Creating More Lollipop Moments

This video from TEDx Toronto has really been resonating with me lately. It has me thinking about the kinds of learning experiences we create for our students. The relationships we build with our students. And also the learning experiences we create for teachers and the necessity of strong relationships there too. The video is about 6 minutes. It’s worth that watch. I’ve got some more thoughts on the other side.

Yes, You’re a Leader

Stop thinking that you don’t have something to share. That you don’t have insight to offer into making education better; whether that be at the district or school level. Or that no one can learn from you. We’re all leaders when it comes to the business of making teaching and learning better for our students. To existing district and school leaders: are you tapping into the full potential of the leaders you have around you every day? Are you giving opportunity to the people within your organization develop their leadership capacity?

So, what might this look like? It could look like sharing at a faculty meeting, joining in a chat on Twitter to share your expertise, joining a Google Hangout, joining a Google+ community, leading a conversation at an edcamp, or writing a blog post. Some are more comfortable with certain mediums than others. We need to be ok with this and allow it to count as professional growth.

Spreading the Love

Who makes your life better? Who makes you a better teacher? There’s no denying the power of words. No matter how they’re delivered to us. Sean Williams and I had a brief discussion about this on Twitter the other night:

You will never know all the people you have impacted in your lifetime. Chances are good someone has impacted you in some way. Have you taken the time to tell them?

Change the World

We have all experienced our own “lollipop” moments. We all have likely even been the creator of some whether we remember it or not. The power of sharing these moments with those that gave them to us I truly believe has the ability to change the world. It comes down to letting people know they matter. I think about this all the time when I think about the wonderful people I’ve become connected to in online and offline spaces. It regularly blows me away! I am working on being better about telling people who 1) I am thankful for them and 2) that they’re having a huge impact because of what they’re doing and in turn sharing about it, and 3) that I really appreciate it.

Think about the collective power that’s out there already. Now think about if we worked more to tell people they matter, tap into their genius, and help them find the best outlet to share it. Just imagine what could happen!

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One Device to Rule Them All

We see posts all the time that tote one device’s superiority over another. Things like, “Why the _______ is the clear winner in K-12 education” or “The _____ is now in ___ percent of all classrooms in America”. You know what I’m talking about. It’s no secret that there’s competition among companies to have their device most widely adopted. Who wouldn’t want their device to be the device of choice for K-12 school districts? Do you have a favorite device nearby right now? Do I have my favorite device(s)? Sure I do. If you follow me on Twitter or heard me on the Two Guys Show or Dads in Ed recently, you know what a couple of my favorite devices are.

'life-toolbox--richardstep-unleash-your-strengths' photo (c) 2012, Richard Stephenson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

There’s an array of reasons why a district might choose one device over another. Cost likely being the biggest factor. Sometimes it just comes down to what you can afford and what you can’t. School districts have to also look at things like infrastructure, device management, tech support, etc.  There’s a lot to take into consideration.

However, this poses the question: do we give students a say on which device(s) they’d prefer to use? Are we actively seeking their opinion and input on which device(s) should be made available to them? Too many times this does not happen. Perhaps we are purchasing too many of one particular device and not enough of another? Do devices need to vary along a student’s K-12 education years? I think they do. I raised this point during last night’s #edchat. Districts and schools must be ready, willing, and able to support multiple device types; whether that be school provided or through a BYOD plan.  I believe the more devices students have exposure to the better. Do they need to be using all of them all the time? Of course not. Should a district buy an exorbitant amount of devices? No. As students use different types of devices, however, they will know which is most suitable for the task at hand. This is, of course, going to happen over time. Through careful decision-making, increasing teacher comfort level, and changing pedagogy through models like SAMR (Kathy Schrock has great information here) and T-PACK (Steven Anderson put together some great information here).

Trying to find one device that will be THE device students will ever need is like saying the only tool a handyman will ever need is a screwdriver. If we want students to be creators, publishers, and global contributors we shouldn’t limit them to only one platform. Something suitable for a primary grade student isn’t necessarily suitable for an 8th grader. We must be ready; and okay with this.

Thanks for reading. I welcome your comments.


Make Time to Celebrate the (not so) Small Stuff

This video just came out on YouTube yesterday and it’s quickly going viral. I heard about it on my local radio station and The Today Show gave it a mention this morning too.  Give it a watch first then I’ll share some thoughts on the other side.

That’s your feel good video for the week right there isn’t it? The Dad’s reaction, and his son’s excitement to share with his dad, is priceless. If you don’t know the back story (and I don’t know many details) the boy had majorly struggled in Math for a long time. As in, he was failing and success in Math was looking bleak. I don’t know what steps the boy and his dad took to be successful at Math but he brought home a C (or at least a passing grade) and the son getting to share his great news with his Dad is what was captured on video.

Based on Dad’s reaction, I’d say this was a monumental accomplishment in this student’s school journey. What a sense of accomplishment the student must have felt! Dad did such a great job at what I can only assume was the beginning of a major celebration.  This was a milestone for this young man. I hope his teacher made a point to celebrate with him just as vibrantly.

