Sunday, June 28, 2020

Leading in Uncertain Times

The concept of leadership hasn’t changed, although the conditions under which leaders work and learn sure have. Prior to COVID19, the vast amount of uncertainty in education lay in societal changes resulting from the 4th Industrial Revolution. The world of work was being disrupted right before our eyes. A rapid evolution in artificial intelligence, automation, and advanced robotics should have served notice to anyone in the education space that things needed to change. No longer did a “this too shall pass” mantra carry any weight.  In the end, though, scalable change resulting in a transformation of teaching, learning, and leadership was more of an exception as opposed to the rule.

Then the COVID19 pandemic came crashing down on the world.  Schools were not prepared, as nearly no one could have envisioned the mass closings for extended periods of time.  Triage resulted as educators valiantly put remote learning plans in place while attempting to overcome a myriad of challenges.  As the virus continued to leave its mark, the world began to rise up in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.  A social justice movement formed in ways that many of us have never seen, which in turn has raised the central role that education must play to combat racism. Curriculum must be revised, assumptions taken head-on, and a school culture that focuses as much on equality and equity as it does everything else.

The bottom line is that the world has been turned upside down, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. In times of uncertainty, strong leadership is needed more than ever.  




Embrace vulnerability

It is a misconception that being vulnerable means you are weak.  On the contrary, it is a sign of strength. Brene Brown shares the following in Dare to Lead, “vulnerability is the emotion that we experience during times of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. It is having the courage to show up, fully engage, and be seen when you can’t control the outcome.” Leaders use this as a tool to build strong relationships with the people they work alongside by making known what is going on in their heads. As the saying goes, …sharing is caring.

Demonstrate empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. I shared the following in a previous post, “As leaders, it is important for us to imagine ourselves in the position of our students, staff, and community members. This gives us a better perspective on the challenges and feelings of those we are tasked to serve. Better, more informed decisions can result from “walking in the shoes” of those who will be most impacted by the decisions that we make.” Empathetic leadership builds trust and helps to create a culture where change will be more readily embraced in uncertain times. 

Exhibit courage

Now is the time to challenge assumptions, tackle bias, take risks, make bold decisions. To move forward with needed change, we need leaders who are able to persevere in the face of uncomfortable situations and not back down when things get difficult. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone.

Be a great listener

There are many ways to earn respect and build trust, both of which are needed to get change efforts off the ground. Active listening helps to accomplish both while opening up a leader to new ideas, strategies, and feedback. Research has shown many positive outcomes associated with excellent listening skills.

Health & safety first

As we continue to move forward in unprecedented times, the pandemic has made painfully clear that health and safety must supersede everything else.  Closing achievement gaps and addressing learning loss will always be critical, but in challenging and disruptive times leaders must emphasize Maslow’s over Bloom’s.  

Model the way

Leadership is not about telling people what to do. It’s about taking them where they need to be. Don’t ask others to do what you are not willing to do yourself. Empowerment rests on leading the way through observable actions. Modeling helps to instill belief.

Ask questions

No one has or will ever have all the answers. To assume as much is unrealistic, to say the least. One could even say that there are no definitive answers in uncertain times.  The best leaders ask questions, and the more of them the better. Developing, asking, and following up on the right questions can lead to answers that will help usher in the changes that are needed now and in the future.

Provide support

Support can come in many forms, such as resources, time, and professional learning opportunities.  It can also manifest itself through many of the points listed above, such as showing empathy, listening, putting safety first, and modeling.  Leaders need to determine what types of supports they can readily provide as well as those that need to be acquired, such as needed professional learning on re-entry, personalized/blended learning, and implementing hybrid models. We at the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) are ready and willing to assist is needed. 

Relentlessly communicate

You will not find an effective leader who is not an effective communicator. It’s all about getting people the right information at the right time through the proper means. During uncertain times you can’t communicate too much. Digital leadership is essential, and it compels us to meet our stakeholders where they are at while employing a multi-faceted approach.

Learn from the past

A great deal has been learned since the onset of the pandemic and the social justice movement. We can ill afford to continue to do what we have always done and expect a different or better result that aligns with reality. Critical lessons have been learned, which can lead to new opportunities to transform teaching, learning, and leadership.  Leaders need to make sure past mistakes are not repeated.

None of us know what the future holds in the face of these unprecedented times.  What we do know is that schools and educators need leaders to guide them in ways that help to subdue the fear and confusion that naturally arises during uncertain times. Leaders set the tone, and they are needed more than ever to step up and accept this responsibility.

Want to learn more? Check out the presentation I did on the topic below. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Moving to a Hybrid Learning Model

We don’t know for sure what education will look like in the future, but one thing is for sure, and that is the need to adapt and evolve.   The pandemic shuttered schools across the globe, and lessons, some of which were very hard, were learned.  As re-entry planning either begins or continues in earnest, the priority must be to transform learning in ways that provide kids with the best experience possible while ensuring the safety of all.  It goes without saying that this is no small feat. In a previous post, I outlined eight specific focus areas, in no particular order, that can help to usher in a new and better normal.  Now decisions must be made as to what this will actually look like in reality.

Business as usual just won’t cut it.  The lessons learned during COVID19 provide opportunities to re-envision what schools can be.  Now efforts have to be made in developing a practical path forward.  So, what might this look like going forward? My thinking as of late has been around a hybrid learning model.  At this point, they are just thoughts, but each can be a powerful catalyst to initiating and sustaining a transformation of education at scale. The premise though is to not only incorporate what has been learned up to this point during one of the most disruptive times in history but also to perceive what might come next. Failing to prepare for the unknown or addressing the slew of challenges that arose when schools were closed means that nothing was learned.  

