used.  My hope is that in the end we will go from “I can’t do that” to “It can do that?” to “I did that!”.

Who’s Telling Our Story?

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On October 21, 2014 I had the honor and privilege to give the keynote address at the AlaskaAlaska Principals Conference in Anchorage, Alaska. The theme of the conference was Telling Our Story and my focus was on Who’s Telling Our Story: The Use of Social Media in Education.  The conference theme was a brilliant concept because as our educational system changes it becomes vital that educators, specifically principals and district administrators, tell our educational stories. Here is a brief glimpse into some of the main points from my keynote.

Who is telling our story? The question is based on media coverage of education. It is extremely rare to see the front page, above the fold, a story about education that is positive. Our current status with respect to news stories published about education is negative and the five major online news organizations (Fox, CNN, NBC, ABC) do not have a link on their main page to educational information. This is neither negative nor conspiracy theorizing. It’s simply a fact related to the world we live in and the issues we face globally. Take a look and see for yourself. Therefore, if the press doesn’t put education on the front page of the newspaper or provide a tab on their main page, why tell our story?

This was the question I posed to my professional learning network (PLN) on Twitter prior to the keynote and here are three summarized responses:

  1. If we don’t someone else will. Well that has some validity but I think it could be rephrased to say, if we don’t no one else will. So this is a reason but not the real reason.
  2. It’s the only good press we will get. At times it may feel like this and past history of reading stories in the paper would find this to be rather accurate. But this is not the real reason.
  3. Great things happen in our schools every day. Think about that phrase. Think about your classroom(s), school, students, staff, and community. Each and every day something great happens in our schools. This is the REAL reason why we tell our educational story.

Every day in our schools there are stories of how hard work paying off. How students overcome challenges. Teachers working to make a connection with students who haven’t found their place in school. Schools providing community service in our towns and cities. Academic and athletic success as an individual, groups, and teams.  Schools and communities working together. It’s there… every day… in each of our schools and the stories deserve to be told. Not for the glory. Not to be smug. But to recognize effort, success, hard work, and the fact that great things are happening in our schools and most people have no idea it’s happening.

But how do we tell our educational story and the great things that happen every day? We do it through storytelling. But we take the modern day version of storytelling and use digital storytelling through social media. We do this because using social media to tell our educational stories of the great things happening in our schools every day provides an opportunity for our schools to:

  • Interact with our community
  • Create and share information about what’s happening in our schools
  • Engage our stakeholders and allow us to socially interact with them

One of the challenges in using social media tools for digital storytelling is to decide where to begin. As complex as this may sound, with all the different options, it’s a rather simple answer. Just pick one. Don’t get hung up on a social media app, site or program. Just pick one and begin to put up relevant content for your community and you will begin to connect, share, and collaborate with them.

So who is telling our story? We are! We are sharing the great things happening every day in your schools by using social media for digital storytelling. Your students, staff and community deserve to hear these educational stories. So give it a try and let us know how it goes.

Going Google – Part 1

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Over the next 10 months my school district is “Going Google”. I made the official announcement in my September newsletter called Spot-On so that as a school community we can prepare for the transition. Some districts have already made the transition and to them I’m sure this type of announcement is not a big deal. But to others who have never made an operating system change, including my district, the change brings on a host of feelings, concerns, nervousness, and excitement.

While planning for this transition I had a thought about dedicating one of my blog posts each month to the transition and what we are experiencing. It will be a way to provide information about what works and doesn’t work, and hopefully get suggestions from those who have made the transition. My hope is that the blog posts about our transition are a living document of how the process goes and the lessons learned. So consider this the first in 10 installments of Going Google.

Making the decision on Going Google is educationally based on creating an effective learning environment for our students and an effective instructional environment for our teachers through the integration of technology. My own educational belief system about this type of innovation was outlined in August 2012 when I posted 5 Essential Questions to Ask Before You Innovate in Your School. In it I clearly identify the importance of focusing on learning and teaching, professional development, and a timeline. So with that in mind our first steps to Going Google included:

  1. Deciding on Google Apps for Education as an operating system that would help in the students’ learning and teachers’ instruction.
  2. Developing a timeline that goes beyond the next 10 months.
  3. Identifying broad topics and integrating them into our professional development schedule each month for the next 18 months (much longer than the transition period).
  4. Identifying and connecting with outside resources that can assist in the transition from both technical and educational perspectives.
  5. Identifying a new domain name for the transition. The reason for this is to clearly identify the old system from the new system.