My last post I shared some thoughts about how movement; no matter how small, always matters.  It likely wasn’t an A or B that this young man brought home to share with Dad, but it was movement in the right direction. It was a major victory for him. Dad didn’t say, “That’s all you could do?” or just give a “Keep up the good work” and a pat on the back. Dad made this a huge deal; a reason for celebration.

I think this is something we need to make the time to do more for our struggling students, not just for our students who success in school comes naturally. We want all students to be successful in everything they do. In school and in life. That’s our ultimate goal for them right?  I believe that a crucial part of that journey means to help them feel success as much as possible while they’re with us, no matter how small it may appear from the outside.


Leaders to Learn From

Cross-posted at SmartBlog on Education.

Last month, I received the great honor of being recognized by Education Week magazine and the U.S. Department of Education as a 2013 “Leader to Learn From”. It was a tremendous honor to receive special recognition from Assistant Secretary of Education Deb Delisle and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The other 15 leaders receiving the recognition came from all around the country and the type of school systems represented was very diverse.

It was great to connect with these other educational leaders in the short amount of time we had together in Washington, D.C. We are making sure to continue to stay connected to learn from each other as we all recognize the variety of strengths we bring to the table. However, this got me thinking: if you’re a connected educator, a lifelong learner, striving to constantly be better no matter by what means, you are a leader to learn from. You have a lot to offer us. We need you.

If you’re a teacher that’s helping fellow teachers to grow professionally, you are a leader to learn from.

If you’re modeling productive, positive, and creative technology use for your students, you are a leader to learn from.

If you’re a principal that is modeling what it’s like to first and foremost be a learner, you are a leader to learn from.

If you’re tapping into the power of social media for collaboration and communication, you are a leader to learn from.

If you’re a district level leader that has a vision for the ways that teaching and learning are changing, you are a leader to learn from.

If you’re a parent that offers unconditional support to your child, your child’s school and teachers, you are a leader to learn from.

If you’re a district that’s putting more technology in students’ hands to make its use more seamless in day-to-day teaching and learning, you are a leader to learn from.

This can easily go on and on. Sure, the 15 of us mentioned above received special recognition (and many others do all the time), but it’s making me more thankful than I already was for the thousands of leaders I have to learn from. Those of you that I have become connected with over the last several years. Those of you whom I have come to call my friends. I appreciate your constant offering of your knowledge and expertise to myself and so many others.

I would encourage you to share in the comments section on what you think makes someone a leader to learn from.


Literacy Worth Investing In

'Clock' photo (c) 2005, Simon Shek - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Cross-posted at SmartBlog on Education

Learning isn’t analog any more

When I think of analog learning, I think of something static. I think of content that doesn’t change and is quickly outdated. I think of a textbook that I can’t interact with. Would you agree? If so, what do you think our students think? Is this normal to them? Do we want it to be normal to them? Do they have a say?

Learning opportunities that exist today are far from analog. The evidence of content is in abundance. That doesn’t mean we just send our students freely to the web without important conversations about things like proper digital behavior and critical consumption. This cannot be treated as a skill that we have students pick up in 8th grade from a particular course. How to deal with the flood of information and tools available to our students must become a literacy. We have a responsibility to our students. If we claim to be doing what’s best for students, yet we keep our resources and methods in the 20th century, our students are losing out.

We. Need. A. Plan.

Getting our students to a place of digital literacy begins with us. It’s a matter of modeling what we expect. It’s a matter of teaching the way we would want to be taught today if we were students in our classrooms. We must make this literacy a priority for teachers before we can expect to get our students there. Teachers: this isn’t meant to be seen as “one more thing”.  Your students want you to go with them on this journey. Let them help. Let them teach you. Grow together. Leaders: it’s not a matter of finding the time for your teachers to learn; it’s a matter of making the time.

This is why a plan is important when beginning to venture into these new horizons of literacy. We have national standards for administrators, teachers, and students to help guide us in our journey to increase our digital literacy. Be sure to check out the Essential Conditions too. All are great places to start.

Does every teacher, student, and administrator need to have X, Y, and Z mastered straight away or even by the end of one school year? I don’t think so. What we expose our students to; learning that fosters creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking provides them continual experiences for them to build on year after year.

For example, In my district, our department is working closely with our Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Instruction to plan out a year-long professional development plan to our elementary principals. Using the NETS-A as a guide, we’ve created learning opportunities that allow administrators to experience new tools, ideas, and resources they can take back and use with their teachers (modeling), which will (hopefully) have a trickle down effect. Teachers will become interested and want to learn more, which leads to teachers using said ideas and resources with students which leads to students being exposed to new tools and resources to foster the “C’s” mentioned earlier. Teaching and learning is happening in new and different ways. It’s an exciting plan to be part of and our team can’t wait to see what happens next.

Making a move from the “analog” is an important step. One that’s hard to make by oneself. Planning and support is essential. Stick with it and don’t look back. You can only get better.

Thanks for reading.