The premise of a hybrid learning model is to combine traditional and non-traditional methodologies to improve education while ensuring that high-quality learning for all kids is the gold standard.  To start, a workable definition must be established to begin creating a vision for this model.  Take this definition from Learning Technologies:
Hybrid learning combines face-to-face and online teaching into one cohesive experience. Approximately half of the class sessions are on-campus, while the other half have students working online. Although that may sound like a cut-and-dry formula, a lot of planning is needed to ensure that hybrid works well, allowing its two formats to capitalize on each other’s strengths.
There is a lot more detail in this report that they developed. Hybrid, in the context of this post, represents the combination of two or more different things. Some might argue that education has always embraced this approach. Yes, to some extent, but definitely not scaled in a way that has led to system-wide transformation.  With the inherent challenges ahead, a uniform hybrid model is necessary for success.  The image below begins to visualize what this could look like as schools begin to transform teaching, learning, and leadership.  




Face-to-face

It’s not a matter if, but when kids return to school. The most powerful relationships for students form through interactions with teachers, administrators, and peers. In most cases, the consensus is that high-quality instruction and effective pedagogy are facilitated best when educators are physically with their students. The key is to utilize the time better. 

Personalization

Personalized learning represents a movement from the “what” to the “who” as a means to facilitate student ownership of the learning process. It consists of high-agency strategies that focus on voice, choice, path, pace, and place both with and without technology. Check out this post for more detailed information.




Blended Learning

One of the best strategies to personalize the experience for students is blended learning. Blended instruction is what the teacher does with technology. Blended learning is where students use tech to have control over path, place, and pace.  The key is to focus on sound pedagogical strategies that will help to ensure improving student learning outcomes. 

Adaptive learning tools

The success of a hybrid model does, in part, rely on the purposeful and strategic use of technology. These can be instrumental in providing needed or supplemental support to close achievement gaps, provide independent practice, and help learners move ahead if they have already mastered the content.  Blended pathways are the best options for the seamless integration of adaptive learning tools. 

Social distancing

With new and potential clusters of COVID19 appearing, many schools across the globe will be mandated to implement social distancing measures. A hybrid model accounts for this fact, and its success relies on budgeting, existing space redesign, and professional learning support. 

Flexible schedules

The premise behind any hybrid-learning model is altering the “traditional” school day schedule (and calendar for that matter) to make the best use of time and resources. The literature on this goes way back, and it just makes sense. Flexible scheduling patterns address the concern for more appropriate learning environments for students and respond to the need, not for schools to be more organized, but to be more flexible and creative in their use of time (Spear, 1992). Flexible scheduling allows schools to optimize time, space, staff, and facilities and to add variety to their curriculum offerings and teaching strategies (Canady & Rettig, 1995). Pandemic or not, this is long overdue.

Remote Learning

Distance and virtual are appropriate where all kids have access to a device and the Internet. Remote, on the other hand, focuses on both digital and non-digital pathways to keep realistic learning going. With social distancing and flexible schedules having a considerable role in any hybrid learning model, the need to adequately prepare for and implement remote learning while ensuring equity is paramount. For more information, check out my entire remote learning series

Health and safety

I will echo what many others have said, “Maslow’s before Bloom’s.”  Above all else, we need to make sure each and every person in a school system feels safe, and measures are taken to both prevent and address any COVID19 issues.  For more specifics, refer to this post

As I stated previously, these are just some ideas that are floating around in my head. What I do know is that learner and educator success going forward will rely on a hybrid-learning model. Business as usual in the face of current challenges and those lurking in the shadows down the road has given us all a golden opportunity to transform education. My hope is that schools take it. 

Canady, R. L. & Rettig, M. D. (1995). Block scheduling: A catalyst for change in high schools. Princeton, NJ: Eye On Education

Spear, R. C. (1992). Middle level team scheduling: Appropriate grouping for adolescents. Schools in the Middle, 2(1), 30–34. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Upgrading Family Communications

As technology continues to evolve, it will continue to become an even more embedded component of society. With that being said, it is essential for school leaders to meet their stakeholders where they are at and engage them in two-way communications. Digital leadership calls for a multifaceted approach using both traditional and new-age strategies to ensure that the right message reaches stakeholders in a timely fashion. We can't assume communication staples such as snail mail (i.e., paper mailings), newsletters, or websites are the most effective or the only way to get information out.

In an article for ASCD, I laid out three specific areas that are critical to effective communication:
  • Transparency - Leaders can tackle the constant perception battle by providing more frequent and accurate updates about the daily work occurring in schools. 
  • Flexibility - A multifaceted digital communications strategy allows all stakeholders a choice as to how they want to consume information and interact with the school.
  • Sharing the good news and important information - In a time when the good news about schools is hard to come by in the mainstream media, school leaders can now become the storyteller-in-chief. It is also vital to get needed information to stakeholders quickly and seamlessly.
The COVID crisis has laid bare opportunities to improve how we communicate between schools and parents. Budgets are under stress, so why invest in a mess of multiple communications applications and paper? I'll tell you that I have personally experienced this as a principal and seen in many districts school staff who are asked to print, collate, distribute, collect, read and process all kinds of paper forms and documents. Often these are in multiple languages! School teachers and other staff spend countless hours on this work, and it is taken for granted. Students are then asked to act as couriers carrying paperwork to parents during the school year. The whole chain of communications, when paper is used, involves staff, students, and parents. Is this even effective? It sure is costly in both money and time.