Going Google will be a transition down a road that at times is smooth and other times bumpy but I hope you come along on the ride with us. And while we make the transition feel free to leave comments for us to help.

Next Month – Going Google – Part 2.

The 3 C’s of Educational Leadership

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The changing face of education means there is a change in educational leadership.  To keep up with these changes, educational leaders need to engage in the 3 C’s of Educational Leadership:  Connect, Contribute, Collaborate. Each C is essential to the professional growth of educational leaders and their effectiveness in the ever changing world of education.

Connect:  To be effective as an educational leader and to stay ahead of the changes in education leaders need to connect. These connections include the obvious, other educational leaders, but also need to include teachers, educational organizations, and political leaders at the local, state and federal levels. Connections provide educational leaders a window into the experiences, successes, and challenges of others in education. As a result, the connected educator is one who is better informed and prepared for what is to come in our profession.

Contribute: Our profession has heard from the “experts” in education for a long time. Those are the people making the policies and laws, developing curricula and textbooks, and creating the professional development for the classroom, principal’s office, and district offices. However, many of these experts are not practitioners. There is a need in our profession for those in the field, in the classrooms, offices and professional development departments to contribute to education. We need real life examples of success, and, yes, failures. We need to hear from those who are living in the now and planning for the future. We need to understand how what is being done in our classrooms, schools, and school districts is creating a better learning environment for our students and helping our teachers be better educators. This can only happen if educational leaders contribute through articles in educational magazines, blog posts, tweets and professional development presentations.

Collaborate:  For far too long educational leaders have limited collaboration to those within their school districts or surrounding area. To truly be a modern day educational leader the circle of collaboration needs to expand and expand with a purpose. Collaboration is easier now because of the use of technology but it still takes effort on the part of an educational leader. Educational leaders need to collaborate on programs, technology integration, professional development, student achievement gaps, addressing poverty in education, and every other issue that affects our profession. The solutions to what ills education or slows down our efforts to modernize an outdated educational system can no longer be done through collaboration with those who are closest to us by geographic proximity. True collaboration by educational leaders, that will make a difference in our students’ ability to be successful and our teachers’ instructional skills, takes effort by educational leaders and has no bearing on geographic location, time zone, or culture.

Moving educational leadership forward requires leaders to embrace and engage in the 3 C’s of Educational Leadership. Let’s have a say in the future of our profession by connecting, contributing, and collaborating.

Digital PLC’s in 4 Steps

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During the #satchat conversation of August 23, 2014 the participants discussed Digital PLC’s. Of the six questions one was focused on the transition from physical face to face PLC’s to digital ones. During this part of the conversation I outlined four steps to the process.

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Although there are only four, each is vital and not easily mastered. But each is essential to taking our learning as educators to the next level by engaging colleagues through the use of technology.

It’s vital that we educators explore the use of digital PLC’s and the learning that can come from the connections. Personally, my own learning has expanded beyond my expectations and would not have been possible without the digital connections. 2014-08-23_0855

Step 1: Establish a positive mindset with educators who have yet to make digital connections. When we ask others to try something new, that will take time from other activities they engage in, then we should expect some reluctance. With this understanding we must establish a positive mindset with the educators we are hoping will establish a digital connection and ultimately a digital PLC. This positive mindset comes from your experiences and how digital connections and your digital PLC have helped you as a professional, made you more efficient in your educational role and ultimately more effective. The key here is how it helped you, not how it will help them. Each of us is different, we have different professional needs, different amounts of time available. Trying to fit your success into someone else’s needs will not work so the establishing a positive mindset with educators who have yet to make a digital connection needs to be centered on your success.

Step 2: Model the use of digital resources, apps, and websites. Of all four steps this is the most powerful. I talk about this all the time… model your expectations of others. What we model, how we model it and when tells the true story of what we believe in and why we do what we do. So model the digital connections and model the power of a digital PLC so others can see what you get out of these connections. Modeling the use of digital resources, apps, and websites should be a daily occurrence.

Step 3: Demonstrate the value you have found with your digital PLC in your daily educational activities. Let other educators see you in action. Our words are one thing, and they can be powerful, but our actions are the most powerful. Demonstrate something you learned directly from your digital connections and digital PLC. This opportunity to demonstrate should be clearly identified as a result of your connection with your digital PLC. Demonstrating is an opportunity that comes around periodically and is different than what you model. In this step it is clearly identifying something that has helped you and is a result of your digital PLC connections.

