Tuesday, July 30, 2013

10 reasons we need social media in education

I recently had the opportunity to be a part of a four person panel discussing social media in education with central office administrators. Our audience was made up of superintendents and assistant superintendents from all over the state of Missouri. Most importantly, I was joined by three awesome educators: Kyle Pace (@kylepace), Chris McGee (@cmcgee200), & Scott Dill (houstonsuper). All four of us come from different backgrounds and have a wide variety of educational experiences, and I would highly recommend following all of these gentlemen on Twitter if you are not already.

Jason A. Howie
I'm writing this post to help educators start the social media conversation in their district. Regardless of your position, if you are looking for some talking points for future conversations with your building and/or central office administration on the benefits of social media, look no further:

1) - Social media enables an instructional shift to take place. Social media helps move students from simply consuming information to creating and then sharing their work with the world. Districts looking to embed and embrace 21st century skills into their curricula will find the transition much easier with the aid of social media.

2) - Social media is a tool, and tools don't make bad decisions. It sounds crazy, but just like when we started to allow students to use pencils in school, there were concerns that the students would misuse them. Technology devices are no different, and it's crucial we don't paint all technology tools with the same brush assuming that they are all evil. Remember, tools don't made bad decisions; the people using those tools inappropriately do.

3) - In terms of educator growth and development, social media connects educators with the experts in the educational field. If you have recently read a book or an educational article, you can almost guarantee that the author is using social media as tool to strengthen their brand. Social media makes it so easy to contact and work alongside these experts.

4) - Social media will help you meet your students, their parents, and your community where they already are. Make it easier for communication and transparency by using the platforms that your students and community are already using and are comfortable with. Right now we call it social media as if it's some completely isolated thing, but in a few years it's just going to be called 'teaching and learning' in school.

5) - Social media is a powerful search engine that allows both students and educators to find timely and relevant information. Sure, social media can be a waste of time if it's used just to search for videos of cats, but the reality is, social media is changing the world second by second. Major events around the world aren't reported first by the news, they are first reported by people who are actually there via social media. If that's not real education, then I don't know what is.

Scott McLeod
6) - If your school and district wish to remain relevant, they need to be a part of the social media movement+Christopher McGee envisions a world where schools are the learning hubs and centers of connection in our communities. Too often our schools try and separate themselves from the community when they need to be more closely aligned and working together to provide the most purposeful and relevant environment as possible.

7) - Social media will help you pass a bond issue+Scott Dill was able to pass a bond issue in his district after not having one pass in over 12 years. He credits this remarkable accomplishment to using social media and connecting with the community on how these funds will be used, and why it's so important this initiative passes.

8) - If you believe in telling your own story and not having someone else do it for you, you need to be using social media. +Kyle Pace said it best, "if you don't tell your story, then someone else will, and you probably won't like the story they are telling." Social media provides several platforms that help you be proactive about the image of your classroom, building or district. Don't react to what you read, be proactive and share the message you want your community to read.

10) - If you say you are preparing students to be successful in the future regardless of the path they choose, you have to include digital citizenship and digital branding into your curricula. The banning and blocking of social media because students will misuse it in the educational setting is pretty hypocritical. Most school districts have a website, a Facebook page, and perhaps even a Twitter account. If the district sees value in utilizing these social media platforms, then why would that same district block them and not take advantage of that wonderful opportunity and potential with the students...?

What reasons would you add for including social media in education?

Back to school inspiration video

If you are interested in getting the PowerPoint I used so you can change and/or adjust the presentation, feel free to email me at: justin.tarte@gmail.com. Enjoy and have a great school year!

Friday, July 26, 2013

10 things I want all new teachers to know...

This year I am working closely with our BTAP (beginning teacher assistance program) to help plan and develop some beginning of the year trainings. For the record, our BTAP committee has been doing a wonderful job over the years, however like anything, we are always looking to improve and do it better each year.

This year we have 22 brand new never taught still don't know what I'm doing teachers in our district. Now, I'm not sure about you and your district, but from where I come from that is a lot of new teachers! Consequently, we want and NEED to have a strong new teacher program to help with this transition. As many are aware, almost 50% of new teachers exit the profession by their 5th year. This number makes me a little uncomfortable, so anything I can do to help with new teachers is the least I can do!

