Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Adapt or Become Irrelevant! My 5 Favorite Tweets of 2011

I would like to take a moment to thank all of the outstanding educators who are part of my PLN and invest in making me better each and every day.  The 10 people who influence me the most and on a daily basis...... I have never met!  

As this year comes to a close, I wanted to take a moment to share my 5 favorite tweets of 2011 and a brief explanation as to why.  

Mary Beth Hertz offers some important advice when she tweeted, "Be patient but relentless in helping colleagues build connections!"  Steve Wheeler recently wrote a blog post titled, Connected Educators in which he shares, "It is abundantly clear to me that connectivity is one of the essentials in the 21st Century teacher toolkit.  We are now learning more from each other than we could ever learn on our own." 

Tom Whitby shares some meaningful advice in his blog, My Island View, in which he defines What's A Connected Educator?  "Educators must get over all of the obstacles they are putting up about connectedness. It can be done slowly, one step at a time, but it must be done. We need educators to be connected." You are absolutely right Tom, it must be done!

I could not agree more with Nancy and her straightforward tweet about technology integration.  For over a decade now, we have been providing much professional development in the area of technology integration in hopes all teachers will get on board.  Yet, many teachers still feel as if they have an option and choose not to change.  The fact is, we can no longer attend professional development five days a year and cross our fingers and hope that each teacher will utilize technology.  Nor can we continue to block access for those teachers and leaders who are willing and able to open up their classrooms and schools to the world.

Superintendent David Britten recently wrote, "Communities waiting until only the best roads are put in place before anyone's allowed to drive a car are just plain backwards and need to get out of the way of progress."

Thank you David for sharing this outstanding quote.  Recently, I read a provocative post by Jeff Delp called, Staying Plugged In, in which Lyn Hilt makes the following comment that I believe substantiates Stephen Downes quote.

"At this point in my admin career, especially due to the connections I've made through Twitter, locating blog and other resources, attending conferences, etc., I have learned so many new things about teaching, learning, classroom culture, and more- there are many days when I wish to have a classroom of my own to try out these new ideas and methodologies with a  group of students." - Lyn Hilt

Wow!  Adapt or become irrelevant!  On this particular evening, the discussion centered around the positives and negatives of limited technology in schools. Excuse after excuse tweeted throughout the discussion board.  Finally, @colonelb had the courage to submit such a honest tweet.  

A day or two later, David Britten followed up with a blog post of his own, Smoke From My Keyboard: Cut the Excuses and Lead!  This post, one of my favorites of 2011, not only expressed his frustration but also included many key points.
"It's about your kids' future, not yours!  In fact, it's not even about your present!  Teaching has never been about you nor should it be.  It's about kids - rich or poor - being raised in a world where technology is woven into their lives 24/7 (except during school in too many places) and has become a key tool in how they learn, how they communicate, how they socialize, how they create and publish, and simply who they are." - Superintendent David Britten  

There is nothing like a tweet that speaks the indisputable truth.  I remember it like it was yesterday, the conversation was centered around accountability and how difficult it is to dismiss bad teachers.  Tom Whitby fired back with this veracious tweet.  This I believe to be one of our biggest obstacles in education. Student engagement is a precondition of learning.  If students aren't engaged in the classroom, they will not learn.  

"The least educators can do for kids is to stimulate a curiosity for learning.  The best would be to impart a passion for learning." - Tom Whitby

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Ultimate Gift

Every year, before winter break, I make it a habit to give my teachers a small gift to express my deep appreciation for what they do every day. Maybe it is movie passes or a gift card to their favorite restaurant along with a hand written card. If I could do more, I would. As leaders, I think we all would. But what if we could do more? What if there was something? Something that requires much intentional thought, much time, and much energy. I'm talking about “The Ultimate Gift.”

What if we became more than an instructional leader, more than an evaluator, and instead, became more of a leader of learning? In other words, what if we were to instill a passion for learning within every teacher? I do admit, it does sound difficult for an external force to persuade someone to develop a love of learning. I too believe the desire has to come from within. However, I believe with deliberate and purposeful planning, the ultimate gift can become a reality.

Make It A Priority
Look for and even create opportunities to spark a curiosity for learning. Give a teacher a book or article in which you have highlighted specific chapters or excerpts that you feel this teacher will find interesting and intriguing. Something that they probably would have never read on their own. Seek out information that contradicts their worldview. Attempt to make them think differently. Follow up by engaging in a conversation and allow them to do ninety percent of the talking.