Step 4: Encourage others to connect and establish their own digital PLC. The key word being “encourage” in the sentence above. We can not force, dictate or mandate that others make a connection to a digital PLC. Educators must want this connection after they have experienced the first 3 steps. Encouragement means words and deeds in this step. Be a positive influence and be willing to help.

As connected educators who have a growing digital PLC we can help others through these four steps.

Leave a comment and tell other connected educators how you are encouraging the development of digital PLC’s in your educational community.

 

The Winds of Change Are Here

Being a leader in this era of educational change requires we critically look at how every aspect of education is addressed. We can no longer make grandiose assumptions that what we are doing educationally for all is actually good for the individual. Within the instructional ranks we address learning differences through differentiation. But what do we do for educators when it comes to their learning? Are we differentiating professional development? Are we helping individual educators focus on their own needs? Or, are we jamming as many of them in one room to hear a generalized message with no practical application to the classroom?

If we are truly serious about the changes that are occurring in our profession then we need to design our professional development in a way that focuses on 3 key aspects of educator learning:

1. Relevant Topics: If we want to get to the core of individual educator needs then the topics must be relevant to them. How do you do that? Ask educators what’s important to them. This means a regular in-service day that typically has about 10 to 12 activities may need double or triple the number of activities to address the needs of specific educators. But before professional development planners lose it over this statement, you need to understand that some of the most educated and informed presenters on topics relevant to your staff are actually part of your staff. Be sure to empower these experts and make them presenters.
2. Engaging and Innovative Presentations: Classroom instruction can no longer be sit and lecture for a class period. Our teachers need to develop the skills necessary to be engaging and innovative instructors. However, if their own professional development lacks any signs of engagement or innovation how can they be held to the opposite when it comes time for them to teach? Professional development for our educators needs to model what we expect them to do in the classroom. Demonstrations, modeling, and hands-on trainings will provide educators with an opportunity to see how what they are learning during a professional development session can translate into learning in their classroom the very next day.
3. Continual Learning: At the end of the standard professional development day educators will leave. The training has ended, the learning has ended, and so has most hope that what was taught today will be used tomorrow. That does not need to happen. Through a variety of social media sources the learning, discussion, and collaboration can continue long after the specific day of professional development. Effective professional development moving forward will take advantage of continual learning for educators to assure what was taught today is discussed tomorrow, and effectively implemented going forward. The day of the one and done is DONE!

Today’s educational leaders need to look critically at the professional development we are providing our educators and find ways to make it relevant, engaging and innovative, and the learning continual. How are you addressing any/all of these changes as an educational leader? Leave a comment to continue the conversation.

This is the third year I am participating in Scott McLeod’s Leadership Day and the above blog post is dedicated to his efforts on #LeadershipDay14

5 Lessons Learned from Edcamp Leadership

Edcamp Leadership

On Monday, August 4, 2014 educational leaders from 10 states and Canada came together for Edcamp Leadership in the city of brotherly love; Philadelphia. It felt like a reunion for educators who were meeting members of their professional learning network (PLN)for the first time. That sounds strange to say, that it felt like a reunion with people you never met in person, but thanks to social media connections that’s exactly what it felt like for many of us.

The day itself was filled with learning, collaboration and new connections. Here’s 5 lessons learned from Edcamp Leadership:

1. Robert Southey said, “No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other’s worth.” Edcamp Leadership proved this quote to be true as so many of us finally had an opportunity to meet other educational leaders we have grown to first respect and second consider friends through our educational connections in social media.

2. Quality professional development needs to be focused on the needs of the masses not the needs of the few. The scheduling board at an Edcamp dictates what topics are important to people and what will be learned on that day. The board is a product of the participants not the organizers of the event. Therefore, the masses dictate that which is most important to their learning. This model also assures that individual “canned” presentations focused on commercial ventures are few and far between, and are replaced by hands-on and educationally stimulating discussions.

3. Quality professional learning happens in all corners of the Edcamp event. Throughout the day educational leaders talked, discussed and debated practices, ideas, and concepts. One of the rooms was reserved specifically for a “think tank” space where anyone could come together and talk educational shop. This is a great idea but can be further advanced with specific educators being assigned and promoted as the moderator of the room.

