Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Social Media is Not Just For Students

Cross-posted at the NJ Principals and Supervisors Association.
When principals hear the words Twitter and Facebook they cringe. Immediately, visions of excessive socialization, time wasted, and meaningless conversations in the form of updates come to mind. This is true, in many cases, when these tools are used for personal use. I am here to share ways in which principals can harness the power of these free resources to improve communications, public relations, professional growth, instruction, and create a brand presence for your school. Quite simply, social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook have improved my effectiveness and efficiency as an educational leader.

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Twitter is a microblogging platform that allows users to send free messages called "tweets" in 140 characters or less. Character limits and the ability for people to receive tweets as SMS text messages make this a powerful communications tool. Why spend money on expensive information delivery systems when you can use Twitter for free? One of the benefits of using Twitter is that you can communicate information whenever and wherever you want, making it extremely convenient. Principals can use Twitter to easily and quickly communicate the following information:
  • School events (concerts, art shows, Back to School Night)
  • Meetings (PTO, PTA, Athletic Boosters)
  • School closings
  • Live athletic scores, updates, and final results
  • Student honors
  • Teacher innovations
  • Emergency information
  • News
At New Milford High School I have created an official Twitter account to send out the above information. I developed a simple instruction sheet and disseminated it to all of my parents because many people still don’t really know what Twitter is or how it can be used for professional communications. This sheet explains how to sign up, activate updates on their cell phones, and the types of information that will be sent out.
As I learned from my students, many more people use the social media tool, Facebook, than use Twitter. As a result of their advice, I created a NMHS Facebook page. The same information sent out using Twitter is also placed on our NMHS Facebook Page. Using these two resources together can allow principals to take control of their public relations and deliver positive information into the hands of stakeholders. Where principals once relied on the media, press releases, and websites, we now have the ability to get out links to media articles and website updates as well as pictures and video that highlight school programs. By doing so you ultimately create a brand presence for your building, one that conveys a message of success, organization, innovation, and achievement.
Principals can also use social networking tools for professional growth and development. My journey started in March 2009 when I took a chance and began to utilize Twitter as acommunications tool. After lurking and learning for a little while, I quickly discovered this vibrant community of passionate educators actively collaborating to improve educational practices. With this new knowledge in hand I began to formulate my own Personal Learning Network (PLN) that is based on global collaboration, active discussion, acquiring and sharing of resources, consistent feedback, proven strategies, and reflection.
As my network has grown, so has my growth as an educational leader. With new ideas and strategies in hand, I am now working collaboratively with my staff to transform the teaching and learning culture of my school. Through a combination of sound pedagogy and effective technology integration, student engagement is on this rise. We are making learning relevant, meaningful, and creative!
Twitter opened my eyes to a variety of Web 2.0 tools that could be used to improve my knowledge of educational leadership, effective instructional practices, and technology integration. Principals and schools should embrace Twitter, and social media in general. As leaders, it is our job to communicate effectively, promote all programs (academic, athletic, extracurricular), cultivate innovative teaching practices, and model life-long learning while growing professionally. Using social media to accomplish these goals in the 21st Century not only makes sense, but also is time well spent.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Appreciation for Change

I often talk about change whether it be through this blog or during presentations to various education groups.  It is hard work to change cultures, systems, and perceptions that have been firmly entrenched for a long time.  The transformation taking place at New Milford High School to create a 21st Century culture of teaching an learning would fit this bill.  This is why I was so pleased to learn about what two of my dynamic history teachers were doing in their classes.  
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For a recent assignment, students in Ms. Perna and Ms. Millan’s American History II classes were asked to conduct interviews with people that they believe to be modern day “progressives”, or reformers.  Many students chose to interview teachers, administrators and staff from within the high school building.  This interview assignment gave students the chance to partake in conducting an interview and they were able to learn about modern day progressives and reformers within their school and community.  

Upon conducting their interviews, students shared them in class, which led to a rich discussion of all the great things going on both within the school and the larger community.  The discussion proved to students that there are many people working to try to change things for the better.  Students were inspired by the great stories and work of these individuals, and hopefully they are now motivated to become activists for change in something they are passionate about! 

