Thursday, June 26, 2014

You are the 'game changer'

Too often in education I think we sit back and react to what happens.

We patiently and politely allow life and school to happen without putting too much skin in the game.

Talk of change and innovation tend to stay just that, talk.

We more often than not feel like we are merely pawns in a bigger game of chess.

We are all looking for that quick fix or that dynamic person who will provide us all the answers to our questions...

Well, I'm not comfortable with the sit and wait approach.

I'm not comfortable with putting the fate of my situation in someone else's hands.

And frankly I'm not comfortable with and I don't believe our kids deserve to be told to be patient while someone else or something else provides our solution.

It may be simple and maybe I am overplaying the value of words, but what if we shifted our thinking?

What if we weren't waiting for that 'game changer,' and instead we ourselves became the 'game changer?'

What if every day we went to school we viewed ourselves as our solution? What if we took back the power and stopped waiting for someone or something else?

Just think what would be possible if we made this shift.

Let's empower ourselves and make this vitally important shift and stop waiting for superman and instead become the superman/woman our kids deserve...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Numbers are destroying education

Data-driven decisions...

Data-driven leadership...

Data-driven response to intervention and differentiation...

Data data data...

If you interview for a position in education you are certain to get a question about using data to influence what you do. Being able to quantify information and populate excel spreadsheets and pie charts seem to be all the rage these days.

Students (most but not all) are so hungry for more points that they have completely lost sight of the purpose and value of learning. They have their sights set on extra credit, maximum number of points, and constantly wanting to know 'if it's for a grade.'

Numbers are a part of everyday life, but I fear they are one of the major contributing factors that are hampering, eroding, polluting, negatively affecting and toxifying education.

Here's the rub... numbers aren't inherently evil, but the way they are most frequently used is.

We want and expect accountability but we don't know any other way other than numbers in charts and spreadsheets. But what we fail to realize is that the measurements we are using to collect these numbers aren't always accurate or valid.

The value and accuracy of numbers rests in the methods and measures used to collect them which for most educators are foreign and uncharted waters.

Educators aren't trained (and probably aren't interested) in being statisticians and hardcore researchers who commit themselves to countless hours of gathering and accumulating data.

So, make no mistake, we need numbers in education and we need information to support our decisions. But let's take a moment to shift the focus away from gathering all this data and information and focus on how and why we are gathering all this data and information...

Is Twitter losing its 'pizzazz?'

So, recently I've seen quite a few blog posts about the negativity occurring in the Twitterverse.

The educator on educator crime has seemed to increase and professional and collaborative discourse seems to be fading.

I'm also reading how several folks whom I greatly respect as educators are disengaging from Twitter and stepping back for a while.

Lastly, I'm hearing that the Twitterverse is becoming polluted with self promoters and folks who aren't really interested in learning from others, rather instead solely interested in self-promotion.

Having said all that, I'm not completely oblivious to these thoughts and beliefs. In fact, I've noticed some of these trends and have noticed a shift in how folks are using Twitter.

Now, I honestly don't believe anyone is in a position to tell another person how they should or shouldn't use Twitter, but the change is real and the effects are being noticed.

But... doesn't this shift (whether good or bad) represent what makes this tool so great?

Didn't Twitter become what it is because it provided a fluid and flexible medium that could adapt and change as the market so desired?

I guess what I'm saying is, do others feel that Twitter has become 'expendable' and is losing its pizzazz as one of (if not the) best tools for connection and collaboration?

Has Twitter become the latest victim of the social media craze that propels you to the top overnight and back down just as quickly...?

For the record, I still haven't given up on you Twitterverse...

Sunday, June 22, 2014

10 tips for starting a technology revolution

I've had the opportunity to work in several different capacities in my education career. In all these roles I've been a vocal advocate for integrating more technology in education. Ideally, we really shouldn't be having a separate conversation about technology, but the reality is we still have quite a lot of room for improvement in this area. Some of the 10 following tips have been learned the hard way, while others just happened to work out well. Either way, these 10 tips should hopefully provide some assistance as more and more buildings and districts start their very own technology revolutions...

1 - Make sure the administration is on board...

