Friday, July 30, 2010

#LeadershipDay10-Some Questions To Ask...

It is that time of year again. Scott McLeod over at Dangerously Irrelevant has challenged all Edu-Bloggers to write posts today on Leadership in Education. I took part in my first Leadership Day last year and it was a lot of fun both writing the post and reading all the other posts as well.

I write a lot about leadership. In the past I have written about how if we ever want to achieve the change we desire in education we have to look at the top. I have also written about how failure in leadership is often due to a failure to communicate effectively. Just last week I did a Keynote for the good folks at NYSCATE where I talked to educational leaders from all over NY State and I tried to drive home some points to consider when it comes to technology integration in schools.

So for Leadership Day 2010 I don't have a post full of suggestions for leaders. I do have some questions we should be asking our leaders and ourselves as leaders in education.

These are 9 questions that I hope we are answering (or at least trying to answer) everyday.

1) Where is our organization going?

2) What is our mission?

3) Are coming into this building everyday and working towards our vision?

4) Is our building a welcoming place for our parents and community?

5) What are we doing to make learning better today?

6) How are we making connections with kids to insure we know each of their strengths and weaknesses?

7) How are we lifting up our teacher leaders and student leaders to grow them in to the leaders of tomorrow today?

8) What are we doing to give back to our community that has given so much to us?

9) How are we making connections and collaborating with partners world wide?

How many of these questions could you answer in your building or district today? Would you add any to the list? Take any away? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

Be sure to check out all the #LeadershipDay10 posts. There will be so many great ideas and suggestions that come out of this exercise. But what will have the greatest impact is for you to share. So gather up your favorite posts or all of them for that matter and pass them on to someone who might not be on Twitter or might not read blogs and encourage them to read the amazing and thoughtful ideas out there on educational leadership today.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I Wonder If This Social Media Thing Will Ever Catch On?

Last weekend I finished up a week of speaking and leading professional development by attending NTCamp in Philadelphia.The purpose was to try and give new teachers a jump start on their year by talking about issues that they might face in their first years and to give them ideas on how to make it and stay in the profession. There were sessions about assessment, technology, professional development and others. There was a great group of new teachers there and they all have bright futures ahead. What I really enjoyed was there were so many people there that I knew because of social media. Members of my PLN (Personal Learning Network), PLC (Professional Learning Community), colleagues, whatever you want to call them, (I call them all friends) were there sharing their learning with not only the new teachers, but with me as well.

Some of these friends of mine I have met before. Some I never had. But at a Tweetup on Friday night I had a "moment."  I was sitting at the head of a very long table. Along both sides of this table were people I mainly know from Twitter. There were teachers, technology integrators, administrators, professors, and others but all were truly amazing educators. I looked down the table and thought to myself, how did I get here? How did I get to surround myself with this group of educators from all over the country? How is it that I get to talk to (either virtually or face-to-face) with some of the most forward-thinking and progressive educators in this one room on a random day in July?

Social Media.

2 years ago I was just a district instructional technologist in a very small district in rural NC. I had heard about Twitter, Ning, and Web 2.0 but was just beginning to think about how I could use them with teachers. Fast forward 24 months and I have been fortunate enough to be on the stage in Los Angeles, New York City, Denver and tons of other places talking about how social media is what we need to make positive change in education. Everyday I get to interact with and learn from the best and the brightest around the world. All possible because of social media.

On #edchat last night we discussed the myths surrounding social media and how to debunk them so more districts and educators will see it has place in the classroom for both student learning and professional development. Many of us know the myths. Social Media is dangerous, it is a time suck, you can't learn while being social. Blah, blah, blah. It seems the same arguments against social media are the same ones for lots of other tools we have tried to use in education. The fact is the less we educate students and parents about the proper use of social media the more dangerous it becomes.

Schools and districts have to realize that students are going home and using Facebook and Twitter and getting on all types of social networks to talk about music, cars, poetry, and sports. So if we realize students, for the most part are using social networks for their own personal learning (and play) why not begin to realize their potential for learning in the classroom? Instead, we block their use, say they are evil and don't teach kids how to use them appropriately. And then we are surprise to read stories about companies that are not hiring kids because of what they have on their Facebook page.

The fact is social media breaks down barriers. I can remember in my 6th grade English class we had pen pals. I wrote to a kid my same age in Germany twice a month for the school year. We talked about all kinds of things. It was a valuable experience to lean how to write a proper letter but also to learn about another kid and another culture. And those are still valuable lessons. It is just that the pencil and paper, in the case of the pen pal have been replaced by Skype and Ning and other platforms. Classrooms are no long bound by the four walls. There is this huge digital classroom (called The World!) out there that we can easily connect to. Learning potential expands exponentially when we plug in and give kids the opportunities to use social media and digital tools in class.

