Sunday, January 13, 2019

Know Thyself

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; Mastering yourself is true power.” - Lao Tzu

Do you know who you are?  In one sense most of us respond with a resounding yes.  However, deep down many of us, including myself, are always questioning our purpose.  By the way, this is indeed ok.  Throughout our lives, we are continually discovering and reassessing who we are. Experiences, feedback, and the environment in which we live and work shape this process in a way that ultimately helps us to realize our strengths and weaknesses.  Taking all of this into account helps us come to the realization of why we are the way we are.  It is at this point that we must continually consider changes that can be made to better ourselves and those around us.  

Quote from Andrew Murphy/image credit

Herein lies my point.  How open to change are we really? The key, in my opinion, comes down to knowing thyself. So why is this so important?  Take this view from Annalisa Coliva:
Presumably, it means to know, first and foremost, one’s character and it is crucial because only by understanding one’s character can one be aware of one’s limitations and avoid likening oneself to the gods. But, more simply, it is only by knowing one’s character that one can try and improve from a moral point of view, or make the right decisions in one’s life.
In a world where people are seemingly always trying to figure out what makes others tick it might be prudent to reflect on the very nature of why we do what we do (or what we don’t).  Understanding our own drive and resistance to change goes a long way in helping others to embrace new and different ideas with the goal of improving practice.  Your ability to define who you are and how you will make decisions can help catapult you to a level of professional practice that will continually be grounded by your sense purpose. It is your prior experiences, roles, and the people that influence your work that will help to develop enough awareness to determine and define what truly matters.  Having a greater purpose than oneself becomes a catalyst for initiating needed change. 

Let the past inform your present.  We can learn a great deal by taking a critical lens to past mistakes and failures. These can teach us to make better choices now and in the future.

Dig deep to unearth your core values. Knowing what you stand for and why you believe in certain things will provide fantastic insight as to why you make the decisions you do.

Seek out, listen to, and gain perspective from the works of other educators, leaders, and authors. Hang out with people you know have developed a strong sense of self-awareness.

Don’t’ discount your fears. These manifest themselves in many ways and ultimately dictate your actions, which in turn impact everyone with whom you come in contact. By tackling your fears head on you will be more prone to make empowered choices.

Have an open mind when it comes to change as it is a constant.  Over time you will accumulate an array of experiences, which will color your perspective. Move beyond your comfort zone, take calculated risks, and expand your outlook.

Developing a better understanding of yourself is a never-ending journey, which will help you to better understand your strengths, weaknesses, fears, and aspirations.  If you want to help others either overcome or address these areas, then it makes perfect sense to do so ourselves. Only then will the stage be set to initiating meaningful change that sticks

Take some time to get to know yourself better. 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Why Connect?

I was honored to have been interviewed for Educational Leadership, ASCD's flagship magazine, on the power of Twitter as part of a Personal Learning Network (PLN). You can read the article HERE.  Since only snippets of my responses were embedded into the piece I wanted to share the specific questions that were asked and my thoughts on each. As you will see, the true power of connected learning is what you glean from the people you engage with. 

When and why did you decide to get involved on Twitter? Did you have any initial challenges or reservations about it—and if so, how did you overcome those to develop a robust network and community?

I got on Twitter in 2009, which was an accomplishment in itself as I had previously convinced myself that I would never use social media as I didn’t have the time nor saw any value in it. Thus, the biggest challenge I had to overcome was a fixed mindset regarding how I could use a tool like this to improve my capacity as an educational leader. My “ah ha” moment came in March of 2009 after having read a newspaper article about Twitter in the Staten Island Advance.  This article switched the light bulb on as I finally saw value in how a tool like Twitter could help me become a better leader. The connection was to communicate.  You won’t find an effective leader who is not an effective communicator. Once I made an initial connection to supporting and enhancing professional practice I later learned how social media tools could be used to improve other areas of leadership. As my focus shifted from communication to learning that is when I saw unlimited potential.  We don’t know what we don’t know.  The humbling moments that the social media world provided became the primary driver in my pursuit to embrace digital leadership and work collaboratively with my staff to improve the learning culture at my school. 

