Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Advancing Mobile Phones as Learning Devices

This morning I read a great article on PBS Media Shift by Audrey Watters entitled "Why Schools Should Stop Banning Cell Phones, and Use Them For Learning."  Up until this past year the rule of thumb was that students could bring their phones to my school, but they could not be on, seen, or heard.  This rule applied throughout the school day, on or at any school-sponsored functions, and was strictly enforced.  I cannot begin to explain all of the battles with students and parents that my administrative team and I had to deal with because of the established policy.

Fortunately for me I have already begun to work with my staff and students to transform the teaching and learning culture at New Milford HS as it pertains to cell phones as mobile learning devices.  As a principal, it took me a while to accept the fact that these small, but powerful computing devices could play an important role in the classroom.  This shift in mindset can be directly attributed to what I have learned from innovative educators in the social media spaces that I now delve into on a routine basis. The knowledge that I have acquired from my Personal Learning Network (PLN) provided me with the ideas and strategies to utilize student cell phones as mobile learning devices.

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Last year some of my teachers began to utilize student devices as tools for learning, mainly as student response systems. For the most part they used a program called Poll Everywhere to check for understanding, review prior learning, and informally assess. The key to effective integration, in my opinion, is the message that was sent to the students prior to use.  Each teacher clearly articulated to their students that they would be using their phones in class during a particular time in the lesson for learning. Since we were just beginning to embrace this shift, my teachers would usually convey this message the day before.  This also helped to ensure that each student brought their phone to class the next day.  In the rare case that a student did not have a cell phone with them my teachers would pair or group them with those that did.  Even though there was still a policy in place prohibiting the use of cell phones we did not let it hinder our progress to create a more engaging learning environment for our students.  

By the end of last school year many more teachers were incorporating mobile learning devices into their instruction.  I provided a workshop on Poll Everywhere and some tutorials, but many of my teachers experimented on their own time and quickly figured out how to use this web 2.0 resource.   As students arrive to school next week they will learn that we are lifting the cell phone ban in the cafeteria during lunch.  During my opening remarks to each class I will explain that this change in policy is our effort to empower them to use and view their devices as tools for learning, not just socialization.  

As educators we must establish a vision for our students and model the use of cell phones as mobile learning devices in order to empower them to embrace the same view.  We live in a world where these devices are a huge part of our student's lives.  Schools should positon themselves to not only take advantage of this resource as budgets are tight, but also teach students about the powerful tool they possess.  I am excited to work with my staff to expand our use of mobile learning devices in our persistent effort to improve teaching and learning. The challenge now becomes convincing other schools of the importance to move forward with and advance the use of cell phones as mobile learning devices.  How can this be accomplished?  What needs to happen?  I encourage you to share successful strategies, ideas, implementation plans to assist other schools yearning to leverage the power of mobile learning devices.

For more information on integrating a variety of mobile learning devices check out this book by Kipp Rogers from Solution Tree. 

Here are some other tools that educators can use with mobile learning devices:

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Positive Impact

Earlier this month I was fortunate to speak at #140edu in New York City.  The title of my 15 minute presentation was "School Improvement One Character at a Time."  I used this opportunity to discuss the positive impact that social media has had on the culture of my school and professional growth as a school leader.  Here are 6 ways I am using social media in education to improve teaching, learning, and leading:
  • Communication
  • Public Relations
  • Branding
  • Professional Growth/Development
  • Student Engagement
  • Opportunity
The video of my presentation below describes each of the categories above in more detail.

Is social media having a positive impact on your work as an educator?  If so how?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Milestone

Never in a million years would I have imagined that I would be here writing my 100th blog post. I never considered myself much of a writer. To be quite honest, I actually hated it. As I began my journey into the world of web 2.0 two and a half years ago, I found myself reading blogs for the first time. In my mind, reading was as far as I ever wanted to go and I literally swore that I would never become a blogger.

