Sunday, July 26, 2015

Musings on Leadership, Change, and #EdTech

As I am driving my SUV and family guinea pig from Staten Island, NY to Texas (more to come on this later) I took the opportunity, when my father was at the wheel, to peruse my professional Facebook page.  As I looked through my updates I noticed that I had posted quite a few quotes, ideas, thoughts, and opinions on leading change.  The idea then popped into my head that I should archive all of these in a blog post. Maybe some of you will find value in them (or maybe not). 

Image credit:

Without further ado:
Don't prepare learners for something. Prepare them for anything. 
Negative people have a problem for every solution. Don’t let these people bring you down. Rise up and model a better way. 
All kids have greatness hidden inside them. It is the job of an educator to help them find and unleash it.  
Technology is not the key to transforming education…..educators are! 
Energy is precious. Spend it to make a difference. Don't waste it on constant indifference. 
Failure is often learning in disguise. 
We lead not to have people follow, but to inspire others to take action and unleash their own leadership capabilities. 
Blended instruction is what the teacher does with tech. Blended learning is where students use tech to have control over path, place, and pace. 
What you do today could very well transform the life of someone tomorrow. Never underestimate the potential of your actions to make a difference. 
A child who loves going to school typically loves to learn. That’s the type of culture we need to replicate. 
Learning for students needs to be REAL: Relevant, Engaging, Authentic, Lasting 
For so long we have learned to do. What we need now is the opposite; do to learn...especially in schools. 
It all comes down to relationships. Without trust there is no relationship. Without relationships no real learning occurs. 
Leadership is not a popularity contest. Make the tough decisions instead of trying to please everyone. 
The ability to move others outside their comfort zones begins with your own journey to do the same. 
Great leaders build capacity in others knowing full well that it takes more than one person to successfully implement change. 
A testament to true leadership is one's ability to not just initiate change, but also sustain it. 
If you don't tell your story someone else will. Digital leadership is about becoming the storyteller-in-chief to take control of your public relations and build a positive brand presence. 
Reach for the sky and experience your potential. Reach for the stars and discover unlimited potential. 
Success is achieved when you zero in on a goal with an undeniable focus and a determination to overcome an array of challenges. 
Real change comes from colleagues modeling expectations to others, not from those with titles. 
Respect is a fickle thing. It is not earned through opinion, talk, and putting down others, but rather example and action. 
Anyone can come up with ideas. Implementing them in a way that leads to efficacy is the hard part. 
If you truly believe a certain way is better put that belief into action to inspire others to change. 
Don’t just give opinions. Illustrate how your opinions have been implemented in some way to change educational practice. 
Mediocrity is a choice. So is choosing to get better each day. The choice is yours. 
Technology will not revolutionize education. Educators who effectively integrate technology to enhance and support learning will. 
Actions speak louder than words, sound bites, and rhetoric. Model for others and change will follow. 
Don't ask others to do what you won’t. 
Digital leadership is about working smarter, not harder, by enhancing professional practice with the assistance of technology. 
You can complain about the decisions made by someone else or take the initiative and make your own. 
As a leader if you are making students conform to your views and ideals about the structure and function of school without their input you have it all wrong. You work for them; it's their school, and most importantly their voice matters! 
Stop telling people what they need to do and instead take them where they need to be. 
Digital leadership is not an add-on or about giving one more to do. It is a natural compliment to the work school leaders are already doing. It is time to do what you do better. 
An idea is wasted if it is not acted upon leading to change in culture and/or practice. Instead of conformity, rules, and maintaining status quo schools need to focus on choice, ownership, and autonomy. 
Don't expect others to change professional practice if you are not modeling those same expectations. 
Engagement, relevance, and fun are great, but make sure there is observable evidence that students are learning when integrating technology.  
Change doesn’t always mean something new. Often it relies on a mindset shift to improve the initiative already in place. 
Leadership needs to be an active part of professional development by learning side by side with teachers.
The hardest challenge you will face is not changing yourself, but convincing or empowering your colleagues to embrace change. 
It is important to understand that words mean different things to different people and that’s quite ok.  
Don’t use the excuse of students going off task with mobile devices if you do the same thing in a setting where you shouldn’t. 
When building a shared vision and making important decisions impacting school culture make sure students have a seat at the table. 
It’s not our future we are preparing students for, but their’s. We can ill afford to prepare them for a world that won’t exist.
Engaging kids in a conversation about the value of school can and will pave the way to a brighter future. We need to listen, then act. 
Change does not result from speaking into a vacuum. Ideas and actions must extend well beyond social media and edtech cliques.