4. Change is on the way in education. So many educators shared how they are transforming learning, teaching, and leading within their classrooms, schools, and districts. It was inspiring.

5. Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” And so in one day’s professional development that included pre-Edcamp activities, 4 sessions, a collaborative lunch, and post-Edcamp activities, I learned because I was involved. Each one of the sessions and activities included involvement, discussions, and activities that made the learning real and relevant to my role as an educational administrator. Those experiences will be taken right back to my school district for consideration.

It was an exciting and exhausting learning experience at Edcamp Leadership but it was one that involved great learning opportunities with administrators in my profession that I respect and learn from daily through social media. If you have yet to attend an Edcamp, please take advantage of the opportunity when one becomes available in your area. You will learn and get to meet the very educators who you have connected with through social media. Both the learning and connections will be of great value to you professionally.

Leaders Need to Learn Too

On Monday, August 4, 2014 educational leaders from around the United States will come together in Philadelphia for Edcamp Leadership (#edcampldr). It’s a wonderful opportunity for educational leaders to connect, collaborate and learn. Too often educational leaders preach to those in their charge about the value of professional development and the need for others to engage in it but they themselves do not do so. The opposite is true with Edcamp Leadership. Those who will attend are committed to the professional development of all educators, including themselves.

Here are 5 things all educational leaders should commit to when it comes to their own professional learning:

1. Be a role model with your own learn for those you lead. It is vital for all educators to stay current with professional development training. As educational leaders we can not promote its value if we don’t engage in the learning ourselves. By committing to being a role model for our own learning we set the example and demonstrate the value of professional development.

2. Be willing to try something new that you learned while expanding your own learning. What’s the purpose in attending professional development unless you are going to try something new? Too many times we go to professional development workshops and put the handouts in a pile that will eventually be recycled. Commit to taking something learned at a professional development training and try it in your classroom, school, or district. This helps us identify valuable professional development that is worth attending.

3. Encourage other educational leaders to engage in professional development that they would not traditionally attend. The days of large group lectures, overly slide focused PowerPoint presentations, and irrelevant professional development trainings are over. Learning opportunities similar to the Edcamp model are becoming more popular and more effective methods of learning for all educators. However, if you have never attended one then you may not “get the concept”. As an educational leader commit to taking a colleague to a professional development opportunity that has a structure or learning experience outside the comfort zone of your colleague. This is being collegial and may just open the door to new learning opportunities for that person.

4. Be an informal mentor to a tech phobic educational leader to help the educator learn the value of being a connected educator. If you are reading this post you get it; technology integration in education for learning and teaching is the present and the future. However, there is a large group of leaders who are either not using it or need some guidance on how to be more effective with the use of technology. Lend a hand, and mentor a colleague. We were once in the position of those who have yet to find value in this technology integration movement. Commit to being a resource and support for your colleague.

5. Be brave enough to submit a proposal to present at a local, state, or national conference. Then inspire the presenters. This sounds as if you will provide the learning but in reality you are doing that and learning yourself. All good presentations help the presenter learn too. But most of all, if you are committed to your own learning and the integration of technology, you will develop a presentation that engages the audience through the information you present and the technology you use. It’s a great way to demonstrate how far you have come as a learner with your own professional development.

Educational Leaders need to continue their professional development as much as the educators they lead. It’s vital to our profession and all of our professional growth. Commit to the five items above related to your own professional learning and let me know how it goes.

Twitter Chats 2.0

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An example of a Voxer Conversation  between the #satchat moderators.

An example of a Voxer Conversation between the #satchat moderators.

Since April 2012 #satchat has engaged educators from all over the world in a positive and progressive educational conversation on Saturday mornings. As one of many educational chats on Twitter, we try to make the hour of educational conversation engaging, practical and something that educators can use in their classroom or school office the next school day. But one of the issues that people have with Twitter chats is the limited characters available for a message. I addressed this concern in a February 2013 blog post called The Great 140 Character Debate. But there is some truth to this issue.

Many Twitter chats have so much information being provided, in such a short time, that educators want to look back at the conversation well after it has ended. #satchat archives the conversation and then tweets out the link to the information a few hours after the conversation ends. This tends to help those looking to catch up on what was discussed. But there is another group of educators who wish to engage in Twitter chats and want to take the conversation to the next level or a little deeper. This is where Twitter Chats 2.0 comes in. It’s an opportunity for educators who wish to take the conversation beyond the hour and continue to share information and learn from each other.

