Friday, May 28, 2010

Inspirational Follow Up From Filip

Students never cease to amaze me.  Late Thursday afternoon I looked at my Blackberry and saw an email from Filip Piasevloi, the student who wrote the amazing guest post entitled "A Student's Perspective on Leadership".  Attached to his email was a document that contained his well  thought out responses to comments on his blog post (see below).  When I came up with the idea of inviting students to guest post on my blog I never could have imagined the profound impact that it would have on me.  Filip has helped to validate the efforts of NMHS staff and students in regard to embracing change in order to create a school culture that fosters success.  I don't know about you, but I have learned  much more about leadership from Filip and am further convinced that there is not a more rewarding job in the world than that of an educator.  I would like to thank Filip for extending beyond his comfort zone and blogging spectacularly on a topic that many in the field of education have yet to master.  The remainder of this post contains Filip's responses to reader comments.

First of all, I’d like to extend my most sincere thank you to everyone for giving their time to read my post and for giving your touching comments. I never would’ve guessed that my words would elicit this kind of response, but it’s both humbling and reassuring to see how many people share my views and passions. I’d like to respond to a few questions that were addressed to me.

Aaron Eyler- How do we "nudge" teachers into cultivating the type of leadership skills you have in every one of their students? How do we "nudge" administrators into changing their idea of what learning should look like with the advent of Web 2.0 tools like YouTube and Facebook while also realizing that skills are transferable; not medium-specific? How do we "nudge" our society into realizing that making these tools costs money up front but also leads to a prospering economy and innovative workforce down the road?
Unfortunately, a lot of people are reluctant to change and abide by the cliche “seeing is believing,” and education is one of the areas where change is particularly hard to bring about because of the reluctance to gamble on the education of children with new methods. In order for a teacher to impress the value of leadership onto his/her students, he/she has to have a passionate understanding of the understated value that leadership has in “the real world”. Having this realization alone has molded the curricula of some of my teachers subliminally so that the values they present within a class feed directly to the greater picture of developing self-confidence and leadership skills. From here, leadership’s capabilities follow a ripple effect. With a devoted core of teachers and students who are cognizant of the value of leadership, the administration cannot ignore an heightened desire to expand the mediums through which we educate our students to a bigger scale. In turn, these students will venture into society with the skills and mindset necessary to make change and be part of an innovative workforce.

Ann Etchison-You describe a learning environment where teachers facilitate student learning, opinions are welcome and shared, and real world applications of content and skills are valued. Was that type of learning environment in place four years ago, and if not, can you articulate significant ways it changed over time from your perspective?
Not all of my teachers have had the fervor for molding the upcoming generation that I describe in my post, but it’s the experience of having several of those teachers who inspire me to bring about change and follow my bliss. From the beginning of my high school experience, there have been multiple teachers that have been open to using new teaching methods, but there weren’t obvious applications or a general confidence in “Education 2.0”.  Progressively, Mr. Sheninger introduced some simple gadgets that teachers could use just to present a different learning experience to students. I’d say that by my junior year, Mr. Sheninger had “2.0 fever” and was the biggest proponent one could find for the movement. His fervor and confidence exuded from him and in turn gave more teachers the confidence to venture into this new type of teaching. No change comes overnight and no change is greeted with whole-hearted acceptance. It’s the passion of the administration, teachers, and students who are enlightening to this new frontier that carry change through the roadblocks and into their final place as an established instrument of education.

Deron Durflinger-My question for you as you reflect on your schooling is, how do you think schools need to change to meet the needs of all students today? or do they need to change at all?
I don't think there's any one change that should be applied to all schools because, as I learned through a series of exchange programs with similar sized schools of different socio-economic backgrounds within the area, the composition of a school and how it's run cannot be generalized. However, what can help all schools and all people in the world is just having an open mind and not being afraid of change.

Bill Ferriter- How can we encourage more people to take the steps that leadership depends on? So what key behaviors and traits are necessary for leaders---and how can we develop those traits in more people? Or better yet, is leadership something that can be learned, or is it an innate trait that some of us have and others don't?
I think leadership is the culmination of a lot of other qualities interacting with one another; some being self-confidence, pride, perseverance, open-mindedness, humility, ambition, affability, and a few other intangibles that a leader embodies. That being said, I don’t think there could be a class to teach leadership because most of those traits are developed through personal experiences and interaction with the people around us. No one is born a leader, but responding to failure and just going through daily events are a study in leadership in itself.