This first tip is not always 100% necessary, but I can say from experience that it will certainly make things easier. Approach your building and district administration with concrete examples of how integrating more technology will increase student engagement, thus increasing student learning opportunities. Additionally, provide real life examples of how social media and technology have improved your abilities as an educator. Share with them how social media and technology can be a valuable asset when it comes to educator growth and development, as well as how these tools can be used as a foundation for professional development.

2 - Lay the groundwork and foundation by asking simple questions...

In order for this technology revolution to start you must have an idea of where your fellow colleagues are when it comes to technology knowledge and background. Simply take some 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 to get the technology revolution underway. Additionally, use these questions to find out what pieces of technology and social media are already being used, and in what ways they are being used.

3 - Some educators will be advanced...but most will not be - GO SLOW...

I have probably heard "You need to slow down" more than any other comment thus far in my career. The excitement and passion some educators have for technology and social media is awesome...however, this excitement must be contained and released on a slow and controlled basis. Going slow ensures you won't lose anyone simply because you were going too fast. Remember, some of these concepts and ideas are 100% brand new, so consequently going slow and not overwhelming anyone is key.

4 - Do not drown your fellow educators with too much too soon...

Please don't forget that our colleagues are learning and have similar characteristics and qualities as our students do. Furthermore, you can't and shouldn't give them too much to bite off at one time. Take it slowly and present one or maybe two concepts at a time. By limiting yourself to one or two concepts, your fellow educators have a much better chance of fully grasping those topics before moving on to any new ones. A stressed and confused brain shuts down...make sure you don't help in creating a room full of shut down brains.

5 - Support and encourage your shining stars...

As the year progresses and the technology revolution is more underway, a few sparks and shining stars will begin to emerge. These educators will be embracing the technology revolution. They will even be using some of the concepts they have learned in their classes. These educators need to be encouraged and supported, because they are taking a chance and a risk by trying something new (in case you didn't know, this is really difficult for most educators). Allow these "superstars" to discover and explore, but keep them also in close contact. Be there to help at the first sign of struggling, but only if they want help. These shining stars are the first sign of a successful technology revolution. They will be alone and at times alienated for trying something new, they will need your support and guidance.

6 - Use the largest, loudest, and most listened to group in the school - the students...

Invite and encourage students in your school to help teach and lead social media and technology sessions. Can you imagine a better way to get students more involved and engaged than this? This will also help educators to realize it is okay to not know all the answers. We can learn from students just as we expect them to learn from us. The students are and will continue to be a great resource that unfortunately, most schools never tap into...let's change that.

7 - Get constant feedback from your colleagues...

Just as educators use formative assessments to get feedback and information from students, we need to get feedback and information from our colleagues. Ask them how these new ideas are impacting their classrooms; ask them if they are using any of these tools to grow professionally; ask them if they see value in learning about technology and social media integration. You have to not only ask these questions, but you also have to respond to their answers. Simply asking the questions is not enough, you will need to change, modify, and adapt based on their responses. This is a vital key moving forward as you continue the technology revolution.

8 - Offer your time to help others (off the clock)...

Busy is the default. We are all busy, but when you are starting a revolution, you will need to offer your assistance and services when others are available and have time. This will require you to stay after school to help. This will require you to use your conference period to answer emails and trouble shoot problems people might be having. It is absolutely crucial you are available to help answer some of the questions your colleagues WILL have. The first stages of any revolution are the most difficult...this one will be no different.

9 - Help make technology and social media applicable to their class / content area...

When somebody asks, and they will ask, "How does this work for me in my class," you will need to have an answer. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment and think about how these new tools can have a positive effect on their classroom. Provide your colleagues with lists and resources of other people teaching the same or similar classes. If your fellow educators don't see how technology and social media integration can help them or their students, they will not take part in the revolution.

10 - When you get discouraged, don't - the revolution will be long and hard...

