A Super Day

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UPDATE: Due to interest we will start #ASuperDay on February 18th and run a second on March 18th. Hope you can join!

Great things happen in our classrooms, schools, and school districts. Each day teachers and students come together to teacher and learn. Building principals and ASuperDaysubject supervisors lead instruction, professional development trainings and building level activities. Office personnel, custodial and maintenance staff, classroom aides, and educational support personnel provide valued services and support to the facilities and educational organization. Classrooms, schools, school districts, and those who work in them are part of a complex educational system that has more things going on in a day than can be explained.

But over the last few years, as a connected educator through Twitter and other social media resources, I have read and viewed posts, blogs, and videos about the activities that happen in this complex educational system. I’ve also seen educators in classrooms and school offices describe what their days are like, what they do in a given day, and the activities they participate in based on their responsibilities in a school district. These windows into the life of a principal, teacher, or supervisor are enlightening, engaging, and positive examples of the great things happening in education today.

But friends and people outside of education often ask me, as a Superintendent of Schools, what  I do each day. They want to know what life is like as a Superintendent and the things that make up a “regular” day. Then, recently, I followed tweets from principals using #APrincipalDay. It was fascinating and wonderful to read what principals across the country were doing on this one day. Following the hashtag brought me back to my days as an elementary principal. But more importantly, the day highlighted the important things principals do during their daily routine as the educational leaders of their buildings.

That was the “ah-ha” moment for me. Why not have a similar day with Superintendents from around the country tweeting about their day, their activities, and experiences with a common hashtag. But what should we call the day? That’s when I reached out to Michael Lubelfeld (@mikelubelfeld) and Nick Polyak (@npolyak), two fellow connected educators and Superintendents, about the concept. I threw out a few hashtag ideas, but the one I thought would be best was #ASuperDay. Think about it, great things happen each day in our schools and Superintendents are part of those great things as the educational leaders of their school districts. Therefore, these days are Super Days!

So if you want to share what a day in the life of a School Superintendent is like join Mike, Nick and me on both February 18, 2015 and March 18, 2015 for the first ever #ASuperDay. Share your experiences, your activities and the great things happening in your school districts.

If you can join, leave your name, title, school district and state in the comments section of this post. I look forward to reading about your #ASuperDay.

One Hope

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The New Year brings anticipation, excitement, and hope for people around the World. Education should be no different. Even after a few tough years with how the educational profession has been perceived and the difficult debates on how learning should be evaluated, there is always room for hope. With that in mind I posted a tweet on December 31, 2014 asking members of my Professional Learning Network (PLN) to respond to this:

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Over the course of the next 24 hours there were numerous tweets from educators using the hashtag and identifying their educational hopes for 2015. To me it’s important to have hope for what a new year can bring and I looked for the responses from my PLN as validation for my belief in hope. Here are some of the responses that demonstrate the true anticipation, excitement, and hope for education in 2015.

A number of tweets centered on what should always be our primary focus, our students:

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Some other tweets were reflective:

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Other tweets brought hope for teachers and educational leadership:

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Then others discussed hope for education overall:

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What these and the dozens of other tweets validate for me is that a new year brings new hope and if we work together, focus on what is important in education, and advocate for our students, our classrooms, our schools, and our profession, then 2015 will shape up to be an amazing year. It can be a year where real change in education occurs. This change can be in how students learn, what they use to learn, how teachers continue to create engaging and effective learning environments, how educational leaders demonstrate the commitment to new learning methods in their schools, how those who make educational decisions do so for the betterment of all in our community, and how the negative perceptions of education are transformed into collaborative efforts. Those are not only my hopes but they will be my efforts for 2015. What are yours?

If you haven’t tweeted your #EdHope2015 yet, please do so or leave a comment below for others to read. I hope 2015 is everything you hope it will be!

Going Google – Part III

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December was a very busy month in Spotswood’s transition to Google Apps for Education. It was the month where the planning started to transform to learning. Here’s what the month brought:YouTube-banner2

  1. Our Google Apps for Education accounts started rolling out to administrators and staff in central office. It will roll out to all staff in January.
  2. Our first training on Going Google took place. I presented and answered questions for about an hour to about 70 or so staff members. The sole purpose of this presentation was on symbol recognition and the fact that what we are currently doing with the operating system in place will also be able to be done with Google Apps for Education.
  3. Our Spotswood PD Academy YouTube Channel was established. Its current focus is on our Going Google efforts but it will be used by our well established and outstanding PD Academy for other trainings. Just a little side note; the PD Academy was established long before I became Superintendent. Actually, it was established 2 Superintendents-a-go and has been a consistent, effective, and engaging way to provide professional development to our staff. The offerings are great, instruction by staff excellent, and participation, which is voluntary, amazing. The YouTube channel will have training videos and other information on Going Google for staff to watch when available. Here is the link to the YouTube Channel. It’s my first attempt so be kind!
  4. One of our teachers created a brand for the YouTube channel (see image above) and now it gives us a positive presence for our Going Google efforts.
  5. Our Pilot teams were developed and rolled out. Information on those teams was included in my December Spot-On to staff. This monthly newsletter, which you can see by clicking on the link in the previous sentence, also included information about how staff can find training resources.
  6. We added to our Going Goggle page on our district website.

December was very busy with Going Google but the months ahead are going to be busier. In the process the training, videos, blog posts, and resources will be developed and presented by staff. It’s an exciting time and a great collaborative learning experience for all of us. Going Google Part IV next month!

Going Google – Part II

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In my first post on the transition my school district is experiencing as part of       Going Google,  I explained that I will write a post monthly to discuss the events and activities that will lead us to being a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) school district. This month focused on establishing a rationale, discussing training and getting organized.

Since the last post, I sent out two monthly newsletters to my district. In October’s Spot-On I provided the rationale for our transition to Google. After having a discussion on the rationale with my central office administrators they suggested the concepts we were discussing be put in writing so everyone could read and understand the reasons for this transition. So as part of my monthly message I explained the educational reasons for the transition. In addition, the newsletter included videos and articles on GAFE. The November Spot-On included more videos and articles on going Google as well as the timeline of events for staff to train for the transition. In addition, a link in my message gave staff an opportunity to sign up for the first Google Training as part of our monthly PD Academy. This training will be done by our Director of Technology and Integration Eric Sheninger.  Eric’s responsibilities will be to train staff for the transition and assist students and staff in their transition to more technology integration in the classroom. Having a specific person whose responsibility is to bridge the specific needs of the Technology (hardware and software) Department and Curriculum and Instruction Department is essential to helping in the overall transition to technology.

In addition we have:

  • Officially changed our domain for the transition from Spotswood.k12.nj.us to Going_Googlespsd.us in an effort to clearly separate the two systems.
  • Begun discussion with our leadership team on how our school district will change with the infusion of more technology and the use of GAFE
  • Started accepting volunteers for the pilot program in January
  • Established training topics going forward
  • Set up our Going Google link for staff on our website
  • Made changes on the technology end to begin accessing GAFE in the next month

Our Going Google transition in well on its way. We are approaching this transition from programmatic, structural, organizational, and most importantly, educational perspectives. Next month we identify the group that will pilot the transition and much more.

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

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