To take the Twitter chats to 2.0 #satchat will use Google Forms and Voxer. Starting on Saturday, July 12, 2014 a link to a Google form will be sent out on Twitter toward the end of the conversation. Those interested in taking the conversation deeper and through the rest of the week can sign up for the Voxer group. Brad Currie, Billy Krakower and I will be joined by the guest moderator, when we have one scheduled, or another educator who is knowledgeable on the subject, and discuss the topic in more depth throughout the week. This will give us (all educators) an opportunity to really learn from each other without the character or time limitations.

If you are not familiar with Voxer, it’s simply awesome. Voxer is like a walkie-talkie that records audio, but it also records text, pictures and links. You can Vox (I know it’s not a real word!) with one person or a group of people. I’m in a number of Voxer conversations with educators from all over the United States and the conversations have been incredible. You can contribute as much or as little as you wish and when you want. Sound familiar?

So if you like #satchat please continue to join the Global Educational Conversation each Saturday morning. But if you want to take that conversation to the next level, join us through the Voxer conversation and be part of taking Twitter Chats to 2.0.

A Message to the Class of 2014

Image credit: Openclipart.org

Image credit: Openclipart.org

At graduations across the US, year in and year, out speakers stand in front of the graduating students with one primary responsibility. That responsibility is to try to impart some words of wisdom upon the graduates that can guide them in the next phase of their lives. We do this from the perspective of life lessons learned and the old adage of been there… done that…

The speaker also does this because people in society wonder if today’s graduates can take care of us in the future and if those graduates know what is necessary to be successful in the “real world” after graduating from high school.

So as I began to think about what you need to know about what the future has to offer and what words of wisdom I could provide you to help you after graduation,  I realized it’s not what I can tell you right now that will help you after graduation. It’s what you taught us this year that tells me that you are ready for life outside of Spotswood High School.

This year you taught us 3 lessons.

The first is that HARD WORK MATTERS. On the grid-iron, soccer field, tennis courts, hardwood, wrestling mat, softball and baseball diamonds, and track you worked as a team. Some records were broken and some championships were won but more importantly your hard work and effort made you and your team the best possible.

This hard work went beyond athletics. Your hard work was evident in the fall play, spring musical, chorus and band concerts, poetry and band competitions. Again, competitions were won, trophies issued but your hard work made yourself and your peers the best possible.

Your hard work also showed in the classroom. First, you are all here today which means you have passed your classes to graduate. But you also demonstrated that your hard work paid off based on the 2 and 4 year colleges you are going to and the massive amounts of scholarships you accumulated this spring.

In all of these areas you showed us this year that HARD WORK MATTERS.

The second thing you taught us is a lesson that we hoped you did not have to teach us. But in the face of tragedy you taught us CARING AND COMPASSION. You showed this to families, friends, each other and the entire school community. You showed us how to come together in a tough situation and what it means to truly be a Spotswood Charger. Do not forget how important it is to be caring and compassionate in the best and toughest of times.

Finally, you taught us that we should not forget to HAVE FUN. From showing school spirit throughout the year, to cheering on your classmates in competitions and games, to creating the look and feel of New York City during spirit week, to demonstrating how sticky notes could be used to create a giant 2014, to filling a car full of balloons. Your genuine sense of fun showed us that you understood how to work hard and play hard. Do not lose your ability to enjoy the moment.

If you are going to be successful in life you need to know that hard work matters, you need to be caring and compassionate, and you need to take time to have fun. I can not provide you better examples of these three vital lessons than the examples you have provided us this school year.

So when society wonders if today’s graduates can take care of us and if those graduates know what is necessary to be successful in the “real world” I can say Spotswood High School’s Class of 2014 absolutely knows what it takes because they have showed us all year what hard work, caring, compassion, and fun can do for them individually, as a class and for us!

Continue to work hard, be caring and compassionate, and have some fun in all that life has to offer. Congratulations class of 2014.

NOTE: This entry is the 2nd in an annual tradition of posting the graduating speech I give to the seniors. I encourage other educators to share their speeches as a way to acknowledge the efforts and success of our students, hard work of our teachers, staff and administrators, and hopefully inspire people to action. 

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