The same happens with teachers. When teachers plug in to this global learning collaborative the learning possibilities are endless. Look at just this coming weekend. I have the honor of giving the Conference Closing Keynote for the 2010 Reform Symposium. This is an amazing, completely online conference organized through social media with presentations from my friends from all over the world on a huge range of topics. I seriously doubt this type of event would have be possible or have the same impact had it not been for social media. A free, 3 day, worldwide conference that you can attend in your pjs from the comfort of home. And there are still people out there that want to tell me social media has no place in education.

Look, social media is just a tool, just like all the other things I talk about and blog about. And because it is a tool it should be used as such. It has time and a place for use. But, to exclude it on the basis of irrational fears is beyond me. If we involve our parents and our community to teach the appropriate use of it and show our educators its power, we really can change education into a mighty force for the benefit of our students.

What do you think? How has social media changed the way you approach education? What about in your school. Is social media embraced or shunned? What are you thinking? Leave me some comments below.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Thoughts On School Leaders And Technology Integration...

Earlier this week I had the honor of delivering a Keynote Address for the NYSCATE Summer Leadership Summit in Albany, New York. Others involved in the conference were Tom Whitby and Eric Sheninger, both of which gave awesome talks, and the National Teacher of the Year, Sarah Brown Wessling from Iowa. I got to meet lots of great people and have some pretty awesome conversations.

My keynote centered around technology integration and school leaders. I wanted to share a few of the key points to keep in mind as administrators, specialists, superitendents and other school leaders make decisions regarding technology. While my keynote was not recored I was asked to post my presentation, which you will find below with a few of my notes on each point.

Change: As we all know change is going to happen. And we need to be prepared for that change. At least understand that it is inevitable. Look at all the tools that many of us use and teach about everyday for use in the classroom. When I was teaching the pinnacle of technology use was having students create Power Points, with animation or using Excel to create graphs. Now, over the past 3-5 years (and even in just the last year) look at all the amazing tools we now have that have to create truly authentic learning experiences for our kids. Or the devices. iPods, iPads, eReaders, Smartphones. All of these are slowly but surely making their way into the classroom. The change is happening, whether we like it or not so we have to be sure that we, at the very least, understand there is a change, but moreover, understand what that change means for our classrooms and for our kids.

Support: One of the things that really bugs me is when I see districts make major investments in technology yet in the very next breath talk about cutting positions like mine. So wait. You are gonna buy thousands and thousands of dollars worth of technology, put it in the hands of teachers and kids and then get rid of the people responsible for teaching them the right way to use it? That is what almost happened to me this year. My job was on the chopping block right after I bought $100,000 worth of technology for my school. I had to fight for my job. School leaders have to understand how crucial it is to have the support system in place. People are much more important that things. Have the right people in the right places and give them the power to support teachers and students so that technology can get integrated the right way.

Sell, Don't Tell: I have heard the stories before. A superintendent hears from some pitch man how awesome Tool X is and why they need it in their school. The Supt. bites, spends thousands to buy it then holds a meeting to tell everyone this is what we will be using with little to no explanation as to why. If you are going to put IWB's in to every classroom in your school, fine. But instead of just doing it, you have to sell it. If there is place where everyone is on board with every decision made regarding technology I wanna know so I can apply to work there. It just doesn't happen. School leaders have to understand what they are getting into before they get into it so they can sell it to their staffs and to the school community. And really, who likes to be told what to do. Buy in will be so much more if technology integration is sold, not told.

Professional Development: I have written and talked about this a lot. The long and short of it is, if school leaders are going to invest in technology they have too offer and support the professional development that goes along with that investment. That means people (which I discussed above) but more importantly the time. School leaders have to provide the means for teachers to get the PD that they need. And people like me (technology trainers) need to not only tell teachers how to use tools but layout the how and why to use specific tools in the classroom as they relate to content. So it comes down to quality professional development. PD the right way.

Everyone Is Involved: This is an area of passion for me. In some places there is this attitude that schools are not for students. They are more teacher-centered. Schools are places of learning for kids. Yet 99 times out of 100 they are left out of the decision making process. Why is that? Kids have just as much, if not more, invested in the process than the adults do. It is their education so shouldn't they have a say in how it is delivered? And what about parents and the community? When we bring new technologies into our schools how often are they brought in to discuss the decisions? Bring kids in. Bring parents in. Open the doors and bring the community in. Introducing a new tool to your staff or a group of teachers? Bring in the parents so you can demo it for them and talk to them about how this tool supports learning. Again it all goes back to sell, don't tell and buy in. We can avoid many of the problems we have with parents not understanding why we are using these tools if we just bring them in on the process.