What do parents experience? Almost all districts and schools have multiple ways to connect to parents, including paper, email, phone dialers, portals, websites, etc. Is it any wonder that parents are often confused and frustrated with how their districts are communicating? What is this all costing? Now in the COVID era, keeping parents informed and engaged is more important than ever. Furthermore, given the need to reduce costs and unnecessary labor, districts and schools must commit to simplify and become fully electronic in their communications. It is now possible to finally simplify and enhance parent communications, get rid of all the paperwork they have to complete while saving time and costs. But how do we get to this utopia of simplicity, lower costs, and achieve more effective communications? It may not be as hard as you think. Of course, you will hear and face a number of issues within your district or school:
  • You may be told or feel that parents won't use an electronic system. This is inaccurate. Yes, there are always a few that will not adopt new technology, but smartphone statistics show that 95% of adults with school children have at least one smartphone at home. Are these really the people who won't connect electronically?
  • What about parents with no internet? The good news is that parents with smartphones do have internet even if they don't have cable internet at home.
  • You have staff that are reluctant to change. Yes, there is always inertia. On the other hand, who likes paperwork? Does this push-back outweigh the costs?
  • You may have too many apps already. Many districts and schools over the years have indeed adopted multiple systems, each solving a specific problem. It's also true this has led to higher costs and more confusion amongst parents and staff. So, the opportunity here is to clean house, simplify, and save costs.
I am reminded of a school communications application I discovered years ago as a principal that directly speaks to these issues. ZippSlip is a cloud-based, mobile app that supports all communication sent from the school to parents like student registration, athletic waivers, permission slips, mass notifications, dynamic use of video, and the list goes on and on.  ZippSlip in one platform that includes multiple types of communications: electronic forms, multimedia, text, and recorded voice, all in multiple languages. The broad set of capabilities will help you consolidate and simplify.




ZippSlip saves costs in three ways:
  1. Eliminating paper, printing, and distribution.
  2. Replacing other applications such as the mass/emergency notification system, survey tools, email tools, workflow apps, and other communications tools. ZippSlip provides a comprehensive set of communications features for administrators and teachers.
  3. A considerable reduction in time spent on paperwork by staff.
There are other issues you may be dealing with consistently. While many schools now commonly use social networks to inform the community, these come with drawbacks. Some adults shy away from social media, making it tough to get high adoption rates.  I am not saying that you shouldn't use these valuable tools, but the goal should be to connect and engage with as many stakeholders as possible.  As a robust alternative to social media, ZippSlip supports ZippGrams. These are multimedia, multilingual newsletters, which include text, video/images, and polls. A regular newsletter complemented with digital assets such as video sent by the principal or superintendent will go a long way in keeping the parents involved. You can even include a poll to elicit quick feedback.

Just as teachers differentiate instruction for a variety of learning styles in the classroom, schools should differentiate their communication efforts if we want true partnerships between home and school. Leaders have the power to shape the culture of our schools. Using a solution like ZippSlip as a lever, you can open the door to new ways of learning, thinking, financial savings, and communicating for all members of your community.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Are Schools Ready for What Comes Next?

At the beginning of 2020, no one could have foreseen the impact of the pandemic.  In the face of a myriad of obstacles, educators have stepped up to implement remote learning to get through the remainder of the academic year.  Now schools are either winding down or starting back up depending on where they are located in the world, as the pandemic still has a grip globally. A post-Covid19 world will be here eventually, but it is anyone’s guess when that will actually be.  As schools grapple with the unknown questions and challenges at the top of everyone’s mind, here are a few that I hope resonate:
  • Will school be safe for everyone?
  • Will parents send their kids to school?
  • Will teachers come back?
  • How will social distancing work?
  • How will you focus on mental, just not physical, health of students and staff?
  • Will the lessons learned during the pandemic be applied to create a better learning culture for kids?
  • What happens if we open up school, and we are asked to shut down again because of a new outbreak?
  • What will the schedule look like?
  • How will reduced budgets ensure safety, hygiene, and needed professional learning?
If you are not thinking about these questions and others that pertain to your current or potential future situation, begin to now.  There are no easy or straightforward answers, unfortunately. That’s why planning now is critical. Along the way and during implementation, constant reassessment and pivoting will be needed to ensure success.  In my last post, I addressed some strategies that can be used to address the health and safety of all kids and adults.  



There is another pressing issue that schools need to be prepared for, and that is how they will step up to address systematic racism. Tragedy after tragedy here in the United States provides a stark reminder that not much has changed.  George Floyd might be the latest unconscionable murder, but as everyone knows, it wasn’t the first. We need to make sure it is the last. It is not the sole responsibility of African Americans to tackle these issues.  All of us must combat racism whenever and wherever it occurs. It is our collective responsibility.  Individually we all have to do more, myself included.

