Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Top 10 Roadblocks to Change

Yesterday I was granted an opportunity to deliver a keynote at the NYSCATE Leadership Summit in Troy, NY.  The topic of my talk was, "Leadership in the Digital Age."  During my talk I spoke about two paths that a leader could take, telling people what they want to hear, or taking them where they need to be.  This theme served as a catalyst for my discussion on leading change in the 21st Century.  Upon reflecting on my keynote, as well as other presentations given by Steve Anderson, Tom Whitby, and Sarah Brown Wessling, (2010 National Teacher of the Year) I have been able to identify common roadblocks to the change process.   If identified and addressed appropriately these roadblocks can be overcome.
1. This is too hard:  News flash, CHANGE IS NOT EASY!  Please keep this in mind as I continue this post. Change in the field of education is as elusive as the Lock Ness Monster.  If it were easy we would see innovative programs, authentic learning experiences, successful integration of technology, and students yearning to arrive at school each day.  The fact of the matter is that nothing in life comes easy, let alone transformation change in education.  Educators must be willing to take risks, learn from mistakes, and put in the time.

2. I don't have the time for this: Ah, the old time excuse.  This is probably the most common excuse given when educators and the thought or sight of change come together.  We are in a profession to make a difference in the life of a child, leave a lasting impact, motivate them to achieve, instill a sense of life-long learning, and prepare them for success once they leave our schools.  If someone says they don't have time to work towards change that helps to achieve these goals then they should question why they are in the field of education.  Dedicated educators make the time because it is their job!  You ask any child who had a teacher that turned their life around and they will tell you that the time spent was priceless!

3.  Lack of collaboration:  The field of education has been moving from a profession that hoarded ideas, lessons, and successful strategies to one that is openly willing to share this bounty with as many passionate educators as possible.  Innovation and change is a collective process and schools that get this concept have personnel who routinely collaborate amongst each other and with those outside of their schools.  "Together we are better," is the motto that change agents abide by.

4. Directive approach:  Ok, I have been guilty of this when trying to get my staff to utilize Skype.  Thankfully I learned from this mistake and have found that change occurs through shared-decision making, consensus, collaboration (see #3), and modeling.  As a leader, I had better be able to effectively model what I want my teachers to implement if I have any hopes of seeing the idea succeed and be sustainable.  In education you can't just tell someone to do something because you are mesmerized by a piece of technology, read the latest book on innovative practices, or heard a great speaker discuss PLC's.  You need to get each and every stakeholder involved in the process (see #3), properly model the strategy, and put the time forth to ensure successful implementation (see # 1 and 2).

5. Hierarchy in Schools: Sarah Wessling mentioned this during her talk yesterday.  The hierarchical structure in many schools is most often a deterrent to innovation and change.  This results in #4 being prevalent and no chance of #3 because ideas have to go through so many layers and red tape to even be considered.  Schools that have moved away from this structure support learning cultures that are innovative.  Educators need to be placed in environments where flexibility and freedom to take risks and try out new ideas and initiatives without fear of repercussion are actively fostered.

6. No support:  As leaders how can we expect teachers to be innovative and move towards change if we don't support them 100% of the time?

7. Fear of change:  This is a given, so it had better be expected.  If numbers 1-5 are addressed this will help to alleviate this feeling.  Passion for helping kids succeed on the part of administrators and teachers will always work to one's advantage when trying to subdue the fear a group might experience when trying to initiate new ideas.  Passion is what drives us!  Use it to your advantage.

8. The naysayers and antagonists:  Well you should have known this was coming.  Some people will never get on board with the change process for a variety of reasons (non of which we agree with).  Those that embrace change and experience success should be celebrated, honored, and commended.  This is the best way to motivate others and inspire them to willingly become part of the process.

9. Poor professional development:  How many times have we sat through training sessions that were boring, meaningless, and didn't provide any practical implementation ideas?  Professional development has to be relevant to teachers, contain numerous choices, and be hands-on.  More often than not this can be done with teacher leaders present in all buildings.  If money is going to be spent make sure it is on a vetted, well-respected presented where you will get your monies worth.

10. Frivolous purchases:  Money does not equate into innovation and change.  Just because you purchase the latest technology doesn't mean everyone will use it correctly or productively.  Professional development (see #9) is key.