Money: Plain and simple, there isn't ever enough of it to go around. Do your homework. Before making an investment in technology understand what you are buying. What is your investment worth. This goes back to change. Technology is constantly changing. So should we buy the latest and greatest the moment it hits the market? Or do we hold back and see if something else comes along? But if we wait do we miss a great opportunity for learning? It is no doubt a challenge but school leaders have to understand and surround themselves with people who understand all this stuff and be willing to make tough decisions with technology budgets.

Life Long Learning: Lastly, not only should our students be life long learners. Our entire community should be as well. Teachers, administrators, parents and the community. We have to cultivate an atmosphere where life long learning is promoted to all.

Those are just a few of my thoughts. What do you think? What should school leaders and administrators keep in mind when dealing with technology integration? Leave some comments below.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Value Of Getting Away From It All...

Last week I was on vacation. Before I left I vowed to my wife and my family I would completely unplug. After my wife picked herself off the floor because she was laughing so much she said I couldn't do it. Even on Twitter, there were bets going around that I would "show up" at some point and send a tweet.

I vacationed on the North Carolina Outer Banks, some of the most beautiful country around. We were in the remote village of Carova Beach, accessible only by 4x4 Wheel Drive vehicles because our beach house was literally on the beach. Almost 10 miles of our drive was on the sandy shores. It was a wonderful location, within a few feet of the beach and best of all, no TV and no Internet access. And our only neighbors were the wild horses that have lived on the beach since the 1600's. It is truly an amazing place.

Normally the No Internet access would bother me. I don't even stay in hotels that don't have free Internet of some kind. But this time was different. I was committed. I wanted to take a break. I wanted to completely unplug my life and just relax.

And I did just that. No Twitter, Internet, Computer or phone. There was not even cell phone service where we were so I could not be tempted to tether up and cheat. I just unplugged. I read a few great books, mostly fiction (some educational reform stuff), watched my daughter as she saw the ocean for the first time, hung out with my family and just relaxed.

I needed this. I spend a great deal of my time in front of a screen. Whether it be working on my various projects or getting things ready for the school year to begin or just watching the Tweets roll by. It is easy to forget that there is life outside of all this social media stuff.

I can't complain. Spending as much time as I do on Twitter, working on #Edchat or other social media interests has allowed me to do some pretty amazing things, and for that I am grateful. But unplugging is just as important as being plugged in. While I was gone from all my toys and from being connected I missed it at first. It was weird the first day not firing up my computer to check the Twitter stream from over night or the even just the news or my RSS reader. But as the days went on I just forgot about it. I didn't give it a thought as I spent time resting and relaxing.

We can get all wrapped up in our blogs and our Twitter life or even just our need to be plugged in 24/7. But take some time to unplug for a while, even if just for a few hours. And when you come back, I bet you will appreciate all that you missed. And trust me, it will be there waiting for you.

So how do you unplug? If you have been or are going on vacation this summer did you take a computer or a phone? Or did you leave them all behind? How do you get away from it all and take a break from social media. Leave some comments below.

Monday, July 5, 2010

What Makes A Personal Learning Network Valuable To You?

I get that question all the time. Really the meaning is, well, personal. My PLN is different from anyone else's, however, we all have similarities is why we have one and why it is important to us.

Recently at #ISTE10 a video was shot, interview several members of my PLN as to why they have one, how they use theirs, and more specifically, how Twitter has helped build that PLN. This is a video I will definitely be using in upcoming trainings and talks. Check it out...

Also, last Spring I got several other members of my PLN to give me the reason why their PLN is important to them and why they find theirs valuable to their professional learning.

So those are just a few examples of why a PLN. What are your reasons? Why is your PLN valuable to you? Leave some comments below.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Final Reflections From Denver And #ISTE10

I came home from Denver and ISTE10 on Thursday afternoon and I really needed this long to decompress and reflect on my experiences. This was my first time to the conference and I knew it was going to be amazing before I even got there.

As I mentioned in my last post I got to head out to Colorado a few days early to spend some time with people I only knew from Twitter. Before we go to Estes Park we were sitting in a restaurant and I casually asked Beth Still honestly how big this conference was. Now you have to understand, I come from a very small and rural part of North Carolina so a gathering over 100 people is huge. She asked me how big I thought it was and I guessed 5, 6 thousand people. Everyone at the table gave a little laugh. Confused, I asked what everyone was laughing and was told that there would actually be between 12 and 20 thousand people.

I was glad to be a part of what has to be the largest technology and quiet frankly the largest educational conference in the world. Now that my reflections are some what complete here are some of my general thoughts on the entire experience.

