Friday, August 26, 2011

Five Questions To Start The Year

In most places students are either starting school or getting ready to go back. But before we get to far into the year it is a good idea to step back and reflect a bit about our place in the classroom and the year ahead.

Here are five questions to consider as we start this new year:

1) What's my hook? Everyday is an opportunity to capture the attention of our students. What will each day bring? Who know's? But, there are certainly ways we can hook kids right from the very beginning of the first day. When I was in the classroom, I had a teammate that would dress up as a character from a novel the kids would be reading that year and take on that role the whole first day. I always tried to tie some current event into the first day to get kids thinking about where we will be going with our learning that year and why that mattered. The point is be excited! Kids feed off that energy. I know it's tough to get back in the grove of things. But who wants to sit in a sterile classroom, especially on the first day. Spice it up. Do something different. (Check out my Back To School Survey with lots of options for First Day activities.) And hey, learning can be fun!

2) Who are these kids? Each student that walks through the door has a story. Some stories are filled with lots of happy memories and good times. For others, it might be tough to find a bright spot. In order to teach the kids in the room, we have to know the kids in the room. Those first days are so important to get to know each and every one of those stories. Sure there are lots of fancy ways to do it. But the simplest and easiest way it to take an interest and just ask. Form a relationship with each one. They may not open up in the beginning but it will pay off down the road.

3) What am I going to teach? Ok, ok. I know what you are thinking. You know what you have to teach. You probably have a pacing guide or standards that you have to teach. My point here is less about content, and more about methods. How are you going to teach so that learning takes place. Is the focus on formative rather than summative data gathering. Why do kids want to come into class each day and learn with you. What do the kids want to do? Make the time and ask them. Give them choice. Let them shine.

4) How will I model leadership? Even kids can be leaders. Giving them the opportunity to take the lead on things in the classroom helps build their capacity to lead. But they need to see good leadership in action. So how will you model that for your students? Think about your leadership roles in the building. Where do you lead and how do you lead in those areas? And how can you bring those qualities into the classroom?

5) How will I reflect each day? Like I mentioned before, reflection is such a big part of who I am and that is only because I make myself do it each day. This blog is a public extension of my reflections. Whether we reflect publicly or privately, the goal here is to look at what is working, what isn't and how we are going to change. For my, my PLN (Personal Learning Network) is a big part of my reflection. If I am working on a project or just need help with something I have a large group of people, with a wide variety of folks to ask questions of and get feedback from. But, again, the point here is to spend time, no matter how you do it, reflect. Ponder. Question. Think.

What do you think? Are there other questions you ask yourself to start the year? What are they? Leave some comments below.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Back To School-Leadership In 2011

I orginially wrote this post back in 2009. Since that time so much has gone on in the world of Social Media in Education, I decided it needed some updating...

There is so much pressure on school leadership in this day and age. School budgets are growing tighter and tighter. More, now than ever, schools and districts are facing the real possibility of laying off teachers and not having enough in funds to to even keep the doors open to some schools. The vast majority of districts across this country have had to make hard decisions regarding budgets; many of them deciding to make drastic, but necessary cuts in order to save jobs and still give students the best possible education.

There is pressure from state and federal mandates on testing. I see it all the time in the schools that I visit; administrators staring in to computer screens, pouring over spreadsheets, trying to figure out where their students are and where they need to be in terms of testing. Many spend late nights in their offices in April and May thinking of ways to give their students the edge they need to pass the test.

With all of these external pressures there is little time for school leadership to encourage teachers to take risks in their classroom and be creative in terms of technology. However, I believe there are 5 simple things that school leadership can do to help teachers as they transition their classrooms to Web 2.0 learning.

1) Why do we even need to be having this conversation? Why do we need to change? Watch Did You Know 4.0 to understand what will happen if we do nothing. There is a great wiki that goes with the video, well worth your time to check out as well.  (Also check out this post on the best TED Talks for School Leaders.)

2) What do good school leaders do? Check out this short presentation from 2 of the best and most connected administrators in education. Which qualities do you exhibit? Which do you need to work on to support technology in your school or district?

3) Become familiar with the NETS for Administrators- The National Education Technology Standards (NETS) for Administrators have been around since 2009. According to the NETS website: "The NETS for Administrators enable us to define what administrators need to know and be able to do in order to discharge their responsibility as leaders in the effective use of technology in our schools." The NETS provide guidance to school leadership on everything from learning culture to professional practice to digital citizenship. Many of the Standards only require the encouragement, vision and assurance from the administration to ensure that technology is being used to re-shape learning in their buildings.