So here is my list of what I want all new teachers to know:

1) - It's Ok to look and feel like this. If being scared wasn't supposed to happen from time to time, then we wouldn't be human. Don't be afraid of what you don't know and aren't sure about. Take everything in stride and accept that you are going to make mistakes. The key is making sure you learn from those mistakes.

2) - Find time during your off period to go observe other classrooms in your building. Even if the content and/or age group are different, there is still a lot you can learn via simple observation. If possible, see if that teacher would be willing to sit and talk with you about what you saw in their classroom. Even better, invite them to observe your classroom and get feedback/input on what they saw in your classroom.

3) - Focus on building relationships with your students from day one. Don't worry about your content at first, you most likely just spent the last four years of your life learning about it. Spend the first few weeks learning about the lives of the students you have in front of you. The more you learn about your students the more they will learn about your content.

4) - Don't worry about discipline and punishing kids; worry about how to provide strong instruction and an engaging classroom environment. This is basically being proactive rather than reactive. A classroom that is engaging with strong instructional practices is a classroom with few discipline problems.

5) - Learn the names and show the utmost respect to every administrative assistant, custodial/maintenance and food service employee in your building. They will help you more than you could ever imagine... trust me on this.

6) - Don't be afraid to speak up and share an idea. You most likely weren't hired because you were the worst candidate, so at some point in time somebody saw something great about you. You bring a new perspective and a fresh set of lenses to the table, so be sure to share your thoughts and insights in a collaborative and collegial manner.

7) - Don't try to do everything on your own. Don't simply shut your door and teach. Work with those who have more experience and know the system. Find a few people whom you can trust, and lean on them.

8) - Be careful of the teacher's lounge and watch out for 'that group.' The teacher's lounge can be the type of environment that just beats you down and makes you feel like the world is a terrible place. This is not always the case, but be aware that these black holes do exist from time to time. Also, every school has 'the group.' You might not notice the group at first because they are always looking for new members (specifically new teachers). Try to avoid this group at all costs.

9) - Having fun on the weekends is all good and is frankly healthy, but be sure to keep your image clean and professional. More employees get in trouble for the silly and not so smart things they do online than for most other reasons. Be safe and have a healthy career/life balance, but don't feel the need to take a picture of every second and then share those pictures with the world.

10) - Get connected and follow the #ntchat hashtag. There is whole world full of resources and information out there, so don't feel limited to just the colleagues in your hallway, in your school and in your district. Reach out and take control of your own learning and development.

What would you add to this list?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Read my blog, not my resume...

I've had the opportunity to work with personnel and human resources quite a bit this year, and the learning curve has been tremendous! More importantly, I have gained valuable experience and insights into the world of HR and the many intricate moving parts that keep a school district running.

Most districts still have prospective employees turn in a traditional resume. Whether this resume is actually turned in via a hard copy or included as an attachment to an online application, the resume in education is still the predominant source for employment.

Now, it's not my goal to upset the masses, but I have to question why this practice is still allowed, and frankly, why is this practice still viewed as the most effective means to employment?

Let's face it, a resume doesn't really tell you much more than the prospective candidate's background and credentials. Though this information is important, is it really the most important information you are looking for when hiring an educator you are going to charge with helping to shape the minds of children who will ultimately dictate the future of our world?

Ok, I know the resume is typically used as a 'filtering' process before a phone interview or an actual face-to-face interview. But, while we are being honest and candid, we all know there are some people who are just smooth talkers who could sell a bag of cocoa powder to Mr. and Mrs. MM in a candy lounge inside Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory.

So, somebody has the 'appropriate' background and credentials and is then able to sell themselves during an interview, and BOOM, they now have a job. 

I know it's not that easy and I'm not trying to make light of those who recently got education jobs or the many who are struggling to find jobs, but my point is simple. Do we really feel we know that much about this new employee based just on a resume and an interview? Do we really know their true feelings and philosophies toward educating students, or do we just know they can write the right things and say the right things when necessary?

I applaud all of those (many of whom will read this blog post) who regularly use social media not just as a growth tool, but also as a self-branding tool. I can confidently say that I know more about many of the educators in my PLN when it comes to their true beliefs and feelings about education than I do some people with whom I work on a daily basis. I know this because they have shared their thoughts with the world. They have embraced transparency and open collaboration as a means to growing and developing.