A fantastic lesson in my eyes!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Here's a Thought: Reform Driven by Passionate Educators

Ask yourself why you or someone you know chose a profession in education for a living.  Is it because of the paycheck? Do you like the hours? Do the working conditions suit you? Is it because you couldn’t decide on a major until halfway through your Bachelor’s Degree and figured that teaching would be your best option?  If you answered yes to any of these questions then you are definitely in the wrong line of work. If you answered no and are committed to working tirelessly to ensure that all children learn and are successful at it then why do you not have a place at the education reform table?

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Being an educator means that you are a part of the noblest profession.  Each day is a gift as it provides you with an opportunity to make a positive difference in the life of a child.  Quite frankly it takes a special person to be an educator.  You understand that your reward for a long days work is not money or bonuses, but instead the satisfaction of knowing that the lesson you spent a great deal of time preparing resulted in student learning.  One of the greatest gifts you can ever receive is the acknowledgment from a past student thanking you for never giving up on him/her when others would have.  You realize that the summer months are an opportunity to become better.  As a result you use this time to engage in professional growth opportunities, read the latest research, and prepare innovative lessons.  In your eyes the glass is always half full.

The educator that I just described is driven by passion.  They love working with children, will do what it takes to do the job right, never fall victim to the bitterness that is found in all schools, and are committed to continual improvement.  Educators driven by a passion to help children learn are the most important components of our society and should be treated as such.  Those driven by passion:
  • Understand that all students can learn.
  • Are not afraid of failure because they realize that this is a means to improve their craft.
  • Are compassionate even when pushed to the brink.
  • Treat professional development as an opportunity as opposed to an annoyance.
  • Openly share their ideas, lessons, and opinions with others.  Their mantra is “together we are better”.
  • Regularly communicate with parents regularly before and after the school day to keep them abreast of their child’s progress.
  • Consistently model life-long learning, especially during the summer months.
  •  Regularly reflect in order to enhance teaching and learning.
  • Create and foster a student-centered learning culture.
  • View the evaluation process as a growth opportunity.
  • Realize that there will be some bad days, but these are far outnumbered by the great ones.
  • Serve as unofficial mentors to others that need support and feedback.
  • Embrace change that is in the best interests of the entire school community.
  •  Are not afraid to admit when they are wrong.
Reform in education begins with passion.  Educators, those who are in the trenches working tirelessly to help all children learn, should be in the driver's seat when it comes to reform.  They have not only experienced success in terms of increasing achievement, by are driven by a passion to guide all students on a path to success.  These are the change agents we need to reform education, not those individuals or groups that have no vested interest or experience working with students in a public school.  

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Use of Case Studies as a Student-Centered Approach to Learning

The use of case studies is a powerful pedagogical approach to incorporate student-centered learning activities into lessons.  As a science teacher I routinely utilized case studies as they provided a relevant context to what I was teaching.  Claire Davis and Elizabeth Wilcock conducted an excellent literature review and created a phenomenal resource called Teaching Materials Using Case Studies.  
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Below are some excerpts and thoughts that I would like to share:
  • They define case studies as student-centered activities based on topics that demonstrate theoretical concepts in an applied setting.
  • Using case studies as an interactive learning strategy shifts the emphasis from teacher-centered to more student-centered activities. 
  • Case studies promote the following skills that are at the heart of authentic learning: problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.
  • They expose students to real-life issues.
  • Incorporate characteristics of both problem and project-based learning.
One of my math teachers at New Milford High School has begun to integrate the use of case studies in her classes.  Mrs. Chellani's key goal is to connect key mathematical concepts to real-life and other disciplines so students are able to better comprehend the content, understand the significance of the material being taught, and recognize how each discipline is interrelated.  In order to achieve this objective, Mrs. Chellani goes beyond solely discussing these connections in class.  She utilizes a more complex approach by assigning a case study at the end of each unit so students are able to see these connections in practice.  These case studies are centered around real-world and interdisciplinary examples and provide another means to reinforce the learning in class.  Furthermore, these case studies involve the use of technology (i.e. MS Office applications, Internet research, trend/statistical Analysis, etc.) and higher-order thinking skills (i.e. drawing conclusions) that prepare students with essential skills sets. Here are 2 examples provided by Mrs. Chellani.