How long does it take to develop a strong network on Twitter or other digital platforms? Does it help to focus in on one platform--like Twitter or FB--or do you need to build a diverse network with blogs, social media, podcasts?

The time it takes to develop a strong network on Twitter, or any social media platform is dependent on the quality of the content you share and create as well as the time you put in. I have found that educators are keen for more insight on practical ideas aligned to research and evidence of actual improvement. The more you can show, as opposed to telling, how innovative practices are improving learning outcomes leads to the development of a robust and respected network in my opinion. My rule of thumb is to start small by mastering one platform first and embed it consistently into professional practice.  Whether for learning, communications, telling your story, or developing a brand presence, consistency is essential.  Once you are comfortable with the use of one tool, the next step is to diversify your digital portfolio. This will open you up to even more information, ideas, opinions, connected educators, feedback, resources, and discussion. The bottom line, however, is to use the platform that best meets your needs and goals. It’s not about how many social media tools you use, but how well you use them to further your thinking and learning to continually grow as an educator while better serving your community in the process. 

Newbies are often advised to follow certain hashtags or prominent people as a way to ‘do’ Twitter, but sometimes that’s akin to walking into a crowded party and not having any idea who to start talking to or where the food is. How does one go about building a network, really?

Hashtags are an excellent way to begin to build your network as you can spread ideas and strategies to an established group. Amplification through hashtags combined with engagement plants the seeds that can lead to a vibrant network.  The key is to share original work aligned to the specific hashtag. People want to know what leads to results and ultimate success. The more practical the ideas, the quicker your network will form.  Other elements that go into network building are honesty, transparency, actively participating in discussions, and the right balance of sharing your work with that of others. The real strength of any network is not how many people follow you, but the quality of the people you follow and connect with. 

What’s the most valuable information, advice, or a lesson you’ve gotten from someone in your digital network? How did you use it to improve your practice?

I learned a long time ago to keep my message on point and aligned with my professional work. In my former role as a practicing school leader, this meant only sharing what my teachers and kids were doing during school hours. This not only protected me but ultimately helped to promote all of our successful practices while building my staff and students up in the process. In this sense, it has to be about “we” and not “me.”  Over time I learned that education had to change. “Don’t prepare students for something. Prepare them for anything!” – This is one of the biggest lessons I have learned from my time in the space. In the ASCD book, Learning Transformed that I co-authored with Tom Murray we provide a great deal of context on this. 

What three common mistakes do you see educators make when they try to develop a professional network or community on Twitter?

  • Too self-promotional where it becomes humblebragging. 
  • Tagging loads of people in your tweets for the primary purpose of getting him/or her to share your tweet. 
  • Not responding to questions or comments that are directed to you.

On average, how much time do you spend each day on Twitter? Do you have any personal rules for unplugging?

Well, this depends on the day. My thinking is this – we all can allocate at least 15 minutes a day to learn and get better. Why not make the time to do this on a platform like Twitter where we can personalize the experience?  Balance is key. As such I do not have any personal rules for unplugging. I limit my use dramatically when I with my family so that I am present. That is the best advice I can give. 

Related to the last: How do you stay focused when you’re on Twitter—and not get sucked down a rabbit hole of distraction (oh! Those cat memes!)?

Establish some personal norms and stick with them. Self-efficacy is the only way not to get distracted. I look at it this way. My time is valuable, and there must be a professional-life balance. Thus, my use on platforms like Twitter are all aligned to how I can become more effective at what I now do – helping educators, schools, districts, and organizations transform teaching, learning, and leadership. Even though my activity can come in many forms, the focus remains the same.  If I want cat memes and such I will move over to my personal Facebook or Instagram account. 

Do you think social media platforms are a give-and-take relationship? To receive good content, do you also have to create it? And if so, how?