Cause Intellectual Discomfort
Encourage your teacher to do something they have never done before. For instance, sign them up for twitter and tell them how excited you are to think, learn, and grow together on tonight's chat beginning at 6:00 CT. Forced learning in this way can be fun and challenging. Follow up by acknowledging their willingness to participate and to put themselves out there. Once they establish a PLN, they will be spending more time with people who are always thinking and who invest much of their time in learning.

Invoke Change In Behavior
Learning is useless if it isn't applied. Reading a recipe book is not the same as picking up a utensil and cooking. Albert Einstein once said, “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.” Simply studying the wisdom of others isn't enough, you must put it into practice. Follow up by asking the teacher how they can apply what they have read or what they have learned.

Sharing Is Learning
It's been proven that you learn what you teach. Make time for teachers to think through ideas, to mentor someone or even discuss ideas with a colleague. Talk to them about the importance of self-reflection and the many benefits of starting a blog. Follow up by talking with them about their new ideas and assist them in solidifying what they have learned. Be sure to comment on their blog and tweet it out to the world.

The energy generated when teachers take ownership of their learning can create a school culture that sparkles with collegiality, collaboration, sharing and a passion for learning. To instill such a gift will require much intentional planning along with personal follow up, but developing thinkers, problem solvers, and curious minds is ultimately worth it! 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Courage Up and Make a Difference

In the social media realm, everyone has clout. However, some more than others. In many circumstances, we are influenced by those who have voices that resonate with our own beliefs. My focused PLN consists of about 300 outstanding educators who at some point, has influenced me in some way, although, not in the same way.

About 15% of my PLN influence through trust and commitment.

These influencers are the voices within your PLN that you trust and listen to most. You not only subscribe to their blog, but you crave their next post. Their tweets are of purpose and frequently cause you to think critically. Within only 140 characters, they can compel you to put a new idea into action. They’re usually the same people whose content you’re constantly watching get retweeted and whose blogs get more comments and visits in a day than yours get in a month. It's these people who are always being referenced in other people’s tweets and posts. You can tweet out a question, and it's these influencers who provide a valid response within only minutes. These are the people you intentionally consider before sending out your own tweet or blog post hoping that you’ll be handsomely rewarded when it’s your content they’re blasting out to their thousands of followers.
About 2% of my PLN influence through straightforwardness and courage.

These influencers are extremely rare. They are the people who not only cause you to think daily but many times differently. They courageously and willingly engage in connected, uncomfortable, conversations. These are those people who are not afraid to disagree and share their differing viewpoint. They take the time to politely acknowledge one's perspective and boldly provide a reasonable counterclaim through rational comments, tweets, or direct messages. They say what they mean and mean what they say. They have a way of causing discomfort which inspires others to rethink expectations and perceptions in which many times lead to a change in belief. They focus on influencing the influencers.  In short, they work hard on growing your knowledge.

To strengthen your PLN, work to increase the percentage of trustworthy and courageous influencers. In my experience, I've yet to learn something new when someone agrees with me. However, when someone disagrees, one of us will more than likely learn a new way of thinking. I challenge you to “Courage Up” and look for opportunities for robust debate within your PLN!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How Do You Learn?

I make it a habit each summer to try new things and to put myself in situations in which I will inevitably grow as an educator. This summer I made a very important decision. I decided to change the way I learn. Up until this point in my career, much of my knowledge derived from the latest educational best seller or from local conferences.  
With a little hesitation, but much curiosity, on June 13, I made the decision to join Twitter. Within only weeks, I was thinking, learning, and growing among some of the best educators on earth at all hours of the day. I was learning more from 140 characters than a 140 page book. Through encouragement from my new PLN, I began sharing my own reflections on my new personal blog along with participating in stimulating hangouts through Google+. I've come to the conclusion that modernizing the way I learn has undoubtedly changed and improved the way I lead. 

One of my favorite new ways to learn is through #Edchat, a thought provoking forum made up of educators around the globe. Recently, the following tweet caught my curiosity.

"Change how you learn first. Once you change, you won't be able to go back to teaching the same old way." ~ Stephen Downes
As leaders, how can we get teachers to change the way they learn? How do we get teachers to remain intellectually curious both inside and outside the classroom throughout their teaching careers? As a leader, the least we can do for our teachers is to stimulate a curiosity for learning.  Here are five ways in which I believe we can strike up a curious conversation.
As leaders, we should...
  • Recognize what our teachers want to learn, as well as, what they need to learn. Then, make an effort to spark their curiosity.
  • Keep teachers in their uncomfort zone. Ask the right questions and want to hear their answers. “How” and “why” and “what if” questions will stretch the boundaries of their minds.
  • Assist teachers in looking at instructional challenges from a variety of angles. By discovering alternative ways of accomplishing the same problem, the teacher will learn a pool of possible solutions.
  • Commend good mistakes when risks are taken, mistakes are made, and lessons are learned. Thomas Edison said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
  • Urge teachers to take the time to practice what they learn. Curiosity without initiative does not translate into results.
Curiosity can steer us into places we never thought we could go and many times we return with leading-edge knowledge. I truly believe the more you learn, the more you will want to know. A little curiosity and a new way of learning can prepare our teachers to thrive in the ever changing environment that we face every day.
Cross-posted at http://www.connectedprincipals.com

Saturday, September 3, 2011

When You Fail, I Fail - Approach To Leadership

One of the top questions surrounding education is, “How can we develop a fair and effective model for teacher evaluations?” Is it fair or effective to include test scores, or is measuring student progress throughout the school year a more fair and effective approach? Regardless of the outcome, there are ways in which principals can work closely to ensure improvement in teacher effectiveness.

Supervision of Instruction occurs between 8:00 and 3:00 or it doesn't get done!

The power to change education, for better or worse, is and always has been in the hands of teachers. Therefore, principals as instructional leaders, must separate the managerial side of the principalship with that of improving teacher effectiveness. No longer is it acceptable to sit in an office, work on state reports, complete teacher evaluations, or engage in any other activity that can be completed outside the school day. An effective principal designates school hours for students, teachers, and parents, every day.

Try this:
  • Teach a class and model technology integration, differentiation, embedded interventions and other proven instructional strategies.
  • Seek opportunities for professional dialogue with your teachers to build collegiality. Social media can be an effective tool to think, learn, and grow together with your teachers.
  • Engage in a “Lunch and Learn” with an ineffective teacher to follow-up on his/her growth plan.
  • Cover a class to allow a teacher the opportunity to visit a colleague's classroom. Make sure to schedule a time for self-reflection with the teacher.
If your faculty refers to walkthroughs as “drive bys,” failure may be just around the corner.

One of the most important, mandatory, responsibilities of a principal is frequent classroom visits. Frequent informal visits with a purpose add up to a true examination of what's happening in the classroom. However, what's happening in the classroom differs between a good principal and a great principal. A good principal spends much of the time at the back of the room focusing on teaching. A great principal spends valuable time at the front of the room focusing on students. The primary objective is to walk away with meaningful information that will promote teacher growth and enrich student's educational experience.

Try this:
    Interview a student after class and ask probing questions to check for understanding. It's always good practice to ask questions once the natural forgetting process has begun. Don't be afraid to ask a question about last week's lesson to check for retention.  Always share with your teacher your findings.
If your feedback is sugar-coated, expect failure to be blunt.

Feedback must be as frequent and mandatory as classroom visits. As a principal, we must be courageous and provide honest, specific feedback that articulates the desired expectation. Instead of just stating a concern, provide a solution or strategy for improved performance. Every teacher, regardless of performance level, deserves meaningful feedback. Teachers feel unappreciated when the principal fails to provide any type of feedback.

Try this:
    To be courageous, simply say to yourself, “I must be honest, straightforward, and detailed because our students deserve the very best.” This significant act of being downright honest separates an effective instructional leader from an ineffective instructional leader.
Belief Doesn't Come First; Action Comes First

Talking about great ideas and actually putting ideas into action are two very different things. Many times, good principals passionately share their perspectives and points of view with a reluctant teacher, hoping this teacher will jump on board. Recently, Lyn Hilt explained to me that to change one's belief, we must first change one's behavior. We can do this by setting high expectations and developing a teacher growth plan.

Many principals are excellent at collaborating with an ineffective teacher to develop a well-detailed growth plan but fail by not following up. A great principal intervenes immediately to address a concern rather than waiting for a post evaluation. A strong growth plan includes strategies for achieving the desired outcome, contains indicators and measures of achievement, and a completion time. Effective principals work collaboratively to develop an individual plan for every teacher and provides support so that failure is impossible.

Try this:
    Embed professional develop into every day. As Eric Sheninger suggests, replace teacher duties with intensive, specific, professional development to move a teacher from good to great. Quit talking about such things as differentiation, technology integration, and interventions, and expect teachers to put these strategies into action. Once teachers experience positive results, they will undoubtedly change their belief. Remember, as an effective instructional leader, it's your responsibility to assist and provide support to ensure positive results. Otherwise, you both may fail!
Failure to build trust, sooner or later, will build failure.

The best way to build trust is honesty. It is important to be straightforward with every teacher and do for one teacher as you would for any other. Provide support, detailed feedback, and individualized professional development for every teacher. Stretch and challenge every teacher to grow and to put proven strategies into action. As principals, our first priority must be to move every teacher to proficient and beyond. How can we expect to get every student to proficient when we have limited knowledge or unsatisfactory teachers?

To build trust, principals must adopt the philosophy that 'when you fail, I fail.' If students, teachers, and principals all hold themselves accountable for student learning in some capacity, failure is impossible. 

ac·count·abil·i·ty - an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one's actions

In conclusion, teacher evaluations can be fair and effective when the formal evaluation is not a surprise. By October, every teacher should know their area for improvement, strategies to reach proficiency, and frequent updates regarding progress toward reaching the desired expectation.  If the teacher has the desire to improve and enhance the educational experience for their students, they will.  If not, much data and evidence is documented to prove otherwise.  

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Heavy Heart And A Light Foot

I sent my last tweet of the night, "@ToddWhitaker is speaking in Okla tomorrow-Not for sure if I'm more excited about tomorrow or the next day when I put his wisdom into action.”

The next day, I anxiously drove 1 hour and 15 minutes to attend the much anticipated conference. At the first break, Dr. Whitaker had spotted me in the crowd of no less than 300 educators. Wow, we had never met, only a thumbnail picture on twitter. Pretty impressive! He simply walked over and asked, “Are you my twitter friend?”

The next 10 minutes was compelling to say the least. He asked me how I would respond to three authentic scenarios in which I answered incorrectly to all three. I realized for the first time that I had been causing discomfort to the wrong teachers. Dr. Whitaker explained to me that effective principals continually ask themselves who is most comfortable and who is least comfortable with each decision they make. I quickly thought of several instances in which I had created an uncomfortable situation for the wrong teachers.

I left the conference with a heavy heart and truly drove 30 mph all the way home. I had a lot on my mind. That night, I re-read my notes that I had recorded during the presentation. My disheartened feeling had now matured into a feeling of relief and comfort. I knew from this day forward, I would not make this mistake again.

The next day, I explained to Dr. Whitaker that I would use this disheartened feeling to drive me to change. Coincidentally, this is a perfect example of what Dr. Whitaker expresses in his book, What Great Principals Do Differently, “When people become uncomfortable, they change.”

@DMS_Principal Do not beat yourself up. Hindsight is 20-20. Just do the right thing from now on – Todd Whitaker

Thank you Dr. Whitaker for your genuine and honest feedback and for causing me such discomfort.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

If You Thought I Was Perfect, You Weren't Paying Attention

I make it a habit each summer to try new things and to put myself in situations in which I will inevitably grow as an educator. This summer has been amazing!  I decided to create my first blog, Brain Vibe For Educators, and to enter the “twittersphere.” I believe I have personally grown more in two months than possibly in the last two years thanks to my PLN.

I wanted to mention 3 of my favorite tweets throughout this summer and a brief reason why these particular tweets had such a meaningful impact.

