Today, as with most days, I was going to spend a few moments browsing through my RSS Reader as T settled in for some colouring and hot chocolate. I usually begin the day by picking few that I can highlight and get back to reading later. It’s kind of a routine. T, my 4 year old, settles in for some iPad time or colouring or both. It’s about 30 minutes.
When I start to get a bit comfortable with how things are going, I remember this quote:
The difference between a rut and a grave is the depth. Gerald Burrill
The reason is that it’s so easy to move from routine to rut to, well, maybe not a grave but something that keeps us from venturing beyond. So what does my RSS Reader have to do with this? Well, I’d usually begin the process of browsing. Instead of going through the RSS feed, I mixed it up and went to Pocket and began to look around. No apparent reason other than there was an email about “What’s new for You?” Well, what is new for me?
Look What I Found!
This is where I came across this great post about Meaningful Work by Paul Jarvis. Jarvis discusses being an entrepreneur and working on his own – “innovating, hacking, making something new.” This statement resonated with me. I read the article, in some places reread. And then, instead of moving on, I stopped. It had me. It connected with my thoughts about teacher growth – professional development. Connections…..
First, it speaks directly to staying out of the rut! Or seeking new ways of looking at what is around you and being willing to ask questions and a risk or two. As an educational leader, we’re always surrounded by new ways of looking at things – ask the students, that will get you out of a rut! Ask the teachers and see what they have to say. Get parent input. Use the ideas to take a risk. Some will pan out and some won’t. As Jarvis points out, don’t think of them as risks but as experiments.
I do this because experiments don’t fail, they simply show results. Sometimes those results are great and point you in the direction for bigger and better things. Sometimes they just show you what idea isn’t worth pursuing.
The second reason I liked that line – “innovating, hacking, making something new.” – is because it’s what teachers need to do in their classrooms. They need to see themselves as “innovating, hacking and making something new” in their work. Instead of closing their doors and toiling away, they need to step out, sharing what they are doing and connecting with other educators. Administrators and other supervisors need to move away from the top-down view and instead work on a more parallel perspective, with their role being to assist teachers to make their products the absolute best they can be through additional resources, support people, mentoring and connections.
Final, the statement “innovating, hacking, making something new.” is what students should be doing in their classrooms alongside the teacher. Yes they will need to learn certain “basics” as foundations. Changing the mindset of how these “basics” are measured and how they are used within the school is where this idea of “innovating, hacking, making something new.” needs to play itself out.
After reading the article, T and I moved on to, in no apparent order:
Legos, Wii, PS2, books, Youtube – TMNT, saving the world as TMNT and some excellent chocolate milk and snack. Then it was time to make lunch. I’m learning that each day doesn’t need to be completely structured and, oddly enough, I find myself being much more open to ideas for writing and thinking about things differently, slowly letting go of years of routines. A 4 year old will do that to you – and there are no ruts when you follow a 4 year old!
I read Justin Tarte’s post – I got in trouble for tweeting at work. As I read through it, I was reminded of my own experience and some of the frustrations that I have heard from others as they encounter resistance from others.
First off, being connected in this context does not mean you are tweeting all the time or hanging out or blogging but you know what all these are and actively are reading about the changes in technology, have an active awareness of the many conferences, online included, and are involved in online connections in some manner, if only through reading various posts on your SM site of choice.
Those in central office are the leaders in a school district/division and set the tone for the rest of what happens. Depending on their view of technology and being connected, others will follow suit and it will trickle done. Now, they may not be against being connected or technology and integration but if they are not actively connected, they will not fully understand it’s importance and may, inadvertently, limit connections and growth. Here’s a good article from Forbes.com about why leaders need to make the shift.
Just like websites, which eventually became “must have,” every school district will ultimately need to embrace social media. The school districts that will thrive will be the ones using social media to engage their community, and aggressively enhance and protect their reputation.
Education is much bigger than just teachers and students and educational leaders need to begin to make this shift in order to shift the conversation taking place in the public forum.
It’s important for central office personnel to be connected – so they can identify those who are innovators – tap into their passions and build opportunities for them to interact and help others to connect.
Keeping up with what is going on around us makes better leaders but it can be almost impossible . Those who can see what is happening and then, in a proactive fashion, work collaboratively with others in building and working towards a common vision will be better able to navigate through the changes that are taking place now and in the future. By connecting and sharing with other lead-learners, a principal can better serve the students, teachers, parents and larger community, not by necessarily doing more but by being able to help others to also be leaders, sharing the leadership with others all the while keeping the common vision in view. The role of the administrator is changing rapidly and the era of the lone-caped leader no longer works. It requires a total team effort and the principal needs to be able to bring the best out of others, leading and sharing the lead when required. Being connected provides an administrator with the opportunity to share ideas, struggles, fortunes and misfortunes and develop themselves as lead-learners.
Teachers have a tremendously important and demanding job – meeting the needs of the students in their classroom. It’s not just student learning needs as all teachers know that relationships with students are vital to the student learning and this means meeting those “other” needs as well. To meet the needs of the learners’, teachers can choose to work alone, seeking out help from those immediately around them or, with the ability to connect to teachers and experts all over, they can choose to work collaboratively to share their knowledge, expertise and passion. Connecting helps one to share ideas and collaborate when planning, gives one someplace to go when there is a question and provides support when there are times of struggle. This doesn’t mean they are always online. Like all things, moderation is important and balance is key.
