Friday, April 29, 2011

Meeting Parents Half Way

If you have read any of my leadership posts in the past you know I am all about reflection. One of the most important things good leaders do is reflect. Time must be taken to think about the direction our organizations are going and if any adjustments, at any level, need to be made.

Many leaders, schools and districts have done a great job with reflection. They have looked at everything from the way kids get to school to what is done with them while they are there to teachers and the types of professional development offerings.


There is one place that maybe we don’t think about much. Or it might be an afterthought. Or in some cases ignored all together.


I will admit, when I was in a leadership position (School Improvement Team Chair) when I was at the school level I didn’t think about it. Our group worried about test scores, staff morale, bullying and other topics. But, like any leader should do I have since reflected on that time I spent in that position and realized we missed chance to really think about parents and what their perceptions of our building were.

Parents should be advocates on our side. But sometimes they are seen as the enemy rather than our ally. There are lots of terms out there. Absent parents. Helicopter Parents. Parents We Love To Hate. But they are still parents. We still want to believe they have the best interests of their child in mind, just like we should.

And it isn’t just schools. Individual classrooms are that way as well. When I was in the classroom I had a teammate that refused to call parents, sit in on conferences, just about have nothing to do with them. She said her job was to teach kids and didn’t get paid enough to “deal” with parents.

The whole point of this is we have to think differently about our parents. The best ally you can have in your classroom is your parents. Think about it. When you want to do something “outside the box” it is easy for your admin to shoot you down. It’s a lot tougher for them to shoot down a room of 30 parents. (Now don’t go doing anything against your admins wishes and said it was ok because I told you so. I will deny everything.)

There is a cliche about flies and honey and vinegar that fits in here...

One of the issues with parents and schools that comes up time and time again is that many parents are bitter towards schools because of their own experiences growing up. In the current reform movement the battle cry is that our schools have virtually remained the same for the past 100 years. So this argument makes sense.

I was talking to a teacher the other day about another teacher at his school. He was saying there is a teacher there that has been there for 34 years. Quite amazing and something to be proud of. Except every year the admin in this school has trouble putting kids in her class because many of the parents had her as students and remembered their experiences and don’t want their child to have the same.

I dunno about you but I don’t think I would want to be remembered that way.

There are a lot of issues at play here with parents. But I think there are some things schools can do to be more parent friendly. And this isn’t even a list of things you can necessarily do. Just some things to think about.

Look at your building from your parents point of view. When they get there do they know where to go? Who greets them? It all comes back to customer service. Silly I know but it’s true. Even if your school secretary (or teacher) has had a bad day, the parent walking through that door doesn’t know that or the circumstances around that. Each parent that walks through those doors is a guest. We have to remember that.

When was the last time we asked parents what they really though about the classroom, teacher, school or district? If we want to be better we have to understand our weaknesses. By asking the parents what we are good at and what we could be better at we can begin to change our school culture, for the better and perhaps change minds.

How many parents are involved in major school decisions? Sure there might be a PTSA. But I mean on your School Improvement Team or Leadership Team. Do they have membership there. In NC we are required to have a parent involved on our teams. Perspective is important. And they can sometimes see things we don’t when it comes to our buildings.

What do you think? What works well in your building or your classroom when it comes to parents? What could you be doing better? Leave some comments below.

You may also want to checkout the archive from this week’s #edchat. It was all about parents and there were some really great things said and ideas toss around. 

Image CC DoctorStrange

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Making Complex Ideas Simple

Whenever I do a workshop, training or talk I like to start out with a video. And I always try to find one to capture what I am going to be doing or saying.

For example, in a recent talk about teacher leadership I showed this video to a group of administrators to get them thinking about how they lead and how teachers in their buildings might lead as well.

But there is one group of videos that I can always count on when I am trying to take complex technology and societal subjects (like cloud computing or the financial crisis) and make them accessible for users.