And yes, of course it's possible there could be lousy educators who just happen to say a lot of great things online, but I am willing to bet that this is a small number.

Here's the thing, I would like to see more prospective education candidates get their thoughts 'out there.' I want to see more college education students documenting their learning progression and learning journey. I want to be able to take something they have written and shared and then talk with them about it during a phone or face-to-face interview. 

I also want school districts to start expecting prospective candidates to have a digital presence or some kind of portfolio showing their thoughts and beliefs about education. I'm not talking about a portfolio full of college papers, I'm talking about a portfolio that takes me into their mind and gives me a glimpse of their vision for the future of education.

In closing, I challenge all future education candidates to embrace and utilize social media as a means to possible employment. Remember, it's a competitive world out there, and you want to do everything you can to show your true colors, and separate yourself from the pack.

Monday, July 22, 2013

What do the numbers mean to you?

We are all aware of the discussions surrounding education reform and ways we can improve education. These discussions can be both energizing and demoralizing. These discussions have divided our society on how and why we should be changing our educational systems. I don't have any intentions of addressing any of these issues in this blog post, but I do however want to share some numbers with you.

365 days per year / 24 hrs per day / 1,440 mins per day

Students spend 13 years in school from age 0-18

Age 0-18 / 365 days * 18 years = 6,570 total days alive

Age 5-18 / 365 days * 13 years in school = 4,745 days alive while in school

6,570 days * 1,440 minutes per day = 9,460,800 total minutes alive from age 0-18

4,745 days * 1,440 minutes per day = 6,832,800 total minutes alive while in school

350 minutes per day in a classroom for 180 days per year (total 13 years in school)

350 minutes per day * 180 days per year = 63,000 minutes in a classroom per year

13 years in school * 63,000 minutes per year = 819,000 total minutes in a classroom

819,000 classroom minutes / 6,832,800 total minutes alive while in school = 12%

*A kid sleeping 8 hours per night will subtract 2,277,600 minutes while in school

819,000 classroom minutes / 4,555,200 total minutes alive minus sleep time = 18%

If my math calculations are correct, it would seem that from the age of 5-18, the average student will spend roughly 18% of his/her life in a classroom. That means roughly 82% of a child's life from the age of 5-18 is NOT spent in a classroom. In my opinion as an educator, this is extremely pertinent information that is undoubtedly relevant when discussing the measures and the means of education reform.

What do the numbers mean to you...?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Don't make my mistake...

This is both a personal post and a post for the masses.

I'm still pretty young when it comes to my life and educational experiences. This youth and lack of experience have definitely humbled me on more than a few occasions.

One thing I've learned the hard way is that I'm not alone and I'm not nearly as good as I may think I am. This lesson has been learned through dedication, commitment, and a little bit of confidence. All of which are great traits and qualities to have, however when you are a part of a team, which we ALL are, they can blind you from seeing the truth.

It's really quite simple when you think about it...

No matter how much we think we contributed, no matter how much work we feel we did, and no matter how much credit we received, we couldn't have done whatever we did alone.

Think about the presentation you gave recently... somebody made sure the room was properly set up; somebody helped to arrange the logistics and location of the presentation, and somebody most likely made sure the WiFi and audio were working properly.

Think about the great activity you did or plan to do with your students... somebody most likely had a conversation with you about this lesson that made you think or see it from a different perspective; somebody might have even offered their assistance and/or some resources to make this activity even better. Lastly, chances are you got the great activity idea from somewhere else because there really isn't such a thing as an original idea any more... right?

Think about pretty much every single thing you do and encounter on a daily basis. At some level, someone else has either contributed, helped make it possible, and/or directly or indirectly affected what you are working on.

There is no such thing as being a lone ranger who is able to work in isolation without the assistance and help of others. Those 'others' are always and will always be involved, regardless of whether you can easily recognize it or not.

So, as you look toward the future, be sure to not only recognize the contributions of those 'others' who make so much possible, be sure to thank them and give them the credit they so rightly deserve...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

It's called leadership...

Let's be honest with each other for a moment. Let's take back all the fake smiles and friendly little emails. Let's tell all the cute puppies to go home and cast aside all the colorful rainbows...