Connected Educator Month is much more than simply one month of activities. It is capacity building. It has the ability to ignite a renewed spark and shine light anew on removing barriers and tearing down silos that bind teacher growth. Leaders welcome, encourage and recognize the knowledge, ideas, and conversations their connected educators bring to their districts and buildings. Gordon Dahlby
Being connected doesn’t mean one is always online. It means that one is aware of the many options that are available to continue one’s learning and improving oneself as a leader and teacher.
Today’s view – yep – overwhelmed!
This post is the direct result of these tweets:
Earlier in the day, I read this post by Tom Whitby – Patience for the Unconnected about being connected. All of this reminded me of the tweet I ran across earlier, with a reference to a post from Chris Betcher.
It described what he did in a 10 minute span via twitter. It’s worth a read. All this is taking place as Connected Educator Month in the US is done it’s first full week. People are looking to continue to connect but life in all it’s busy glory has come along to sideswipe their best intentions. Now, I may not be the best one to hand out advice about connecting but, hey, what the heck…. I’ve got some time on my hands now.
but before I get to the suggestions – Don’t Fret About It
Really, don’t worry about “how often” or “how much” or “I haven’t been on in …” It’s like sleep, the more you worry about why you aren’t sleeping, the less likely you are to go to sleep! You won’t solve the problem of not sleeping at 3 AM and you won’t build more connections worrying about being connected. I suggest that you take some time in the next few days to examine how you might get back. Like Chris suggests, you don’t have to be on for 3 hours a day. You don’t have to take in a chat, you don’t have to blog once a week, you don’t have to do …. anything that adds more stress to your already stressful life. Unfortunately, many of the most prolific bloggers, tweeters and connectors have worked over time to do this and have dedicated time and energy to establishing and growing their PLN. If you’re just starting, don’t worry if you miss a few days or a week or maybe two. No one knows your life circumstances nor your comfort level with sharing nor where you are in your career and life path. But you’ve decided that you want to be connected, so try a few of these ideas.
#1 – Schedule time to connect via your fav social media site – twitter, pinterest, tumblr, whatever…. schedule some time to just get back to the connections. It’s the whole planning thing that Covey discusses – you may need to plan the connections. Yeah, it will seem a bit “forced” at first – like going out on “couple dates” with your spouse for the first time (that’s another whole book!) but over time, you begin to look forward to them and then, low and behold, you soon are seeing that you can make that connection in so many ways – not just on date night.
#2 – Build you PLN with a variety of people – some you know will give you some great ideas and suggestions and stories, some you’re not sure about and some that have nothing to do with education but with other interests. Now, for twitter there is this nice easy guide to twitter from edudemic which will help. But whatever your SM of choice, take some time and select a few people and check out their followers and add a few of them to yours. But don’t just follow people who think like you – that leads to “group think” which can be hazardous to innovation, new ideas and deep reflection caused by someone questioning. People on my list includeC Smith M Smith, David Truss, and TJShay, who share a great deal and who have been there for some good discussions. Some of my new friends – like M Wren, T Whitford, R Bretag, J Stortz , and C Rhymer .
#3 – Check out some of the places where other educators are hanging out – not just twitter. Being connected means so much more than having a twitter account. It’s about developing a series of relationships with people that will push you and support you. A few good places to look are:
Fireside Learning- a ning that supports teachers through discussions and interactions
Teacher 2.0 – run by Steve Hargadon – a great resource for getting connected.
Lead Learner 2.0 – my own ning – a gathering place for administrators and others in lead positions
Future of Education – a site dedicated to discussion concerning the future of education
Google+ – this is a great place if you are more interested in groups and longer conversations. There are all sorts of groups you can join, discussions you can join and blogs you can read.
Diigo – a site where you can save bookmarks, join discussion groups and share information.
There are a great many such sites and all of them have great discussions. The point is, find one and get acquainted. Follow the conversations and what is happening. Trying to be in too many places at once just frustrates you and will eventually burn you out or make you feel like you’re spinning your wheels.
#4 – Find a productivity tool that will help you to schedule some writing and manage your ideas. I use Evernote coupled with the app awesomenote (ipad/iphone) for this. What I did when I was busy was, when I got an idea, I’d quickly jot myself a note with afew details in my “Idea” notebook. When I had some time and felt like writing, I’ve go through these and reflect on the ideas. If you are wanting to build up your blogging, this is a good way to help yourself gather ideas. This, and reading a few select blogs, will help you to identify some common themes and ideas that you can write about besides how busy you are and how you want to be connected. And now, with Postach.io, you can blog right from your Evernote account! Cool huh!
#5 – Read blogs – but be selective. I’d start with information from Edudemic, Edutopia and ASCD and a few of the people from your PLN. Depending on your tastes, you can eventually move to having a Reader to help you manage what you are reading but to start, I’d use something like Pocket or Pearltrees to save interesting posts for you to read later.
But I’m Just Overwhelmed right now……
This will happen and it’s okay. Really, it is. You’re not a failure because you really don’t get twitter right off the start and you don’t see why anyone would blog – or has the time to do either. I often wondered over time if some of the people who blog and tweet and other connected stuff had jobs and families, whether they taught or coached or had families that were going all over the place. I quit wondering because it didn’t matter. In the end, I’m connected but I cannot keep the highspeed pace all the time and my goal isn’t to earn a living through building up my PLN so I can do presentations and such – yet😉 In fact, there were weeks when I didn’t look at anything online because the crisis in my own world were big enough and my family and other commitments were getting all the extra time I had left. It happens – it depends on your where you are in your life/career. Some people don’t have much extra time after teaching and family commitments. There are all kinds of reasons – it’s okay. Really it is. If you are trying to build your PLN and are looking at such things as Pinterest, twitter, plurk and other forms of Social Media, it will come. Life won’t always be this crazy.