So what changed? As I began to construct my Personal Learning Network (PLN), I was virtually approached by Ken Royal from The Educator's Royal Treatment. He convinced me that I had some great ideas to share and coerced, I mean encouraged, me to write a guest post for his blog. Little did I know that Ken's confidence in me, and this guest post, would be the catalyst propelling me into the world of edublogging. For the next few months I wrote a variety of quest posts for different blogs until I finally established A Principal's Reflections on March 6. 2010.

Since my blogs inception I have tried extremely hard to submit a new post at least once a week. This has proven to be an arduous task at times as I have continued to question my writing ability. I was fortunate that another mentor from my evolving PLN arose in the form of Bill Ferriter. Bill is an extremely talented and passionate writer who has firmly established himself in the blogosphere. He has had a profound impact on me as a writer by providing honest feedback and positive reinforcement. To me, Bill has served as both a mentor and teacher. Had it not been for Bill, I would not be a published author or possess the ability to craft my messages and reflections in a meaningful way.

I would be remiss at this point if I did not send out a special thank you to my mom, Jean Sheninger. My mom was a beloved first grade teacher and one of the brightest people I know. At times I lack patience after completing a post and rush to publish it. She made it very clear to me early on that I needed to fully proofread my posts (as has Tom Whitby) and volunteered to look each one over prior to going live. It is the best feeling in the world when your mom tells you how proud she is of your writing. If I want to gauge the effectiveness of a post I just ask my mom.

To everyone else that has had a positive impact on my journey as a blogger, I cannot thank you enough. Your comments and feedback on posts have further fueled my desire to consistently find the time to blog. If I can do this, anyone can. Hopefully more educators will develop confidence and take the time to share their ideas, successes, and failures in order to help all of us grow professionally. This, in my opinion, is the greatest and most powerful form of professional development.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Glogster EDU Gets Even Better

For those of you not familiar with Glogster it is a fantastic web 2.0 tool that allows educators to create FREE multimedia posters called glogs.  Here is how the company describes their product:
Simply put, a Glog is a kind of poster —fully designed by you! A Glog is a unique creation made up of text, images, music, and video. It can be colorful, edgy, emo, or rock—it’s up to you to make your Glog stand out. Glogs are a perfect way to express who YOU are!
Check out one of my personal favorite glogs on the topic of Web 2.0.
Glogster EDU provides educators with a collaborative portal for their students to express their creativity, apply knowledge, demonstrate mastery of skills, and develop ideas.   Many of my teachers are members of this learning community and absolutely love making glogs with their students.  Recently the company announced some exciting new enhancements to improve the experience for users.  You can check out these product changes HERE.

Happy glogging!

(Note: I am an Ambassador for Glogster EDU)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Moving Forward

Cross-posted at Edutopia.

School leaders across the country are meticulously planning for the upcoming year.  This process has become more difficult as mounting challenges such as budget cuts and what seems like a relentless attack on the profession of education have taken their toll on staff moral.  With this being said, quality leadership becomes even more essential in order to cultivate a school culture whose primary focus is on the learning and achievement of each and every student. Here are some of my leadership strategies for making change during challenging times.  Please feel free to share any other ideas in the comment section below.

Make No Excuses

Success in this endeavor relies on us to take a no-excuse attitude.  Ask yourself this: What am I prepared to do to improve all facets of my school?  How will I accomplish more with less?  Think and reflect upon the ways to accomplish the goals you set as opposed to the challenges, roadblocks, and pushback you will experience.  These are all common complications that arise during the change process and should not be used as excuses not to push forward. 

We must be the pillars of our respective institutions and focus on solutions rather than problems.  Succumbing to the negative rhetoric, abiding by the status quo, and having a bunker mentality will do nothing to initiate needed changes in our building to improve teaching and learning.

Each day we are afforded an opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of our students through our role as education leaders.  Our passion for helping all students learn and assisting staff in their growth should be the driving motivational force to make our schools the best they can be, regardless of the obstacles.  Everything is changing -- the world, learners, job market, technology, access to information -- the sad reality though is that schools are not. We need to be catalysts to drive this change! Consider meeting with your administrative team and teacher leaders prior to the start of the school year to identify issues where excuses routinely arise.  Begin to map out collective responses focusing on positive solutions to these problems.

