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: