Thursday, September 30, 2010

Social Media in Education

The other day Bill Ferriter told me that he was working on an article for ASCD and asked if I would answer a few questions.  Of course I obliged as we are working on a book together for Solution Tree Press and I have come to know and greatly respect him as a member of my PLN.  He is the author of The Tempered Radical.  If you have never read his blog I highly suggest you do!  My answers to Bill's questions provide a snapshot of my social media in education journey.  They also provide some great tips for administrators willing and eager to take the plunge.

What made you interested in using social media to reach out to your school community?  Was it something that you decided to do on your own?  Was it something that your community asked you to do? 

In early March of 2009, I was reading my local newspaper, The Staten Island Advance, and came across an article on Twitter.  Now I had heard of this social network before, but only viewed it as a means for celebrities and other people to send meaningless messages about things they were doing.  As I read the article I learned more about Twitter and its capabilities.  Suddenly the light bulb went off in my head that I could utilize this to greatly enhance school communications.  Best of all was the fact that this service was free and stakeholders could receive information on school events, news, student accomplishments, and innovations in the classroom on their mobile devices.  So I created an account (@NMHS_Principal) and off I went, experimenting and learning on my own.  For me, Twitter opened the door to the world of social media.  About 6 months later my community did confront me in a positive fashion about Twitter.  At a PTO meeting a parent basically told me that the educational information I was sending out on Twitter was great, but 6-7 tweets or more a day was way too much.  This conversation led to the creation of a Twitter account exclusively for New Milford High School (@NewMilfordHS).  My students took notice of my affinity for Twitter and during a meeting with members of student government they opened up to me about their thoughts on social media.  In a nutshell, they conveyed that Facebook was a more appropriate medium to reach them and disseminate the same information that I was sending out on Twitter.  After this meeting in late March of 2010, I created a Facebook page for New Milford High School.  I became so fascinated with social media as a communications and public relations tool that it eventually led to the creation of a blog, something that I swore I was never going to do because I was not the least bit confident in my writing ability.  Low and behold though, not only do I now like to write, but I love being able to share the great things going on at my school in more detail than Twitter and Facebook allow.

How successful have your efforts to reach out to stakeholders in social media spaces been?  Do you think that you're reaching people better now than when you relied on traditional communication tools?  How do you know?  Can you give a tangible example of something you've done with social media spaces that you wouldn't have been able to do without them?

My efforts to reach stakeholders using social media has not only been successful, but has also exceeded my expectations.  The New Milford community now has consistent access to school information.  Unlike traditional forms of communication such as snail mail and press releases, I can now provide updates in real time as they happen.  Since society as a whole is actively using social media in their homes and through their mobile devices, it only makes sense now to connect with my community through these means.  Not only have I reached stakeholders in New Milford, NJ, but also those that have a vested interest in education from all over the world. I know it has been effective and successful through the amount of followers, fans, and feedback that I have received from countless community members, students, staff, and educators.  One thing that I was never able to do before, that I can do now, is share examples of student work (i.e. art) and other accomplishments instantaneously such as videos and pictures.

Were/are your efforts supported at the district level?  Did you feel you were taking any risks by using social media tools to reach out to your stakeholders?  What did you do to minimize those risks?

My efforts have been enthusiastically supported and embraced at the District level.  Initially, I felt, and was reminded by many, that I needed to be careful about using social media in an educational setting.  What turned out to be a risk in the beginning has translated into a great reward.  To minimize risks, everything I share with social media is professional and related to either the field of education or my school.  A media waiver that includes all forms of social media is given to students at the beginning of the year to take home and have their parents sign.

What steps would you recommend a principal new to social media take in order to move forward responsibly and safely?  Should they dive right in?  Check with their supervisors?  Are there any obvious pitfalls to avoid?

The first step is to lurk and learn.  Watch what other principals are doing with social media to get a good idea of information and content being shared with stakeholders.  Begin to establish a vision and some goals as to what you want to accomplish using social media.   I do not suggest diving right in.  As you become more comfortable, begin to gradually share information relating to your school, students, staff, and the education profession.  As with any new endeavor communicate with the appropriate supervisors to elicit their support.  Finally, keep it professional.  Avoid sharing personal information.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What Does Classroom Innovation Look Like?

Innovation and 21st Century learning mean different things to different people.  This little girl sums up my views in a simple, yet direct fashion:

The role of an educator in the 21st Century relies on transformations in teaching and learning to meet the needs of students in today's society.  Innovative instruction contains many of these elements:

Are you an innovative educator?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

New Year, New Adventures

Each September I am excited like most educators to get back to business doing everything I can to help students succeed.  Don't get me wrong, the summer months are invaluable to me as I spend my time immersed in the flow of information that my social networks provide, developing action plans, analyzing data, and hiring staff.  Many of the initiatives that I am about to pursue either came directly or indirectly from my Personal Learning Network (PLN).  With this being said, there is just something magical and invigorating about having students in the building.