I applaud Mrs. Chellani's commitment to making mathematics more meaningful to her students through the use of case studies and feel that teachers in all disciplines can benefit from this approach.  Here are some other resources on the use of case studies in education:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Flipped Classroom Explained

There has been a great deal of information lately on the World Wide Web and in the media on the flipped classroom approach.  I still get the sense that many educators are unsure of what this actually means and entails.  I myself have done quite a bit of research as of late to gain a better understanding.

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There are two main components associated with the flipped classroom approach to teaching and learning.  The first is that students watch lectures and consume other forms of content outside of school at their own pace while communicating with peers and teachers using online tools.  The second is that students in school work to actively apply what they have learned through concept engagement with assistance from the teacher.  For a  more detailed description and an infographic on this approach check out this great article at MindShift.  There is also fantastic information at The Digital Sandbox including this description: "The flipped classroom provides avenues for teachers to become facilitators of learning and move away from the sage on the stage approach to teaching.  The goal is to extend learning time conversation to outside of class through threaded discussion."

Below is an introductory video on what it means to "flip" your classroom.  Please be aware that there is a brief product pitch at the end of the video.

For more resources on the flipped classroom approach visit Cybraryman's page on the topic. So what are your thoughts on this topic?  I would love to hear from those educators that have found success with this. Will schools and educators find value in this approach and begin to flip their classrooms?  Or will the fear and anxiety associated with standardized testing and new teacher accountability reforms stop this phenomenon from taking off?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Student Voice Matters

This past September I was fortunate enough to attend a professional development program on the Chromebook at the Google offices in New York City. At the conclusion of the workshop, I immediately began to think about the potential of this computing device in my school. However, something was missing. The missing piece to making a decision of this magnitude was the thoughts and advice from the most important constituency in schools, the students. So I floated an idea to Google, which at the time I didn’t think would ever pan out. I asked them if I could bring back a group of students from New Milford High School so that they could try out the devices and provide me with feedback as to whether or not they would be a good fit for our school. The idea was enthusiastically embraced.
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On Monday November 14, 2011, I took ten students from our STEM Academy on an amazing adventure to the Google offices in New York City. This would turn out to be the most exciting and meaningful daylong trip of their high school experience. The agenda for the day was as follows:
  • Tour of the offices and themed floors.
  • Chromebook overview and hands-on time with the device.
  • Special meeting with “Googlers” to learn about what it is like to work there, the application process, and the diversity of programs that they work on.
  • Lunch in one of the five specialized cafeterias.

Since this was an Academy experience, I gave the students an assignment that had to be completed after the trip (which comes back to why we were at Google in the first place). Each student had to write a persuasive essay explaining why I should or should not purchase Chromebooks for the school. I reinforced the fact that they, not me, would make this important decision. I don’t know who was more excited about this, the students or me. Students have begun to send their essays to me using Google Docs and I can’t resist sharing one of them here. The following is the persuasive essay by senior Amanda Howell:

On Monday November 14th, myself, along with a small group of students, had an unparalleled opportunity. We were able to visit the Google offices in New York City, and try the Chromebooks that Google has come out with. Not only was the trip to Google an amazing experience, but also to be able to test out technology that could be beneficial to my fellow students was an amazing personal experience.

I found the Chromebooks would be a great investment for New Milford High School for several reasons. These reasons include the computers simplicity, speed, and value. 
 The first, and perhaps best quality of the Chromebooks, is its simplicity. This I personally love, but I also think will be a great quality for the student body. The Chromebook has the least hassle of any computer I have ever surfed the web on, and it was an extremely refreshing experience to be able to boot up and go. The students here at New Milford will be able to turn on their Chromebook, enter their information, and begin working on whatever they desire. I believe that this feature will be particularly useful for a classroom setting because students will need no instructions on what to do. It wastes time in a classroom when teachers have to give their students instructions on operating devices, but not with the Chromebook.

