If Professional Development doesn't change what happens in the classroom for students, take it personally. Then take action. Are you a principal or leader who is caught in the cycle of Stand and Deliver Professional Development? Are you still bringing in trainers but not seeing changes in how students are instructed? Are you still having staff meetings?
Are you ready to change this? I hope you are because your technology leadership matters. If teachers don’t see you using the same tool you are asking them to use with students, then the opportunities for students remain the same, stagnant.
Teachers enter Professional Development with this mindset, “exhausted”. Exhausted from a day of teaching and they are presented with so called Professional Development, which usually looks like someone at the front of the room talking to teachers, who are “compliant'. Teachers know how to do school.
Teachers are thinking, "I need to review the kids math from today, I need to email parents about the upcoming field trip. I need to talk to my team leader about peer observation. I need to get home, get dinner, get to another meeting, workout?....." I know teachers feels this, as evidenced by all the hilarious staff meeting memes. Let’s just say I get it!
We know as educators how the technologies we use in our daily lives influence us. Students have changed, leaders have not kept pace. Learning tools have evolved and yet we deliver the same professional development to exhausted teachers and expect new results. Wasn’t there something about,”You keep doing what you’ve always done and you’ll keep getting the results you’ve always gotten?”
I'd like to share with you 3 tools that can help flip and blend your professional learning opportunities and maybe create classroom transfer. Try and commit to sending no staff emails for a week and incorporate these three tools instead: Google Classroom, G+ communities and Remind. Google classroom allows you to assign a video, professional article and have teachers weigh in on an issue. Google Classroom is also archivable and reuseable. Google+ Community also allows for collections of great resources all in one place. No more scrolling and searching old emails. Articles you and teachers find can be shared all in one location and they can be filtered. Another great tool is REMIND. I use this texting feature with teachers and let them know about an event and also for reminders. It is a free one-way texting service. Since I started using it, most of my teachers use it to communicate with parents.
My hope is Professional Development should be a mirror of what we hope for students; not be a reflection of the past. Our time together should stem out of the adult need of the 4 C’s (Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical Thinking), not because it’s Monday. Let’s communicate in alternative ways, collaborate through technology all the while using creative thinking to create the best staff environment that values time for all staff members.
The amazing Sylvia Duckworth gave us this wonderful sketchnote of “think- abouts” for 2017. I have taken this idea and built upon it for the connected leader. How can we use this idea to build ourselves as connected leaders?
As we enter 2017 here are my think abouts for this year. Each of the numbers in 2017 relates to a topic to think about. Several things I think I do well as a connected leader are helping build teachers’ Professional Networks and creating new content. I also model and learn new technologies, such as HyperDocs, sites and shared resources. What two things has 2016 taught you that will move you forward in 2017? Figure out the things you are doing well and give yourself credit and a pat on the back!
The thing I need to stop doing is expecting teachers to understand technology integration the first few times they are exposed to it. Teachers need time to decide on the best tools for their class and how to choose and manage them. What do you need to stop doing?
The person I plan to improve my relationship with is a person who needs to become a connected educator. I plan to gently share tips and trick that can streamline their work. I hope they will not even notice. Who can you reach out to and support?
Now comes the tough part of this think about: what are seven things to explore in the New Year? For me I need to better understand Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality and how these can be used in the classroom to give students a greater depth of understanding.
Here are seven ideas to consider for the connected leader to consider:
"A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”
As leaders we are faced each day with the task of helping teachers be better, better for our kids and better for each other. We all want the very best teacher in front of our students as we do this demanding work each and every day. How can we, as model leaders, gently lead teachers to a wealth of resources that will make them better, faster?
The answer to this, I believe, is helping teachers build a Professional Learning Network in Twitter. In 140 characters they can get connected with like minded (or maybe not so like minded) educators going through some of the same struggles that they are. They can find resources, ideas, and learn about positive trends in education today. How can principals accomplish this? Principals can lead teachers to this understanding by building their own PLN and sharing the value of this wealth of knowledge with the staff.
How can you help teachers do this?
We host a weekly Twitter Chat for our district. We like to highlight authors and their books. Here is a calendar of all upcoming chats .
We purchase copies of the books and do a drawing each week from participants on the chat. Another exciting practice we have used with the Twitter chats is to collaborate with a district in another state around a specific topic. It is our goal next year to do a chat each week with a school or district from a different state. Would your district be interested in joining us for a collaborative chat next year? Let us know because we are beginning to plan the calendar!
There is literally a world of learning at our fingertips using only 140 characters to convey research, ideas, and knowledge along with encouragement and even possibly, new friendships. What are you waiting for? As a leader help your staff make the move. Gently lead them into the land of Twitter.