Being connected does open many opportunities to learn and share. It provides each person with as much or as little interaction as they want and can handle. Unfortunately, like all things, things like twitter and Pinterest aren’t for everyone but that doesn’t mean you still can’t be connected through online articles and sites, reading and investigating what is happening in educational theory and practice. What it really means is that you take that step outside your classroom, outside your school and your district/division and begin to explore and learn. Things are changing and to ignore that is no longer a viable option for anyone, teachers included. It means venturing out and exploring and seeing what others are doing and saying. If you want to talk about it, just drop me a note. I’d gladly discuss how I might be able to help you. I have some time right now!
#SAVMP – School Admin Virtual Mentor Program is a program initiated by George Couros. Basically it establishes a mentor with a number of newer administrators but without the traditional geographic boundaries.
This was a comment I made on the #satchatwc a while back. It’s had a few retweets and some comments. This past Saturday morning, I joined in the first #edcampHOME hosted as an edcamp event but online. As I’ve processed this event and what took place, there are a few take aways for me and then a reflection.
1. Eliminate “PD”
PD needs to be eliminated from our discussion about teachers’ learning. Although it is professional development, it has become associated to something that is “done” to teachers instead of a self-motivated improvement where you get some type of certificate at the end instead of the internal motivation to be better at what you do. Because we learn all the time, we need to tap into the natural learning process of adults instead of the imposed learning from experts.
2. Professional Learning Year-round
Learning, which most teachers know, isn’t limited to “days” or “events”. Instead, it is something that is continuous – sometimes situational – and is personal. It needs to part of a Professional Learning Plan which the teacher creates, reflects upon and continues in a continuous cycle of learning, reflecting and refining.
3. Learning is not a solitary act
Learning is social – Lev Vygotsky and John Dewey introduced this to us a long time ago. For too long, teachers have been isolated in their practice and, for the most part, in their learning. Social media platforms such as twitter and Pinterest have begun to change this. The decision by teachers to share their work through blogging, podcasts and gathering platforms like Google Hangouts, has begun to change the nature of how teachers’ view their practice and profession. This ability to share is at the heart of what teachers do – share their love of learning.
4. Learning requires time
This is where I will probably enter a slippery slope but …. twitter is not a PD event! It’s the beginning of a conversation but it’s the continued learning that takes place afterwards – the sharing, conversations, reflecting, writing, planning, implementing, using, coaching, …. that is the development part. Learning and practice with no game-day experience is just speculation. It’s the sharing and conversations that take place between all those involved that is development – the books that are shared, the discussions about the books that scaffold to new ideas which lead to new ways of looking at things which lead to progress which leads to the change of practice in a classroom for a teacher – and that is why the learning that teachers do is not a PD event – ever!
5. It isn’t PLN platform specific
Yes being part of a twitter PLN is a great thing but it isn’t the only platform – the landscape is ever changing ever more rapidly and to limit the interactions of “great” to one is, well, just inaccurate. It also is a bit telling of how we want to talk about being open to change but, really, are kind of set in our ways. Like the death of Google Reader shouldn’t have really been an event because of the number of alternatives and the ease of shifting – but it was change. It’s leaving the safety of the known for something less proven or even the unknown that puts people off. Change isn’t a big deal – unless we make it a big deal. The death of GR would have passed with little notice had it not been for those set in their ways. There are teachers with whom I have worked that don’t tweet at all, they pin. And pin and pin and pin. In fact, they have developed a PLN that focuses on the sharing they do via Pinterest. And it’s just a viable and credible for learning as those who use microblogging platforms like twitter or plurk but I have heard the whole idea of sharing via Pinterest to be seen as “second-rate” sharing. Really? Now we rank the sharing we do? It’s time we validate what people do, commend them and listen to their stories and share in their excitement instead of the nose-snubbing response.
Too often, those who have reached “rock star” status tend to set the trends which, unfortunately, those who follow tend to continue. The #edcampHOME event was a divergent trail, even from the traditional edcamps and should push our thinking and learning about our need for conferences, or at least, our reliance on them as gathering events. It allows the “experts” of teaching – those in schools and classrooms who are learning and sharing – to come together regardless of distance or time of year or finances – to begin those conversations that will continue each person’s learning. It brought together a great many teachers and other people in education to share and learn when they would have not been able to have such face-to-face encounters.
(An aside to this – there seemed to be many of those participating who had already been to f2f conferences or who were then going to f2f conferences which makes me wonder about the learning cycle – where is the time for reflection and refinement? Are teachers become “tool technique” gatherers, moving from workshop to workshop in order to gather tools/apps to use in the classroom as an end? As an administrator, I want to know how this or that tool is better for “what we do for students” and not that it is “cool and will streamline my ability to handle the dissemination of information to students in a timely and proficient manner.”
However, this isn’t the first time educators have gathered via the internet far from one another to share and learn. Many of us have done this in numerous other events- for a number of years – seeking to improve what we have been doing – sort of Outliers. This time there was a Tipping Point – a large enough group who saw it as a viable and acceptable way to share their learning and were wiling to step out of their comfort zones to give it a try. However, this is a natural progression as the idea of professional learning evolves from that of development to that of continuous learning and improvement through the social platforms that are available and the idea that learning isn’t an event to be graded or scored or give us a reward.
