Sunday, February 23, 2014

Do new ideas thrive or die in your school?

I've been thinking a lot lately about leadership structures in education. More specifically, about how new ideas are born and how they eventually become school-wide or district-wide programs/initiatives.

I'd first like to discuss why many new ideas never get off the ground and why many times great ideas are secretly protected and not celebrated.

To start, far too often education leadership structures (many times not on purpose) make doing something new or different almost impossible. Let's face it, education is not exactly known to be the most nimble and flexible structure, and this really hasn't changed much over the years.

Secondly, when educators have a new idea, they are faced with the natural challenge of doing something new. This means changing the game in the middle of the game, facing and explaining this new idea to colleagues, and lastly, ensuring this new idea doesn't misalign with what the leadership is comfortable doing.

As Kevin Honeycutt (@kevinhoneycutt) said perfectly, most education innovation dies of domestic violence, so it's a reality when we say there is too much #educatoroneducatorcrime, and this has to stop if we want any new ideas to survive beyond the incubation period.

I honestly don't think there is a shortage of great ideas in education, but what we do have is a surplus of hurdles and barriers that prevent, limit, and impede new innovative ideas from having any chance of success.

I challenge you to think about what barriers exist in your education structure that limit new ideas.

I challenge you to work toward removing these hurdles and start embracing an education culture that celebrates new ideas.

I challenge you to help create an environment where folks can focus their energies on doing great things for kids and not on the things that prevent it...

Friday, February 21, 2014

Make their 'list' your 'list'...

It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day 'grind.'

It's even easier to become completely enveloped in your little world while ignoring the entirety of the world that's around you.

I've noticed when this happens to me I become fixated on finishing my 'list.'

I start to care less and less about what others are doing and what they need and become hyper-focused on getting what I need to accomplish my tasks.

My conversations get shorter and more abrupt... my emails become less cordial... and my overall demeanor becomes less human.

The thing is, I recognize this when it's happening. I don't always recognize it immediately, and sometimes it's too late.

I sometimes feel it necessary to send an apology email or make a phone call in an attempt to repair that interaction after the fact.

I'm not proud of this, but I will own up to it and recognize that it's a behavior I would like to improve upon.

If there's one thing I'm learning about leadership in education, it's that the best way to finish your list is to help others to finish theirs...

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Have you found your 'pusher' yet?

Can you recall a time when you were super confident about an idea?

I'm talking about the kind of super confident when you are sharing your idea with anyone who has a pulse and happens to be within earshot.

You are so proud of this idea and you have spent a ton of time thinking through every possible angle and every possible way someone could respond.

Your idea is the game changer everyone has been waiting for and there's absolutely no way it will flop...

Then, as you are sharing this glorious and amazing idea with someone, you hear the strangely but yet extremely powerful word of 'but.'

That special word is then followed by, 'Have you considered ... ?'

It hits you like a dump truck full of rocks going full speed down a hill.

You've just realized that you haven't thought about every angle and you haven't considered every perspective when it comes to this glorious and amazing idea.

You've just experienced being 'pushed.'

Here's the thing about being pushed... we don't like how it feels and by human nature we try to do everything in our power to avoid being pushed.

Here's where we are wrong about being pushed... instead of avoiding this experience, we need to seek out those with whom we work and interact who have the courage to deal out a good pushing from time-to-time.

Even though it hurts at the time, it's because of these 'pushers' we are able to grow and improve ideas before they go 'live.'

Find those 'pushers' and allow them to critique and punch holes in your plans. It's because of this process you can turn a beta idea into a bonafide powerhouse idea.

Remember, if every person says every idea you have is a great idea, then someone isn't telling the truth.

Find some folks who will tell you the truth, and be sure to keep them near...

Monday, February 17, 2014

If you don't try you will never know...

We've all experienced it at one point or another.

We all know that feeling of hopelessness and despair.

As educators we naturally put ourselves out there... we naturally make ourselves vulnerable by trying what's never been tried before.

We take on and accept challenges most would run from.

As we push harder and take on more and more, we eventually find our limits.

We eventually find a challenge that despite our best efforts, we aren't able to overcome.

Even after reflection and trying multiple approaches, we discover that the best we have to offer isn't good enough... at least not good enough for that particular challenge.

Sure, we can try to predict which challenges we will be able to overcome and those we can't, but the reality is we will never know which challenges will prove to be beyond us until we try.