An area of growth for me this past year has been around the work of Inspired Spaces. Inspired space are places where the four C’s (communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity) can find a home. I look at a classroom and wonder why we have not adapted and changed our classroom set ups to match with 21st century learning. It is typical to see a bulletin board, typical student desks and a giant teacher desk. But I wonder how this creates an environment I might want to learn in. Most classrooms and principal's offices of today are not inspired learning spaces. In fact, if only the environment is considered, I would not want to spend any time in traditional classroom or in the principal’s office.
As building leaders we have the power to change this. First, throw out the rule book on what an office or classroom should look like. Now imagine how comfortable and productive you are at Starbucks or in your living room. As the building leader you have the power to build or begin to build a place where you can realize the four C’s happening. I look my office and I see the furniture I inherited from my predecessor. It’s time to let it all go! So I did.
Now, my office has a beautiful colored wall, a standing desk, a place to share our work, and tall stools. In addition, a small sofa, rug, and my Google certification and Google innovator project was added. My office invites people in. The door is always open and I often find teachers in that space, working, without me. I abandoned the rules on what a principal’s office is suppose to be and built a collaborative work space.
The result of this small change has been teachers have started making changes to their classroom, some big and some small. Principals leading this change can make a big difference in the learning spaces students get. You willingness to try will give teachers permission to try, re-invent, maybe fail and most of all learn.
As leaders we often hear, top down incentives will not work or they will meet resistance. However, I see a difference between principals as model leaders and forcing something on teachers. I see this as a gentle lead. I am not telling or forcing teachers to change classroom environments but am suggesting how it can be different. Surprising or not, some teachers make big changes and some others make small ones. Pretty soon the snowball effect takes over. But teachers need your permission to start. It begins with a nudge, and perhaps modeling-this is how I define a gentle lead.
One of my favorite days is seeing the science projects students create. This past year was no different. But much to my dismay was seeing the disparity in what students created. One noteworthy project was an amazing set of homemade, professional carpentry, crafted pulleys and levers set up. You could move a 200lbs rock with it. Right next to this project was three red solo cups.
I asked each of the students to tell me the science they learned about in their respective projects. In the case with the lever and pulley experiment the student could tell me nothing about how levers and pulleys worked. In the second case, the student could tell me the total plan for the science project he wanted to do with the red Solo cups. They had planned to plant different seeds and look at different fertilizer types. The second student had anticipated how the project would turn out but because of the lack of support could not complete it. This was a project that was assigned for students to do at home and obviously one student had a lot of support and the other did not. Therefore the learning was not equitable for the second student and the first one didn’t learn much (except his father was a remarkable carpenter). Further, both students were not able to fully access the curriculum. One because of too much parent support and another because too little support.
I am fortunate enough to be an elementary principal in a great school with an amazing staff. Each person truly is here to give their best to each student and has the very best intention in assigning work that meets the standards. Given time pressures and testing, these teachers assigned this as a homework project. These and other examples have given us time to pause and re-think and reflect on our homework practices.
Homework is an equity issue. The solution is to change this practice. Our school now has students read and work on personal projects, nothing else. If the standards are vital, this work will be done in school as all students need and deserve the opportunity to access the standards and materials.
In the pulley vs. red solo cup none of the students gained much knowledge of the scientific method. And I have one real angry dad that didn’t get a good grade on his project. I know we can do better as a school and system. We can provide all students with deep learning opportunities.
You have just been to an amazing workshop or presentation. You are so excited to share with friends and colleagues. But how can this time be created? I hear principals and teachers all the time talk about the power of connecting and building a PLN. I am wondering if the “powers that be” could organize professional learning to provide time for just that: connection, reflection and conversation.
In order to promote connection I challenge my staff to earn professional learning badges in this area. I ask that they specifically build a PLN and join chats. For example, teachers in my building can earn a Twitter badge, the ultimate in PLN’s. In order to do this they must make five new connections, gain five new followers and get someone famous to follow them. We define famous as, when you get excited when they follow you! So not a Kardashian, but a Kasey Bell or George Couros.
My hope in writing this is you see value in connection and reflection for teachers and provide incentives such as time and badges to help this happen . And as I have shared many times, if we don’t model this for adult learners it will never happen in the classroom. I think we are misusing time if teachers and thereby students don’t have this kind of time. What if we gave kids time to network and reflect ?
Some of the best learning that can take place in a day, although deliberate, can be unplanned. We cannot expect people to “reflect and connect” if we don’t give them the time to do so. So put aside “the Agenda” and give TIME.
I had the opportunity to attend and present at another great Colorado Summit featuring “Google for Education’ in Boulder, Colorado. Leading off this action packed event was Google Chief Education Evangelist, Jaime Casap. The takeaway from this session was the great reminder that “education disrupts poverty” or at least it can in theory. This was just the beginning of the exciting thought provoking weekend that was about to begin. I say in theory as we have not seen this shift occur in education, yet.