Finally, learning is “cool” even for a teacher!
This post is coming from that feeling one sometimes gets when one knows that something just has to happen. It’s all kind of names – guiding voice, spirit, … – something I’ve been listening more go lately because, really, following my head hasn’t really been working all that well. It is a bit rambling – rabbit trails of thought that have need to run.
This summer will be one like I’ve never experienced. For the first time in 42 years, since I began kindergarten, I will not be heading back to school or into an educational facility of some sort, either as a learner or a lead-learner, at its end. As I’ve contemplated this over the past few weeks and begun to look outside of eduction for some inspiration and some direction, I’ve been “exposed” to some interesting ideas and “endured” some interesting feedback which I’m still processing. One of the things I’ve contemplating/struggling with is whether I continue to pursue something in education or whether I go explore something else, something that might be completely unrelated to education. As I struggle through this period – anger, sadness, discomfort, self-loathing – I question how, after all this time, I reached this point. How, after pursuing learning my entire life, traveling across the Atlantic to attend a symposium before anyone did such things never mind doing my Masters all online when it was at its infancy, I end up looking to find myself here.
Could it be that not only is the system flawed for our children, but is it also flawed for those who work inside? Those of us who, as I was once called by a Director, are “lose cannons”, who see how things could be so different, who want to bring about change, who desperately want to share our ideas, insights and understandings but aren’t provided opportunity. Who, after years of seeking avenues now find ourselves extremely frustrated to the point we begin to look outside.
And it’s not just within the physical buildings but, as educators have begun to explore and expand into social media, the same thing happens. The “Echo Chamber” becomes one where similar ideas are tossed around and clicks form. Sometimes it’s like being Perceval Jr. in Athur Slades tribes. In a place where people constantly are advocating sharing and being part of the conversation, it happens way to often. It’s like being that kid who can’t go to summer camp or can’t get the new shoes or whose family doesn’t have quite the right lineage, or the teacher who can’t go to conferences because of a lack of money, or family commitments or ….., but who wants to join in the discussion – after a while, it becomes demoralizing. You’ll never be “In” and, really, with the pace of change that is happening, there are other ways to spend time to stay up on the latest.
I hear way to often, “more teachers should….” and “why aren’t more teachers using ….” – well some of them have come with an interest and desire to want to learn but weren’t heard. Others came and didn’t like the finger wagging and preachy style of the presentation. Others came but couldn’t join the “inside conversation and jokes” and weren’t really impressed with the conversation which wasn’t really with other teachers but people who like to tell teachers what they, and education, need to do to change. I hear how people need to share and anyone who doesn’t is “wrong” but why scream into the raging storm – no one hears you anyway!
The past three years I’ve often thought “well, I’d share more but there isn’t the time – I teach.” As an administrator, I taught one class everyday. I tried my darn best to make it to classrooms each day, to see what students were doing, to visit with teachers but I couldn’t always. I’d slip online at night, late, to read about how a 21stC administrator should be doing things or read how someone’s idea of what a 21st C leader should be doing and think “What’s the use?” And it’s the honest truth. I look at the teachers with whom I’ve spent the last 3 years, opening a new school, combining two schools into one, building a new culture, building community connections, fostering a dialogue with parents about learning and think “there’s no more time to do anything else” and then we start a snack program, a quilting club starts up, we host a Coffee House for one of our students with cancer and …. sometimes there isn’t the luxury of time to share. I spent free time removing graffiti from lockers and making sure teachers were supported – and I know I’m not the only person who feels this way – there’s at least 4 others!
It’s funny, but I hesitate to share this knowing that people will take exception to some of the things – and really, over the past 8 years of rebuilding the schools where I’ve been, I get enough negative feedback. There have been enough “Educational Thinkers” these past few years and not nearly enough doers. Talking about changing ways and mind sets and ways of doing is easy – sometimes too easy – actually having crucial conversations about students, teaching strategies, PLC’s, RtI, PBIS, digital device usage, grading practices, planning practices, classroom management practices is tough. Just as tough is moving a culture of negativity and bullying to one of success and acceptance. Doing it in three years, after moving two schools together – our success story.
Today we have too many talkers who gather to slap one another’s backs who have little actual understanding of what it takes to actually make it happen. To make a bit of an analogy – I’ve been in the delivery room for all 8 deliveries of my children and been through 3 miscarriages with my wife. I I have NO CLUE what it’s like to be pregnant or give birth although I’ve lived through this more than most men I know. Watching, talking, documenting, asking questions, watching is NOT the same as doing. There are way too many armchair quarterbacks in education who, if put in the real game, have only vague recollections of football games misremembered from their youth.
That is why such things as the mentor/mentee idea that George Courso has is so great. It brings together administrators from around the globe to help one another. That’s why I believe that sites like Ed Administrator2.0 are so crucial – they provide an opportunity for educational leaders a forum to discuss and share their ideas in a similar way that teachers can at such sites as Teacher2.0, Fireside Learning and Classroom2.0 are critical for teachers and such things as twitter chats (list of chats and times from Jerry Blumengarten’s blog – schedule) are so important as teachers and administrators begin to make connections and talk. Many teachers say the same thing – “we don’t need anyone else to tell us what to do – we need time to share and do what WE know and time to learn together to improve the learning in OUR school” It’s not about more conferences or more experts – it’s about giving teachers time to network and learn together, go back to their rooms and try, reflect on what was successful and what wasn’t and learn from that. It’s not about this program or that program but the relationships with the people in the building – you can’t build that at conferences or all day away PD because its about EVERYONE in the building not just the “Rock Stars” but also the reluctant readers!