Never miss an opportunity to show gratitude or bestow kindness on another person. Small, selfless acts like these don’t take much effort, but can totally change the trajectory of other people and maybe even yours. 

You won’t find an effective leader who isn’t an effective communicator. 

          Admitting you don’t know something or need help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

I hope you enjoyed some of my thoughts based not only on observation but also practical experience implementing and sustaining change in schools. I now encourage you to add your thoughts below.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Be Wary of Putting the Cart Before the Horse

"Unless you get instructional design right, technology can only increase the speed and certainty of failure" - William Horton

As budgets expand or money becomes available at the end of a school year, the knee jerk reaction of many schools is to go all in and spend it as quickly as possible.  With advances in affordable technology, such as the ultra-cheap Chromebook, it has been tough for schools to resist spending these funds on devices.  Now don't get me wrong, I am all for schools increasing student and staff access to quality technology. However, the cart before the horse scenario has played out in so many schools across the globe. The end result has been a massive influx in tools, but a clear lack of vision and planning as to how these powerful tools can, and will, actually impact learning. In some cases, the technology resides unused in classrooms and schools due to the cart before the horse approach. There is nothing transformational about this.

Image credit: Eric Patnoudes

There are many technology frameworks out there for schools to refer to such as SAMR, TPACK, and the TIM. The SAMR Model has provided us with a good lens to observe firsthand the need for proper planning prior to investing large amounts of money on technology.  This by no means is a perfect framework to guide the effective implementation of technology initiatives, but it does give us a good idea of what should not be taking place.  I have visited one too many schools where I have seen time and time again devices being used in ways that serve as a direct substitute for the same ineffective practices that we are trying to move away from. Technology in itself will never transform teaching and learning. Students, teachers, and leaders who effectively integrate technology with purpose aligned to learning and leadership outcomes will.

The quote at the beginning of this post from William Horton provides an important reminder of the critical need for teachers to be supported in proper instructional design prior to any massive technology roll out. We found great success at my school during our digital conversion by focusing on a pedagogy first, technology second if appropriate mindset.  Not only was there a focus on solid instruction, but we also provided numerous supports for our teachers in the form of ongoing and job-embedded professional learning opportunities. If the expectation was to integrate technology with purpose to support and/or enhance learning we made sure everyone was prepared to do just that. As Michael Fullan has stated, pedagogy is the driver and technology the accelerator. 

Image credit: Shelly Terrell

It is not just teachers that need work on instructional design when it comes to effectively integrating technology. The same goes for school leaders who also deserve support in the form of professional learning so that they can properly observe and provide valuable feedback to teachers when technology is being integrated into lessons. Ultimately it is a leader’s overall responsibility to make sure technology purposes are having an impact on learning. Thus it is wise to put them in a better position to do just that.

The critical need for learning doesn't stop with teachers and leaders. It also extends to students and parents. As learning changes with successful technology integration and students begin to have more access to technology, a golden opportunity arises to not only address critical digital literacies, but also responsibility. When rolling out either Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) or 1:1 initiative create programs to prepare students for the purposeful use of technology to support their learning. In the end, this will mitigate many issues before they arise. At my school, I met with all the students in large-scale assemblies to educate and reinforce the role of mobile learning devices at the beginning of the school year. Having parent programs in place is also vital to the success of any major technology initiative. With large scale purchases, they will want to know the impact on learning and others will need guidance on the how teaching and learning are now changing.

