Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Let Your Work Do The Talking

Let me start off by saying that this post has been brewing for a while based on what I have observed with nothing being directed at me personally.  Maybe it is just the way I feel, but I am thinking that this is not the case.  

It seems like adults at times are the worse examples for our youth.  Take sports for example.   I was raised to enjoy many sports for the love of the game, teamwork, and competing amongst friends.  Things sure have changed.  It is now quite common to observe trash talk among youth and sport athletes.  This was rarely the case back in my day.  There is a lesson here to teach kids about the inappropriateness of this, but it becomes even tougher when adults constantly model inappropriate behavior.  At what point did sportsmanship, manners, etiquette and modeling appropriate behavior not become important?

This type of behavior is also found in the online world.  I entered the online world in 2009 and can honestly say a great deal has changed.  It sort of parallels the example above in the youth athletics arena.   From my point of view (and only mine), it was a much more welcoming space where mutual respect was earned through constructive discourse, dialogue, and collaboration. In many cases it now seems to be dominated by competition, cliques, and people trying to one up each other all the time.  I have seen the conversational tone lessen and more attacks, jabs, and isolation of certain groups evolve over time.  Belittlement has become the flavor of the month for one too many. 

I still believe in the power of the space and constantly find inspiration in the work of others. Yes, the pettiness of some has driven me to write this post, but I do believe that as role models and educators we need to set the example of what we expect to see from our youth in online spaces.  To that end I offer this simple bit of advice -Actions speak louder than words and in the long run are more respected. Instead of putting other people down let your work do the talking.  There is no greater influential force than that of modeling.  As they say, talk is cheap.  There is nothing cheaper than taking shots from behind a computer screen at other educators whose success has come as a result of hard work.

Image credit: http://cdn.quotesgram.com/img/53/22/1940781576-walkthetalk-e1370891433124.jpg

I never saw myself being in the position I am today, nor did many other connected educators for that matter. I tend to stay above the fray even when I see veiled cheap shots and passive aggressive behavior directed at those who are doing nothing more than their jobs.  My parents taught me to work hard in life and appreciate those who work just as hard and harder than me.  So when terms like rockstar and thought-leader are thrown my way I feel uncomfortable. My perceived success and influence is only a result of the many connected educators who set the bar so high.  Their unselfish work geared towards kids that is exemplified through sharing, conversation, and artifacts is what sets them apart from others.  To put people like this down perplexes me deeply.

In life success is earned, not given out.  Personally I have worked extremely hard for everything I have accomplished professionally. At this point I never ask to be included in events or conversations, as I would hope that my work places me in this position. When I and others are included it is because of our work. It baffles me as to why other educators blatantly knock down and berate their colleagues.  After all, we are all in the business of education in our respective roles.  

Talk, opinions, rhetoric rarely change anything.  When I see other educators succeed it brings me great pride no matter who they are. I tend not to judge, but constantly watch other educators do just that through social media.  Let’s be the example that we wish to see in others, especially our kids.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

How Will You #MakeSchoolDifferent

Earlier this week Scott McLeod pushed our thinking with a post titled We Have to Stop Pretending…..#MakeSchoolDifferent.  Please be sure to check out his post and the many thought-provoking comments.  My colleague and friend Jackie Gerstein tagged me so here are my additions:

When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending…

  • that just because kids are engaged they are always learning
  • that technology is a silver bullet that will transform education
  • that the only leaders in a school or district have a specific title
  • that the best schools are so because they work well for the adults
  • that instruction has to be delivered in a uniform fashion.

Image credit: http://www.islandbreath.org/2013Year/04/130417nietzsche.jpg

So what do you feel needs to change in education in order to make school different?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

To Disconnect or Not

I just returned from a much needed eight day Disney World vacation with my wife and two kids.  It truly was a magical time where we spent literally twelve or more straight hours together each day laughing, enjoying rides, and engaging in conversation on hundreds of topics.  As the vacation leader I made sure the alarm went off at 5:40 AM each morning so we could get to each of the four parks early to avoid the lines and heat. Early on I took some heat of my own for this from my wife, but boy did it pay off.  Each day we rode the most popular rides numerous times by 11:00 AM and then got to relax by the pool, stay in the park to enjoy more rides, or even take family naps. My wife eventually complimented me on ensuring that the kids had the best experience possible. This vacation was like no other as each of us was totally exhausted at the end of every day, but we happily pressed on as Disney really does have such a magical appeal.  

Image credit: http://media.bizj.us/view/img/703801/itproducts-top5e*304.jpg

Prior to leaving for Disney we decided as a family not to bring any computing or tablet devices.  I tried to talk my wife into letting me bring the Chromebook solely for the purpose of enriching our Disney experience, but once I got "the look" I decided it was in my best interests to leave it at home.  We did take our smartphones and allowed our kids to each pack their iPod touches.  From a parent's point of view technology really did enhance our vacation experience. Disney has an incredible app that allows you to check the wait times for rides in real time as well as access/change FastPasses and dining reservations.  There were also detailed maps and descriptions of all rides and entertainment experiences that allowed us to customize each day based on what our kids wanted to do.  The wait time feature alone allowed us to get on more rides during the most popular time to visit Disney World.  Each park was jam packed every day, but our technology helped us make the best of it.