We won't know until we've tried and given it our best. We won't know until we've invested our full-selves into the challenge.

Now, here's the deal and here's what makes being an educator so important.

We aren't in the business of trying to figure out which challenges we can overcome and which ones we can't.

We are however in the business of stepping up and taking on challenges that appear to be insurmountable.

We are in the business of changing and positively impacting lives, and in order to do this, we must accept challenges without hesitation regardless of possibility of success.

Remember, if we don't give the challenge the best we have to offer, we will never know which challenges we can overcome, and which we can't...

Saturday, February 15, 2014

10 conversations you need to have in your school

1). How would teachers respond if we did a monthly ‘lunch learn bash’ during their lunch time? A specific topic would be selected (based on teacher need/request), teachers would have a sign-up sheet saying they plan to attend during their lunch time, and the district would provide lunch for the teachers.

2). Are we offering enough ‘parent’ events that encourage dads to take an active part in their child’s education and learning experience?

3). Most education innovation dies of ‘domestic violence.’ How do we ensure we are keeping #educatoroneducatorcrime to a minimum so new ideas aren’t crushed before inception?

4). How often do we remind our students of their deficiencies rather their strengths, interests, and passions? Are we making sure we include time for kids to find success, or are we constantly throwing their weaknesses in their faces?

5). Are we doing a good enough job of sharing our moments of ‘genius,’ or are we keeping them secret because we are afraid of what others might say? Are we making it safe for folks to share their moments of genius…?

6). We ask our teachers to ask our students to take risks and take chances as part of the learning process. Are we creating a safe and supportive environment for our teachers to take risks and take chances?

7). The influence of technology and social media on learning is undeniable, and it is only going to increase. As educators, are we modeling appropriate usage of technology and social media?

8). Those kids in our classes that are invisible… are we helping our teachers to make sure they are providing opportunities for those students to become visible? Are we helping those kids to find their voice and find their niche? This goes the same for our teachers…

9). Doing a PDF/word document worksheet on a laptop is like driving a Ferrari 5 miles per hour on the autobahn. How are we ensuring that we are using technology to reshape and redefine learning experiences rather than simply doing the same types of things we have always done?

10). Are we doing enough to honor the work of our students by ensuring it’s published and viewable for the masses? Are our students working just for their teachers, or are they working for the benefit of society? Does their work matter to people other than their teacher…?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

10 tips to avoid technology integration frustration

You’ve heard it before, you’ve seen it before, and you’ve most likely experienced it yourself before: technology integration frustration. Change is not easy. When we talk about change, especially technology changes that take us into the wide world of the unknown, things can quickly become even more complicated.

Technology integration in schools is particularly important because kids are really branching out and utilizing technology at a much higher rate than ever before. Part of teaching and helping students to safely and appropriately use technology is recognizing that it’s happening all around us. 

Here are 10 tips to help you and your colleagues avoid technology integration frustration.

1. Establish a focus and a purpose. One of the biggest issues plaguing education is the overabundance of initiatives in which participants don’t see a clear and obvious connection. Before moving ahead with a technology integration plan, help paint the full picture by presenting teachers with the purpose and the overall justification of the movement.

2. Bring the goods. There is nothing more frustrating than discussing the need for increased, integrated technology if there’s no technology available. Despite ever-shrinking budgets and more and more financial demands, ensure that technology is available for educators and students to use before you begin the discussion. To account for limited budgets, many districts are utilizing a hybrid model which provides a limited number of devices while also encouraging students to bring their own personal devices (BYOD). If you are encouraging students to bring their own devices, be sure to set some ground rules and guidelines for students, staff and parents.
3. Make sure your infrastructure is in place and has demonstrated, sustained reliability. It’s absolutely critical that schools have the proper networking capabilities and infrastructure in place prior to moving ahead with any kind of major technology integration initiative. When educators and students are looking to access the Internet, they need a reliable and robust system that makes access second-nature and easy.

4. Have a serious conversation about Internet filtering and technology access. Teaching digital citizenship and proper internet safety are crucial pieces when it comes to the technology access conversation. Too often though, districts and schools have a divide between those who safeguard the network and overall system and those who are most often using the network and system. Collaboratively with colleagues, students, and community members, establish a set of guidelines and expectations that involve integrating digital literacy and  citizenship into your curricula. Involve your technology department in this process, ensuring alignment between the overall integrity of the network while also allowing for trust, openness, and effective utilization of the network by educators and students.

