Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Connecting Within and Beyond

The other day I had a discussion with Colleen Tambuscio, one of my teachers, where she was actively sharing some of the innovative ideas she planned to implement during the upcoming school year.  Colleen is the architect of our globally recognized Holocaust Education Program.  During our conversation, she shared with me her experience with Today’s Meet at a recent professional development program hosted by the Shoah Foundation in California.  In a nutshell, Today’s Meet was used as a live backchannel throughout the program and the entire conversation was archived for reference.  Now I had heard of this tool in the past, but had never used it up to this point.

Colleen was so excited about the potential of this tool at New Milford High School that she asked if I could create a room for our staff to collaborate, ask/answer questions, to provide each other support, as well as share resources, professional development opportunities, ideas, and student work.  I did so right away and in minutes I had created a room that will be open for a year.  It is our hope that Today’s Meet will further build collegiality through connected learning while being a catalyst for innovation, support, and dialogue focused on improving the teaching and learning process.    

This conversation couldn’t have come at a better time.  A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the importance of connected learning.  In that post, George Couros asked me what I was going to do to empower my staff to be more actively involved in meaningful sharing and connecting with educators outside my school.  It is my hope that integrating this simple tool to enhance connections within our own building will expose my staff to the many possibilities and benefits of not just connecting within, but also beyond.  I can assure George that I will be gently pushing for greater connections beyond once my staff becomes more comfortable interacting in a more or less open environment. 

How do you encourage connected learning in your schools?  What strategies have you found successful to empower educators to share and connect with their peers beyond school walls?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Science Resource for Principals

I am extremely excited that my second book is now available through Solution Tree entitled What Principals Need to Know About Teaching and Learning Science.  It was a great deal of fun co-authoring this book with Keith Devereaux, one of my Science teachers at New Milford High School.  It is our hope that this book becomes the go to resource for principals looking to establish and maintain effective science programs that focus on doing science as opposed to just knowing.  Principals will not only find the latest research on effective science instruction, but also tips for integrating technology, purchasing materials, assessment, and establishing safe lab environments.

As noted on the back over of the book, science awakens creativity and reveals to students an exciting world of innovation and exploration.  It also provides the ideal platform from which to teach learners the engagement skills they will need as we move further into the 21st Century.  The book will guide school leaders through the specific aspects and components of an effective science program: inquiry, curricula, program evaluation, inquiry-based learning, assessment, and professional development.  There are also various reproducibles that come along with this book that principals should find valuable. With this book principals will be able to:

  • Obtain an overreaching knowledge of science as it relates to standards, safety, and instruction
  • Learn key principles to promote science literacy schoolwide
  • Evaluate your science program using practical reproducibles, checklists, assessments, and tools
  • Create and sustain successful teacher teams
  • Learn essential strategies to support teachers in planning lessons
  • Discover how to focus science instruction on questioning and problem solving

The following excerpt was taken from the Solution Tree website:

This accessible resource offers practical strategies for increasing student achievement in science and fostering a school environment that supports the science curriculum. Assess your own science programs, and find tools to evaluate teachers' preparedness for science instruction. With checklists, assessments, and reproducibles that you can share with teachers, parents, and other stakeholders, discover how to improve science instruction and sustain a strong science program.

Although this book is written primarily for a K-8 audience, we feel that it could be a valuable resource for any principal looking to improve the science program at his or her school.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Jumping on the Bandwagon

I have been engaged with social media for over three and a half years now.  As I often reflect on my journey, I can’t help but think about the early days and months after I first began to use Twitter and some other tools.  There were many times during this early period that I questioned the value of the time I was putting in, or the actual impact any of this was having on teaching, learning, school culture, and leadership.   Add in all of the weird looks and ignorant comments I received, it is a miracle that I made it through the early adoption stage to full, blown-out social media fanatic. 

Image credit:

Obviously I stuck with it and my life as a principal has never been the same.  Social media has become embedded in virtually all facets of my professional practice as an educational leader.  It is so gratifying to see more educators locally, nationally, and globally begin to experience what social media has to offer on a professional level.  However, as much as I and others tout the many ways in which social media can improve communications, form a foundation for positive public relations, increase student engagement, enhance the teaching and learning process, discover opportunity, and lead to authentic pathways to grow professionally, I still find that many educators are skeptical about embracing this dynamic, multi-dimensional tool. 

At this point in my career, I cannot picture performing my duties as a Principal without social media playing some sort of role.  I truly believe that it has made me a more effective school leader by enhancing a variety of skill sets essential to the position.  The network of colleagues and friends I have developed has now become priceless.  As we prepare to begin another school year, it is important that we reflect on the impact social media has had and all make a commitment to encouraging, supporting, and modeling its effective use amongst our staff, stakeholders, and other educators.  I already know that this is tops on my agenda when we start up school again in September. 