Time, and speed in particular, is another fantastic aspect of the Chromebook. Personally, my P.C takes what seems like forever to boot up, but not the Chromebook. You press the power button and within eight seconds you have access to the World Wide Web. Eight seconds is extremely fast, and will save time in classes. This high efficiency will also be beneficial for a classroom setting because the students will have an ample amount of time to perform research, or whatever else the class requires. This is in contrast to the laptops teachers have access to now, which take what seems like the whole class period just to start up. Not only is the start up for the Chromebooks fast, but also the computer itself operates faster than any other computer the school has. 

The final aspect of the Chromebooks that make them beneficial is value. The Chromebooks are extremely reasonable compared to other laptops, such as Macs. The value of the Chromebooks is so high because of accessibility. There are many times that students are working on a project, or doing research, but when they sign on the next day, the computer they were using is not available. This problem is completely eliminated with the Chromebooks because students can pick up and go from any of the computers. Students are not saving their work to the computer, but rather to their account. This not only increases accessibility, but security as well because without your password no one has access to your account.

Over all, I believe that because of all these aspects of the Chromebooks, they would be a great asset at New Milford High School. The book’s simplicity, speed, and value place them in a category, which no other technology is in. They would be extremely helpful in bettering the student’s education and learning experience here at our school. They are an extremely smart investment, and I am even considering one myself.

Once all of the essays have been submitted and reviewed I will meet with this group of students and inform them of my decision to purchase or not.  This decision will be made entirely from their input.  The point here is that students are being placed in positions to make important decisions as part of our school transformation efforts. By involving them in this process it is our hope that they will take more ownership of their learning. After all, students are the reasons why we do what we do. It only makes sense to involve them as much as possible.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Profound Impact

As educators we routinely wonder whether or not the advice that we impart on our students actually has had a positive impact.  Sometimes were are given direct feedback, but other times were are left to wonder.  During the past couple of weeks we have organized two assemblies where I have educated the entire student body on cyberbullying, as well as digital responsibility and footprints.  My goals for the assemblies were for students to fully understand the negative impact and consequences associated with bullying online, the need to advocate for others who are targeted, the importance of demonstrating responsibility online as it can potentially impact college acceptances and future employment, and the creation of a positive digital footprint.  

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For each class I utilized a PowerPoint presentation complete with testimonials, emotional videos, and relevant examples.  During each assembly students were extremely attentive and respectful, but I was still unsure about whether or not my points were made.  Fortunately someone shared with me the email below that was sent to our middle school principal by a student who attended one of my presentations.  Please note that I have removed all names.

Hi Mrs. XXX, I'm not sure if you remember me but my name is XXX XXX. I'm a junior at the high school. I also wasn't sure who to come to about this, but at the high school we recently had a presentation on cyber- bullying, and I have a Facebook account. A student's Facebook page at your middle school came up on my Facebook news-feed. Her page wasn't blocked, which is why her information was visible to view.  I didn't want to just overlook this.  Last year when I was a sophomore, this girl came to the high school football games with her dad and she was very friendly, but I noticed other girls from the middle school bullying her. I remember telling the girl to ignore them and not to hang out with them. However, on this girl's page there were cruel comments and sarcastic remarks leading this girl to believe they liked her when from my point of view it seemed like bullying. The girl's name is XXX XXX, I don't know her, but I just wanted to bring it to your attention if it wasn't already known. I just wanted to say something, because at the high school the presentation on cyber-bullying really made me realize how much of a difference saying something can make. If you need me at all feel free to email me back.