Education can be a powerful tool to help turn the tide, but where and how do we begin? Venola Mason, my friend and colleague at the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) shared this vital perspective with me.
"This is a delicate issue that can be highly charged with emotion and has a deep historical context.  For institutions to recognize that some of the practices in our schools systematically put some students at a disadvantage is difficult to admit. However, now is the time to examine local and state data to bring to light any inequities that may exist to ensure that all students learn in a space where they feel safe and welcomed and have access to a high-quality education."    
Cornelius Minor recently penned an article titled Why #BlackLivesMatter in Your Classroom Too. I highly recommend you give it a read. In the piece, he outlines different types of racism but also crafts a narrative that compels schools to take action. Below is one section that really stood out.
All of our students matter, but in a society characterized by its dogged refusal to treat all kids and their families equally, it is our moral imperative to affirm that black lives matter. If outcomes continue to be bleak for large groups of people, it diminishes the quality of all our lives. When there is massive disenfranchisement fueled by widespread failure and incarceration, the safety of all our communities is compromised.
Cornelius goes on to identify five specific ways educators can take action in classrooms and schools while providing a series of questions to guide the change process. He then ends the article with this powerful statement:
There is no right answer; rather, it’s the questions that help us think about what actions or changes might lead to better outcomes for all of our students, particularly those who are underserved by traditional schooling. Being an advocate for black lives does not mean that I am an advocate against any other lives. When we make the conscious decision to address persisting injustices, this broadens access to justice for everyone.
Dwayne Reed stated it well.




Discomfort, as well as ignorance, are no excuses.

Silence and inaction just won’t cut it. Our actions define who we are and what we stand for. The same can be said about inaction.

BLACK LIVES MATTER!!!!



My purpose as an educator, at least how I see it, is to provide practical strategies, advice, support, and know when to lean on others who are more experienced and knowledgeable than me. When it comes to the immense challenges facing not just the United States, but all countries in the battle to combat racism, we need to not only to emphasize but listen to and get an understanding of the unique experiences of people of color and work together to develop solutions to create a better world.

What comes next will be determined, in large part, by the actions that are taken now.  Schools have to be prepared to address racism and educating kids in a current or post-COVID19 world.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

When Reopening Schools Safety Must Come First

As more and more states and countries reopen their respective economies, schools will soon follow. Early lessons can be learned on how to do this successfully where this has already happened abroad.  Even though remote learning might continue in some form preparations for in-person learning have to be made. In a recent post, I outlined eight specific focus areas that should be considered as part of any re-entry plan.  The theme of health and safety was weaved throughout, but not emphasized in the image I had created.  After receiving feedback from several educators on social media, I rectified this oversight, but it also got me thinking a great deal more about what is on every educator's mind. When school does reopen will it be safe?

Safety is at the top of everyone's mind. A poll conducted by USA Today sheds some light on what essential stakeholder groups are thinking.
In an exclusive USA TODAY/Ipsos poll, 1 in 5 teachers say they are unlikely to go back to school if their classrooms reopen in the fall, a potential massive wave of resignations. While most teachers report working more than usual, nearly two-thirds say they haven't been able to properly do their jobs in an educational system upended by the coronavirus. A separate poll of parents with at least one child in grades K-12 finds that 6 in 10 say they would be likely to pursue at-home learning options instead of sending back their children this fall. Nearly a third of parents, 30%, say they are "very likely" to do that. 
Reassurance that schools will be safe has to be backed up by action, and planning must begin in earnest now.

I want to take my original question a step further. When schools and districts reopen will it be safe for everyone? Up to this point, the majority of conversations I have witnessed on social media, news pieces, and articles have focused on students' health and safety. It goes without saying that this is an extremely important group and should be emphasized. However, we must not forget all of the people that support kids both directly and indirectly, such as teachers, administrators, secretaries, instructional aides, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, groundskeepers, and other support staff.  The planning and step-by-step process of reopening have to be inclusive of, and sensitive to, everyone who plays a role in the functioning of a school or district.  

Even though those in power are ultimately responsible for developing a re-entry plan, successfully implementing it relies on all of the groups listed above.  Not only does it take a village in this case, but empathy and understanding need to lead the way. People need to feel valued, and the key is to have all stakeholders be an active part of the planning process so that health and safety concerns are not only addressed but acted upon. Below are some critical areas to consider as you or others lead a process to reopen schools safely.




Engage

It is vital to create opportunities for all stakeholders to be active participants in the planning process. If face-to-face meetings and town halls are not an option, set these up virtually. Also, consider creating polls or using tools such as Google Forms and social media to elicit input.

Listen

Engagement only matters if people feel that they are actually being listened to. The best way to illustrate that you have really listened is to act in some way so that the other person, or people, know that they were actually heard. The action could be moving an idea forward or explaining your decision to go in another direction. Share minutes and poll results. Respond to questions and pertinent comments on social media or through email. There will be times during the process when people just want to vent and be listened to. In these cases, the most important thing you can do is show you care. Listening is a lost art that needs to be embraced. 

Prioritize

The purpose of the engagement and listening process is to develop a list of action items to be considered.  When it comes to the health and safety of all, many valid ideas should be considered. Nonetheless, they will need to be prioritized in order of importance with health and safety given top billing.

Consensus

Sometimes decisions have to be made at the drop of a dime, but this does not. For the big decisions that will dramatically alter school culture post-COVID19, it is imperative that all stakeholders be represented, and their input is taken into consideration. Consensus means coming to a general agreement with those who have offered their perspectives and voices on how to open up schools safely.