Sometimes people just don't care what you think. They could honestly care less about your opinion and your existence (or lack thereof). You really don't have much of an effect on them. This is not all people and is most likely not most people, however there are those out there that are just not interested in you and what you have to say. Know this and accept this...

Sometimes it has nothing to do with being right or wrong. In retrospect, I think being right is typically one of the least important reasons for getting something done. Far too often I have seen something "wrong" end up getting the green light because of the many variables and circumstances that ultimately have nothing do with what is right or wrong. Being right is not wrong, but understand that being right is not always right either...

Sometimes you will have to speak when everyone else remains silent. You will know when this moment happens. Everyone around you will be looking down and avoiding eye contact. You will start to think, "should I say something, is this the right moment?" Yes, this is precisely the moment you will need to stand up and speak while everyone chooses to remain seated. They might not say it, they might not show it, but they will appreciate what you say. Speak from the heart, show your passion and leave it all on the table...

Sometimes saying "no" is the most important word you could ever say. "Yes" is so easy. It's so easy to tell someone they have permission. It's frankly too easy to say "yes," which is exactly why it can be dangerous. If you can't say "no," then you will always be forced to say "yes." Don't confuse saying "yes" as being kind and appreciative. Sometimes saying "no" can be just as kind and just as appreciative, regardless of how it may be perceived...

Sometimes you just have to swallow your pride, silence your mouth, sheathe your courage and bring all your momentum to a grinding halt. Pride and courage can be wonderful attributes for any of us, but be sure not to allow them to bring you down. Some of our greatest strengths have the possibility of becoming our biggest weaknesses when they're allowed to...

Sometimes you have to lose the battle in order to win the war. There are times when you need to move in all the troops and there are other times when it's best to retreat and save them for another day. Knowing when to do which makes all the difference. Don't be afraid of losing if it means you can be better positioned to win another day. Missing the opportunity to win one day doesn't prevent you from having another opportunity to win the next day...

It's called leadership...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Not using social media should no longer be an option...

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) and Nancy Blair (@nancyblair) via the BAM Radio Network about social media and how it is affecting education. I've been a big advocate of social media as a tool not only for professional growth for educators, but also for students and the huge implications for their digital footprint and overall digital presence.

I think @dwight_carter may have said it best when we talk about why BOTH kids and adults are drawn toward social media and technology.

Here are some of the main reasons for using social media as a tool AND vehicle for growth and development:

1) - Social media creates an environment where I am inspired and energized every single day. We all know those days that suck us dry and leave us feeling completely drained and depleted. Social media, whether it be blogs, Twitter or posts read on a Facebook wall, I can very easily and very quickly find inspiration that gives me a boost of energy and positivity. This is probably the most unrealized potential of social media and establishing connections with others.

2) - Social media creates the perfect medium and vehicle for BOTH educators and students to showcase the great many things that are happening in classrooms around the world. If we as educators and students within education can't be our own biggest cheerleaders, then who will be? We need the positive and awesome things we are doing in education spread all over the place, and social media makes this so easy and meets people where they already are spending an increasingly more amount of their time.

3) - Social media and being connected is all about possibility, and with social media the amount of possibility is frankly limitless. The classroom is no longer limited to four walls and the school is no longer the only place kids can learn and educators can teach. The world is now the classroom of the future and being connected via social media opens every single door and window in the house. We are now only limited by our willingness to explore, discover and most importantly, our willingness to take a chance.

4) - Lastly, due to my use of social media, both my wife and I were saved on our way home from a recent trip to Chicago due to this tip via Foursquare.

Just think how bad this could have been if we didn't have this information in advance! #crisisaverted

On a more serious note, I know there are great educators who are not connected and who are not using social media, and frankly that is quite a shame. The great things they are doing need to be shared with others, and I can say without hesitation that social media and being connected would make them even better educators.

The future is bright and we need leaders in education who are an integral part of this bright future. We don't need educators sitting on the sidelines hoping this will pass and become just another fad. We need brave, courageous and inspirational leaders who can and will embrace the evolution of constant change in our society...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

8 Principal leadership tips for the new year...

I recently had the opportunity to hear Andy Greene, Middle School Principal from New York, speak to us about collaboration and the PLC process. From as soon as I walked in the room, I knew Andy's session was going to be good. Here are some of the highlights that really had an impact on me:

1) - Building principals can't invite 'collaboration' to happen; they must require collaboration to happen. Andy make it quite clear that to have an effective PLC school, there couldn't be any independent contractors who were working in isolation doing their own thing. There is no such thing as the rogue educator in Andy Greene's school!