Now some of the ride lines were long (45 min or more) especially in the afternoons.  We tried to avoid these, but in some cases with the most popular rides we couldn't.  This was torture for an eight and nine year old so as parents this is when our kids had access to their iPod Touches. The time then flew by as our kids collaborated on Minecraft while showing us their creations. By the way, all Disney World parks have free WiFi.  At other times our kids asked for their devices to take pictures, especially at Animal Kingdom, and create iMovie's of their magical experiences during the vacation.  Technology used wisely and with purpose in my opinion.

Then there was me. Just like my kids there were times where access to my technology enhanced my vacation experience.  I did check Twitter each day and tweeted a few times, especially when waiting in long lines.  It is cool in my opinion to make the best use of even vacation time to learn a little.  Twitter has long been my number one tool for professional learning as the main tool to form my Personal Learning Network (PLN).  I was also able to keep my email in check during some downtime.  For the most part though my phone was used to take pictures on Instagram and cross post to Facebook.  This is the point of my post.  I choose not to ever disconnect.  With the evolution in technology balance becomes key.  I learned long ago to never let technology interfere with family time.  If there is a need or desire to go cold turkey and disconnect for a period of time then that tells me balance has not be attained yet. 

For me technology is a huge part of both my personal and professional life, which is why I embrace it.  It is important for everyone to find balance as technology will become even more embedded in our lives in the the coming years. If you find balance when it comes to technology in your life then you will not have to make a decision as to whether or not you need to disconnected.....unless you want to.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Needed Revolution

I routinely write and speak about the changes leaders need to address in order to create schools that work for kids.  The most important job of a school leader is to remove the barriers that teachers encounter so that they can be the catalysts for change.  After all, it is our teachers that work with, and are the most connected to students, on a day-to-day basis.  This places them in the most important role to usher in and sustain meaningful change in the classroom that will ultimately shape school culture for the better.  With or without leadership support, teachers need to be open and willing to change as schools, for the most part, continue to prepare students for a world that no longer exists. To overcome this unfortunate reality a revolution is needed.

Award-winning teacher Josh Stumpenhorst has created a much-needed resource to guide teachers through this process with the publication of The New Teacher Revolution. Josh articulates how teachers have to be ready and willing to change the way they think about teaching to be able to effectively work with this new generation of learners. Education needs a revolution of ideas, pedagogy, and the very way in which we talk about teaching and learning. The status quo has largely been upheld and the system is rarely challenged or pushed back upon. Josh emphasizes that teachers need to take control of their profession and look for ways in which they can encourage and foster change.  Josh’s book outlines and discusses five key areas that teacher’s should focus their energy on if they want to see change and start this revolution.

  • Classroom Management - Simply put, teachers cannot force a child to do anything they do not want to do. They must find ways to use relationships and empowerment rather than fear and punishments as a way to effectively work with kids.
  • Motivation – Teachers need to move past the notion that kids will do anything for a Jolly Rancher or extra credit points. Rather there is a need to embrace the power of choice and autonomy to motivate and empower students. A renewed family dynamic is needed.  It is no longer acceptable to interact with parents simply on conference and open house nights. Teachers must reach out and engage parents and utilize them as key players in their child’s education.
  • Technology as a Lynchpin – In the age of education technology, teachers have to be savvy in their use but also wary in their adoption. Moving past the notion of shiny and new, it is crucial teachers utilize technology to engage and amplify learning for their students beyond the superficial.
  • Distractions – Many a teacher has played buzzword bingo during a conference or staff meeting. How can we recognize which bandwagons to jump on or which fads will last? There are also inherent issues with education traditions.  As in any industry, traditions and legacies exist largely to continue and perpetuate the status quo. In education we have grades, homework, testing, competition and many other practices that we do because “that is what we have always done.” Rather than sticking to what is easiest for the adults, we need to push back, question, and change to meet the needs of our current students.
  • Evolving Practice – For most teachers there is an outlined path to becoming a “better” teacher. It often involves advanced degrees, certifications and evaluations. Yet, most of these fall short of actually improving teaching practice. Teachers need to be seeking alternative ways in which to continue to evolve as educators to stay relevant for the sake of their students.

To embark on a journey of revolution can be a daunting task. Keep in mind there are always those ahead of you on this journey that can advise and guide you. However, it is critical to keep in mind those behind you on this journey as well. It is your obligation to reach out and help bring them along and mentor them as well. The book by Josh Stumpenhorst will not only inspire teachers to become a part of this revolution, but also provide them with the practical strategies to take action and drive change.