All means all

No stone can go unturned when it comes to developing a course of action that impacts every person in a school or district. Inclusivity and equity need to be emphasized with a laser-like focus on the foundational levels of Maslow's Hierarchy, of which health and safety fall into. There will also be unseen issues that staff are grappling with. Sound plans must also account for the mental health needs of kids and adults.

Opening schools back up requires a team effort. People must not only be invited to the conversation, but their input has to be valued. The best way to do this is by following the guidelines listed above and show them that their concerns and contributions have been threaded into a re-entry plan.

Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Work Smarter, Not Harder

I have a secret to share. In my humble opinion, I am not very smart.  While others might disagree, such as my mom, I pride myself on being extremely resourceful. However, this was not always my strength.  During my years as a teacher and principal, I would spend countless hours planning, researching, and attending professional learning events to hone my craft in order to become a better educator.  In all honesty, though, I was just doing what I was taught, and thought were the best ways to grow. The amount of effort put forth resulted in me working much harder than I should have been.

Over the years, I began to delegate more and build capacity in others.  I established hiring practices that resulted in the hiring of a lot of smart educators. By investing in, and trusting the people around me, more time was freed up to focus on innovation and large-scale change initiatives to improve school culture. Now, this represented an excellent first step, but probably the most impactful shift to the way I not only thought but worked, came in the unsuspecting form of a little blue bird and a tool called Twitter in 2009. Here is where I finally learned the biggest secret to working smarter, not harder, through the formation of a Personal Learning Network (PLN). The image below illustrates another secret that I have to come clean about, but one that also represents the ultimate power of connected learning.



All of us are limited to the people we surround ourselves with in life.  Social media has completely disrupted that and, in the process, removed barriers such as time, geography, and money.  As I have mentioned for years, the true power of a PLN is not how many people follow you, but the quality and expertise of those with whom you choose to connect and engage with online. No matter the tools used, what results is anyone and everyone can take advantage of collective intelligence. Here is why this matters to everyone regardless of title, position, and power:

  • Knowledge, skills, intelligence, and resources are an increasingly valuable currency in the digital world. Why would you not want access to all of these when they are readily available?
  • We can now teach each other and learn something we previously had no knowledge of through diverse expertise anywhere, anytime, and from anyone.
  • Life is all about choices. So why not embrace the strengths and skills of others around us, and, as a result, create more opportunity to influence others and to disrupt current thinking? 
  • Connecting with those who are doing or leading the work provides needed context and motivation to do the same.
  • It’s all free with a device connected to the Internet.

Every leader, including students, teachers, administrators, community members, and parents, can benefit from a PLN. HERE you can access a quick-start guide.

Connect yourself to the smart people then help your peers, co-workers, and those you serve do the same. To be more effective, we need to realize that there is a wealth of human resources at our fingertips that can help us all do what we already do better. They can push us to take a critical lens to our work, deliver essential feedback, answer questions, and provide support when needed.  Together we are better.

Always remember that there is someone out there smarter than you. Admitting this is a sign of strength, not weakness. If you genuinely want to get better, and not work harder in the process, connect with these people using digital tools.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

8 Key Focus Areas for Developing a Re-Entry Plan

The COVID19 pandemic has radically disrupted both society and education as we know it. The chances of many things going back to the way they were are slim. I can say with confidence that a mentality of TTWWADI (that’s the way we’ve always done it) will not serve many people well going forward.  Hard lessons have been learned as countries have shut down their economies.  Sacrifices have been made on an unimaginable level. Questions remain as to what the future holds. Through it all, though, we have seen triumph and perseverance that serve as powerful motivating forces that can be used to collectively develop a new normal that might even be better.

Obviously, education is at the top of my mind since it is the profession both my wife and I are a part of, and my kids currently attend public schools in Texas.  Both the lessons learned and tolls from the pandemic serve as reminders that we need to be thinking critically about what schools will need to focus on as they re-open in the near future.  The bottom line is that re-entry planning has to begin now even though there are still many unknowns. Challenges that might seem insurmountable now have to be addressed. Many will remain well into the new school year, but detailed planning now can help to both mitigate and overcome many of them. New ones will most certainly pop up, so the focus should be on not developing the perfect plan, but instead the best one for your situation.

During the crisis, we have seen digital leadership strategies embraced and innovation take hold despite roadblocks. Successes with remote learning have to be built upon and integrated across the curriculum.  In particular, we have seen some kids flourish in this environment. Going forward, a sound plan should be developed so that all learners have a positive educational experience that meets their needs. Below are some key areas to focus on when developing a re-entry plan for the upcoming school year. 


Please note that there is no significance or reason behind the numbering above. It is just a general list. Safety is also weaved throughout.

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)

There might not be a more critical area of focus than SEL.  Many students have been traumatized over the past couple of months as a result of inadequate access to food, social isolation, parents being laid off, and in some cases, the lack of a caring adult in the home.  Schools, as they have always done, will serve a vital role in getting these kids back on track. The challenge is that we do not fully understand the severity of the impact during the pandemic yet. Hence, it is crucial to start to develop critical supports now.

Addressing and Closing Learning Gaps

Many people are saying that the summer learning loss will pale in comparison to what educators will see when kids return to school.  While many schools have valiantly continued with remote learning, some decided that it just wasn’t working.  Those that implemented their plans with fidelity still could not fully ensure that all kids completed assigned work, let alone learned. Strategies to help all kids, no matter where they are, will need to be emphasized.