What started out as kind of an Eeyore post, kind of like the Saskatchewan Roughriders started the game tonight, is really about the great playing the whole game – making adjustments at halftime and playing a strong game with all members of the team contributing. Yes, there are the marquee players but there are they will tell you that it takes a whole team to win a game just like it takes a whole staff to educate the students in the school and the support of the parents – providing feedback is crucial to building a successful team. And sometimes, you have to know when to step aside and let someone else lead while you take on a different role.
I’m still trying to find my place.
Telling – Why not?
Smoking – We all know it’s bad for your health, is linked to cancer and is the root cause of many other physical problems. Yet people continue to smoke, we continue to sell tobacco products and our youth continue to be swayed to using them. Why? In the 21st century with so much advancement, why does this continue? Why can’t everyone just quit?
As someone who smoked for years, quitting smoking was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I didn’t do it on the first try, in fact it took many years to go from wanting to doing and finally being able to state that I had quit. I still get cravings and I’ve needed to change my lifestyle so as to avoid being in certain situations where I willpower just won’t work. It was a very HUGE difference between saying “I’m quitting” and actually doing it. People who have never smoked don’t understand. Bill Engvel, an American comedian, talks about quitting smoking and how hard it is. Getting advice from non-smokers who’d tell him to “just quit! Why can’t you just quit?” And it’s true, people who have never smoked will give all kinds of advice on how to quit, bombard you with all sorts of health information, which makes you feel even worse – sometimes like a complete failure. Someone who has smoked isn’t as quick to offer advice and will be more willing to offer support if asked but they aren’t as full of the “I know how” advice or the “you’re an educated adult, what’s wrong with you?” tone.
What does smoking have to do with technology integration?. For one, it’s kind of hard to sneak around the corner to “integrate”! How they are the same is that many people will tell you that’s it’s easy or that you should be doing it or how you should do it or why you should do it and provide you with all sorts of data – making you feel like that failure as their finger-wagging tone continues the “What’s wrong with you?'” But, they’ve never really done it. They’ve never looked at year/lesson plans and tried to imagine how they might integrate technology. They’ve not had to assess or evaluate students in order to provide a “mark”. They’ve not had to look at the long term of how does this fit into where I am now and what I do everyday. They might have classroom experience or put together a lesson or two but not the day-in day-out year-long experience.
They can tell you you should do it, that it can’t be that hard and will provide you all kinds of stats/articles/data about why, as a teacher, you should be doing it. They’ll throw out phrases that will include “21st Century Skills, digital citizenship, digital natives” and others. Some will be able to point you to teachers who “didn’t know a thing about technology but are doing it” just like there are some smokers who quit, first time, no problems. Well, for the rest, it wasn’t so easy.
As you move to integrate technology, you might want to think of these things along the way – they’re things I’ve learned from experience in my classroom:
1. Decide why you are doing this and make a plan. Base your decision on learning not because you think you should or someone says you should. Cool might look “fun” but focus on the learning that will be taking place and how it will become part of the strategies you use in class and how might you assess the learning. I use tools like MindMeister and Gliffy to do brainstorming – sometimes. For some of the work, they are the best option for getting students involved and helping them to make connections between parts. They’re relatively easy to use. Now, there are other options like Popplet, text2mind and Mind42. This year I’ll also be looking at aMap and wikimindmap in some of my classes and I might even give Pinterest a go. Now, I’ll look at them but I won’t force them to fit and if I can’t use them, that’s okay. We’re way past the “wow” factor – our time is too precious.
2. Find your support people are and USE THEM. Teaching is not a solitary endeavour. Although there are a great number of resources that show you how, having someone to go to for support is essential for success. Whether it’s IT support or planning support or assessment support or delivery support, you need to have someone who can give you a hand. In the division where I teach, we have different people who support me in each of the above areas but because they are a distance away, it is important to find someone within the building or within you PLN that you can look to for assistance and help. This is where those connections via twitter or Classroom2.0 or Ed Administrators2.0 help.
3. Be prepared for setbacks. It will happen and there will be times when things don’t work out. Instead of tossing in the towel, getting down on yourself and forgetting it – reflect on what happened. That is why it’s important to plan – so you can assess for yourself and then make adjustments. Make notes of what went well and what you need to do to be successful.
4. Allow the students to guide some of what happens. You don’t have to control the whole process. In fact, it’s better if you build in various opportunities for their own exploration and sharing. Build the capacity of the room – make learning, not control, the focus of what is going on.
5. Have a backup option. I’ve been using technology in my classes since the mid 90’s – wikis and the LMS HotChalk since 2006 or so and have found out through experience that I always need to have an option that will allow us to continue to learn even if the internet is down or the system is buggy or ….. I’ve amassed a pretty good collection of items, articles, pictures that provide alternatives if things are working. Now, having more students BTOT, I rely on them to provide a buffer if our school system isn’t working. Heck, I’ve created my own hotspot to allow students to work. But you need to think about these types of things and have alternatives. Having 26 grade 1’s all being frustrated because “It won’t work” can lead to great issues.