As hard as it is to imagine, there will be fellow educators who will be critical. They will purposely try to derail the technology revolution. They will talk in the shadows about how this is just one more thing and by next year it will be gone. They will relish in any setback or problem that arises. DO NOT LET THEM GET YOU DOWN. You see value in what you are doing, and you know it can positively affect the lives of both students and educators. Remain steady in your resolve and do what is best for the kiddos. Your colleagues will be looking to you for leadership and inspiration, and it is your job to be the unyielding voice of optimism and hope. Are you ready for the revolution...? 

Friday, June 20, 2014

If you cheat, you deserve a ZERO!

Most educators are divided when it comes to the question of what to do with students who cheat. Should the student automatically receive a zero and that is the punishment for the student? Should the student receive a behavioral/poor decision punishment but then receive another academic opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge?

Educators in both camps are very passionate about their feelings when it comes to cheating...

So, why does a student cheat?

Perhaps the student doesn't know the material so he/she feels forced to cheat...

Perhaps the student can't resist the temptation of cheating because it's easier and perhaps the opportunity presented itself and the student just can't help his/herself...

Perhaps the student just made a poor choice...

So, I think the bigger questions being asked here are what do we hope and expect a student to learn from cheating, as well as what do we want a grade to actually represent in the classroom?

For those who believe the student should receive an automatic zero and that's the end of the story, what does the student learn? I believe the student learns that they shouldn't get caught next time. I honestly don't believe the student learns anything about responsibility or about being ethical in their decision to cheat or not to cheat. Additionally, this student now has a grade that is not 100% accurate in terms of student knowledge/mastery because student behavior has been included in the grade.

For those who believe the student should receive a behavioral punishment and another academic opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, what does the student learn? I believe the student learns that cheating won't go unpunished, as well as that the work the student cheated on was important enough that the teacher gets input/feedback from the student in regard to their knowledge/mastery of the content/skill.

But, what about those students who choose not to cheat? Shouldn't they know their good behavior is acknowledged and shouldn't they know those who choose to cheat will be punished?

Yes, those students who choose to cheat will receive a behavioral punishment, but they also get the opportunity to do another assessment/assignment in addition to that punishment.

Also, I personally don't believe that the other students who decide not to cheat really care what happens to those who do cheat. I find that most people want to do the right thing and that is all they are worried about.

The way I see it is that it's way too easy to give the student a zero and then move on. Let's respond to the poor behavior that was exhibited and then let's also give that student another assessment/assignment to complete so they can demonstrate their knowledge.

If we want a grade to represent what a kid knows, then behavior can't be a part of the grade...

Monday, June 16, 2014

What does 'real-world' education look like?

So often we talk about making education relevant. We talk about making 'connections' to the real-world and events that are occurring all around the world.

We are challenged to find ways for students to see value and relevance to what they are doing in school. We are charged with creating a learning environment that is both challenging and applicable to the very lives we and our students are living.

So, then why do we spend so much time thinking up fake and made-up problems and designing situations for our students to solve and work on?

The truth is, the world definitely doesn't have a shortage of problems that are worthy of our attention and time. In fact, if education became more connected to the world and solving its problems, we just might be onto something...

English: The ability to read and write... the ability to communicate comes second nature to many, but what about those who lack these seemingly 'basic' skills? Roughly 11% (775 million people) of the world's population is illiterate. What if we could change this? What if we could empower these 775 million people?

Social studies: Whether it be the issues occurring in Ukraine, the drama and riots unfolding in the midst of the World Cup, or the ever escalating concerns in Iraq and the Middle East, our students are living in a world of increasing uncertainty, and it's this uncertainty that needs both our attention and awareness. What if our students focused on ways to prevent these types of disputes to make the world a safer place?

Science: The impact on the environment is very real, and it's future generations who will feel the brunt of the negative effects. Let's put more minds to work on this issue and let's bring it to the forefront for students and their future. Sometimes it's the mind of a child that can best see the truth and cut through all the 'gray.'

Math/engineering: Bridges, roads and major infrastructure deficiencies exist across the globe, and perhaps if our math/engineering students were allowed to tackle these real-world problems, some viable and worthwhile long-term solutions could be discovered.

Foreign language: The world is getting smaller and smaller and as global connectedness becomes more and more a common reality, the need for cultural tolerance and global understanding are becoming increasingly important.