Commoncraft (run by the most awesome Lee and Sachi LeFever) takes these complex subjects and presents them "In Plain English." Their videos are some of the most clever and creative but, they really to make technology more accessible by helping users understand in the simplest terms how to know if a website is secure or what exactly is a bit torrent.

They have several groups of videos but just a few highlights.

The social media section is full of great examples of things like what is social media?

Or this one on how Twitter works:

Or maybe you know someone who needs to be enlightened on how Wikipedia works:

There is also a great section  on basic technologies like computer hardware, what the world wide web is, or how cloud computing works. Or this one, a favorite of mine (that I have to watch often) on augmented reality:

There are also section dedicated to Online Safety, money, and just things you might wonder about like how the Electoral College works when we elect a president, how CFL lightbulbs work, or what is my personal favorite, Zombies in Plain English:

So head over to Commoncraft and see what they offer. There are tons more videos to choose from and I bet you will learn something too.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Connected Administrator

Most schools and districts spend lot of time and effort trying to get their teachers up to speed on technology and its use/place in the classroom. And honestly that is where a majority of effort should be spent; working with those on the frontlines of instruction. However, rarely, if ever, is much time spent with administrators, working with them on ways they use technology to enhance what they are doing. What can administrators do?

I have put together what I have called The Administrators Technology Toolkit.  There are some simple, easy to use tools that Administrators can be using right now to, just like teachers, integrate technology into what they do daily. And many of these tools help admin connect to other admin and get their schools connected. Remember it that sharing of learning all starts with getting connected!

I have created a presentation and some additional information that either you, as an administrator can use to jump start your digital self or you can pass long to your administrator and help them start or finish their 

Here is the presentation:

And here is the site with loads more information. 

So if you are an Administrator, check it out. If you know an Administrator, pass it long, help them out and get them started on their own Digital Journey. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Skype In The Classroom

Skype is a valuable tool that many teachers are discovering can break down the walls of their classroom.  I have been doing several workshops lately to get teachers started with Skype and how they can connect their classroom to the outside world. Maybe you haven't had a workshop where you are or you need more information. Here are several resources to get started using Skype in your classroom:

First, what is Skype? In this video they try to explain it to you, visually.

The Skype In Schools Livebinder: This is a great resource form my friend Kelly Hines that has tons of information on getting started with Skype, various projects you can take part in and ideas on how to get connected.

Did you know you can use your document camera as a webcam for Skype calls? Amazing I know! Here is a great post that lays it all out for you and gives some pointers to make it really work well.

Looking for a reason to get started? This post explains why using Skype can transform teaching and learning in your classroom.

Official Skype In Education- Recently the folks over at Skype launched the Skype In Education Project. What they are trying to do is make it easier for educators to connect their classrooms. It is simply a directory. You sign up using your classroom Skype account. Once there you fill out some information like where you are, grades, subjects, etc. You can also add any special projects you are working on. Then Skype matches you up with other classrooms you might be interested in talking to. You can also find neat projects to take part in like a virtual yoga class, debates, reading clubs and more.

I have more Skype resources that you can explore as well.

How are you using Skype? What do you see as the benefits? Drawbacks? How has it changed the way you teach. Leave some comments and ideas below.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Get Connected Why Don't Ya!

Last week I spent several days in San Francisco taking part in ASCD 2011. It was a great conference with lots of great sessions. I might even have a wrap up post in the works.

While there I ran into my good buddy Ken Royal and he and I did a short video about what I was doing at ASCD11 and the importance of getting connected.

What do you think?

If you are interested you can find the resources from my Connected Administrators session here and the resources from my PLN session here.

Here is what I am struggling with in my thinking lately. What makes someone get connected? I had someone tell me they had been following me on Twitter for 3 months. I asked her what she was doing 4 months ago and why she decided to give Social Media a try and she really didn't know. So, what say you? Why are you connected? What made get connected? Why stick with it? Leave me some comments below.