I can't even begin to explain how proud I am of this student!  Messages like this make me realize that when we take the time to educate our students ourselves it really does have an impact.  We are in the process of conducting all of our assemblies with in-house personnel because it is cost-effective, convenient, and most importantly we are the ones who have established connections with our students.  Find out who your experts are and empower them to deliver important messages during assemblies and I can assure you that they too will have a profound impact on your students.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Questions I Ask

I have been fortunate over the past few days to have attended the Authorspeak Conference.  This experience has allowed me to listen to and connect with some of the best minds in education (i.e. Robert Marzano, Rick DuFour, Carol Tomlinson, Doug Reeves, Will Richardson).  Additionally,  I have been able to network with other amazing educators from all over the world and actively share how we are transforming the culture at New Milford High School.

During the second day of the conference I presented on Communicating and Connecting With Social Media with my co-authors Bill Ferriter and Jason Ramsden.  Throughout the 45 minute presentation we shared proven strategies to harness the power inherent within social media tools to enhance communications, establish the foundation for a positive public relations platform, connect with other educators to learn, and create policies to ensure effective use.  I believe our session went very well and attendees left with a vision and strategies to begin integrating social media tools into their professional practice.  For a brief summary check out the synopsis by Nick Provezano at The Nerdy Teacher blog.

However, after reflecting on the session and speaking with some of the attendees, it is apparent that the embracement of social media in schools and by educators will continue to be an uphill battle.  For those educators and schools that are either resistant to or unsure about using social media I pose these questions to you:
  • Why would educators and schools not want to use free social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook to communicate important information (student honors, staff accomplishments, meetings, emergency information) to stakeholders in real-time? 
  • Who would not want to take control of their public relations and produce a constant stream of positive news?  If we don't share our story someone else will and we then run the chance that it will not be positive.
  • Why should establishing a brand presence be restricted to the business world when schools and districts now have the tools at their fingertips to do this in a cost-effective manner?
  • What educator would not want to connect with experts and peers across the globe to grow professionally through knowledge acquisition, resource sharing, engaged discussion, and to receive feedback?
  • Why do many schools refuse to allow educators to use free social media tools to engage learners, unleash their creativity, and enhance learning?
  • Why are schools missing the opportunity and failing students by not teaching digital responsibility/citizenship through the effective use of social media?
  • Who would not want to tap into countless opportunities that arise through conversations and transparency in online spaces?
  • When will the profession of education catch up to society?
These are the questions that I believe many of us who are engaged in social media ask.  I encourage you to share these with other schools, administrators, teachers, and board of education members who still question the value of social media in education.  Together we can continue to be the change that we want to see in education.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Who's Your Buddy?

\Who's Your Buddy?Tonight my Student Assistance Counselor, Doreen Zacher, is running a program for parents called STOP Bullying.  At NMHS we have always been proactive when it comes to protecting our students to ensure that they have a learning environment free from physical, social, and emotional distractions.  Even so, the passing of N.J.S.A. 18A:37-15, otherwise known as the Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying Law (HIB), has moved our school to adopt additional measures to deal with an epidemic that plagues schools across the country.  
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Doreen has spearheaded many innovative initiatives designed to educate students on the negative impacts of HIB in order to prevent situations from occurring both in and out of school.  At the heart of each initiative are the students themselves.  I invite you now to read the thoughts of Jesus Collado, a current senior at NMHS, on one of these programs:  

“B.U.D.D.Y.” – Bullying Undermines Developing Diverse Youths; the name of the group conveys the message that about 30 high school students and their mentor, Ms. Dorene Zacher, are trying to spread. The idea is simple: organize a group of students to help regulate and teach other students about the dangers of bullying, intimidation, and harassment. These students are called “Buddy’s”, and each hold very strong and personal views about the bullying issue that is plaguing the country today. It is because of this that I have come to feel so comfortable in New Milford High School. I feel amazed and joyful that so many teachers and students have come together to support this program to work towards a more united future. There is a heart-warming quality to seeing a school, not only the students, but also the faculty, coming together for such a righteous cause. It truly makes me eager to be part of a movement that is marching towards a better future.  Be a Buddy, Not a Bully!