Blended Learning

We have seen schools make considerable investments in technology during the pandemic. Such a blended pedagogy has become an integral component of remote learning plans. Schools can seize on the opportunities inherent with the purposeful use of technology aligned with high-agency strategies to create a more personalized experience.  

Equity

COVID19 has unveiled the harsh reality of the inequities that plague learners in virtually every country.  Where you live, in particular, has had a direct correlation to whether or not remote learning has been successful in many schools.  The “haves” have tended to prosper while the “have nots” have suffered.  We can ill-afford not to address this fact. Additionally, the digital divide is wider than many perceived. Access to devices and reliable WIFI needs to be emphasized.

Flexible and Innovative Schedules for Social Distancing

There is no guarantee that when schools re-open that social distancing guidelines will be relaxed. This will vary from state to state and country to country, but pre-planning for this now makes sense as remote learning will probably be needed in some form to begin the academic year. There might very well be limits on how many people can be in a classroom or building at one time, and rooms have to be reorganized to keep kids and adults six feet apart. The need for flexible and innovative schedules that address this, as well as remote blended learning for kids who are not in the building on certain days, will need to be prioritized.

Budget

It is difficult to sugarcoat this one.  Many states and countries will be making deep cuts to education.  It will take creativity during the planning process to re-allocate funds for routine cleaning, screening for COVID19, hygiene, devices, improvements to bandwidth, professional development, and needed programs, all while retaining current staff. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) just recently released guidelines for schools that can be found in this decision tree. Unfortunately, difficult decisions lie ahead, similar to the Great Recession from 2007 - 2009. Rest assured, schools will emerge stronger and better prepared to meet the needs of all learners.

Professional Learning

For all the previous focus areas listed above to be addressed and implemented successfully, professional learning will be needed. How this is accomplished will vary depending on finances and internal resources. It is essential to identify and map out what specific supports will need to be outsourced and those that can be addressed internally with fidelity. At the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) we have a comprehensive plan to assist districts and schools with re-entry. You can view it HERE. Please reach out if you would like ao to discuss this further. 

Community Engagement

For any re-entry plan to succeed, relationships with stakeholders are critical and something I discuss in greater detail in both Digital Leadership and BrandED.  Communicate excessively, but also consider eliciting feedback from parents and the greater community to develop the best possible course of action. Embracement by all is crucial to success.

I am sure there are other elements that will be considered. As you map out your plans, keep them generally focused on safety (student and staff) as well as learning. Together we are better and will get through this challenging time. 

Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Vital Role of Digital Leadership in Transforming Education

Education will not be the same.  Now before you think that this is a “doom and gloom” outlook, let me elaborate.  The COVID19 pandemic has fundamentally changed our world more than we could have ever imagined. In the case of schools, there has been a dramatic shift to remote learning that has allowed all of us to reflect on where we are, but more importantly, where we want and need to be in the near future. There has been a myriad of challenges that have, and will, continue to be overcome. Through all this adversity, educators have risen to the occasion and have begun the tedious process of redefining education and what real learning really should be.

In times of chaos, opportunity arises. That is how we must look at the present situation.  We can ill afford to go back to a mindset of that’s the way we have always done it (TTWWADI) as our learners and educators deserve better. The lessons learned from this crisis can empower us all to chart a new path to create cultures of learning that provide kids with the competencies to succeed in a post-COVID19 world.  What this will look like is truly anyone’s guess, but the one thing I know for sure is that the ability to think, regardless of what’s going on in the world, will best serve our learners.

So, where do we begin? The answer is and has been right in front of us, and that’s digital leadership.  The thing though, is that it can no longer be optional or just aforethought. Here are some of my thoughts from 2013, which have aged nicely:
Digital leadership considers recent changes such as ubiquitous connectivity, open-source technology, mobile devices, and personalization. It represents a dramatic shift from how schools have been run and structured for over a century, as what started as a personal use of technology has become systemic to every facet of leadership. Digital leadership can thus be defined as establishing direction, influencing others, and initiating sustainable change through the access to information, and establishing relationships to anticipate changes pivotal to school success in the future. It requires a dynamic combination of mindset, behaviors, and skills that are employed to change and/or enhance school culture through the assistance of technology.
I must say that the definition and description above align seamlessly with the environment we are currently experiencing. In a previous post, I outlined the Pillars of Digital Leadership that included key considerations. Below I will address these through a new lens from which we can begin to transform teaching, learning, and leadership in a post-COVID19 world. 


Student engagement, learning, and outcomes: How will learning change in ways that better meet the needs of all learners? The pandemic revealed a harsh reality that a good number of educators already knew, and that was the fact that in many cases, education was preparing students for a world that no longer exists. The purposeful use of technology and sound pedagogy that empowers kids to think through relevant applications should be the drivers. Learning going forward should be anything but common



Innovative learning spaces and environments: How will the environment and conditions under which kids learn change to more adequately reflect the reality of the world they live in? Remote learning has brought to the forefront the need to develop pedagogically sound synchronous and asynchronous strategies, especially in virtual environments. The “space” during the COVID19 pandemic hasn’t been a brick and mortar school, but a home. Investments in flexible seating should continue, but a more concerted effort to personalize learning through high-agency practices such as blended learning is needed at scale. Many kids have flourished during remote learning as they have been able to follow a unique path or learn at their own pace. This might be one of the most valuable lessons learned during the pandemic and can be a catalyst to re-envision learning when schools re-open.

