Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Wake Up Call For School Leaders

So the other day I tweeted out this comment, “I am amazed each day to see so much educational progress in my Twitter feed. This should be the norm, not the exception.” Many people in education talk a great game when it comes to the effective use of technology, but the results (lack there of) speak for themselves. I constantly see and hear about leaders who tout themselves in a way that makes others develop a perception that they actually know something about the effective integration of a variety of technology tools to improve professional practice. However, once you get past the rhetoric you quickly realize that it is just talk with a clear lack of substance.  This is not to say that they are unwilling to learn or embrace significant change in this area.  It just hasn’t happened yet, at least from my view.  Thus, the use of social media in schools by educators continues to be an uphill battle.  

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For those educators and schools that are either resistant to or unsure about using social media, I challenge you to move from a fixed to a growth mindset to create schools that work better for kids and establish relevance as a leader in your district, school, or classroom.

  • Begin to strategically utilize an array of free social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook to communicate important information (student honors, staff accomplishments, meetings, emergency information) to stakeholders in real-time. Consistency aligned with intent is key.  
  • Take control of you public relations by becoming the storyteller-in-chief to produce a constant stream of positive news.  If you don't share your story someone else will and you then run the chance that it will not be positive. Stop reacting to public relations situations you have limited control of and begin to be more proactive. When supplying a constant stream of positive news you will help to mitigate any negative stories that might arise.  
  • Establishing a brand presence should no longer be restricted to the business world when schools and districts now have the tools at their fingertips to do this in a cost-effective manner. Simply communicating and telling your story with social media tools can accomplish this. When you do, the brand presence develops solely based on the admirable work that is taking place in your district, school, or classroom.
  • Connect with experts, peers, and practitioners across the globe to grow professionally through knowledge acquisition, resource sharing, engaged discussion, and to receive feedback. This will not only save you time and money, but will open up your eyes to infinite possibilities to truly become a digital leader. Who would not want to tap into countless opportunities that arise through conversations and transparency in online spaces? Don't wait another second to start building a Personal Learning Network (PLN).
  • If you are an administrator, stop supporting or enforcing a gatekeeper approach and allow educators to use free social media tools to engage learners, unleash their creativity, and enhance learning. Hiding behind CIPA is just an excuse for not wanting to give up control.  If you want students that are real world or future ready, they must be allowed to use the tools that are prevalent now in this world.
  • Schools are missing a golden opportunity and failing students by not teaching digital responsibility/citizenship through the effective use of social media. We need to begin to empower students to take more ownership of their learning by promoting Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and the use of mobile learning devices if schools do not have the means to go 1:1. By BYOD I don’t mean just allowing kids to bring in and use their own devices in the hallways and during lunch. That is not BYOD. Real BYOD initiatives allow students to enhance/support their learning experience, increase productivity, conduct better research, and become more digitally literate. 

It is time for the profession of education to catch up to society. In order to start moving schools in a better direction we must help leaders experience the true value of technology.  Once this happens they can begin to better model expectations for others, which will result in sustainable changes leading to transformation. Our students deserve and demand better.  Together we can continue to be the change that we want to see in education.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Real World Ready

This past September I was honored to have been asked to speak at TEDxBurnsvilleED. The theme for all of the TEDx talks was Real World Ready. When looking at the structure and function of the majority of schools across the globe it was quite evident to me that students are being prepared for a world that no longer exists. Compounding that issue is the fact that school traditionally works better for the adults than the kids who are there to get an education.  When there is more of a focus on conformity, control, rules, test scores, maintaining the status quo, and rigid schedules kids lose. School and life should should no longer be separate entities.

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As educators we need to begin to implement a bold vision for change to flip the concept of education and focus on relevant learning experiences that actually prepare students for the real world. School should allow students to follow their passions, use real world tools to solve real world problems, develop and apply essential skill sets, think divergently, create artifacts of learning to demonstrate conceptual mastery, and foster creativity.  Schools need to work for students if the goal is to prepare them for the real world. Below is my brief TEDx talk on the topic.

I would love to hear your thoughts.  Do you think I am on the right track? What else do schools need to do to prepare students for success in the real world?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Place to Be

Throughout my life I have either attended, or worked in, a public school, as had my parents.  In terms of my own education, I always felt that I was provided with the knowledge and skills to succeed in life.  By no means was my pubic schooling perfect and when I look back there were many instances that presented opportunities for improvement.  The bottom line, however, was that I had passionate and caring educators who pushed me to be the best student that I could be regardless of the deficiencies inherent in an industrialized model of education.   

As fate would have it my role changed and I began to have a direct impact in the position of either a teacher or administrator. Throughout my ongoing career as an educator in public schools, I have always worked to provide a relevant, meaningful, and applicable learning experience for my students.  I have written extensively about many of the successful initiatives that were implemented over the course of my career at New Milford High School.  Even with these successes, many of which have been widely publicized, we were never perfect when it came to meeting the needs of all learners. This was also the case when I recollect my days as a science teacher and coach at Watchung Hills Regional High School.  Mistakes were constantly made and some persistent issues were never changed no matter how hard we tried.  Through it all there was more positive than negative in each experience and this has only strengthened by resolve for, and support of, public schools. 