All students in the B.U.D.D.Y. program have received an intense day of training by Doreen.  The students themselves will be running the program tonight.  They are also are sent out to the other schools in our district to educate younger students on HIB.  Students learning life lessons, modeling good citizenship, and being empowered to make difference in their school and beyond is what education is all about.  We must empower our students to be involved in every facet of their educational experience if we want to truly create a system that they find valuable, relevant, and meaningful.  They should be the catalysts that drive reform.  Let their voices be heard!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Future is Here: Take Advantage of It

At New Milford High School we have begun to leverage technology that many students possess.  This has led to a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative, where students are encouraged to bring in their mobile learning devices, which include cell phones or personal computing devices (laptops, tablets, iPod Touches, eReaders, etc). Students that bring their own computing devices have the ability to connect to our secure wireless network.  Check out the recent story CBS New York did on our initiative below.

We highly value equity in terms of access to technology.  In the case of mobile learning devices (cell phones), if a student does not have a device my teachers have been instructed to pair or group them when using polling sites like Poll Everywhere or conducting research.   Students that bring their own computing device primarily use them in the cafeteria during their 48 minute lunch to conduct research, work on homework/projects, or for organization.  It is at the teachers' discretion whether or not to allow a student to use their personal computing device in class.  Many times students that have brought their own devices will us them in lieu of school-provided options (laptop carts, computer labs).

The mobile learning revolution is upon us.  Isn't it time schools and some educators stop making excuses not to move forward and leverage the technology that our students already possess? How mobile learning devices are adopted in each school will vary as there is no one-size-fits-all approach due to the uniqueness of communities.  If you have pondered or are against BYOT at least engage your students, teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders in a conversation to elicit their thoughts.  If you do I am willing to wager that you will take advantage of mobile learning devices as well.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Be the Change You Want to See in Education

“Be the change you want to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi

On a beautiful Saturday morning in October hundreds of educators from numerous states in the Northeast descended upon New Milford High School for a day of learning, connecting, and reflecting at The Edscape Conference.   As I addressed the crowd to begin the event I was in awe of all the passionate educators who took the time to gather on a weekend for the sole purpose of getting better at their craft in order to better meet the needs of their students.  Do the reformers know or even care about events like this?  I’m guessing it wasn’t even a blip on their radar as there wasn’t a single session on standardization, accountability, performance pay, or the Common Core.  Instead session after session provided educators with fresh ideas, proven strategies, invaluable connections, and the confidence to pursue innovation. 

As the co-host I had the luxury of popping in on every single session to get a feel for the presenter and the learning environment that he or she had established.  What I saw in each room were engaged educators eager to learn and open their minds to the possibilities that the 21st Century presents.  From Diana Laufenberg’s keynote, to the exciting hands-on sessions provided by Teq, to the inspiring discussions at lunch, Edscape was about transforming schools in a way that benefits all of our students.  

So how should school be structured and operate?   This is something that must be decided by those in the trenches (teachers, administrators), stakeholders (parents, BOE), and most importantly the students.   As Diana described so eloquently schools should be inquiry-driven, student-centered, relevant, foster creativity, community-based, and emphasize mentoring.  I could go on and on, but I am fortunate that members of my PLN and the media (The Record and Patch) have already shared detailed reflections and analysis on Edscape.  Please take the time to read their thoughts, which portray an event that I was honored to be a part of: 

When reading the powerful quote by Gandhi at the beginning of this post, I believe that the greatest takeaway from the Edscape Conference was that individual educators need to be the change that we want to see in education.  The reform talk and subsequent push is not going to subside anytime in the near future, but each of us has the capacity to initiate positive change in order to create a teaching and learning culture that pushes our students to think critically, unleash their creativity, actively solve problems, promotes service, and inspires students to challenge themselves.  This is the type of reform that I want to be a part of.  Thankfully, this is my reality. 

MARK YOUR CALENDARS NOW!!!! Edscape will once again be held at New Milford High School on Saturday October 13, 2012.   

(A special thank you goes out to Teq.  Without this educational partner, Edcape would not have happened or been a success.)