To get anything valuable out of life, it requires to give and take.  You don’t have to create good content to obtain anything from the relationship necessarily. Case in point. One can lurk on social media and acquire proven strategies that have been successfully implemented in schools that have led to better learner outcomes.  The acquired content can then be used as a catalyst for growth and improvement in his or her context.  If you are willing to take the ideas that others are openly giving you and using them to move your professional goals forward, then a positive relationship exists. Creating content is not a means to an end if you don’t want it to be. It is the vetting of and then using, the material that others produce that leads to evidence of improvement that creates relationships in connected spaces. When, and if, you are comfortable building your content go for it, but never think that you have to to get something from the platform. 

What do you get out of Twitter (or other online connections) that you haven’t been able to get from a personal colleague?

Timely, practical, and specific feedback when and where I need it. The convenience of having a 24/7 support network that spans the globe is quite empowering.  I often get the best feedback and advice on how to improve. Another benefit is the ability to pull from a vast collection of educators who have a diversity of strengths and unique talents. 

One worry/complaint from people who are trying to build a network online is that there’s too much content. How do you sort through “the noise” to find the things and people who are most valuable to you?

The noise can be controlled by being selective about who you connect with. The beauty of social media is that it is all about YOU! Unfollow those who clog up your streams with information or posts that don’t align with your professional goals.  You can also use a tool like TweetDeck to manage your connections and hashtags in specific columns. By doing this, you essentially are applying your filter to your feed.  

When it is all said and done the true power of Twitter, or any other social media tool for that matter, is the people with whom you connect and engage with to learn. The best ideas and strategies in education come from those who are successfully implementing them and getting results. 

The digital age allows you to create an infinite amount of rooms to engage with the brightest minds across an array of experiences in education and other fields. By building a network that works for you the short and long-term impact on your professional practice can be priceless. 

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Top Posts of 2018

Get up and write!  Well, this isn’t the saying that I abide by, but making the time to reflect and hammer away at the keyboard is something that I still consistently commit to doing.  There are many reasons I continue to blog regularly, but the biggest is trying to add a practical lens to many of the ideas we either see or hear about on social media. During the past year, I attempted to connect more research to either further validate my thoughts or illustrate how educators were implementing proven strategies with an innovative angle into practice.  An increase in the amount of job-embedded coaching work I did in schools over an extended period of time also influenced my thinking.  There is nothing better in my opinion than to see either growth or success in schools where real challenges were overcome. 

In my opinion, you don’t have to be a great writer to blog. Begin with a focus on your work and that of others you spend your days with as a starting point.  Remember, the act of blogging is first and foremost you and the impact that it has on your growth and development. Another outcome is the impact that it has on readers near and far. Never discount how your ideas and experiences might positively influence the work of others.  Back to the whole writing thing. If you ever doubt your ability fall back on a proofreader (thanks mom) on Grammarly as I do. 

Here are my top posts of 2018.

Preparing Learners for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Change isn’t coming. It’s already on our doorstep.  You can’t run or hide from it. The revolution, or evolution depending on your respective lens, of our world, will transform everything as we know it. We must adapt, but more importantly, prepare our learners for a bold new world that is unpredictable.  Welcome to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres marked by emerging technology breakthroughs in a number of fields, including robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, the Internet of Things, 3D printing, and fully autonomous vehicles. Education remains the key to the future. Don’t prepare students for something. Prepare them for anything!

Scaffolding Questions to Develop Deeper Understanding

The key to future-proofing school and learning is to empower all kids to think regardless of label or zip code. By using the Rigor Relevance Framework as a guide, we can begin by asking learners better questions with the goal being that they start to formulate questions on their own. With and without technology, it is crucial to create a thinking culture. Scaffolding questions enhance learning and aids in the mastery of concepts by systematically building on knowledge and relevance. The ultimate goal is to develop competent thinkers and doers who can not only use knowledge in new ways but also construct their own.

The Pivotal Role Movement Plays in Learning

Research has shown that movement in the form of brain breaks, recess, and physical education positively impacts learning. Don’t look at kids moving in class as a break or poor use of instructional time. Schools need to do more to ensure that movement is being integrated into all classes. The brain needs regular stimulation to properly function and this can come in the form of exercise or movement. Based on what is now known about the brain, this has been shown to be an effective cognitive strategy to improve memory and retrieval, strengthen learning, and enhance motivation among all learners. As research has shown, movement is an essential component of learning. If the goal is to help kids be better learners, then we have to be better at getting them up and moving in school. 