After finishing looking through the comments again to make sure I didn’t miss any questions, I just wanted to say again how thankful I am for your comments and your time. Thank you to my teachers who have influenced me, inspired my dreams, and in general have been part of what made my four years of high school as meaningful as they should be. Thank you to all the bloggers whose compliments are truly heartening and whose comments have in turn  made me think even more about leadership, a topic that can never be exhausted. Thank you Mr. Sheninger, who has reshaped New Milford High School and who has presented me with this invaluable opportunity to get my thoughts into the world and start a chain reaction of responses that I never could have imagined. Finally, I would like to thank my parents who are the biggest factor of who I am today. Please feel free to email me with any other questions at nmgamer@msn.com. I really do love having these conversations.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Student's Perspective on Leadership

It is with great pride and excitement that I present a guest post on A Principal's Reflections by a New Milford High School student.  I approached senior Filip Piasevoli last week and asked if he would consider taking the theme of my blog and writing his own thoughts on leadership, technology, and student-centered learning.  Filip was recently featured in the April 2010 edition of Honor Student Magazine.  He is a member of the National Honor Society, French Honor Society, a three sport athlete, and President of the Senior class.  I am fortunate that he graciously accepted and wrote this powerful piece below. 

New Milford High School has presented me with more than enough opportunities to develop my leadership skills. From the humbling and eye-opening experience of the Holocaust Study Tour to the American Legion Boy State retreat to even something as simple as our school’s Peer Leadership program, NMHS goes above and beyond in developing the character, integrity, and leadership capabilities of students across the board. What stands out to me in particular is the way in which kids throughout the student body can take a stand on issues that they are passionate about, looking to bring about change. Two years ago, peer leaders set up a table at the Hackensack Street Festival and held a pasta night with a volunteer doctor from the Sudan as the guest speaker. Each activity was designed to spread awareness of the genocide in Darfur. Our efforts and fundraising was a way of domesticating a foreign problem and aiding the fight against it. A problem closer to home for us is the increasing number of kids smoking cigarettes. Our REBEL chapter, led by a student assistant counselor, functions through the actions of the student body and looks to greatly reduce the number of high school kids that smoke. My time here has truly defined my idea of leadership as the power to unite people with similar emotions and incite meaningful change.
However, leadership within the High School extends beyond those striving for a diploma. Looking back on my four years here, I realize that my stay at New Milford High School has been a milestone in the district. I’ve witnessed a small, suburban school literally upgrade into the epicenter of technology integration within a school setting. In my eyes, this would not have been possible without the pioneering mindset of our principal and an administration that was open to the changes after seeing meaningful integration. The actions within our school district have embodied the motto of one of our society’s most ideal role models, Peter Parker (Spiderman), “With great power comes great responsibility.” Our Principal, who was once responsible for blocking YouTube within the district, grew to embrace the World of 2.0 that often has a stigma within schools. However, the true leadership exudes when looking at the manner in which this revolution was introduced within the school. Mr. Sheninger often says to us students, “Here are the tools, tell me how you want to integrate them so that you benefit most from them in our school.” A leader can have his ideas, but change cannot be adopted through the actions of only one person. My message to other principals is that you can’t be afraid of change, nor can you force a change like ours onto the student body. Leave it to your students to find the uses that they see as most beneficial because that leads to passionate use and a more holistic learning experience.

The Peter Parker motto of power and responsibility falls on the teachers more so than anyone else in the school system. Each teacher has almost seven hours a week to mold our future interests and to teach us to think transcendently. Their tone and attitude towards their respective subjects can change the way each student in the class sees the topic. For example, math should be taught as a practical skill and not as forced memorization, and viewpoints in history should be presented from both sides of an argument, leaving the ultimate verdict on history’s most ambivalent topics to the growing mind of the student. True teaching extends beyond indoctrination and into the facilitation of educational discussion. This is where the true skill of teachers and their own leadership abilities are left to give us the most meaningful high school education possible.