6. You need to lead with your strengths. I’m really good at the big picture – putting things out there so students/staff can see the parts fitting together. I’m not as good going from parts to whole – so I use my strengths and look for someone who can support me in areas where I’m not as strong. As an administrator, I have staff who have strengths which I encourage them to use and develop. When I first began teaching, I wasn’t very good but I was surrounded by a whole team of great teachers, each with their strengths. I visited them, watched them, had them help me, give me ideas and suggestions. I focused on making improvements while still using my strengths.
Telling and Doing are not the same
I’ve noticed that people who have quit smoking aren’t the first to offer you advice. In fact, they usually only offer suggestions or ideas because they know that whatever you do, it won’t be easy. They listen to what you have to say – will tell you a story or two of their failures before they were successful. I know very few people, actually only 2, who were successful the first time and did it with no plan. It’s kind of like that with technology integration – people who are successful usually have many setbacks, have learned from their mistakes and will share but will do so through stories which will usually include a failure or two.
Then there are the “Tellers” – they’re experience is vicarious – they’ve talked to all sorts of people who have done it but they really haven’t had the experience themselves – they don’t know what it’s actually like to have those successes – they just tell you that they will come. They’ve never been in a room with 29 grade 7’s when the computers aren’t working and things are going south fast – the panic as you realize your plan isn’t working, the sinking sense of failure, the “what do I do now panic” that sets in. They’ve heard about it, maybe even seen it but working through it and learning from it and watching or hearing about it are two different things.
So, as you begin to make plans, looking for tools to use – I like the site http://www.go2web20.net which has all sorts of sites that give you many different options that are searchable by tags – remember that you aren’t alone – you have supports around you and you need to use them. There will be setbacks but it’s only a failure if you don’t learn from it and move forward. You don’t have to control everything – it’s about learning and not control. Use your strengths – we all have them. Give yourself time – you are making changes in “teachingstyle” much as I did with having to make adjustments in lifestyle. One of them was exercising – I still remember my first “run” walking to the end of the block and back. Don’t compare yourself to what others are doing.
Isn’t it becoming a bit redundant to say “21 century” already. I mean, 10 years ago it sounded so “new” and almost futuristic. Today, it’s starting to sound like someone hasn’t quite figured out where they’re living. This is especially true of education where we tend specialize in acronyms and titles.
21st Century Learning/ 21st Century Skills
Do we need to be reminded what century we’re in? The students and parents know what century it is and the rest of the world seems to have figured it out. Why does education seem to be the last place where we have to be reminded we’re in the 21st century. I mean it’s kind of a marketing ploy – “We’re teaching our students 21st Century skills” still has a ring of “Wow” to it. The reality is that there are quite a few different visions of what that really means – from testing to technology – which usually brings about a great discussion. So let’s pause for just a moment of reflection….
The skills people need today are somewhat similar to skills that people had in previous generations – collaboration, cooperation, problem solving skills (real-world or maybe non-real world), creativity and an ability to use information in a new an unique manner. Much the same set of skills people who first came to NA had to have to trek across the land with no maps, build houses and towns in the middle of nowhere with basic tools, help one another survey in a climate and landscape they were not use to and build two nations that have become leaders in the world. If you take a look at the skills needed to accomplish all that in a few hundred years, the skills our students need are very similar. Granted they may be doing this in a different manner, across the globe using different technologies but these “21st Century Skills” aren’t much different than the skills that the pioneers possessed. It might be we’ve let some of these skills lapse since then but do we have to look at them as some new set of skills that we haven’t seen before? It’s much like the catch phrases “Web 2.0 and Digital natives/immigrants (look at the problems that’s created!)” which all have finally dropped out of use because we don’t need them. We really need to move past this naming thing. It gets in the way of getting things done because we spend so much time defining the label and figuring out what it means.
LEARNING AND SKILLS
Instead of naming our learning and skills, lets focus on creating situations where students can build skills and encounter learning that will motivate them and assist them to follow their passions, build community and solve problems regardless of what century they’re in or what world they are on! We need to spend less time “naming” and more time “getting things done”. Our students would be better of for it.
Having been around twitter and SM for quite awhile, I’ve noticed a shift in content of what people are writing about and the proliferation of “quotable quotes” that seem to fill space. Now, I don’t often write/blog as I find there are other ways to connect and share. (I do have some thoughts on that but they’ll have to wait for another post!) but I figured this might be worth a mention.
Slogans and Quotes Don’t Make Change
I’ve read, heard, listened to a fair number of inspirational speakers, keynotes, bloggers, “the progressive minority” and others. Lately they all seem to be dealing out some “tweetable” quotes which has me wondering if too much is focused on nailing the “tweetable quote” and less is about actual substance. Don’t get me wrong, having your quote tweeted, retweeted and reretweeted is really great. But what we do each day in schools isn’t about quotable tweets – it’s about changing lives. Visions, Missions and Values might guide us but actions and relationships are what make us. Now, if what someone says inspires you to begin changing and helps with motivation, then use it. The hard work of change and helping others change isn’t about the quote – it’s about the person.
Connections Help to Motivate – Relationships Haul You Through
I’ve a few thousand connections – not nearly as many as the “Big Guys” but enough to know that being connected allows one to learn and expand. Connections allow for exchange of information, links, ideas and discussion. However, it’s relationships that really move the rock. These can be online or f2f or somewhere in the middle – but they’re more than just connections/linkages. A connection can bring me a new idea or help to clarify something or…. but a relationship to go with that connection solidifies whatever it is into something tangible between me and someone else. And it’s those relationships that will work through the rocky and “less than your best” days and share and celebrate with you on those “wow, this rocked” days.