It is my hope that this post will serve as a catalyst for a greater discussion on how we can empower more educators to embrace social media, become connected, and utilize this tool to help do what they do more effective.  In recent weeks and months I have seen a dramatic rise of educators in my home state of New Jersey who have embraced social media as a legitimate professional tool.  I have also been proud to witness the evolution of the #NJED hash tag and #SatChat.  On this Leadership Day 2012 I would like to remind all school leaders and educators that it is never too late to jump on the bandwagon. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Adobe Educators' Choice Awards

Every year educators create outstanding lesson plans to help students learn, understand and uncover their passions. We want to ensure that the hard work does not go unnoticed. Starting this week, educators can win great prizes by simply submitting their best projects, lesson plans, curricula and tutorials to the 2012 Educators’ Choice Awards.

The 2012 Educators’ Choice Awards will honor and reward Adobe Education Exchange members who submit the most innovative teaching and learning materials. The Adobe Educators’ Choice Awards feature distinguished judges who will select the finalists, voting by members (who will select the winners), and amazing prizes, including laptops, iPads, and Adobe Creative Suite 6 software for you and your classroom. The contest began this week and the submission period ends October 5, 2012. Educators in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand are eligible to submit entries in three categories including:
  • Primary/Secondary Education
  • Higher Education
  • Creative Suite 6
Enter or get additional information on the 2012 Educators’ Choice Awards here. For inspiration, view last year winners. Follow @AdobeEDU#AdobeEDUAwards for the latest updates about the awards. Get creative and win big!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Voice of the Active Learner

I was recently sent this video that puts into perspective the new type of learner that is entering our schools.  The problem, however, is that the majority of schools across this country and beyond are doing very little to meet his/her diverse learning needs.  Times are different and thus learners are different.  Isn't it about time that schools focus more on the learning needs of our students as opposed to preparing them to bubble in answers on tests or ensuring that they follow orders? Let's listen to what our students are trying to tell us in order to make learning relevant, meaningful, and applicable in a new age.

This process begins with educators making a concerted effort to become active learners themselves.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Connectedness as the Standard

In my opinion, being a connected learner, leader, and/or educator is no longer an option.  My personal and professional journey in this area is well documented and something that I regularly present on.  When I think back to my life as an educator prior to becoming connected, I can honestly say that I was isolated, naive, and definitely not as well rounded as I am today. 

Image by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano- based on image (CC) by Alec Couros- /

Here is my quick list of reasons why all educators should become connected and form their own Personal Learning Network(PLN):
  • We become the epicenter of our learning and determine what, where, and when we want to learn.  This makes the learning process meaningful, relevant, applicable, and convenient.  With these structures in place, the foundation is established to unleash passion, creativity, and a pursuit of innovation to do what we do better.  Connectedness and control of our learning provide each of us with the ability to determine our own path and to differentiate to meet each of our diverse learning needs. 
  • This type of learning is fueled by intrinsic motivation, which is the most pivotal ingredient essential to life-long learning, growth, innovation, and sustainable change. 
  • Access to a wealth of free resources.  Using tools to share and acquire resources expands our horizons.  Many educators, including myself a few years ago, don’t even know what tools exist, let alone how they can enhance the teaching and learning process.
  • A two-way mechanism for constructive feedback, support, and advice.  In my mind this is priceless.  No longer do we need to feel like we inhabit isolated islands in our respective positions.
  • You do not have to pay for this powerful opportunity to grow.  All it costs is an investment of time, which you ultimately determine.
  • The ability and means to connect with the best minds in the field of education.  One of the most amazing attributes associated with social media is that it makes the world a much smaller place.  You can now connect with world-renowned educational researchers or experts from your living room.  Possibly even more powerful is the ability to learn from actual practitioners doing the same job as you.  Accessibility to these ideas, strategies, and collective knowledge from both of these groups will ultimately make you a better educator.  Silos of information become a thing of the past.
Your PLN will provide you with the seeds of change, but is up to you to plant, take care of, and cultivate them in order to witness their growth and development into transformative culture elements. If you do, it will not take long before these seeds of change mature and begin to bear fruit by becoming embedded, sustainable components of the school culture and your professional growth. with the tools that are now available connectedness should be the standard, not just an option in education.

What do you think are some of the benefits of becoming connected that I might not have touched on? Can we afford not to become connected?  Please share your thoughts. Below are some more resources to either help you get connected and/or strengthen the connections that you already have.