#3  If you thought I was perfect, you weren't paying attention.  Elizeducation

Recently, I was participating in a discussion on #edchat in which the topic centered around the question, “How can we fairly evaluate teachers?” During this discussion, I tweeted the question, “As a teacher – do you hope an area of weakness is identified on an eval- or are you satisfied with a perfect eval?” The many responses confirmed my intuition. Many teachers feel slightly disappointed and somewhat unappreciated with a perfect evaluation? Here are a few of the responses:
  • I want to be better. Telling me how great the lesson was does not help me to grow. I want student and teacher growth. Janice Cizek
  • I never got any constructive criticism except to make my plan book easier to read:( I begged for real feedback.      
    Larry Fliegelman
  • During my first year, I had two perfect evals... sort of wanted something on there to improve on. Phillip Whitelaw
  • I need to know a weakness. No feedback = lack of attention, if you ask me. - Brian Bennett
  • If you thought I was perfect, you weren't paying attention. Elizabeth Nelson
As a principal, it is our responsibility to provide valuable feedback to our best teachers. Many evaluation instruments consist of only three rating categories: Satisfactory, Needs Improvement, and Unsatisfactory. Many average teachers receive a rating of “satisfactory” throughout their evaluation. Remember, average is just as close to the bottom as it is to the top. Every teacher deserves meaningful feedback, much attention, and an opportunity to grow.

#2  If teachers could choose their class size and were paid $3000 dollars per student, what do you think the average class size would be? - Ron Clark

I was very intrigued by this tweet. I thought a lot about how teachers would answer this question differently. In fact, after reading the tweet, I asked two teachers simultaneously this very question. The first teacher automatically replied, “Fifteen.... definitely fifteen. I am most effective when I have fifteen students in my classroom.” The second teacher responded, “I think I could take 32....maybe 33 students.” These two teachers not only answered very differently, but also differ in teacher performance. Which teacher would you want for your child?

#1  “Teachers are fired everyday; they are fired by their students [who disengage from the learning].” - Tom Whitby

This is my favorite tweet thus far since my dive into twittersphere.  The conversation was centered around accountability and how difficult it is to dismiss bad teachers. Tom Whitby fired back with this veracious tweet. This I believe to be one of our biggest problems in education. Student engagement is a precondition of learning. If students aren't engaged in the classroom, they will not learn.

The least educators can do for kids is to stimulate a curiosity for learning. The best would be to impart a passion for learning.” - Tom Whitby

If you would like to share your favorite tweet of all time or a tweet that made you go hmmmm, submit it to the hash tag #MyFavoriteTweetOfAllTime

Monday, July 25, 2011

Picasso's Masterpiece - A True Story

Mrs. Jackson... someone stole three of my crayons!,” echoed across the room. Quickly, I raised the lid to my pack of 24. That's right, no silver, no gold, no cool sharpener, only the classic 24. In disbelief, I shouted, “Mrs. Jackson, I'm missing four crayons.”  I mean, this was first grade. We haven't even learned how to steal, I thought to myself.

The next day, other classmates alleged the same crime. “I'm missing 3 crayons.” “I'm missing 4.” “Someone stole my favorite color, sky blue.” These phrases permeated the room. This time, Mrs. Jackson had all students take out everything in their desk. She was determined to find the culprit. What she discovered was that students who had their crayons in a plastic container, had no crayons missing. What could this mean?

This continued for two more days as Mrs. Jackson would begin each day by saying, “Everyone check to see if anyone is missing any crayons.” My classic 24 was now a lonely dozen. Thirteen if you count my white crayon. (Who really needs a white crayon anyway. It has absolutely no use whatsoever.) Suddenly, the answer to this riddle revealed itself. Two small teeth marks glared back at me. “Mrs. Jackson, come and look at my crayon box...HURRY!”

By the sound of the last bell, I had placed my remaining crayons in my backpack along with a note from Mrs. Jackson introducing our parents to our new crafty friend, the pack rat. The letter also encouraged students to bring a plastic container for our crayons.

The next day, Mrs. Jackson allowed all students to collaborate together to figure the total number of crayons this pak rat had confiscated each day. She then created an authentic story problem on the board. “If Picasso the Pak rat, took 53 crayons on Monday, 38 crayons on Tuesday, 62 crayons on Wednesday, 41 crayons on Thursday, and 20 crayons on Friday, how many total crayons did Picasso take? Yes, that's right, 214 crayons

To this day, you can ask any student from room 103, “How many crayons did Picasso take?”, and the response will undoubtedly be, 214. 

Within only a few days, a huge trap did it's job. Just inside the ceiling tile above my head, a huge nest the size of a pumpkin was discovered.  This magnificent nest was filled with shades of blues, greens, purples, reds, and yellows.  Crayons, 214 to be exact,were interwoven into a brilliant masterpiece! This was the week I learned to add double digit numbers.  More importantly, this was the week I learned to love math.

Thanks @thenerdyteacher, for the tweet heard 'round the world.  #schooldidagoodthing
Photo by Jason Liebig