When it came time to make a decision about where to send our two young children to school there really was no decision to be made. Even though I was intimidated by the outright size of the New York City School system I was fully committed to sending my children to public school in my home borough of Staten Island.  We were fortunate to move from our first home on the island to an area called Pleasant Plains and were ecstatic to find out that we were zoned for Public School 3. The word on the street was that this was a very good school, but it wasn’t until I met Principal Judy Wilson that I realized how special the school really was. I still remember the day when I sent my son Nick in with a copy of the Scholastic Administrator magazine where I was featured on the cover. Once Judy realized that I was Nick’s father we began to immediately have conversations on how to improve the school culture at PS 3. 

Judy Wilson is such a passionate principal who works tirelessly to create a school that fosters a love for learning.  At times the cards are stacked against her because of the levels of bureaucracy, mandates, and senseless policies that are embedded elements of the NYCDOE.  In the face of these challenges and many others, she has worked collaboratively with passionate staff members to provide authentic learning experiences for the students there.  For example, a dance studio was created in an unused space and dance has now become integrated across the curriculum.  The dancing classroom program was brought to PS 3 five years ago for every 5th grade student.  The program builds social awareness, confidence and self-esteem in students through the practice of social dance. They cultivate a new competition team every year composed of 12 students who compete citywide. Every year the team has brought home gold medals.

Last year Judy brought VR Quest to the school where students, including my son, were able to create their own 3D virtual reality games from scratch after school.  Thanks to the incredible guidance of Media Specialist James Laieta, my son was part of his S.W.A.T. Team where students worked collaboratively after school to work on their games.  James volunteered to do this, as he is a true educator who believes in allowing students to follow their creative passions. Another highlight at PS 3 includes an annual field trip on board a floating lab. Then there are more personal situations that mean more than words can describe. When Judy Wilson found out that my son was becoming disinterested in school she went out of her way to have him do the morning announcements with older students.  This not only made him a bit more eager to go to school, but also has had a positive impact on his communication skills.  These are just a few examples of how the school is working to better meet the diverse needs of my children.

All in all I am happy with my children’s school, but just like in my experiences, there have been a few issues that have clouded my judgment as of late.  These issues relate to homework and Common Core implementation.  Without going into much detail these isolated issues have morphed into a message that my kids hate school.  I even went as far to state this emphatically in my recent TEDx talk.  The honest truth is that my kids are, well, kids and as such they typically don’t like some aspects of their formal education.  I know I didn’t.  

In retrospect, going forward I need to focus more on collaborating with the staff at PS 3 to improve some of the elements that my children don’t like instead of rattling off sound bites.  Today I sat down with my kids and had a detailed conversation with them about all the many elements of PS 3 that they love. Let me tell you, there were many!  Judy possesses an undeniable focus to move the school forward and actually implement ideas and suggestions I put forth.  I should not use my influence to paint an inaccurate picture of a school version of David going up against Goliath, which is the NYCDOE.  As the motto states, PS 3 is “The Place to Be.” I am a firm believer in this and now have to act like it. Instead of focusing on the negatives, which are inherent in any school system, I will work to promote what makes PS3 special while providing constructive feedback and hands-on support as needed. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

#Internet4schools: Make Your Voice Heard

Back in 2009 when we began to transform teaching and learning at New Milford High School we were extremely fortunate at the time to have wireless Internet access throughout the school.  This was an extremely big deal five years ago and ultimately gave us an edge in terms of the many successful initiatives we rolled out including Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and digital learning across the curriculum.  The ubiquitous access to the Internet eventual led to the implementation of more student-centered instructional practices where students began to take ownership over their learning. We began to create a school that worked better for them in that they could create learning artifacts to demonstrate conceptual mastery through the construction of new knowledge and application of skills. Access to the Internet allowed us and our students to harness and leverage thousands of free tools to support teaching and learning as described above.

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Fast forward to 2014 and one would think that all schools would be in a position to provide Internet access to students like we were able to for the past five years.  Obviously I was extremely naive to think this. The typical K–12 public school has the same internet access as the average home, only with 200 times more users. That means that 2 out of every 3 students do not have the high speed internet access they need in their schools.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering expanding Internet access in schools and we need your help telling them to vote “YES” to expanding E-rate in order to provide the nation’s students with the tools they need.

If you are like me you have seen the positive impact that Internet access can have on student learning both inside and outside of school.  Please take just a few minutes to create a 15 second video explaining why all students across the country deserve Internet access in their schools.  Here is the text you can use in a tweet or status update:

#Internet4schools matters - Tell @FCC to vote YES and bring Internet to all schools with a 15 second video

Video I created

Once your video is created share across social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Instagram.  I made the video above quickly using Instagram. I suggest you also tag some of your connected friends in your social media update to make this initiative go viral in a similar way to the Ice Bucket Challenge earlier this year.  Bottom line - all students deserve quality Internet access in schools so that they can use real world tools to do real world work, develop digital literacy skills, collaborate with peers, unleash creativity, and find more relevance in their learning.