-EdubloggerCon: It is well worth the extra airfare and hotel room to spend one more day at the conference. After this event I knew it was going to be difficult for the conference to replicate the learning I experienced there. Nothing is planned until that morning. Yet with the level of the sessions there you would never know. Each session I attended was like none I have ever been to anywhere before. The advice I have is go to something outside of your comfort zone. There was a session lead by Jon Becker on whether or not we should use the term PLN (for Personal Learning Network). Many in the session got very angry with Jon and I was in the beginning but as the session went on my thinking got stretched more and more and I really like that. Not only that, we talked about his session for several days after the hour and ended. That is what learning should do. We shouldn't walk in to an hour session, listen to something and then after the hour, it's over. ISTE could learn a lot from the Unconference style of EBC. So, my advice, head out a day early and take part in EBC. Well worth the time, effort and money.

-Bloggers Cafe: Before I went out to Denver someone told me that most of my time would be spent in this area of the conference. And they were right. On Sunday I spent over 4 hours sitting there and meeting and talking to some of the greatest technology and education minds on the planet. This was also where I watched the disastrous keynote and had a good laugh listening to the commentary from everyone. Each day of the conference for me started in Bloggers and I found myself there several times each day meeting people or just hanging out. It was in a great location, very central to the conference so everyone had to walk by at some point. The name is misleading. I am sure some blog posts were written there but I feel like more connections were made between people and it was more of that EBC/Unconference atmosphere that many craved. My advice, if you didn't hang out there, make a point to next year, you might just want to bring some comfortable furniture from another part of the convention center.

-Social Butterfly Lounge and #Edchat: This was the first year for the Social Butterfly Lounge and it seemed to be a very popular place. Dawn and Katie over at ISTEConnects did a great job organizing several mini session of popular social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, iPod/iPad Apps and Foursquare. I, along with several others like Kyle Pace and Mary Beth Hertz lead sessions that introduced these topics to people or just offered our advice and insight in how educators could use these tools better. This space also lead to some impromptu sessions too. I ran into Vicki Davis and she filmed me teach someone how to install and use Foursquare. (You can watch the video here.) This was also the space that ISTE kindly donated to us to do #Edchat on Tuesday. And I have to say it was a complete success. We had about 100 people, in the flesh, participating. It was a chance for them to get together, talk but also tweet about this week's topic. I am so grateful to Katie, Dawn, and ISTE for helping us get that event together so quickly and allowing us to use the space. I hope that this can be an annual event.

-Connections: In my last post I wrote about if you can have real relationships with people you only knew through social media. After spending over a week with people I only knew from SM I truly believe you can have those relationships and I saw it at ISTE10 as well. It was so awesome to see people who had never meet in person meet just walking by each other. It really was like old friends reuniting after time apart. I just wish ISTE had made it easier for us to spot each other by putting our Twitter names on our badges, but that is a suggestion for next year. A good idea I saw a lot of is if you don't use your regular picture on your profile to change it just for the conference for people to find you. I have to say besides EBC and the learning there, meeting so many people I know from and talk to through social media sites was the best part. I love just meeting people and talking to people. It makes our connection all that more real.

-Sessions: I have a confession. I went to 3 sessions (not including the one I was a part of) the whole 4 days I was there. Yep, just 3. Two of them were laptop sessions and the other was a ballroom session. It isn't that I just had no interest. It was that many of the session would appeal to people who had limited knowledge of the topics covered there. Honestly, there were poster sessions that would have been awesome general sessions. I think ISTE could do a better job of providing more sessions that are less tool orientated and more action and integration orientated. There were tons of "Lets Learn This Tool" and not enough of "You Know This Tool But Let's Look At Ideas On How To Integrate It And Use It With Kids." I also like controversy (hence my attendance at Jon's session at EBC) and I just didn't see enough of that either. I would really like to see more sessions that are unplanned and that just happen. But that is the beauty of Bloggers. No session, cool. Head over there and strike up a conversation.

What a great conference. Really. Hanging out with the Blue Bunnies from Simple K12. All the tweetups, meeting people, even the free stuff on the vendor floor really helped make my first ISTE conference experience one to remember. I am already looking forward to seeing everyone again in Philly!

Even if you couldn't go there are tons of ways to get in on the stuff that was there:
ISTE Vision has video archives of several session, most not to miss.
ISTE Connects has lots of summaries and links from several of the session. Lots of great resources here.
The main ISTE10 Conference Website has tons more information including links to resources uploaded by presenters. Do a search for a session and see if their stuff has been uploaded. (It should be by now but they have until July 9 so head back often.)

Oh, and it isn't too early to start planning for Philly. So head over to the ISTE11 site and see all the great things planned for next year. And start saving those pennies so we can meet, either again or for the first time in Philly!