Connecting the dots

'Dotted Perspective Vector Background' photo (c) 2011, Vectorportal - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

So, I’ve been trying to find the right words to express some thoughts I have about being a connected educator. We’ve got just under a week left in Connected Educator Month and I wanted to make a contribution because becoming a connected educator in various online spaces has had profound impact on my professional and personal life for nearly 4 years now (come October).

While I (and as many others have shared) get tremendous benefit to being connected every single day from Twitter, Google+, Google Reader, etc., there’s a benefit to being connected that allows me to help others. I get to help people connect dots. It’s helping others become more connected. It’s connecting the connected I suppose.

This looks like me seeing someone pose a question like, “Does anyone have any ideas for how I can make communication better between school and home?”. While I don’t have direct experience with this, I might reply to them saying, “Have you talked to @Joe_Mazza?”. I know that Joe has implemented many new and innovative ways he reaches out to parents to bridge the gap between school and home. I make sure that person knows Joe and reaches out to him because I know Joe is always willing to help.

Here are some other topic/subject specific connected educators that are great to learn from and are always willing to help:

Erin Klein – elementary education
Stephanie Madlinger – professional development
Bob Dillon – secondary administrator
Pernille Ripp – elementary education
Tim Gwynn – elementary tech facilitator
Chris Betcher – Google Certified Teacher
Amanda Dykes – secondary science teacher
Dave Guymon – 6th grade teacher
Scott Newcomb – mobile learning devices
Jill Bromenschenkel – ELL
Lisa Dabbs – new teacher mentoring
Jason Markey – high school principal, 1:1 initiatives

This of course is in no way an exhaustive list. There’s no ranking here. This is a handful of people I know and what they specialize in. You know folks like this too. Once we become connected educators, do we have a responsibility to help others connect? I think we do. If you’re connected and see someone needing help (whether they’re a brand new connected educator or not), I urge you to help connect some dots from time to time. Not just during August, but making it part of your commitment to being a connected educator.

If you know me, you know I love helping people and sharing the awesome things happening in districts, schools, and classrooms all over the world. I know many of you share my desire to help, whether directly or indirectly. The more connected we become, the more people we know, the more ideas we get, the more we can become better at what we do to make learning better for students.


What matters in teacher professional development?

Cross posted at the SMARTBlog on Education.

What’s been your most valuable PD experience? Come on, there’s got to be one! I want you to think about what made it meaningful for you. The time where you left feeling excited to try something new and jump in feet first. You felt like you were ready to conquer the world and couldn’t hardly wait to impart this new practice/knowledge to your students.

Was it one thing? A combination of things? Was it the facilitator? Another attendee you connected with?

While I haven’t been facilitating PD for teachers for very long (coming up on 9 years), I believe there are some factors that make professional development work well and help teachers leave feeling successful. I’ve encapsulated them within three things, in no particular order.

Choice

Everybody likes choices right? Aren’t we keeping to a pretty narrow-minded view of learning if it’s only presented in a “one means to an end” fashion? Teachers need choices about what they’re interested in, passionate about, and what matches their readiness level.

These choices can be given as a traditional model of professional development, in which teachers attend a class/workshop on a specified date and time and have to physically be in attendance, or choices could be given in the form of online learning via screencasts, live webinars, or social media. The point is to offer choice and in turn allow whatever choice teachers make to be credited as a viable means of professional development.

Value

What types of learning illicit value? Fill in this blank: Learning is valuable to me when _____.  If teachers are going to invest time in professional learning, whether it be face to face or online, voluntary or involuntary, we all want to finish feeling it was valuable. When I facilitate PD, do I have a set agenda and plan in place? Of course I do. Do I ever intentionally or unintentionally deviate from the plan? Always. I am sure to let teachers know that this is their learning and I want them to feel our time together was valuable. If that means detours are taken and even some things are repeated so be it. We should want all students, regardless of age, to feel the value in what they’re learning.

Sometimes discovering the value in our learning experiences can lead to taking a self-directed deeper dive into a topic as well. Do you remember the last time that happened?

My response to the fill in the blank above? Learning is valuable to me when I understand the ‘why’ before the ‘how’.

Support

We’ve offered choices, come to understand the value, and are ready to accept the charge laid before us. Or are we? What if something doesn’t go according to plan (this never happens with technology)? If I’m in need of help where do I turn?

Teachers need multiple lifelines of support. This is a critical component of teacher professional development. Let’s say it’s the end of your face to face workshop. We need to make sure our teachers are aware of whom to contact, where to look, what to Google, etc. before they leave us. It can be an email address, the link to a backchannel, a Google Group, an Edmodo group, etc. Sure, teachers in my district know how to contact me, but I still remind them to please contact me whatever outlet I choose to provide. It can be a one way communication to you or a tweet on a hashtag. It can be both. Learn about the teachers you serve, just like we learn about the students we serve. We all need to know that support is there if we need it.

Are these the only components to making teacher professional development have meaning? No, but I think they’re three of the most important. What matters to you in making your professional development worthwhile? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!

“You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives. ~Clay P. Bedford