Too often, as people try to build a following or whatever their reason, they focus on the quotable quotes and the list of things to do and blogs about generic leadership or what I call the “love, trust and pixie dust” elements of leading. To make real changes requires so much more – and in education today, to create lasting change, relationships need to be the foundation of where things begin.
Experience Matters – (to me anyway)
Too often I read administrative advice being provided by someone with little or no school administration experience. In fact, there are many who are providing advice with a little actual classroom experience. They use these slogans and generic subjects to expound great wisdom in such a way that you can’t really argue with them – who doesn’t want what’s best for students? Who doesn’t think that technology is important? Who wouldn’t want to have students be more creative, think deeper and create their own unique responses. Who?
From my experience – as an administrator, father, husband – you cannot expound wisdom without experience. Look at being a spouse or parent? You knew it all right from the getgo and there was no learning needed, right? WRONG. Not only did you not know it all but how many times did you want to read that manual again? Being a parent of 8 children – 4 girls and 4 boys aged 3 yrs to 20 yrs – I still don’t know it all and have made it a kind of unwritten rule to not provide parenting advice – even when asked sometimes – because it will come back to haunt me. You can try to “pass on your wisdom” and – if generic and “love, trust and pixie dust” feeling enough, people will eat it up. But, in the day-to-day comings and goings of the lives of children, schools and teachers, lack of experience can bring tragic problems. As a young “go getem” administrator, I stuck my feet in my mouth so many times I could see me shoe size on my tongue. Since that time, I’ve learned that slogans, new fads and “quotable quotes” don’t get things done, people do. But it is you, as an administrator, others look to for leadership. If you don’t provide it, they will find someone who will – slogan or no slogan. Given enough time, people will see that you don’t have the tools or skills or anything more than your slogan or “great ideas and sayings” to lead them through tough times – and they will look for another leader. Unless, of course, you only stick around for a short time – leaving before you really need to lead.
Slogans motivate people – great leaders use them all the time. But they don’t keep people motivated – people’s actions and the relationships do that. People who speak with a lack of experience in these areas but expound wisdom about knowing what it takes to lead are those I stay away from. They give great keynotes – but that isn’t going to help the students in school – they aren’t there to hear it. So, do the people to whom you listen speak with authority from experience or from a “what I’ve seen and heard from others” experience? Because you know what they say about gossip……
Today, I was involved in a chat on Twitter. It’s nothing new, I join them all the time but it became clear to me that not everyone who follows you or is on twitter understands the breadth and depth of conversations that take place since not everyone is at the same stage in its use or in following chats, the experience differs.
During the #edchat this morning, I was responding to a comment that went something like “In my experience, there have been more average or poor admins than great ones” – my paraphrase. My response to this was “that’s too bad. Being in Ed for 20, I’ve exp more consultants who think they know about teaching but haven’t a true understanding” My point was that making generalizations about different partners in education doesn’t add to the discussion – in fact it adds to separation and fracturing that is already taking place. Now, my experience isn’t universal but I have worked in 9 schools with hundreds of teachers and a great deal of consultants. It’s a generalization based on my PD experiences where consultants are brought in and, the term has morphed over time and now includes many who work with teachers within school divisions/districts.
A response I received read “oh so harsh :-(” Well, it wasn’t meant to be harsh just as I don’t believe that the first comment was meant to be harsh. Both, I believe, are reflections of experiences.
As an administrator who has been working to develop and grow for my whole time in education, well maybe except for the first 4 or 5 years when I was just trying to survive, I find it quite difficult to continually hear from people about the bad/poor/mediocre administrators that seem to abound everywhere, except those who are on SM sites. Are there poor administrators? Yes. But, as I continually try to point out to people, telling them they suck doesn’t make them want to listen. To drop in on conversation after conversation after chat after chat and continually hear about the sordid state of administration in schools doesn’t make me think people who might be “lurking” want to look at taking on the challenge. Just as there are many teachers who need to improve, there are many administrators who need to improve and there are many consultants who need to improve. Each is part of a team and being good at one does not mean that a person will be good at another. Not all great players make great coaches. There are different skills that are required. Because I both teach and am an administrator, I’m reminded of this. Having authority won’t help you if you aren’t engaging students – just as having technology won’t. Good teaching needs to come first!
Back to the Comment!
The comment I received makes me wonder if the person took a look at the hashtag to see the conversation or, did they just take my comment without the context? Like listening in at the water cooler but not hearing the full conversation then taking that snippet as the whole conversation.
So, in response to this, I offered this follow up “look at the #edchat conversation from this morning. Not ALL consultants just like not ALL administrators or ALL teachers.”
“yes I would imagine that generalizations are troublesome.”
“absolutely – we are moving away from doing such things to students – its just not fair to anyone.”
