Sunday, August 30, 2015

Get Your Brag On

That’s right, folks; I just stated that you need to brag more. However, it might not be in the context that you think. Bragging has been notoriously frowned upon by society for ages.  The Free Dictionary defines bragging as to talk or write about oneself in a proud or self-impressed way. This can, and most often does, backfire, as Susan Kraus Whitbourne writes:
"Almost no one likes a show-off but almost everyone likes to show off, at least a little.  Some showing off happens by accident and some in a deliberate attempt to manipulate others. In either case, though, you run the risk of looking a bit too satisfied with yourself if not downright conceited. The best way to brag about yourself to others is probably not to brag at all."
No one likes a person who brags excessively and just about all of us have been guilty of this at some point or another.  Alina Tugend highlights some of these in an article on the etiquette of bragging:
"Susan A. Speer, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Manchester in England, has found that “self-praise” is still considered largely unacceptable. Speer looked at a variety of data, from psychiatric interventions to everyday conversations, that involved self-praise. In her study, published in Social Psychology Quarterly, Speer discovered that in almost every case, indirectly or directly praising oneself seemed to violate social norms. People responded to self-praise negatively, she said, or, more subtly, with a long silence or a roll of the eyes."
So if bragging is so bad, why am I telling you to do more of it? The bottom line is that schools do not brag enough about the great work happening every day, and as a result, they pay a steep price.  With a growing negative education reform rhetoric led by politicians and special interest groups and media outlets determined to cover mostly negative issues, the cards are stacked against schools.  As I have stated for years, if you don’t tell your story, someone else will. If you let this happen, then the majority of the time, the story that is told about your school is not even close to the realities that are taking place.  

Schools and educators don’t brag enough about the positive impact they are having. My call to action is for all schools and educators to brag more. Whether you believe it or not, your work matters. Actually, it really matters. As opposed to theory and talk, educators are constantly implementing ideas and strategies while finding success in the classroom. This work matters and in itself is a story worth sharing as they can not only provide needed support for others who are looking for successful ways to improve teaching, learning, and leadership, but also inspire a pursuit of innovative change. Being humble during a challenging period for public education will get you nowhere fast.  Thus, you can sit by idly while a narrative is created for you, or you can choose to be proactive by tactfully bragging about the work of your school.  

Don’t stop with what is going on at your school or in your district.  I also want you to brag about your own powerful work and how it is impacting kids.  There should be no shame at all in sharing and promoting your own accomplishments.  I totally understand that the ultimate reward for an educator is the impact that he or she has on students.  However, I also feel educators work way too hard and are never appropriately acknowledged for all the awesome work they do. Thus, it is quite ok to give yourself a public pat on the back once and a while. 

Here are some quick tips that will help you brag appropriately so that stakeholders positively perceive it:

  • Be tactical by proactively sharing your school’s success stories. If you are sharing your own successes, do it in a way that does not involve heavy self-promotion.
  • Know when to promote success. As far as your school goes, this should happen often as there are always amazing things happening on a daily basis.  In terms of your own work, think about how the accomplishment will move the profession and others forward. 
  • Success is never a solo act.  Discuss achievements in a team-centered way. 
  • Give compliments to others at your school and over-share their accomplishments. There is nothing better than bragging about the work others are doing at your school to enhance learning and positively impact the life of a child. 
  • Make goals for improvement. When the time arises to get your brag on, always follow up your stories and statements with areas for growth and improvement. 
  • Focus on the voices and work of colleagues and other educators. Social media provides the means to share the awesomeness of your face-to-face colleagues as well as members of your Personal Learning Network (PLN)
  • Build on your positive attributes. We are more inclined to praise others than ourselves. Never be afraid to celebrate the positive aspects that define your school and own work.
Share until it hurts (in a positive way), but be careful not to cross the line where the message is conveyed in a boastful way.  Education needs more positive stories to move from perception to reality. It is time to get your brag on.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Model to Solve a Few Professional Learning Challenges | #digilead

This past April, I was fortunate enough to have been asked to speak at the Moanalua High School Professional Development Conference in Honolulu, HI.  It was an incredible opportunity to get back to Hawaii for a professional event as opposed to a vacation.  This was the fourteenth time the school had put on the event and it was awesome to see and meet so many passionate educators on a Saturday. Besides the great learning and connecting that took place that day, the number of educators who traveled to the event from the neighboring islands impressed me. Many of these dedicated educators flew in early in the morning and flew back later that evening, while others stayed overnight in local hotels.  Talk about making a commitment to grow and get better!