Professional learning: How will professional learning change to better emulate the conditions where kids are now expected to learn? This question also takes into consideration the support that teachers and administrators need based on lessons learned from COVID19. Let’s face it - many schools were caught off guard and were not prepared to implement remote learning. While educators across the world stepped up and have made it work, support now, and in the future, has to be prioritized.  When it comes to professional learning that leads to improved outcomes, the research is pretty clear in that it should be job-embedded and ongoing. We can now add that it should also be more reflective of the current landscape. You can’t re-envision or transform education if professional learning doesn’t change. A Personal Learning Network (PLN) is a must in a remote learning world. 




Communication: How have you effectively and consistently given stakeholders the right information at the right time through a variety of digital and non-digital pathways?  Excessive communication during times of crisis is a must and is greatly appreciated by all members of the community.  The key is to leverage a variety of tools, but also be cognizant that not everyone might have access to or even want to use technology.  Finding a balance and sweet spot should be the goal. Consider taking risks with different mediums and media to better connect with those who you serve and support. 

Public relations: How are you sharing remote learning successes and forging relationships with the mainstream media? As I have stated for years, if you don’t tell your story, then someone else will.  Social media is a great tool that everyone has access to use. However, we cannot forget the power of television, newspapers, radios, and other traditional sources. Not only do they still have value, but also, in some cases, they resonate more within and beyond a community. Digital leaders understand that a strategy has to be in place, and it will be crucial to garnering support for a new normal of learning. 


Branding: How does our messaging resonate with stakeholders while building relationships in the process? The “brand” is your work that is shared through communication and public relations strategies. Anything shared works to create a presence, either positive or negative. Digital amplifies this process. The key is to embrace a brandED mindset


Opportunity: It is vital for leaders to consistently seek out ways to improve existing programs, resources, and professional learning opportunities. It requires a commitment to leverage connections made through technology to take advantage of increased opportunities to make improvements across multiple areas of school culture. Improve the work, share the work, celebrate the work, and the process of change will take hold. There is no better opportunity to re-envision and transform education than now. 

Here are a few points to keep in mind. Leadership is about action, not title, position, or power. Teachers are just as, if not more, important than administrators in terms of ushering in change at scale. Autonomy, selflessness, support, and a growth mindset are critical. The most effective leaders are not in it for themselves. They are great because they build capacity, promote the success of others, provide needed support, and always give credit where it belongs. 

When it is all said and done, the embracement of digital leadership can, and will, lead to the creation of schools that not only work better for kids but also leave them better prepared if and when another crisis occurs. 

Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Protecting Kids During and After Remote Learning

With more and more schools either extending school closures or completely shutting down for the remainder of the academic year, a focus on remote learning will continue into the foreseeable future. While many schools and districts have had to grapple with digital equity issues, their focus will continue to be offering a blended approach to meet the needs of all learners best.  However, a good amount of schools were either well-prepared before or purchased devices and WIFI for all students at the onset of the pandemic and, as a result, have been able to leverage technology to meet specified learning goals. In both cases, I can't commend enough the efforts of teachers and administrators for rising to the challenge.

For the sake of this post, I want to focus on keeping kids safe when they are engaged on devices as part of a remote learning plan.  It is imperative to know the laws in each respective country to ensure student safety. Here in the United States, there are two in particular that I am going to focus on briefly.  I go into more depth on these in Digital Leadership. Each is designed to ensure that identities and information of minors are protected.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) - A Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education. FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children's education records. As with any other "education record," a photo or video of a student is an education record, subject to specific exclusions when the photo or video is: (1) directly related to a student; and (2) maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a party acting for the agency or institution. You can review the entire FAQ's as it relates to photos and video HERE.

The Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA): A law that gives parents control over what information websites can collect from their kids. It outlines explicitly how websites, apps, and other online operators collect data and personal information from kids under the age of 13. Schools can grant COPPA consent if the tool is used solely for an educational purpose. The information collected must be "for the use and benefit of the school, and for no other commercial purpose." It should be noted that this can be a slippery slope for schools. For more information, check out this article from Common Sense Education.

Here's the bottom line. During synchronous instruction using Zoom or Google Hangouts, don't take pictures of kids and post them to social media. Even if waivers have been signed, it is better to err on the side of caution. The same can be said about recording and sharing a video with kids' faces displayed.  When it comes to COPPA, make sure students meet the age requirements for any tool that you plan to have them use. I know that this might make some educators unhappy, but Zoom is not COPPA compliant. Below is a snippet from the Zoom Terms of Service:
You affirm that You are at least 16 years of age and are otherwise fully able and competent to enter into the terms, conditions, obligations, affirmations, representations, and warranties set forth in this. The Services are intended for business use. You may choose to use the Services for other purposes, subject to the terms and limitations of this Agreement. Zoom is not intended for use by individuals under the age of 16 unless it is through a School Subscriber (as that term is defined in Exhibit A) using Zoom for Education (K-12). Individuals under the age of 16 may not create accounts or use the Services except as described herein.
That's it in a nutshell when it comes to keeping kids safe during remote learning.  There is, however, another aspect of this new normal that needs some attention, and that is helping to ensure student safety when kids are online in general.  Gaming and social media use by kids has risen dramatically during social distancing. Thus, it is vital to remind parents and students to be vigilant online.  Below are some important considerations when it comes to keeping kids safe online.
  • Utilize strong passwords
  • Regularly update software
  • Upgrade the security of your home network
  • Always back up files both offline and online
  • Manage social media profiles
  • Get passwords to all of your kids' accounts
  • Diligently check security and privacy settings
  • Never open up suspicious emails or attachments
  • Don't friend anyone you don't know
  • Use devices in common areas of the home
  • Invest in a VPN and anti-virus protection for all devices


The safety of our kids and abiding by the laws set by our respective countries is of utmost importance as learning continues during the pandemic. However, many of the tips shared in this post will be just as important as schools begin to move towards some sense of normalcy when they reopen.  The role of technology to personalize learning through blended approaches will only become more prevalent.  Stay vigilant my friends and keep up the great work.

Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Remote Learning Teaching Tips

There is so much pressure on teachers as more and more schools close for the academic year as a result of COVID19.  With little to no training or preparation, they have stepped up to keep learning going.  It hasn’t been easy for them to say the least.  A recent eSchool News article highlighted that most teachers don’t feel fully prepared for remote learning.
ClassTag surveyed more than 1,200 U.S. teachers in mid-March to collect and share best practices, ideas, and common approaches to remote learning. More than half of those surveyed teach in public schools (66 percent) and more than half are elementary school teachers (60 percent). Perhaps the most concerning survey result is that more than half of teachers (57 percent) say they do not feel prepared to facilitate remote and online learning.
In some cases, immense challenges such as digital equity and limited parental support at home have had to be addressed and overcome.  It hasn’t been perfect or necessarily smooth in some cases, but it doesn’t have to be. In the end, there is no one right way to go about implementing any type of remote learning. Thus, the efforts of all teachers during this difficult time should be commended by all. We will get through this because of them.

Administrators have had their own fair share of challenges. They have had to do their best to support their staff in helping them navigate into the great unknown. Difficult decisions have had to be made regarding grading, making funds available to get technology in the hands of disadvantaged kids, getting school work to kids where the digital divide could not be overcome, and figuring out how to provide professional learning support virtually. Like teachers, they are working crazy hours to help keep learning going.  

All of us not in their shoes can only look through an empathetic lens and try to support these heroes as best we can. Below are some tips for teachers and administrators to assist with implementing remote learning. Please note that these are only suggestions. If digital access is a challenge, check out these practical ideas that can be implemented without any tech. Now, without further ado, here are some remote learning teaching tips.

  • Keep sound instructional design at the forefront.
  • Design experiences that align with the current scope and sequence for the marking period or semester. The goal is to try to eliminate any significant learning loss while allowing kids to progress to the next grade level.
  • Develop a balance between synchronous (live session) and asynchronous (tasks to be completed offline) teaching and learning.
  • Use the same amount of interactive activities that you would in class (every 15 - 20 min or so), but have students respond using a digital tool. Here you can find a listing or some great options.
  • Use a URL shortener to make links easily accessible in a slide presentation or push out using a Learning Management System (i.e., Google Classroom, Canvas, Schoology). My favorites at bit.ly and tinyurl.
  • Utilize chat and screen share features inherent in video conference tools.
  • Leverage an adaptive learning tool if your school or district has purchased a license. If not, consider this PreK – 12 resource from Khan Academy or some tools highlighted HERE.
  • Incorporate movement (i.e., Go Noodle) and mindfulness
  • Create supplemental resources to go along with the lesson. These could be a digital handout in the form of a Google Doc, articles to read, anchor charts, skeleton outline for notes, etc.
  • Provide flexible timelines for students to complete work.
  • Set up video conference sessions for students who are confused to ask questions or get extra help.
  • Focus more on providing timely, actionable, and accurate feedback as opposed to grades. If grading is mandated, make sure it is realistic and fair. Consider giving students a series of assignments over a period of time where only one or two, not all, will be assessed for a grade.
  • Ensure SPED accommodations are being met.

The overall goal is to move to a more personalized approach that focuses on student agency through path, pace, place, voice, and choice. If technology resources are available, then the best comprehensive strategy to pursue is real blended learning. In a remote world, this will look a little different than in a classroom or school. However, the pedagogical tenets remain the same. Below you will see an image I created that highlights four focus areas to develop sound blended experiences in a remote learning environment followed by some context on each.




Synchronous instruction: Live lessons, extra help, remediation, or question and answer sessions hosted live and in real-time using a video conference tool (Google Hangouts/Meet, Zoom, Blue Jeans, etc.). It is recommended that these be recorded for students to refer back to when needed and as a support for asynchronous work.

Asynchronous work – Tasks and assignments that are completed over a specific time period using strategies such as playlists and choice boards. Other options include research papers or projects.

Collaborative experiences – Activities where students work together in a virtual space to complete a cooperative learning task using tools such as Padlet, Google Docs, Popplet, Flipgrid, etc.

Adaptive tools – Technology that modifies the presentation of material in response to an analysis of student performance. These can be used for self-facing, remediation, or extra practice. There is a slew of great options out there, both free and paid. HERE you can check out some free options. Some of the top paid tools include Read 180, Math 180, Waggle, Edgenuity, and IXL.

In my mind, a dynamic remote blended learning experience results from a convergence of the four focus areas identified above in conjunction with the teaching tips addressed at the beginning of the post.  What matters above all is to keep moving forward. Reflect on what is working and what isn’t. Make needed changes and pivot when necessary. Elicit feedback from colleagues, students, parents, or your Personal Learning Network (PLN). Finally, take needed breaks and embrace self-care.  Thank you all for your efforts and keep up the great work!

Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series