The best leaders, teachers or otherwise, I have met or read about or listened to have been those who are sincerely humble. They understand the influence they have and realize that what they say will be taken to heart by many who listen. They have a vision that influences others so they want to work with them. They realize they do not possess all the knowledge or tools or skills and seek out others who do. They listen but, when necessary, are willing to make difficult decisions. People often confuse popularity or power or money or the person who continually makes the most noise and moves their agenda along with someone who is a good leader. They might be but it’s good leaders can be found without these. As a young administrator, I use to think I had the answers to change things – only to realize that pure energy and shear will isn’t enough and, without being able to humbly accept that I am only as good of a leader as I am able to follow, I won’t be able to make much lasting positive impact. So, in trying to prove a point with my original comment, I may have inadvertently created a bigger issue since the first conversation was really outside my circle of influence while the second was inside that circle and anyone who might be a consultant but who wasn’t/didn’t follow the whole conversation will most likely be offended. That’s why I really struggle with the negativity that flows out towards particular “tribes” within education – some whom are using SM and the “others” and the comments from those of “influence”. I’m not sure that if I wasn’t on the administration side of the desk I’d want to venture there now – the criticism just wouldn’t seem worth it. Being there, I know that, just like every profession where there are those who struggle, there are administrators who might not have the skills or the experience or the training or who might not be cut out to be an administrator. To continue to point and flog isn’t helping – we should know that from our work with students, especially when we continue to hear such things from people of influence. Pointing and flogging hasn’t brought about significant changes, why would we think it would now? Because we have a new social media avenue to flog and point?
There’s a Program for That
I coach senior girls basketball. There are many things that, as a coach, you can develop and work on with your players. You can’t coach height. It’s impossible. You have it, you are tall or you aren’t. Being tall doesn’t mean you’ll be good at basket ball but, if you have skills and you are blessed with height, well – you can’t coach height.
You can’t program experience. There is no way to develop experience but over time. Without that experience, you can have a great many other aspects of leadership. Experience cannot be taught or gained from a program and you won’t find it on a top 10 list or through a chat because it is gained through day-to-day interactions. If you’re an administrator, these interactions will be with the students, parents, teachers, custodians, support staff, bus drivers and community members with whom you interact. Being aware of things you pick up through your learning will help you but you can’t artificially create experience just like you can’t coach height.
Today, I was reminded of this. A simple comment – which might have a great impact. Another day of learning.
So often when we talk about schools, students, parents and teachers, we discuss things in arm-lengths type of way. We discuss how they need to have richer and more meaningful learning experiences, how we need to provide them with the opportunities to use the technological tools in authentic learning experiences. What we don’t discuss is how schools need to be places of living not just of learning. They need to be places of community where children can experience life-lessons not just academic lessons. The story that follows is about one such event that took place at our school this past year.
Tyler came to see me after basketball practice. I coach girls basketball so he had to wait until after I was done to see me. This isn’t necessarily unusual as I often have students come to see me after school, some because they want to work, some need help and some just want to be able to stay at the school for awhile longer. On this occasion, Tyler wanted to talk. He had this idea that he wanted to put on a Coffee House to raise money for Cancer. As he explained to me, he just really felt he needed to do this. His grandfather had passed away earlier in the year from cancer and he wanted to do something. He had been involved in other Coffee Houses, he played the guitar and thought it would be a great idea. We discussed times and dates. Another teacher who happens to play in a band was willing to help Tyler with setting up. A date and time was picked and the school was booked. Tyler was excited about the event which showed in his eagerness to get started on preparing. On December 8th, our school hosted the Coffee House where over $1300.00 was raised for Cancer Research.
The Rest of the Story
The story is a bit more than just the Coffee House. It’s a story about life. Tyler spent the next few weeks after our initial meeting working on the event. He put up posters around the school. He put out jars to collect money and advertise at various businesses around the town. He put up a sign-up sheet at school and began to spread the news that this was taking place. He spent a few days after school practicing, as did a number of the other students who were going to be taking part in the event. He promoted and had his friends promote. He arranged for a local band to take part.
The evening of the event, there were about 80 people in the school foyer ready to watch the different performers. In attendance was Tyler’s family, including his grandmother. This is where the real story starts. As Tyler got up and welcomed everyone, he explained that his reason for doing this was because he really needed to help others. He described how much it hurt when his grandfather had passed away, how the pain had been so great and he had hurt so much and he wanted to help others because it hurt so much. He explained that his grandparents would have been married 50 years this summer and his first song was dedicated to them as he had been practicing to play it at their anniversary. Beautiful. Powerful. Here was an 18 year old young man doing what many other adults could never do, would never do. Then, with each performer that took the stage, there was a story. One had lost a sibling, another had lost a parent and a third had recently lost a sibling. They sang and danced in remembrance. The band, which one of the staff plays in, took the stage. One of the members had recently lost their spouse. It was an incredible evening. It all happened because one young man wanted to give – give to others because of the hurt he felt. Throughout the evening, people laughed and people cried. They applauded the efforts of the performers, enjoyed coffee and dainties and shared in conversation. All because one young man wanted to give.
Schools Are Real Life
Too often I hear the phrase “Well, when they leave school and experience real life…..” In fact, school is real life. To try to explain that to anyone who isn’t in a school is difficult. Schools reflect, to some degree, the society of which they are a part. Some of the resistance to change is, in fact, a resistance of society to the changes taking place. Schools are more than just places of learning, they are places of living which are changing and evolving. For so long schools have tried to keep the changes taking place in the society from disturbing what was going on within their walls. This is no longer acceptable – our schools need to be living and growing, adapting and changing. But it’s more than just technology – it’s about all aspects of life. Too often when people discuss school reform, they focus on technology and learning but it’s so much more – it’s about life long learning. You can’t stop the rain from falling but you can use it to power your ideas and grow your dreams if you quit complaining about it falling
Tyler ended the open mic portion of the Coffee House with a classic Tom Petty song – Free Falling.
Schools are real life – real life for our children. Things may not be where we expect them to be but then again, when does life ever go according to someone’s schedule or plan. Let’s not diminish what does take place through focusing on one narrow aspect like technology. Life is so much bigger.