Friday, July 27, 2012

Five Questions For The (Technology) Leader

Cross Posted In Smartblogs On Education

I recently moved into a new position with my district. As the Director of Instructional Technology I am responsible for the vision and direction of the technology program for a district of 80 schools and 57,000 students. It is an incredible opportunity that every day I am thankful for. 

As I am have been transitioning into a Technology Leadership role I have been thinking a lot about how to lead and drive real change in an environment where the pressures are clear. Technology is often seen as another thing. "I don't have time to worry about technology. I have to get my kids ready for the test," is something we hear all the time. So as the Technology Leader I have to help everyone (Teachers, Administrators, Parents, Students, Community) understand that the access to and infusion of technology into learning is necessary for the so-called "21st Century" Education. 

So, each day I ask myself 5 questions that help me focus my vision and goals for what I am trying to do. 

1) Where are we, as an organization going? The overall vision and director of my district is out of my hands. That is decided by our Superintendent and Board of Education. What I can do so is match the vision and direction of our Instructional Technology program to better match the overall. So where are we going? How are we getting there? What do we need to get there? How can I ensure we get there? And if we aren't on the right path, what can I do to make sure we correct ourselves?

2) What are we doing to carry out our mission? In my district our technology mission is: "Prepare our community to meet the challenges of the 21st Century Learner, act as a conduit of continual change, serve our students to help them succeed and to support the technological needs through planning and integration." So how am I and my team preparing our community, acting as that conduit of continual change, serving our students and planning and integrating? What can I do to be better and what can I do to help my team be better to carry out our mission? 

3) What are we doing to make learning better for kids? Ultimately our goal is to educate kids; to help kids discover their passions and provide for them the necessary tools and resources to live and work in a world that is rapidly developing and changing. We have to ensure as a team we are doing what is necessary to create environments for student learning (with the infusion of technology) and support Teachers, Administrators and schools as they create those environments as well. And how can I as the Technology Leader help my team? What tools and resources can I provide for them to meet their needs?

4) What connections can we make today? One of the best lessons I learned as a Classroom Teachers was the more connections I made with my kids and my parents, they better my classroom was. When kids learn that you care about them and genuinely care about their learning, they will do anything for you. Parents are the same. Many parents bring negative attitudes to the school because of their own bad experiences. So the more connections we can make the easier our jobs become. The same is true with Instructional Technology. When all we do is offer a menu of choices of PD we aren't meeting teachers where they are or providing for them the learning opportunities they need. Nor can we make connections with them. Rather what we do as a team is meet with teachers individually or in their PLCs to better be a part of the planning process and provide them the answers they need. Oh, and we make awesome connections too. We are breaking down walls and helping schools and Teachers understand technology integration. But we can't stop there. What other connections can we make? How can we strengthen our existing connections to do more? 

5) What am I going to do to be better for kids? The most important question. We start our day and end our day with that. No matter what we are doing that day, are we doing something that will be better for kids? If we can't can't answer yes, then we need to reconsider what we are doing and get back to being better for kids. 

Everyday is chance to do something great. While it may not seem like it, there are possibilities around every corner. How are we going to be awesome today? 

photo credit: Earl - What I Saw 2.0 via photo pin cc

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Brief Thoughts On Leadership And Connectedness...

My friend Kristina said this today:

 Strikes to the heart of things doesn't it?

I have spent today and will spend the next few days talking leadership with folks from around the country. Leading from the box doesn't really get us anywhere. If we stay in our silo and live in our own world can we say we really lead? Being a teacher-leader, curriculum leader, technology leader, or just a leader is about being public. Its about sharing and learning and growing together.

So it bothers me when I hear people, powerful people, people in positions that could really drive change, say educators need to be connected, but in the same breath discount the validity of Twitter or other social networking tools. Their idea of connectedness is the traditional. Let's travel 1000's of miles to have a conversation over dinner about assessment or the Common Core. I can have the same conversations with many more people any time of day. That isn't to say that the face-to-face time isn't valuable. On the contrary, I value greatly that time I get to spend with others. But if we are truly going to drive change and make waves as educational leaders we have to plug in and get connected. We have to reach out and read blogs, send tweets, participate in forums.

Professional development, and personal/professional learning and growth is so different now as apposed to the traditional. I can learn about anything, anywhere, from any number of experts. Why, as a lover of learning, would I not want to be in on that!

Being connected challenges me, everyday.

Being connected pushes me, everyday.

Being connected helps me grow, everyday.

Being a connected is a part of me, personally and professionally and I could not imagine myself without being plugged in.

I challenge everyone in a position of leadership (and that is anyone reading this) to break out of the box and do what Kristina says. Reach out to someone who doesn't "get it." Who doesn't see the benefits of plugging in and show them. Be personal about it. Open up, share, explain and reflect. After all, that is what being a leader is all about.

photo credit: stevendepolo via photo pin cc

Monday, July 16, 2012

Some Fantastic And Fabulous Ladies To Follow On Twitter

The other day, some one sent me a link to a list of folks to follow.

10 Great Stars To Follow In The Twitterverse

The post lists these reasons for these users:

  • They are always active, but never overwhelming on your twitter feed.
  • They will challenge you to Think and Reflect – and push you to grow professionally
  • They will provide resources and guidance
  • They focus on Technology and Best Educational Practices
  • They are all Unique, Practical and provide Authentic Leadership

Super reasons to follow anyone. 