Filip's piece contains many important lessons as well as practical advice for schools that want to empower and engage students.  Please share this with your colleagues.  Filip will be reading your comments so please let him know what you think of this piece and some of the points that he has made.   

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Google Sites Rock!

The development and maintenance of a website used to be an expensive and complicated task that was not really embraced by many teachers.  The financial constraints alone posed a huge discouraging factor.  Creating a class website or page is now easier than ever.  Teachers now have the ability or organize and routinely update content, assignments, videos, and presentations for students in an easily accessible format for free using Google Sites.

Mr. Keith Devereaux, a science teacher, at New Milford High School, has been using Google sites over the course of the year to establish an information portal to the classes he teaches and as a way to develop engaging learning activities on particular topics.  You can view his main site here and one on electricity/magnetism here.  His AP Biology students are currently creating a Google site on the systems of the human body.    Certain coaches have also begun to create Google sites for their teams.  Mr. Greg Kelly, NMHS Physical Education teacher and track coach, created a Google site for the track and field program.  Here are some quick reasons why I feel teachers, coaches, and club advisors should have a Google site:

1.  Information hub (core curriculum standards, access to digital textbooks, notes, syllabus, proficiencies, etc.)
2.  Access to content 24/7.  Students that are absent can quickly and easily acquire missed assignments without having to ask the teacher upon their return.   This is also great for students that might have missed something during class, want to work on reinforcing the material at home or when away, and to prepare for tests/quizzes.
3.  Calendar of events (assignment due dates, meetings, practice/game schedules).
4.  Links to printable forms, assignments, etc.  Google forms can be embedded onto the sites as a self-grading quiz.  Polls and questionnaires can also be included to collect useful information.   View a quiz that Mr. Devereaux created using Google forms to go along with the Electricity and Magnetism Google site mentioned above here.
5.  Links to supplemental resources.
6.  Promote student achievements and accomplishments.

Google sites are also a great resource to use when delivering professional development.  Keith and I used a Google site during a March presentation on authentic-based learning environments and web 2.0.  Multiple Google tools and activities were inserted into the site, which was accessible to the participants before, during, and after the presentation.  The recent Google Teachers Academy for Administrators also used a Google site for the one day training. 

I think I have done a pretty good job outlining reasons why I think Google sites rock!  Please share any additional ideas you have in the comments section. For more Google app resources visit my Delicious page.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Students Are the Best Tech Advocates

Scholastic recently visited New Milford High School in order to see how we were using and integrating educational technology.  I could not be more proud of how my students represented NMHS and clearly articulated numerous examples of technologies that they have used over the course of the year.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Creativity Lies in Content Creation


Yesterday's #edchat topic focused on creativity in the classroom.  Allowing students to create content not only fosters creativity, but also makes learning engaging and meaningful.  Recently Joe Andolino (Applied Music Theory teacher at New Milford High School) and his class hit upon a subject that every teen is interested in: cellphones. In previous classes the students created their own original music tracks. Building upon this experience they wanted to have ownership of something that is in their everyday lives. Mr. Andolino devised an innovative a way to connect with sound on a portable level by challenging the student to apply what they had learned in class to create an authentic ringtone using Mac Books and web 2.0 applications.

In creating a custom ringtone a few parameters should be kept in mind. Mr. Andolino highly recommends creating something that is not too long or that has an elaborate, busy musical arrangemement. It should be identifable and catchy. Due to the mono nature of most cellphones, a clear simple track should be produced so that the sound projects. Students also needed to consider looping the song piece so it repeated for up to 30 seconds. If one desires you could even add your own voice!  Several audio techniques can be used to develop the tone. Transfering the tone to the phone can have some variables depending on the phones capabilities. Specifically, iPhone and iPods are great and most phones accept Mp3 files.  Check out two student ringtones created by Gerwin Marca and Brian Drew that were eventually uploaded to their personal cellphones.  Brian actually came to my office with Mr. Andolino yesterday to share the ringtone with me that he had created.  If you could only have seen the joy and pride on his face!  Now this is what learning is all about and the reason why we decided to pursue a career in education!