Foods/nutrition: There is a global food epidemic and starvation is still a very real problem in our world. Imagine if our students were working toward more food sustainability, more nutritional food and a better means of getting this food to those who are most in need.

PE/health: Obesity rates are rising and overall health seems to be in decline for the masses. We've reached a point when life expectancy is starting to stagnate. Let's allow and work with our students to figure out ways to get that number going higher again. Let's take a step forward in raising students who are health and fitness conscious and are committed to living a long and healthy life.

In closing, let's stop thinking of problems for our students to solve, and let's start working on the problems that are right in front of us...

Sunday, June 15, 2014

I'm sorry if my tweet offended you...

140 characters...

Any hashtag you could ever imagine...

The entire world is your audience... a billion registered users and growing...

Twitter is the perfect medium to get your message out and get your viewpoint in front of the masses.

With this awesome power and responsibility come great downside and great potential for misinterpretation and miscommunication.

The truth is though, not all tweets are seen. In fact, most tweets are never seen and are simply lost in the 'twitterverse' due to the overwhelming number of tweets that are flying around.

For a tweet to be seen there must be something about the tweet that catches the eyes of other tweeps.

There must be something about the tweet that stands out and rises above the saturated mist of other tweets.

Sometimes the tweet is in response to something that just happened... sometimes the tweet is to evoke emotion and stir up passion.

When either of these occurrences happen, the entire message doesn't come across in a single tweet. Even in a group of tweets. The background information is missing and the level of prior knowledge is non-existent.

This is when the misinterpretation and miscommunication happen...

Not on purpose and not with malicious intent or desire to offend. It is unfortunately just a byproduct of this powerful and far-reaching tool.

For what it's worth, I'm sorry if my tweet offended you.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Educator comfort to student learning ratio

So, my career in education is fast approaching a decade... ten full years as an educator! Wow does the time fly...

Just recently I've seemed to have an epiphany, and this epiphany is born out of transition, adaptation, change, and transformation.

I've definitely had moments of discomfort and uncertainty in my education career. I've been asked to do things I wasn't ready for or prepared to do. I've been put in positions that have pushed my boundaries and have pushed my levels of knowledge and expertise. I've experienced countless nights wondering about how new changes or new ideas will turn out and how they will be perceived by others.

I'm almost gotten comfortable with being uncomfortable...

Here's the epiphany... the level of comfort educators experience is directly linked to the learning experiences and learning opportunities that become available for students.

In other words, if you are constantly comfortable and constantly doing what you have always done, then learning experiences and learning opportunities for students will be minimal.

Conversely, if you are constantly pushing yourself and charging toward the unknown and acknowledging that discomfort is a part of being relevant, you will present rich learning opportunities and experiences to your students.

Now, I don't have any 'data' or quantitative analysis to support this claim, but I think I may be on to something here.

Challenge yourself to seek out what you are uncomfortable doing. Challenge yourself to do what you've never done before. Challenge yourself to do what others say can't be done. Embrace discomfort and the unknown because it's in the world of the unknown that great things become possible for students.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

10 thoughts on getting hired

One of the neat and unique things about my position is my role in human resources and personnel. This part of my role affords me the opportunity to participate in the hiring process all the way from developing a job description, creating the job posting document itself, selecting and contacting those who we will interview, arranging the interview process, sitting in on the interviews, providing input and feedback on the possible candidates, and lastly, contacting those we've selected as well as those who aren't quite right for the position. Needless to say, I get to see the entire process from start to end.

So, based on my experience, here are five things you can do that will help you get hired, and five things that won't do you any favors when it comes to getting hired.

Get hired:

1). Be energetic, be positive, and be confident about your abilities. You got the interview, which means you've already done something right, so now it's time to capitalize on what you've done and sell yourself.

2). Have a predetermined list of strengths/accomplishments/things you are proud of already thought-out and rehearsed. Obviously you don't know what questions you will be asked in an interview, so having a predetermined list of topics you want to make sure are discussed and brought out is a must.

3). Be humble but not too humble. Remember, you don't know everything and even if you do, nobody wants to hear you are the best and most knowledgeable person about everything. Recognize that you bring a certain skill-set and you will add value, but don't shy away from saying you don't know about something or that you are willing to learn more about a possible topic.