5. Differentiate, customize, and personalize the process for staff. In order for this technology revolution to start and be effective, you must have an idea of your staff members’ technology knowledge and background. Take time to both formally and informally ask questions. This will help you when it comes to knowing where to start, as well as what information could be skipped over and/or re-emphasized.  

6. Help make technology and social media applicable to content. When someone asks, “How does this work for me in my class?,” you need to have an answer. Put yourself in the educator’s shoes and consider how these new tools can have a positive effect on the classroom. Provide your colleagues with lists of other people both in and out of the district who may be teaching the same or similar classes. Your fellow educators will only take part in the revolution if they see how technology and social media integration can help them or their students.

7. Do not drown your staff members with too much, too quickly. Don’t forget that our colleagues are learning, just as our students are. You can’t, and shouldn’t, give them too much to bite off at one time. Take it slowly by presenting one or two concepts at a time, allowing your fellow educators a better chance to fully grasp the topics before moving on to new ones. Make sure you don’t create a room full of brains that have shut down due to stress and confusion.

8. Support and encourage your shining stars. As the year progresses, a few “shining stars” will begin to emerge. These educators need to be encouraged and supported, because they are taking a risk by trying something new. Allow them to discover and explore, but also keep them in close contact. Be there to help if they start to struggle and want help. It is essential that they have your support and guidance.

9. Don’t make it just about the technology. This point needs to be made clear from the very beginning:  Technology is just another tool in the educator’s tool belt. Technology is a means to provide additional opportunities to enhance the overall impact of the lesson and/or activity. Using the SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition) model is an excellent strategy to get the point across that technology can redefine and completely change the types of activities you can do with students.

10. Prepare and acknowledge the implementation dip. Growth will be fast at first, but then there will be a collapse. There will be disappointment that something didn’t work out as planned, and there will be frustration when the students don’t respond how we thought they would. This is all a natural part of the change process. Be sure to remind folks frequently that there will be bumps and setbacks. However, a strategic approach to technology integration will enable us to better prepare students for success in the future, and that’s what it’s all about.  

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Future-cating or past-ucating...

Think about everything that happens in our schools… if it’s not absolutely necessary to help prepare kids for their future, then it should be eliminated. Simple as that.

That full plate we so often hear of can be greatly reduced when following this simple piece of advice.
Think about that next conversation you have with a colleague who is asking if they can/should do something in their classroom. Imagine if your response is as simple as, ‘if it’s going to help prepare your students for their future, then go for it, if not, then ditch it and do something that will.’

When you hear someone say they don’t have time to try that new idea or approach because they have to cover ‘x,y,z,’ simply respond with, what is more critical or necessary for preparing your students for their future? If it’s not ‘x,y,z,’ then clear your plate and try that new idea or approach.

No more excuses of ‘I have to do this or I have to do that.’ Keep it simple… do what is necessary for our students’ future and their future success.

I was inspired to write this post after attending #edcampstl and after reading this great post by Marc Prensky.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Where are all the dads?

When making a phone call home or emailing a parent about a student, do you naturally gravitate toward the female contact person, the male contact person, or are you 50/50?

When talking to a group of parents, do you tend to make more eye contact with the males in the room or the females, or are you equal?

Does your school have just as many events that encourage males to show up as they do females?

These are not trick questions, but spend a few moments to think about these scenarios.

Here's the main question we need to ask ourselves; are our actions as educators encouraging a lack of presence among males in our schools?

Are we doing enough to eliminate the cultural mindset that education is more of a 'female' kind of thing?

It's not anything new, but we all know most educators are female, and at the elementary levels you will be hard pressed to find any males outside of the maintenance/custodial department.

Now, research is quite clear that students with two parents who are both actively involved in their kid's education perform better academically and are more likely to develop a wider range of interests.

Having said that, what are we doing to ensure we are encouraging both parents to be actively involved in their child's education?

What are we doing to ensure we have more males in education roles so we can move away from education being just a 'female' thing?

This topic really got me thinking about cultural biases and about our education system and our society as a whole...

What do you think...?

I'd like to thank Chuck Baker for the inspiration as he did a great job leading a session on 'dads in education' at #edcampstl.