2) - If you want to establish and sustain a collaborative culture in your building, you have to confront behaviors that aren't collaborative. Parking lot chatter and not holding each other accountable aren't allowed. When a topic is being discussed, there is a consensus before the discussion is over.

3) - Everyone from the cooks to the students know who works in the building and who doesn't; the question is, what are you as the building leader going to do about it?

4) - If you don't get to the root of someone's belief system & make it personal, you will never get someone to make sustainable change.

5) - Administrators shouldn't make it a secret and a mystery when it comes to their beliefs and thoughts on education. Andy was very adamant about this point. Why is it that administrators are afraid to say what they really believe? More importantly, why don't administrators share what they believe and then follow it up with why they believe it? No more secrets and no more mystery!

6) - Don't try and change someone's attitude; focus on changing their behavior through expectations.

7) - Relationships trump everything because when you have to confront someone, you are going to have to make a withdrawal from the social/emotional bank account.

8) - The culture in your building needs to shift from these are 'your' kids to 'my kids' to 'our kids.'

I'd like to thank Andy for a great session and for giving me lots to think about. Thank you Sir!

Friday, July 5, 2013

What will you do differently next year?

Summer is well underway. For many of us, summer is a great time to catch our breath and take time to reflect upon the prior year. We all most likely had our fair share of successes, and without doubt probably had a few failures along the way. Perhaps this past year was the first year in a new position, or perhaps it was another year in an existing position with a new set of circumstances. Either way, we can always learn and grow with the hope of improving for the future.

This past year for me was the first year in a new position in a new district. The opportunities for growth and learning about the whole education system were wonderful. In the same breath, I was completely humbled by how much I didn't know. It's amazing when you don't know how much you don't know!

Consequently, there are a few things I hope to do differently as the upcoming school year approaches:

1). Don't shy away from making decisions...

There were decisions that I made last year that didn't exactly turn out to be the best decision. At times, the wrong decision brought additional factors to light that ultimately helped us to make a better decision. I have come to the conclusion that not making a decision and having confusion and a lack of direction is worse than making a poor decision. Not that I want to make poor decisions, but I think it's even worse to never make a decision while searching and waiting for everything to be perfect to make the 'best' decision.

2). Increase visibility and work to grow new relationships...

I attempted to start most of my days in a school prior to going to central office. This is extremely important to me because I remember what it was like as a teacher and never seeing any of our district administrators. Additionally, simply walking the halls and talking to teachers and students serves as a great reminder of why we do what we do. I will continue and increase my efforts to be in the buildings as often as possible. George Couros had the great idea of setting up shop in a different building at different times throughout the month and simply working remotely. This is a great idea and can be done pretty easily these days considering the availability of technology.

3). Send at least two positive emails or make two positive calls every day...

How does it feel to get a positive email or phone call at the end of the day? How does it feel to get a positive email or phone call at the beginning of the next day? We all know this is a great end to the day or a great start to the next day. Taking five minutes to do this every day is so important, and when we make others feel good about the work they are doing, we also feel better about the work we are doing. Make time for this... every day.

4). Rely on and trust those with whom I work...

Now, please don't think I don't trust those with whom I work. I most definitely trust them to be the great educators and professionals that they are. This change for me is more about me accepting and relying upon those with whom I work. As a member of a team, it's vital that I 'let go' and allow others to do what they need to do. This means not trying to do everything myself and tapping into the strengths and areas of expertise of others.

5). Eat breakfast or lunch with students at least once a week... 

Have you ever had breakfast with a table full of elementary students? If you haven't, I would highly recommend it! After a while you will get really good at opening up milk cartoons and syrup packages, but more importantly, the young kids will rejuvenate and energize you. On a serious note, as educators, it's so important we maintain a strong connection and tie to our students. They need to see us as more than just educators; they need to see as humans who care about them and their interests. I can't think of a better opportunity than at breakfast or at lunch.

This is my list for the 2013-2014 school year. What do you plan to do differently next year?