4). Tell stories... yes, of course you are going to get peppered with questions, but don't just stop with a one sentence answer to the question. Tell relevant and applicable stories that show you are human and that you can validate the comments you are saying. These stories make you real and give your interview life... plus, everyone enjoys a good story. (Bonus, tell a story that makes the interview committee laugh)

5). Follow up the interview with a thank you call, thank you email, or thank you letter. It's classy and it says a lot about you.

Don't get hired:

6). Say negative stuff about your past/current employer... the reality is, it might feel good to say how you truly feel, but in the end, if you are talking bad publicly about your employer, then the fear is naturally going to be if you are going to talk about your prospective employer behind its back? Be safe, and stay positive and focus on your own personal growth... not on the short falls of others.

7). Show up not dressed appropriately... I'm still amazed at how often this happens. I still believe the saying that you dress for the job you want... not the job you have. You won't be remembered for being overdressed, but you will be remembered for being under dressed.

8). Don't know about the job or read the job description well enough to know exactly the job you are interviewing for. Job description postings are shared for a reason, so please read them and prepare yourself based on the job description, not on the job you want or think it should be.

9). Look down the entire time and provide no eye contact to those who are interviewing and speaking with you. Yes, interviewing can be nerve wracking and intimidating, but you want to demonstrate confidence and presence, so be sure to look up and make eye contact.

10). Don't ask any questions. Sure, you don't need to ask 100 questions, but even if your main questions get answered during the interview, come up with something to ask or talk about when asked if you have any questions. When you have good questions, it says a lot about you and the research you did about the position and it solidifies your commitment to the position.

Good luck and what would you add to the list?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The 'typical' educator...

Being 'disruptive' is all the rage now.

Being innovative, being creative and being a risk-taker are some of the major buzzwords being thrown around in the education community. Additionally, educators who are skeptical and are willing to push the system are seen as the true leaders in education.

Here's the deal... these are not the typical words that describe the typical educator.

Let's be honest, and I'm not saying it's right or wrong, I'm simply calling it the way I see it. The typical educator was good at the game of school. The typical educator played by all the rules and did for the most part exactly as he/she was told and expected. The typical educator probably wouldn't be described by his/her former teachers as someone who was disruptive and someone who took risks.

The typical educator is predictable and conservative and more times than not will take the safe route and travel the road that's been traveled several times before.

Perhaps I'm wrong with this observation, but I find the typical person who gravitates toward the education profession isn't one who we would consider as 'disruptive' and someone who is willing to deviate from 'safe' and take a big risk.

Obviously this isn't true for all who have entered the education profession, but I definitely feel it accounts for the majority of folks who work in education.

So here's the rub... if we want and are expecting educators to be 'disruptive,' innovative, outside the box thinking, and risk-taking individuals, aren't we asking and expecting most folks to be someone they aren't?

Aren't we asking the folks who look the 'best' on paper, appear to be the most reliable and trustworthy with the lives of students, to be and act differently?

Just one of the marbles that is currently rolling around in my head...

Accountability & finger pointing...

A phrase I've been hearing a lot lately in education is making sure we are 'being held accountable.' This phrase in itself is pretty innocent, however the context in which it's used can make a world of difference. In the same vein, it's becoming easier and easier for folks to point fingers with all the emphasis and focus on 'accountability.'

For example, if you are a student, the teacher has the responsibility of making sure you are learning what you are supposed to learn. The teacher is entrusted to hold each student accountable for doing their work and completing all assigned tasks as requested by the teacher.

If you are a teacher, you are being held accountable by your building level administration. Teachers are charged with ensuring each student learns the board approved curriculum, all professional paperwork is completed and turned in on time, and lastly, that they uphold the professional image of the school district.

For building administrators, you are being held accountable by the district level administration. Building administrators are asked to lead their respective buildings. They do this by making sure the teachers they are holding accountable are holding their students accountable.