4) Grow your PLN- Just like teachers, administrators and school leadership need a Professional Learning Network (PLN). Your PLN is there for you to share ideas with, listen to your problems but most of all help you grow ideas you have. Your PLN consists of people who are just like you, that you can turn to when you need that point of view you can't get from anywhere else. One of the best and easiest ways to create a PLN is to join Twitter. There are 100's of school administrators there right now waiting to network. Check out the Principals page on Twitter4Teachers to start. There is also a wonderful hashtag, #cpchat, that many social media using administrators use. (Oh, and if you need more information on how to get the most out of Twitter or how it works, visit my Twitter Livebinder, with over 150 resources.) There are other groups too like Classroom 2.0 on Ning and groups on LinkedIn. The point here is that you are not alone. Learning does not take place in isolation. Reach out and learn and share with others.

5) Provide Time and Encouragement-This is the one that inevitably will be the hardest to do. School leaders have to provide teachers (and themselves) the time and opportunity to learn about new tools and techniques for their classroom. I have already documented all of the pressures on school leaders but in order for our students to be successful we have to understand that the face of education is changing. The way the students learn is changing. Most teachers are not going to be able to make the drastic changes needed overnight. They are going to need time to learn. It is vital that school leaders provide the time needed. More over, and I believe, more important, school leaders must provide an environment in their school for teachers to take risks and encourage teachers to make the change in their teaching. Teachers are not going to make a change or take a risk if there isn't support from their school leadership.

Lastly, check out my most recent post from Leadership Day 2011. And ask yourself, are you a Lone Nut Leader?

Administrators and school leaders need to be agents of change. It should not be the teachers who have to fight for change in their classroom. They should be able to walk hand-in-hand with their administrators to make strides in changing our classrooms from the 18th century to the 21st.

What other suggestions do you have? Leave some comments below. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Back To School Follow Up-How Do You Have A Great Start To The Year?

Last week I asked what you do to have a great start to the year. The results are pretty cool. Loads of great ideas you can take into your first couple of days with your kids.

Here are a few of my favorites:
  • Take the time to smell the roses! Listen - really - listen to the kids and enjoy the moment of the first few days. There will be plenty of time to catch up after the first few days. Get to know the kids, the staff, and parents. You can't turn back time no matter how we try. 
  • "I teach middle school math to grade six students who are at our school for the first time since we're a 6-8 school. They love to know about their teachers, but also love to tell about themselves. The quicker I KNOW them as individuals, the better. I always take photos of them the first day which I use to learn names as quickly as I can.
  • Don't dwell on what has been, always keep forward and never regret anything, life goes on and on :)
  • Have students fill out a "getting to know you" questionnaire that includes their hobbies, interests, activities, favorites, etc.  It give you a way to get to know your students and make connections with things outside the classroom. 
  • "Begin with a poem such as George Ella Lyon's, ""Where I'm From"" to invite students to begin creating a community of readers and writers. Write your own ""Where I'm From"" poem, and ask students to write theirs as well. This idea comes from Penny Kittle's Write Beside Them."
  • Get enough sleep so you can laugh with your students
  • Don't be afraid to ask your PLN for assistance and collaborate with your students as you develop a classroom syllabus and/or policy.
  • Find out what makes each student tick by asking them. Find out what do they want to learn. Assess for reinforcement desires, learning styles, interests, and share the same about me. Do team building games. Discuss the standards for each subject and let students vote on what they want to learn first. 
  • Have high expectations for the new year, bur remember that flexibility is essential.  Oh, and lots of chocolate in your drawer!
Those are just a few of the over 100 suggestions. What I found really interesting (and really great) was that many involved writing. And that writing was about self-reflection. Most of you know I am big on reflecting, both publicly and privately. Having kids write the first day allows them to do both. The key is keep that reflection up through out the year. Take time every so often and have kids just write about their progress or how they are doing. Even better, do it on a class blog or an individual blog. Make it public and allow anyone to comment.

Here is the rest of the list.

Did you see something that piqued your interest or something not on the list that you do? Add it to the comments below.

Here's to a wonderful start to the school year!

Friday, August 12, 2011

How Do You Have A Great Start To The Year?

For the past 2 years I have done a "Back To School" survey of some kind. The first year it was advice you would give to someone starting out in their first year. Last year it was how do educators make those crucial connections with kids on the first days.

This year I want to know your tips to a smooth start to the year. How do you make sure you survive have a great start?

Fill out the survey below and then check back middle of next week and I will highlight some of my favorites and post all the results.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Thoughts On Leading For #LeadershipDay11

Watch this video.

Did you really watch the video or are you just keeping reading?

Come on, watch it. I promise you will like it.

(This is my favorite You Tube video by the way.)

Now ask yourself some questions...