Many of the initiatives I am about to briefly discuss are not new to the field of education, but they are to NMHS.  So what's on the horizon at my school? Here is a quick synopsis:

1. Professional Learning Communities (PLC's): The district will be moving to this research-based model as our main means of professional development.  The more I learn about the power of PLC's the more excited I get!  One great resource I discovered is All Things PLC.  If you are not familiar with this site check it out.  PLC's are fantastic for professional growth as they empower educators to work collaboratively on areas that they are interested in and are entirely focused on improving student achievement.  My challenge is deciding what PLC I want to pursue!

2. Classroom Walkthoughs:  This is something I have been researching since last winter and my PLN has provided me with numerous resources to get started.   By regularly performing 3-5 minute walkthroughs I will now have more of a presence in classrooms.  More importantly, I will now be able to further assist my teachers in their quest to become better educators.  The data that I will collect and share with them will serve as a catalyst for their improvement in the areas of teaching and learning.  In doing my research I discovered some common pitfalls with the classroom walkthrough process that I must avoid.  These include not sharing the results with the teachers, using the data as part of their evaluation, and not allowing them to have input into the specific form to be used.  I purchased iPads for each of my administrators to collect the walkthrough data and then we demoed multiple programs to see which was the best fit for us.  My administrative team settled on a program by Teachscape to collect, analyze, and disseminate the information collected.  What is great about their tool is that it is research-based, customizable to our needs, and has a free app for the iPad.  There is also a web-based component available to the teachers that contains resource libraries and discussion forums that I plan to use not only with the classroom walkthrough data, but also our PLC's.  A training session for all staff is planned on 9/20/10. For more information on classroom walkthroughs visit this site.

3. Tri-State Educational Technology Conference (TSETC): I have previously blogged about this event, but am compelled to mention it again.  This is going to be a great opportunity for my staff to truly experience the power inherent in educational technology when combined with pedagogy.  I am proud to be able to co-organize a FREE event with Schoology that has already attracted over 200 innovative, passionate educators and presenters from various parts of the country.  I was informed yesterday that some exceptional educators from Germany and Canada will be presenting via Skype.  The conference will be held on Saturday October 2, 2010.  If you can make it, register now!

4. Expansion of Mobile Learning Devices:  Since I played a prominent role in our current cell phone banning policy isn't it ironic that I am now the one trying to develop innovative ways to integrate them into instruction?  I am in the early stages of research in this area so stay tuned.  Initially I would like to see some pilot classes begin to use Poll Everywhere to increase student engagement.  In another mobile device area I recently submitted a grant for a mobile iPad learning lab.  My fingers are now crossed!  If my school is awarded this grant I will be sure to blog about the innovative possibilities that this will bring to my students and staff.

There you have it, my new adventures for the 2010-2011 school year.  If you can add any resources or tips under each of these initiatives please do so in the comments section.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

You Can't Beat Free Learning

Tomorrow I welcome back my teachers and am extremely excited to share with them some of the things I have been working on over the summer.  Probably the most significant is the Tri-State Educational Technology Conference (TSETC) that will be held at New Milford High School on Saturday October 2, 2010.  This event came together so quickly as a result of a conversation I had with Schoology as we threw around some ideas on how we could collaborate. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever consider or imagine hosting a conference at my school that has already attracted some of the brightest, innovative educational minds in the Tri-State area.  The winds of change are a beautiful thing don't you think?

As a Principal who fully embraces technology integration it is exhilarating to be able to provide a wide array of learning experiences for free that will expose my staff, as well as passionate educators from across the country, to new ideas on improving teaching and learning.  In these tough economic times, especially in the state of NJ where my district alone lost nearly 2 million dollars, I am humbled to plan and be a part of an event where committed educators are coming together to learn for the betterment of all students.  Here are a quick list of highlights:

  • Keynote by Lisa Nielsen
  • Catered breakfast and lunch
  • Giveaways/raffles
  • Live streaming of certain sessions
  • Hands on workshops focusing on mobile learning devices
  • Virtual Learning Lab
  • Bloggers Cafe
  • Post-conference networking 

Please visit the official conference website, check out our prestigious list of presenters, register to attend for FREE, submit a proposal, and if you are able to consider sponsoring.

Where will you be on 10/2/10?