Give teachers the tools, freedom, and support to be innovative and they will develop learning activities that allow students to demonstrate mastery of concepts in a creative fashion.  Thank you to Joe Andolino for not only sharing this activity with me, but also supplying the technical information behind creating a ringtone.  

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Complete Package

As an administrator one of the most satisfying parts of the job is seeing teachers collaborate willingly on interdisciplinary lessons. This type of learning is extremely important in terms of providing students with connections between the content areas in order to provide a heightened sense of relevance and understanding. I was excited to learn last week about an activity that was being planned for a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. New Milford High School teachers April Millian (math) and Lisette Morel (art) approached me about creating a scavenger hunt podcast activity for the students to complete while visiting the museum. This idea fascinated me as we all know that certain field trips do not have an adequately embedded learning activity for the students to complete. After receiving my approval, April and Lisette created their podcast using a macbook and then uploaded it to iPod nanos from the school's mobile iPod learning lab. Each student was then issued an iPod upon arrival to the MET and off they went.

In addition to the iPods, my teachers also took a Kodak Zi8 with them to document the learning experience on this field trip.  This activity illustrates how to successfully create an interdisciplinary lesson and integrate technology in order to ensure that students are actively engaged while on a field trip.  It should be noted that this is the first time my two teachers have not only used the iPods, but created a podcast of this nature.  As I have stated in previous posts, taking risks is essential in order to spur innovation and change.  I commend  teachers like April and Lisette who are willing to move beyond their comfort zone in order to make learning engaging, lasting, and most importantly fun!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Banning is the Easy Way Out

In the field of education change and innovation are words that are often spoken, but rarely acted upon.  As our world evolves, technology has become increasingly prevalent in the lives of students.  They are now part of a digital generation that have incredible opportunities to create content, collaborate on a global scale, and follow a path of continuous, life-long learning that extends beyond the walls of a school.  It is an exciting time to be in education because of the plethora of exciting tools that are currently available to schools.  These tools can be successfully used when integrated effectively to readily engage students in the learning process.

With that being said, I was very taken back recently by multiple media outlets covering a story about a NJ Middle School Principal who had asked his parents to ban Facebook and other forms of social media at home.  Banning students from accessing social media will only push them to utilize these sites in secret, which will not provide a solution to cyberbullying.  Just look at the negative effect Prohibition had on adults!  I commend this Principal for truly exhibiting a genuine concern for the safety and well-being of his students, but remain perplexed about the path he has chosen to take.  As educators it is our task to teach students how to make responsible decisions, think critically, solve problems and communicate effectively in order to succeed in society.  Instead of rolling up our sleeves and tackling an issue such as cyberbullying head on, it is used as an excuse to prohibit students from potential meaningful learning experiences both in and outside of school.  

A few years ago I would have been leading the charge on banning all types of social media, both in and out of school.  As a matter of fact, I was instrumental in getting sites like Facebook and YouTube banned at my school. So why the change? It’s simple, I became educated on the many positive ways in which these resources could be used to connect with students on their level and how I could leverage them for my own professional growth.  I finally opened my eyes, stopped making excuses, and decided to actually pursue innovative change.  In recent discussions with students at NMHS they revealed how much social media technology is a part of their lives and asked me to create a school Facebook page.   This page is now used as a model for students to see and learn how to properly use this resource.  Not only did I create the page, but I finally created a personal Facebook account after six years of resistance. I have even provided training to parents and students on how to use Twitter educationally.  

All school communities have issues with irresponsible social media use and mine in not exempt.  However, we can seize this opportunity by working with all stakeholders to actually teach a meaningful lesson on social responsibility.  I encourage school leaders to inform parents on how they can create environments at home that promote acceptable use, rewrite curriculum, model effective use, and include student perspectives on creating best social media practices.   In the 21st Century social media use will only continue to increase.  Communication, collaboration, and information are essential in decreasing cyberbullying, not banning.

P.S. Hopefully the media (i.e. CNN, CBS News, Huffington Post, FOX News, ABC News, etc.) doesn't take the easy way out as well and publishes stories on all of the many education benefits of social media. Wishful thinking right?