I am actually on that list, which is pretty humbling. 

But this isn't about that. 

This is about the response to that post I got on Twitter. 

Several folks asked me, where are the women? 

You know, you'd have to ask the person who wrote that piece. 

And then I got to thinking about it. I didn't even notice when I looked at the list that there were no ladies on it. I was just looking more at who is listed and not really the gender. And maybe that is a problem with me or maybe just a honest oversight. I don't really think about who to follow in terms of finding a balance in the number of men vs. women. I look more at the quality of the person, what they do and what they share. 

But nevertheless, I think it only fair to post a list of Fantastic and Fabulous Ladies To Follow On Twitter. They definitely are all those bullets above, and they are pretty awesome too. Ladies I admire and all I want my daughter to grow up to be like. 

Are these all the ladies on Twitter I would recommend to follow? Heck now. There are 1000's more. But that post would be much too long. The point is there are lots of great people on Twitter to follow, boys and girls. Find those that add value to you and to your learning. Lists are helpful and can be a good place to start, but don't leave your network in the hands of someone else. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Lone-Nut Leader

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. We have to be willing to be daring. To be the one to stand up even if we are alone. 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 Youtube 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?

Take a step back and examine your leadership. And ask yourself, are you a Lone-Nut Leader?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Where Am I?

So if you are seeing this post you might be wondering where I am. Or maybe not. But the story is still interesting none the less.

Each year I go on vacation. And starting 3 years ago when I go on vacation, I go on vacation. I don't take any technology with me. Nothing that will connect me with the outside world for 7 days. No computer. No Kindle. No phone. Well, I do take a phone since I will be driving somewhere but it stays in my truck. No Twitter or Facebook or Google Circles. Nothing electronic.

This digital cleanse is tough for me in some respects. I am plugged in virtually 24 hours a day. And this is my chance to get away from everyone and everything and reflect on my year. I will do a lot of writing, with pencil and paper. I have a stack of books that desperately need to be read. And I have a lot of thinking and relaxing to do.

While being connected is an important part of who I am, being disconnected for this time each year for a full 7 days is also helping rediscover who I am as an educator, and a person. So even if you don't give it up for 7 days, take some time way and go unplugged. Reflect and rediscover yourself....

photo credit: Chris Gin via photo pin cc

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Flipping...It's Not Just For The Classroom

I've recently returned from a trip out to San Diego for #ISTE12. While there you could definitely sense several themes with the participants, sessions, and vendors. STEM was one. iPad and other Tablet cases, charging stations and protection plans was another. But overall the biggest topic that people wanted to talk about was Flipping the classroom.

What is flipping? In is simplest form, flipping is the idea that instead of the teaching of basic skills in the classroom, those skills are acquired outside the classroom, mostly through the form of videos. Then this allows for more depth, remediation, and/or extension in the classroom. It is becoming very popular in math classrooms because of the ease of access to content through sites like Khan Academy and others. But there are other classrooms like science and social studies where teachers are trying the flip. 

I am very skeptical of flipping. Mostly because of the fact that kids leave school to do more school and that just isn't right. (But that is a post for another time...)

I do believe that there is a more practical application of the flip that doesn't involve the classroom. 

Faculty meetings. 

Someone on Twitter asked me the other day if I had any resources for making faculty meetings better. I thought about it and it dawned on me. Why not flip them. We use the same reasoning for flipping a classroom and apply it to the faculty meeting. 

Think about it. All the nuts and bolts stuff that is shared in a faculty meeting could be shared asynchronously via other means, freeing up the traditional faculty meeting time for other things. 

Not enough time for PLC meetings? Use the Faculty Flip to free up that time and allow grades and departments to meet, talk and plan. 

Not enough time for Professional Development? Use the Faculty Flip to have an unconference sharing session of what's working and ways to improve practice. 

There are lots of practical applications for the Faculty Flip. The point of it is to make the time the staff or groups spend together more meaningful. Many of the meetings that take place in a school are informational. Scheduling, data sharing, field trips, etc. Many of these could be sent in an email or shared in a group. Thus freeing time to do something meaningful for kids. 

So the idea sounds great but how do you share that information? Email is one way. And it is truly one-way. It's tough to carry out a conversation over email. There are some easier and better ways to share information. 

Google Docs-Easy to start and use. Put your information in, and share. You can create one doc for the entire year and add too it so there is always a running record of what has taken place. Once shared, other staff can leave comments or link to your document when creating new ones for other business. 

Ning-A while back when Ning went paid it got a bad rap. But for educators it is still a great option. With Ning Mini being free for up to 150 members there are some great features like forums, groups, and 1 gig of file storage that would be great for sharing documents, ideas and more. 

Edmodo-My favorite social network for schools, you can set up groups for grade levels and departments, share documents, set up polls and questionnaires and more. And there are lots of applications beyond the faculty sharing that folks could begin to see it being used in their classroom too. (I wrote a post about how to use it a while back.)

No matter what you use, try it! See what you and your staff can do with that extra time if you share that information digitally and reserve that faculty meeting time for faculty learning time. Try the Faculty Flip!

photo credit: Hani Amir via photo pin cc