Be a transformational leader and take people where they need to be!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Why a Blog?

As I reflect on my continuous evolution as an educational leader I am constantly amazed at how things have changed over the course of a year and a half.  It was in March of 2009 that I decided to give this thing Twitter a try.  At the time I was skeptical about whether my time was going to be well spent posting updates in 140 characters and whether or not people would actually care or be interested in what I was doing.  Obviously my perception of Twitter early on was formed by the likes of Ashton Kutcher and Shaq.   Boy was I wrong!

Fast forward to February of 2010.  After nearly a year of using Twitter from an educational perspective I had begun to find and read blogs on a daily basis.  I often marveled at the creative thought and passion that so many educators put into their writing.  Envious would be a more appropriate word.  As I became active on Twitter members of my PLN (Personal Learning Network) began to suggest that I start a blog.  Well let me be the first one to tell you that I am NOT a writer and always struggled with expressing my thoughts in words.  My mind was set in concrete that I would NEVER under any circumstances begin to blog (wait, I said the same thing about joining Facebook up until 2010).

So what changed?  The most important factor that influenced me to begin a blog was my PLN.  Had it not been the modeling by and support of so many unbelievable educators I would NEVER, and I mean NEVER, started blogging.  The support I received gave me the courage to share my thoughts, experiences, and ideas with others who have a stake in the noblest profession.  My reflections led to a belief that I actually had useful information to share that might be utilized to help other educators grow, think, take-risks, and eventually share their success stories.


I absolutely relish the fact that I now utilize my blog as a vehicle to share the successes of my students and staff.  Sharing is the key word here.  The concept of a PLN and immersion in the educational world of Web 2.0 has shown me the unselfish nature of educators as they constantly strive to help each other day in day out.  Why do we do this? The answer is simple, we want to ensure that students succeed!  No one person or group has all of the answers.  Each and every educator has something to share.  Blogs now provide a valuable set of services to educators in a time when our profession desperately needs it.  These include mentoring, professional development, encouragement, and most importantly inspiration.  They also show students, parents, and community members how passionate we are about what we do!

Why do I blog? I do so to give back to those people that have helped me break free from a traditional mindset and hopefully inspire others to do the same.  I blog in the hopes of challenging my own thinking in order to continually grow into a transformational leader.  Finally, I blog to be transparent.  I want to brag about my students and staff while providing examples of innovation.  It was an absolute honor to have my blog selected as the Edblog of the Week (thank you Cory Plough for setting this up). If it wasn't for Twitter, my PLN, or the support of my family and NMHS community, this post along with all the others would never have been written. THANK YOU!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Good vs Great Teachers: My Ravitch Response

Earlier today I read an article published in the Washington Post by Diane Ravitch entitled "Ravitch on Teachers and Her Critics".  For the most part I agree with her views on No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and in many other areas.  However, I was very taken aback by this statement that she made referencing 21st Century Skills, "And, to the extent that it is about pushing more technology into the schools, it is pointless, as technology will never take the place of good teachers." 

As an educational leader I feel compelled to address this statement as I am tasked with hiring, observing, mentoring, evaluating, and supporting teachers on a daily basis.  I want all of my teachers to be good and I unequivocally agree that there is nothing more important and influential to the success of a student than a good teacher.  This leads me to list some defining characteristics of a good teacher:

1.  Sound classroom management skills.
2.  Ability to actively engage all learners.
3.  Firm understanding of best practices and effective
     pedagogical techniques.
4.  Addresses the needs of all learners by differentiating
     instruction.
5.  Designs lessons that foster critical thinking skills and
     cognitive growth through authentic-based practices.
6.  Are supportive, caring, and passionate about what they do.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.  As Ravitch downplays the significance of educational technology and its evolving role in today's landscape I see it as an essential resource utilized by good teachers on a daily basis.  These good teachers combine the engaging and collaborative forces inherent in technology with sound pedagogical techniques in order to effectively integrate. The result is phenomenal lessons.  Through risk-taking and a determination to provide an enriched learning experience that is meaningful, these good teachers are reaching students in ways never imagined.  Students of these good teachers have now developed a love for learning and an excitement about coming to school.  They see technology as an essential tool, not a means to an end. 