The next thought provoking “AHA” was to think about the technology students are looking at today. As a young student looks at an iPhone 7 this will be the oldest technology they remember. To the generation of students in front of us this is the most antiquated technology they will remember! Molly Schroeder refers to this as students are “always living in beta.” This will be like my memory of my Mac Classic. While the Mac Classic had an amazing purpose, it isn’t the machine I need today. And maybe the way classrooms are structured isn’t what are students need either. But if schools continue like the Mac Classic, we will have schools that students do not need. If this happens we will never abate poverty.
Another shift in my thinking that occurred as a result of the weekend was in how we question students about future plans. The question I need to ask kids is, “What problems do you want to solve in the future?” This will replace, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This question in my mind often sounds like, “Who do you want to work for?” With our students’ mindset and current ways to collaborate globally, they don’t want to work for anyone, nor should we expect them to be part of current corporate culture. Students of today have many opportunities to connect globally and to solve problems, create and imagine a different world. This was my take-away and why I spend my weekend at a GAFE summit.
The best of the GAFE Summit is getting to come back to school and share and putting my learning into action. I know with hard work and thinkers, such as the EdTeamTeam brings together, our schools can become iPhone 20. I know with the backing of this group we won’t become a MAC Classic of schools.
When you tell people about a new idea or thought that they've never had before I've noticed that there are two kinds of people. The first type of person ignores the innovation and give you the “blank stare”. Then there's a second group: they have lots of questions, thoughts and comments. Their enthusiasm bubbles over. This led me to wonder why there could be these two Polar Opposites . It made me question whether innovation was actually polarizing for people. Are people wired completely differently?
After much hard work and a little luck I was accepted into the Google Innovator Academy. The Google Academy supports me in trying to empower principals to be Technology Leaders. However, my Google innovator project seems to create these “opposites” I want to create a tool that is easily accessible for all principals to use and can be the right tool for them. I have a year to figure out how to make this happen. I know there will be curves along the way and twists and turns. But with grit, I'm hoping this project can come to life.
Change is difficult for many, I acknowledge this. I hope to create a tool to make a principal’s job easier, not to polarize. My challenge is not in creating the tool; It is in guiding reluctant leaders towards a comfort and acceptance of new technology. I understand that you cannot push a rope. I hope to, instead, gently lead others to an easier and more effective manner for collaboration, sharing ideas, and communication. Instead of being polarizing, I want to demonstrate how an inclusive culture for all educational leaders is worthwhile and valuable. Our students can’t wait for school to be 21st century places of learning or for this type of leadership to take hope hold.
For the longest time outside my door hung a sign that said, “failure is not an option.” This famous quote refers to the Apollo 13 mission and astronauts and it was a life-or-death situation. And for the longest time I believed this mission to be true for myself, for my school, and of course for public education. As a school leader it is easy to walk around with this mindset, absolutely believing everything that you do must be successful.
However, recently I've learned that sometimes leaders can model failure. Two recent events have led me to this reflection. The first event was when I took the Google level 1 certification test. I did not pass. This caused a large amount of reflection on my part. I had to really dive deeply into what I did not know. I assumed as an everyday user of Google and someone with pretty good testing skills that I could certainly pass a level 1 test. My first thought was “I wasted 3 hours” of Christmas break for this. I wanted to give up. But rather than give up I decided that I would study and learn the things that I didn't know. So this failure for me resulted in deep learning and at my second attempt I easily and successfully passed the test knowing more than I ever imagined that I could. So my question at this point was, “Should I be vulnerable enough to share this with my teachers and with people around me?” Since this was new territory for me I shared it with a few trusted people. Failure happens and it hurts, but we can learn from it and be better.
My next learning around failure came when I applied to be a Google Innovator. This is the “BIG SHOW” for technology experts, with only about 1500 people nationwide being innovators. I had what I thought was a really excellent idea. I poured my heart and soul into a slide deck, answering questions, and vision video. I assumed Google would love it. About four weeks later I received a communication that I was not successful on my application. At that point I wanted to give up. There may have been a few tears. But then something amazing happened. I found out I have a lot of people in my corner and they told me try again, just as we would tell any child in our schools. I reflected more deeply on what I was hoping for for my school and for education and reapplied. This project also caused me to reflect deeply as a leader and to make sure that anything that I asked of teachers is something that I'm willing to do myself. This became the heart and soul of my project:there was no way that I could be rejected. It was truly something that I believed in. I re-worked the vision deck, answered questions from the heart and made a new video. Then in October I received a congratulatory email from a Google Innovator Academy and I was on my way to Toronto becoming part of #TOR16
So can and should leaders share their failures? In my mind the answer is absolutely, but it does feel risky. For me these failures brought amazing people into my life including an amazing mentor. Teachers in my building know I failed, but can learn and re-try, exactly what we hope for our students and teachers.
The sign that now hangs outside my door says, “The Official Sponsor of Hard Work." And while I believe failure is not an option for public school sometimes it is an option for me as long as I “fail forward fast.”