Model a Vision for Excellence

Begin by articulating a clear vision to your staff.  The consensus has to be that every student can and should learn.  Getting your entire staff to embrace this concept is at the heart of effective leadership.  I prefer to use the word "embrace" rather than "buy-in," a more commonly used word synonymous with change efforts.  We should not be trying to sell our staffs on pedagogical techniques and other initiatives that will better prepare our students for success once they graduate. 

In order to promote the embracement of new ideas, strategies, and techniques we need to collaboratively work with staff to transform traditional classroom environments into vibrant learning communities where all students are authentically engaged.  Engage your staff in a brainstorming session during the first faculty meeting in order to develop a collective vision on how to transform the school for the betterment of all students.

Embrace 21st Century Pedagogy and Curriculum

A vision begins with talk, but will only become reality with action.  As society evolves due to advances in technology we as principals must ensure that instruction follows suit or we run the risk of our schools becoming irrelevant.  By irrelevant I am referring to our ability to prepare students with the skills to think critically, solve problems, demonstrate learning through creation, and compete in a global society.  

As instructional leaders it is our primary responsibility to observe and evaluate instruction.  With this comes the responsibility to ensure that teachers are provided the freedom to take risks, knowledge of effective practices, resources to make it happen, and flexibility to incorporate innovative teaching strategies.  With these parameters in place, principals must then be able to consistently identify, foster, support, and 21st Century pedagogy.
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Inherent within this shift is the need to re-evaluate the curriculum as the real-time web and information age present new challenges to instruction and student engagement.  The time is now to lay the foundation to ensure that our students evolve into critical consumers of content, understand the importance of digital citizenship, as well as possess the ability to create, analyze, and interpret an array of media messages.   Start the year off by gathering key stakeholders to collaboratively revise your curriculum to emphasize essential skills necessary for today's learners to excel beyond your walls.

Breathe Life Into Professional Development

Most teachers cringe when they hear the words "professional development" and rightfully so.  The traditional model utilized by many schools forces educators into structured silos based solely on district and school goals while ignoring staff interests and passions.  If you thirst for an innovative culture focused on student achievement begin the process of transitioning to Professional Learning Communities (PLC's).   To take it a step further, model and encourage your staff to form their own Personal Learning Network (PLN).  Then step back, give up some control, and watch your staff thrive as their passion fuels a transformation of the teaching and learning culture at your school.

Stay Connected

Principals need support -- here are some resources to help you stay connected to others making change:

Change begins with a no excuse mentality.  Don't waste one more minute pondering what could be.  There is a revolution going on right now in learning, and it is up to us to lead the way.  Please share any leadership strategies that are making a difference in your building. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


I routinely blog throughout the school year about my staff and the great work they are doing to create learning environments that are engaging, rigorous, and student-centered.  Social media has allowed me to share my staffs' continuous development of innovative learning activities to a diverse audience of stakeholders in my community and well beyond.  This is something I take great pride in each day.

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As a result I often field requests for visits to my school to take a more detailed look at how my teachers are effectively integrating technology to improve teaching and learning.  Last year representatives from Pearson reached out to me about visiting NMHS to observe some of my history teachers in action.  It should be noted that this visit had absolutely nothing to do with Pearson trying to get us to purchase or review any other their products.The following is an except from an email that I received today from one of the representatives.

"Every day, I continue to find connections between my work at Pearson and the activities I observed at New Milford High. I’m so appreciative that you welcomed me into your school. The teachers were inspiring, and their openness to new ideas so refreshing. I hope it will be possible to continue our connection in some way in the coming school year."

For change to occur in any occupation people must be open to new ideas.  Hearing this from an outsider affirms the fact that NMHS is moving in the right direction and it is because of the passionate and dedicated teachers that I am fortunate to work with each day.