Five Components of Good Feedback

Feedback is essential to improvement and growth. There is nothing more vital to our professional roles than a good discussion around evidence-based practice that paints a picture not only of what we are doing well but areas where we can either become much better or outright improve. However, for it to be effective, it must be delivered positively, timely, practical and specific, consistent, and delivered using the right medium.  

To Improve Outcomes, We Need to Take a Critical Lens to Instructional Design

There is no perfection in education; thus there is always room for improvement.  To get to where we want, and our learners need us to be, a routine audit of pedagogical practice is necessary.  In this post, I identify five areas to look at when implementing any digital tool or innovative idea to determine whether or not improvements to pedagogy are changing. These include the level of questioning, authentic and/or interdisciplinary contexts, rigorous performance tasks, innovative assessment, and improved feedback.  A question or two as a means to help self-assess where you are and if improvements can be made follows each of these areas. 

Thanks to everyone who has made the time to visit my blog, read posts, and provide comments.  Here’s to a fantastic 2019!  

Sunday, December 23, 2018

3 Questions to Help Make the Most Out of the Money You Have

How do you make the most out of the money you have?

I hope the question above gets you thinking.  Educational institutions around the world spend billions of dollars on textbooks, curriculum, programs, technology, and professional development.  I’m sure I missed some categories, but you get the point.  Now, I am not saying that anything listed is not valuable. On the contrary, there is research, evidence, and practical needs that justify many of the purchases that are made in each category.  My point is this.  In times where the budget hammer comes down and critical decisions have to be made, what criteria do you use to make them?

As a principal one of my primary responsibilities was that of preparing a budget. Requests were made through a digital platform and had been done so years before I took the helm.  One significant change I made was allowing my teachers, through their department chairs, to have more autonomy over this process. Once funds were allocated to each respective department, I then told them to spend as they saw fit. After all, why should I make these decisions if I am not the one actually teaching the kids or serving directly as a facilitator of learning?  It made sense that the people who had the most day to day contact with students were empowered to make the best choices with the funds we had.  There were a few times I had to intervene though when some of the decisions were questionable at best, but oversight is essential.  

Big ticket items or those that were outside the realm of specific departmental needs followed a different process.  Many of these fell within the categories listed at the beginning of this post.  In this case, the teachers submitted wish list items while my leadership team and I consulted with students and staff alike to determine school needs.  The goal was to make the budgeting process more collaborative.  Leaders need to understand the positive impact that shared decision making and more autonomy have on culture. In many cases, those making the decisions think that is the case, but reality states otherwise.  An article in Education Dive titled “Principals, teachers have different views on employee input” shared the following:
Most principals — 96% — think that teachers are involved in making important decisions about their schools, but that’s far more than the 58% of teachers who feel the same way, according to a new RAND Corp. American Educator Panel survey of both teachers and school leaders.
Just as teachers use strategies in the classroom to encourage participation from students who aren’t typically likely to volunteer their opinion or ask to be the first to give a presentation, principals will likely need to use multiple methods to ensure they are hearing from a broader cross-section of teachers. 

The budgeting process and how money is spent represents one of the most significant decisions that have to be made each year. To build morale and culture, leaders need to relinquish some control and trust those who are tasked with educating kids.

Beyond school and district budgets all educators should be critical of how money is spent to improve not only student learning but also their own. All funds are precious, whether they originate from your school or out of your own pocket. Think about the supporting research and evidence of impact to guide your decision-making process. 

When spending money on programs, curriculum, professional development, or technology consider these questions: 

  1. Why invest in this product, service, or event? 
  2. How will (or has) it improve learning outcomes? 
  3. What criteria will be used to determine if it was a wise investment or to continue funding?

Spending any amount of money is a big deal.  Engage in conversations at the district, school, or individual level to make the most out of what you have. When it is all said and done you want to be confident that the financial commitment either has or will continue to, positively impact learning outcomes for kids.