The superintendent and other central office administrators are held accountable by the Board of Education. The BoE works closely with the superintendent to ensure the school district operates smoothly and efficiently. The BoE is able to do this by holding the superintendent and other central office administrators accountable for initiating and monitoring the implementation of the district vision and goals.

Lastly, the Board of Education is entrusted by the community to maintain a safe learning environment for the children and parents within the community. The BoE is held accountable by the community by a democratic process that takes place every April, when new BoE members are elected or re-elected.

With all of these levels of accountability, we have to ensure we don't lose sight of what our main purpose as educators is; preparing students to be autonomous and independent thinkers who know full well they will live in an unknown future that is constantly changing and evolving.

So, at the end of the day, let's all assume accountability and let's stop pointing fingers, and let's get to work because I think we all know there's a lot that needs to be done...

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

I don't have any secrets... should I?

I tweet.

I blog.

I then share it all.


My educational secrets aren't really a secret.

If you are just half paying attention to what I share in the digital space, then you know how I feel about grades.

You know how I feel about technology integration.

You know how I feel about textbooks and you know my thoughts on school discipline and student relationships.

You know my philosophy on leadership and you know my commitment to lifelong self-directed professional development.

When I go to a meeting to talk about a topic, (any of the above would be appropriate), everyone knows where I will fall.

Heck, I bet some even know what I'm going to say before I ever say it.

My educational secrets are more like educational 'knowns.'

I'm just wondering though if all this transparency of thoughts can actually work against me.

I'm just wondering if people automatically assume I'm not interested in their ideas or their perspectives because they think they already know what I think and what I'm going to say.

I'm just wondering...

Monday, June 2, 2014

10 reasons it's time to move beyond the textbook

1). Paper is getting more and more expensive and textbooks frankly aren't very environmentally friendly.

2). Because the typical history book has just a few pages on the Civil War and when I google the 'Civil War' I get 870,000,000 results in .047 seconds.

3). I have never seen a textbook that wasn't written with bias or written free of errors. So all the folks who believe that textbooks are 'reliable' and 'unbiased' resources, are sadly mistaken.

4). Textbooks can't be adapted and can't be updated once they are printed.

5). There are so many relevant and up-to-date resources that are available for free or for very low cost. When it comes to personalizing and differentiating instruction, textbooks aren't the best choice because they offer a one-size fits all approach.

6). Let's be honest, kids aren't going home and 'reading' textbooks. Also, if kids are doing worksheets and answering questions from a textbook, it's time to reevaluate your instructional practices.

7). Textbooks are quite expensive when compared to similar resources and instructional materials, and when school budgets are being stretched, the money should be spent elsewhere.

8). Textbooks are heavy, bulky, taste good to dogs, and lead to student back problems... I'm not seeing much positive here!

9). Real life doesn't come with a textbook, so why are we so focused on believing that kids need a textbook to learn...?

10). 1,000 different textbooks on 1,000 different topics can be replaced by one single device with access to the internet... enough said.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Digital citizenship isn't just for students...

Just recently two pretty significant events have happened with educators and their poor choices in the digital space. Both of these incidents come from large school districts in the heart of St. Louis, MO, and unfortunately, leave a rather bad taste in the mouths of citizen tax payers who are footing the bill for 'professionals' of high moral and ethical character.

Obviously with anything, a few bad apples won't and shouldn't ruin the bunch, but we know how that goes. 

To my point... we focus so much on trying to teach our students about digital citizenship.

We add curricula and activities to hopefully prepare our kids for the 'unfiltered' and 'unprotected' world that exists beyond the walls of a school.

We add discipline procedures and initiate codes of conduct for students both in the academic setting and the athletic setting.

We expect our students to demonstrate good judgement and to be positive members of society who treat others with respect and dignity.

I am in complete agreement with all that we do... however unfortunately, I think we are missing a rather large group and segment of the population.

I think it's time we do more for the adults. Those who we put in charge of teaching our students. Those who we expect and demand are above reproach at all times.

Let's just get one thing straight... it's time to stop thinking it's just kids who need to learn about digital citizenship, and recognize some of our worst culprits come from our very own ranks of those who are charged with teaching and modeling appropriate behavior for kids.

Stepping off of my soap box now...