As impressed as I was about seeing educators travel from neighboring islands to take part in and present at the event, I could not help but feel a bit sad.  My sadness arose from the fact that these educators had to make an additional financial and time commitment to travel to this conference in Honolulu.  This is when it struck me how difficult and challenging it is for educators from Hawaii to not only attend events on Oahu, where they are mostly held, but also on the mainland of the United States.  When you look at major conferences such as ASCD, ISTE, NASSP, AASA, and NAESP, to name a few, are always held on the mainland.  

The cost of travel and the time difference prohibit the majority of educators from HI from participating in and taking advantage of, these events, as well as countless others.  This is not fair, to say the least. As much as Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s), as well as other blended and virtual options, have begun to compensate for the challenges that isolated and rural areas of the world face, many educators appreciate and still find great value in face-to-face learning experiences.

As I reflected upon this professional learning conundrum that Hawaiian educators, as well as those in rural and isolated parts across the globe face, I came up with a possible solution.  In my new role with the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) I saw an opportunity to address the main challenges of time, distance, and money that face educators. I floated the idea to some HI educators about bringing a two-day Digital Leadership & Learning Academy to some of the islands. After overwhelmingly positive feedback, I pitched the idea to ICLE and immediately got the green light to begin planning these events.  

I am proud to say that our first academies will be held this fall on the islands of Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island.  The hashtag we will be using is #leaderedHI. Registration is open for any and all educators from Hawaii or even beyond to attend these events. For more information and to register click HERE. You can view the agenda there as well as the learning outcomes for the two-day events, which are also listed below:
  • A vision to create a culture focused on rigor, relevance, and relationships that is enhanced by technology
  • Practical support for using digital technology to engage stakeholders, improve communications, and enhance public relations
  • Innovative approaches to creating learning environments for today’s connected students
  • Concrete strategies to drive meaningful school change in the digital age
  • Professional learning and action plan that will empower faculty
  • Ways to create structures and supports for engaging learning spaces that reflect the real-world environment students will experience
It is our hope that these hands-on, interactive events will provide a powerful learning experience for a fraction of what it would cost to attend events in larger mainland cities. Attendees will not have to front any money for travel and lodging as each event will be commuter friendly. In the future, we see this as a solution not just for the Hawaiian Islands, but other isolated and rural areas across the United States and the world. If your school or organization is interested in hosting a Digital Leadership and Learning Academy, let me know.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

When Vision Isn't Enough

There is often a great deal of emphasis on establishing a vision when beginning the change process and rightfully so. Great leaders understand the importance of a shared vision and the need to articulate lofty goals and resulting outcomes. They are forward-thinking, which turns out to be a highly admirable trait right up there with honesty, as described by James M. Kouzes and Barry Posner. The authors explain that in order to effectively lead change, a shared vision has to be created.
"The only visions that take hold are shared visions—and you will create them only when you listen very, very closely to others, appreciate their hopes, and attend to their needs. The best leaders are able to bring their people into the future because they engage in the oldest form of research: They observe the human condition."
John Ryan elaborated on the topic and how leadership success always starts with a vision. He writes:
"Great leaders give real thought to the values, ideas and activities they’re most passionate about–and those are the things they pursue, rather than money or prestige or options forced on them by someone else. The visions these leaders have can be–and, in fact, should be–challenging to put into action. They realize them only by setting realistic, demanding goals and then going after them relentlessly, with the help of other talented men and women who are equally committed and engaged."
In his article, he states that compelling visions can truly change the world. But staying invested in them can be extremely difficult when hard times arrive. The real work and testament to great leadership is moving past the visioning process by developing a strategic plan to turn vision into reality.  I have been a part of, or witnessed, one too many visioning exercises that focused on the formation of a mission statement.  What resulted, for the most part, was a hollow vision that was not supported by action.  Many, including myself, would consider this a waste of time.  I would even go as far as to say that getting people in a room for countless hours to develop a paragraph of jargon-filled sentences is more indicative of a boss as opposed to a leader.  Mission statements and just a vision do not lead to sustainable change. Forward-thinking visionaries who persistently strive to implement a vision through actions do.