The importance of getting instructional design right cannot be stressed enough. Don't fall victim to the cart before the horse scenario. If you or your school has the ability and funds to purchase technology, don't rush to get it into the hands of staff and students. Take the time to develop a shared vision and plan for integration that aligns with sound pedagogy, using a tool such as the Rigor Relevance Framework, which is much more robust than the other options mentioned earlier in this post. Reflect on instructional design within the context of student agency and higher-order thinking skills first. Provide professional learning opportunities before, during, and consistently after the roll out.  After a focus on instructional design, work with students and parents to build broader support. In the end, this will help to not only make the implementation process easier but also to have your technology initiatives primed to get results.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Make Change Stick

When obstacles arise, you change your direction to reach your goal; you do not change your decision to get there.” – Zig Zigler

Change in any organization is an arduous task at some point, especially during the initial implementation stage.  The onset of the process is typically fraught with challenges such as overcoming the status quo, a mentality of if it isn’t broke why fix it, fear, a void of leadership somewhere in the hierarchy of schools, lack of knowledge on initiating change, no clear vision, too many initiatives at once, naysayers/antagonists, and a one size fits all approach.  One must realize that change is really hard and a commitment to see the process through is vital if the end goal is cultural transformation that sticks.  

Success also lies in a leader’s ability to make difficult decisions when needed. Leadership is not a popularity contest.  True leaders make the tough decisions instead of trying to please everyone.  I fell victim to the allure of putting popularity first early in my career as a young principal.   It took some self-reflection, after realizing that the school was stuck in a rut, to get myself on track and do the job that I was getting paid to do.  From that point on several change initiatives were implemented and sustained resulting in a culture that worked better for our students and staff.  In the end, real leaders take action and their ability to be catalysts for change are not defined by a title or position. They are defined by the example they set.

One must develop a mindset for change.  This process begins with an examination of why change does not work in organizations and then looking more closely as to why it has failed in your school or district.  The challenges described in the first paragraph provide a good starting point, but by no means are an inclusive list as each school/district has it’s own set of unique roadblocks. Pinpoint areas of potential difficulty beforehand that morph into challenges or excuses such as time, lack of collaboration, finances, limited support, poor professional development, resistance, mandates/directives, and frivolous purchases to name a few.  Once the challenges and potential obstacles are in front of you, begin to develop a road map for change using the following questions:
  • Where do we begin?
  • What are the school factors that influence student learning and ultimately achievement?
  • How do you change culture and move past the status quo?
  • How do we get educators and school systems to embrace change as opposed to always fighting for buy-in?
There are many frameworks and ideas on change leadership.  You can’t go wrong with the work of Michael Fullan and his Six Secrets of Change. When I began to develop a shared vision and strategic plan for change with my staff back in 2009 I referred to the Katgar Model of Change. 