No, technology will never replace good teachers.  Good teachers will be replaced by great teachers that embrace this opportunity and understand that change is the only way to prepare our students for success in the 21st Century.  Great teachers find ways to use technology when needed to challenge, support, and enhance the learning needs of all students.  It might not be on a daily basis, but the great teacher acknowledges its potential impact on and power for learning.  Technology and the need for change are not going away, and the great teacher understands this.  Thank you to all the great teachers, administrators, parents, and educational stakeholders that are actively accepting this challenge.  Do not settle for being good.  Continue to strive towards greatness as the student will greatly benefit.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

More iPad Apps

In my last post I wrote about some iPad apps that I thought were must adds for administrators and educators alike.  Since then I have received some great suggestions from my PLN and had the chance to check out other apps that I have found a use for as a High School Principal.  The key for me is that I want this device to be a valuable tool in collecting data, staying in touch with my administrative team, unrestricted real-time access to my PLN, and as a form of motivation for my teachers to take more risks with technology to engage students in the learning process.  Here are my additions:

15.  Skype: Make FREE calls to everyone in your contact list.
16.  textPlus: FREE, unlimited SMS via regular text, app-to-app,
       1-to-1, or in groups.
17.  Documents to Go: Edit/create/view MS Word and Excel
       files as well as view PDF, PowerPoint and iWork files. 
       Syncs with Dropbox!
18.  GoodReader: Read PDF and TXT files; syncs w/ DropBox and
       Google Docs.
19.  Free Translator:  Translates over 18 languages.
20.  Simplepedia: A simple Wikipedia reader.
21.  Groupboard: Turns your iPad into a collaborative
       whiteboard.
22.  Pcalc Lite: Fully functional scientific calculator.

I am currently looking into Classroom Walkthrough apps by Teachscape and Austin Sky.  If you have used any of these or other apps from another company please let me know.  In the meantime I plan on using the forms feature in Google Docs to collect and analyze walkthrough data with my administrative team.  After sharing my excitment about the iPad with a social studies teacher today we decided to purchase two of these for the department in lieu of a laptop. There are so many cool educational history apps out there!

One other quick suggestion.  Many iPad apps allow users to draw and write freehand notes.  This is a really cool feature, but if you are cumbersome like me and have sloppy handwriting this could become quite frustrating.  Thus I have purchased and highly recommend an iPad compatible stylus such as the Particle Case and Pogo Sketch. As always, I can ony learn and grow with your feedback!
                                                               

Friday, July 2, 2010

My Quick List of iPad Apps

Yesterday after receiving my iPad I quickly reached out to my PLN for some suggestions on which apps to download.  The key for me is that I will be using this device at work in concert with my administrative team during administrative walk-throughs, observations, and to take notes during meetings (I am sure some other uses will come up as I get more acclimated with the iPad).  So after roughly 12 hours here is my quick list of some applications that I feel educational administrators and other educators should have on their device.  I will provide a brief description of each if warranted.  Also, all the apps listed below are FREE!!!

1.    Evernote: Fantastic tool for notes, ideas, recordings,
       pictures, etc.
2.    Cloud Browse: Easily access Flash, JAVA, and Google Docs.
3.    iBooks: Download and read books.
4.    LinkedIn: Professional networking and contacts at your
       fingertips.
5.    Dragon Diction: Easy to use voice recognition program.
6.    FeeddlerRSS: RSS reader that easily syncs with Google
       Reader.
7.    Facebook: What better way to update the
       NMHS Facebook page!
8.    Dictionary & Thesaurus: Even includes word of the day!
9.    The Weather Channel: Every educator should know what
       the weather is going to be like each day.
10.  Delicious: Access all your bookmarks quickly and easily.
11.  World Book: Today in History: History information when you
       want it.
12.  Google Earth: Having the world in the palm of your hands
       isn't a bad thing.
13.  Dropbox: MUST HAVE! Easily sync/share files across computers and online
14.  Infinote: Post-It-Note creation tool.

*** 13 and 14 were added thanks to Beth Swantz!

As far as Twitter apps go I have been playing around with both TweetDeck and Twitterrific.  For all the Google nuts out there like me, I highly recommend going into your internet browser and adding Gpanion to your home screen (it will then show up as an icon on your apps page).  Once logged in you will then have easy access to all of your Google Apps! Feel free to add to this list in the comments section.