1) Do you have guts? This guy is my hero. He felt something inside his soul. The music made him want to move. He didn't care what others would think. He got up and started moving. Kinda like in schools sometimes. Being the first person to stand up and dance is risky but often times it starts a movement.

2) Are you easy to follow? The leadership Dancing Guy provides is instructional almost, as the video points out. So from the very beginning people watching know it is going to be easy to mimic. Kinda like schools sometimes. Leaders need to lead in a way that is easy for others to follow. Nothing complex. Just simple leadership to drive change.

3) Do You Lead Publicly? When the first follower decides to embrace the leadership, Dancing Guy doesn't just keep doing. He shows the follower how to do the dance. He embraces the follower and wants him to feel as good as he does. Kinda like schools sometimes. When we want people to follow, we not only need to be easy to follow but we need to do it in a way that is easy for others to embrace. Sometimes that means showing them. Modeling good leadership is an important skill to master. Like the video says, "he embraces the follower as an equal. So it's not about the leader any more."

4) Is Your Movement Public? Once that first follower follows and they both are embracing the dance others begin to join in. Their (notice is plural now) leadership is public and then becomes a movement. And that movement is public for all to see. Kinda like schools sometimes. If the leadership wants to gain momentum and followers we have to make our movements public. Using social media tools can help. Showing what you are doing on your school Facebook page or Twitter account, posting videos to You Tube about the movement, talking to others. The more open your movement, the easier it is for more followers to join in. Like the video says, " Everyone needs to see the followers because followers emulate followers, not the leader."

5) Momentum...So once we get 2 then 3 then more followers the momentum takes over and the movement is in full force. More and more people join in and then the tipping point. This is the time at which people feel compelled to join in because there are more followers now than watchers. Kinda like schools sometimes. Once the movement gains steam and more and more followers join there comes a point at which people feel they have to join. They don't want to be "that guy" looking from the sidelines while the movement passes them by. So if we include the ideas from above, if our movement is public and we are modeling what we want and we foster leadership in others than it is that much easier to lead. It actually takes care of itself doesn't it?

So as we begin the school year, take some time and examine your leadership and the ultimate question to ask yourself, are you a lone nut?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Taking Care Of Your Digital Self

One of the areas of focus for me in my district this year is teaching teachers and students how to take control of their digital identity and turn it into something positive and something they can be proud of. Too often each year students find themselves in situations that could be easily avoided if they understood what a positive digital footprint is and how to manage it. The same thing with teachers. Many times I hear of teachers who flat out avoid any (or make a very strong attempt) to leave no trace on the web. While they might believe this strategy works, in essence it does not. School directories, webpages and others are online. Even kids use Rate My Teachers as a place to vent/praise about educators all over. (Meredith Stewart said it best: Astounds me when teachers/professors only digital presence is Rate My Teachers/Profs page. If you aren't controlling your footprint, others are. From Twitter

What she says there is so very important. If you aren't controlling who you are online, some else is or will. And taking control of your digital footprint is something that is so easy to do. Who wants something like this to happen?

So, where do you start?

Google Yourself- Take a few moments and Google yourself. You might have a common name so use different variations. Add your middle name, location or something else that might provide some hits. I had the honor of speaking to a great group of educators this week at the New Literacy Institute at NC State University. One of the activities they were involved in was looking at their digital self and the first thing they did was Google themselves. It was fascinating to watch the reactions across the room as they found information about themselves they didn't know was online or information they they thought was private on Facebook or other social networks. You don't know if you don't Google. And this isn't a one shot deal. Google yourself often to make sure the information that is out there represents you in the way you want. 

Establish A Brand- This sounds complicated but really it is easy as figuring out what name you use across all that you do on the web. My brand is my name (Steven W. Anderson) and my Twitter (@web20classroom). I use the middle initial in my name because my full name is pretty common (doctors, laywers, even an actor, and some not so nice folks). So in searches done on those 2 brands the information comes back to me. The point here is to start using the same identity across multiple services so solidify yourself. And try to use your actual name or a simple variation. 

Get You A Space Of Your Own- You are going to need a place of your own to let people know who you are. I chose to use Twitter and a blog. These are places where you can further establish who you are, what you are about what what you want to say. Those are just two ways. It could be something simple like an page. Again, your are further solidifying yourself on the web. What's great is you can control how much information you put out there and what information you put out there; all in an effort to control your identity. 

Stay On Top Of Things- Google Alerts might just be the best way to keep track of things easily. You set up some keywords to search (so you would do the name you have been using to Google, your brand, blog, Twitter, etc), fill out how often you want to get the alerts, an email address and boom! any page on the web that mentions any of the data you submitted lands in your inbox so you can know who is saying what about you or your brand. 

Those are just a few steps. What would you add? What has worked for you? And some comments below.