While there is virtually no elaboration that I could find on this model an image provides some detail on the elements that are essential to successful change in any organization.  The central tenets of leadership described in this model center on why change is needed.  Effective leaders develop a shared vision with input from all stakeholders, including students.  They then craft and implement a plan for action that supports the purpose for the change. The glue that holds the entire process together is a leader’s passion for how the change will positively impact students and staff.  The Katgar Model for Change then identifies five essential elements that leaders can focus on to ensure success:
  • Strategy – After developing a shared vision a plan for action has to be developed.  The plan not only identifies the purpose and focus for the change, but also provides methods to monitor to ensure successful implementation and sustainability.  Always model the expectations you have for others.
  • Communication – You won’t find an effective leader who is not an effective communicator.  The art of communication allows leaders to accomplish tasks and get things done, pass on important information, acquire information, develop a shared vision, reach many decisions through consensus, build relationships, and move people to embrace change. Leaders in the digital age leverage available technology to transform communications.
  • People – Successful change initiatives rest on moving the masses, but you must begin at a foundational level. This can best be accomplished by building positive relationships at the individual level.  Empower staff to embrace change by putting them in a position to experience the value firsthand for themselves.  Provide autonomy to those who are already on board while focusing more time and effort supporting staff who are not yet willing to change.
  • The Work and Fun – With any change initiative ensure that a solid foundation aligned to teaching, learning, and leadership is in place. It is always good practice to align the work to the latest research and best practices.  As change takes hold have fun by celebrating the successes of your staff and students.  Nothing moves change along better than showing people how proud you are of their hard work.  This will also assist in motivating others to embrace the change effort.
  • Learning – The best and most effective leaders never stop learning, as they understand that there will always be work to do, not matter how much success is encountered.  As Antoni Cimolino states, “There is something to be learned every day, both by looking in the mirror at yourself and by looking at the people around you.” Today’s leaders have a great advantage when it comes to learning and that is social media.  The ability to learn anytime, anywhere, anything, and from anyone through Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s) is a leadership game changer.
A great deal of effort, time, and hard decisions embody every successful change effort. With this being said it is imperative that the changes being implemented stick.  Hargreaves and Fink (2004) provide some key points on sustaining change that will enable you to develop a clear focus during the initial visioning and planning process:
  • Improvement that fosters learning, not merely change that alters schooling.
  • Improvement that endures over time.
  • Improvement that can be supported by available or obtainable resources.
  • Improvement that does not affect negatively the surrounding environment of other schools and systems.
  • Improvement that promotes ecological diversity and capacity throughout the educational and community environment.
If you are serious about implementing change then lead with conviction so that your efforts result in sustainability.  Just the willingness to change doesn't cut it. Making change stick is what separates great leaders from the good ones.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

InvolvEdu: Changing the Extracurricular Landscape

The other day I had a great conversation with Nick Alm, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota studying Entrepreneurial Management and Social Justice. For the past few months he has been working on a tech start-up called InvolvEdu. As a former high school principal I was really intrigued by the concept.  InvolvEdu is free web and mobile app for high school and university students that allows them to get credit for what they do outside of class. InvolvEdu can be used by student groups for student outreach and promotion, by students for event discovery and tracking, and by school administrators for student group management.

InvolvEdu regulates a historically unregulated market.  Besides just taking a student’s word for it, there's no real way to know for sure whether or not a student actually attended computer science club, or was an officer in the economics students association. InvolvEdu not only makes it easier for students to find these activities, but it also tracks and validates their involvement in them. In 2014, the University of Minnesota’s annual “Biz Pitch” gave InvolvEdu the “Most Socially Beneficial Business Concept” Award and InvolvEdu was also a semi-finalist in the 2014 Minnesota Cup.

Why InvolvEdu?

Letter grades have been gradually inflating for decades – which is causing the in-class GPA to become much less relevant.  As a result students are turning to student groups and other activities to find new ways to stand out.  By tracking and validating involvement, students are able to export all of their activities into their own, personalized co-curricular transcripts that can be used in college applications and as supplements to resumes for job interviews. One of their goals includes making sure that InvolvEdu is a service that students from any background or socio-economic standing can access and use to further their academic and professional goals.

How does InvolvEdu work?  

InvolvEdu is completely free for both students and groups to use! Students are able to find events that they’re interested in and rsvp straight from their phones. They can also toggle on/off notifications and automatic calendar sync/updating per student groups that they follow.  Student groups are also provided with key data prior to their events – such as rsvp count, demographic information of attendees (year in school, major, etc.), which students are the most active, etc.  Additionally, student activities personnel are given tools to manage everything from group registration, to officer turnover as well as insightful analytics into the health of their activities programs.

What’s next for InvolvEdu?

After a successful small beta with a select group of students and organizations at the University of Minnesota, InvolvEdu has been iterating and developing on a much larger release of their platform.  They have also just recently launched a Kickstarter in order to raise the funds that are needed in order to expedite the development of their v.1 product due out prior to the start of the Fall 2015 semester.  

Please make sure to check out and donate to their Kickstarter campaign so that InvolvEdu can continue on its journey of making it as easy as possible for students to get involved, while also providing them with the platform to showcase their involvement.