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.


“Keep Moving Forward” in 2010

As we begin 2010, we all have pretty standard resolutions. Losing weight, working out more, managing money better, etc. Those are all fairly standard goals we aim for as a new year begins. What about resolutions for your classroom? Do you have them? What do resolutions for our classrooms look like?

As I think about my professional resolutions for 2010, it brought to mind a quote from a Disney movie my

Lewis Robinson from Disney's "Meet the Robinsons"

kids love to watch called “Meet The Robinsons“. The main character, Lewis, is a 12-year-old lifelong learner. Lewis’ love for brainstorming and inventing was fueled by his desire to remember his biological mother. With encouragement from his science teacher, Mr. Willerstein, Lewis enters the school science fair. Lewis later learns this event is the launching pad for his inventing career and the motto that which he lives by: “Keep moving forward!”.

How do we “keep moving forward” in 2010 as it relates to professional growth? Maybe it’s jumping in and building that PLN? Maybe it’s beginning to explore new PD options in your district? Or it could be that you’re ready to implement a new teacher toolkit of web-based tools to help you be a more organized, effective teacher. This could include a web tool like Evernote or using other tools like those I mentioned in my Thanksgiving post Tools to be Thankful For.

Let’s “keep moving forward” with our professional goals for ourselves and for where we want to take our students in 2010. How are you going to “keep moving forward”?

Have a wonderful new year!



How do we prepare students for the future?

I ask this question to educators with regard to today’s students. Do we know what we’re preparing them for? I’m going to guess that probably all of us would say no unless Doc Brown and Marty McFly are your next door neighbors.  How do we as educators even begin to grasp a glimpse of the future we are preparing students to enter after they leave high school and possibly college?

David Warlick has said, “For the first time we are preparing students for a future we cannot clearly describe.”

He’s right. We can’t describe it. We don’t know what will be going on in 5, 10, or 15 years from now. We don’t know what it will even look like for students to go to school. Or what kinds of skills they will have to have in order to survive in the workplace. We can only imagine. So the question is how do we prepare our students for a future we cannot clearly describe?

I just came back from Tweetdeck, looking to my PLN for inspiration as I regularly do, and came across this excellent tweet from Tom Whitby: “Educators remember the world we learned in is not the world we live in. The world we teach in is not the world we teach for.”

Needless to say I immediately retweeted his profound words and just as quickly sent Tom a DM asking if I could quote him (and he kindly obliged). This portion in particular stuck out for me: “The world we teach is not the world we teach for.” We don’t know the world we’re teaching for. We as educators should continually strive to better ourselves professionally. Twitter and my PLN definitely help me do that. We’ll talk briefly about other ways to learn new tools and resources in just a bit.

With regards to technology, does this mean it’s our job to teach our students every type and variation of technology tool in addition to all the required curriculum? Absolutely not. Teachers often are confused by the term “technology integration”. Teachers often think it means that on this particular day we’re going to use one particular program or on this particular day each week is going to be our “use the wireless lab day”. I’m starting to think the term “technology integration” is not correct. Technology should be infused with our teaching to the point where it becomes as common place as the pencil. Is this hard to do? It can be very hard to do without proper support, equipment, PD, etc.

Students need to be exposed to tools that foster creativity and promote collaboration. Those are HUGE skills to have in your “toolbox” of skills. Technology lends itself well to both. Here is a great article I came across this week from CNN. I it think gives us a pretty accurate glimpse at the type of work environment and collaboration level facing today’s students. And it’s probably not that far off. This would be excellent to share with students:

Virtual businesses: Going to the office in Second Life

We need to expose our students to lots of tools that will bring technology use into our classrooms on various levels. Technology is a great way to differentiate our instruction.  Take a look at this video for example. I came across this on Twitter this week and thought, “Where was this guy when I was struggling in math?”.

I bet those students will never forget that math lesson again. How strong would your retention be? I also wonder how many of those students at that point said, “Wow that was some really cool video work. I’d like to learn how to do that.”

I would assume this teacher considers himself a lifelong learner. Maybe he just attended a PD event or conference session about using technology and he really wanted to learn more about the power of video with some dabbling in video editing.  We don’t know for sure but look at the direction he went by putting a creative spin on an otherwise boring math lesson.  He decided to use his new knowledge to enhance something he’s probably been teaching the same way for years. I would love to talk to this teacher and find out how much of an impact this had on his instruction and how it has given his students a new way to grasp a mathematical concept.

So how do we educate ourselves about new technology tools? There’s many ways to learn about new tools and resources to infuse technology in your classroom. Building a PLN (and following awesome educators such as @shellterrell @web20classroom @tomwhitby @nmhs_principal and countless others), utilizing your instructional technology specialist/coach, and attending PD events and conferences in person or virtually. I also learn by subscribing to blogs, podcasts, Delicious, and RSS feeds to learn about new resources and tools.

Try to expose yourself to many technology tools so you at least have a working knowledge of the kind of results they can produce so you can make an informed decision if it will be an acceptable tool for your students to use. You don’t have to become a master of everything.

Preparing our students for the future starts with us. We have to want to prepare ourselves first.  The future arrives in our classrooms every day.  Strive to infuse technology with your teaching. The more you do, the more seamless it will become.

If I can help you in anyway with resources of how to infuse technology into your classroom, please do not hesitate to contact me or DM me on Twitter.