Whereas developing a shared vision is an attribute linked to all great leaders, the best leaders ensure that a strategic plan is developed and then meticulously implemented.  A vision has to result in a plan, which provides a focus for the change initiative.  The plan then has to be monitored and evaluated if the desired outcome is a sustainable change that leads to transformation.  The real work comes after a vision has been established.  David Taylor outlines ten crucial elements to successfully move from vision to actionable change:

  1. Make it a priority – make innovation a priority for the organization
  2. Strategize strategic success – understand how the vision aligns with the strategic goals of the organization
  3. Communicate a new reality – communicate to the organization what achieving the vision will mean
  4. Inspire the team – the leaders must inspire the organization to move from where they are to the promise that the vision brings
  5. Embrace the vision – the vision should be discussed and supported at all levels of the organization
  6. Be loud and proud – speak about the new changes whenever possible
  7. Spread the word – communicate the vision at every opportunity
  8. Own it and live it – leaders must live the vision and not just pay lip service to it
  9. Drive the train, don’t watch the parade – leaders must get their hands dirty and get involved with the details. 
  10. Don’t just delegate everything

Great leaders are never satisfied by just developing a shared vision. They work tirelessly to model expectations during the planning and implementation phases of the change process while empowering others to embrace change. It is easy to talk the talk. Great leaders walk the walk while helping others experience greatness and success along the way.  Don't settle for anyone else's vision or even your own if it is not persistently put into action.  Great visions can, and will, lead to the development of a legacy.  Your legacy will be defined by how well you positively impact the lives of others. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

An Evolution in Mobile

As some of you may recall, I was part of the Board of Advisors of a start-up named Beeonics. The company was a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) app-building company, where schools, like the one I used to be the Principal of at New Milford High School in NJ, could build their very own app. The beauty of the platform was it allowed regular, non-technical people – like teachers and leaders – to build apps without knowing or understanding code.

Over the past two years, the way we deliver content and other features through mobile has evolved and Beeonics has also evolved by starting a new journey.

Recently, Beeonics re-branded itself to Gadget Software and has focused its business on developing mobile software specifically for schools – with a product called SchoolBuilder. What does that mean? It means it took the baseline foundational technology built within Beeonics and focused the last six months of engineering time and development to create cloud-based software 100% for the education market.

In the short amount of time in becoming Gadget Software, the SchoolBuilder platform has been tremendous. Some of the new folks behind Gadget Software saw a great opportunity to build out a new type of mobile network for schools to better communicate with parents, for teachers to develop more feature-rich content for students, and to create a bridge from high school to higher education and beyond. In a nutshell, they have helped to virtualize the school environment inside and outside the halls. Their platform also provides modules for field trips, sports, and clubs, as well as safety.

Finally, they have turned their technology upside down and are developing a STEM curriculum that provides the gateway to coding and computer science through mobile application composition, design, and development. As much as they see a great opportunity to mobilize schools, they also see this new opportunity to teach students about mobile before they even learn to code – ultimately reducing the intimidation factor that some tech can have on kids. This new type of classroom and mobile lab is one of a kind and I have yet to see anything like it.

The Gadget team identified the growing need for schools to move into this new mobile ecosystem where the smartphone is now the computer in your pocket, where parents are looking to find out specific school information at their fingertips, and students can engage with teachers by utilizing the most native device known to them.

I thought the Beeonics platform was a great tool, but what Gadget Software has done with SchoolBuilder is eye-opening and can give schools a very simple solution to their communications and learning needs very quickly. They already have a number of schools utilizing the software and I encourage you to at least visit their site and see if they have something that can help you with your mobile strategies.

Because of where they have taken this technology, I was eager to stay on their Board of Advisors. Feel free to reach out if you are attending an event where I’m speaking or I’d be happy to put you in touch with the folks building SchoolBuilder.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Leading With Video

There is no denying the power of video in society.  In a 2014 Forbes article, Richard Tiland makes some significant points when it comes to video and leadership. For example:
The use of video is so ubiquitous in our everyday lives; it has become part of our subconscious. We don’t even realize how much we know and learn from video—news, commercials, documentaries, even YouTube.  
As Tiland continues to explain, the use of video in society extends well beyond entertainment:
It has become a critical component in business, politics, communication, social media and even in music.   We need video to market and sell products, promote new ideas and share beliefs.
This paradigm shift has resulted in one of the most powerful tools available to leaders across the globe as explained by Tiland:
Ultimately, therein lies the power of video—the ability to effectively share beliefs and impact audiences worldwide from the comfort of their homes to the screens of their smart phones 24 hours per day, 7 days per week!
Image credit:

Digital leaders know full well the power of video. As principal I routinely used video tools to improve communications, enhance public relations, and create a positive brand presence.  Leaders today can harness mainstay video tools to build better connections and relationships with all stakeholders while telling the story of their school/district in a way that was never possible. Video tools can also be used as pivotal learning tools that save precious time and money.  Below I break down four main categories of digital tools:

Archived video (moderate/long length)

YouTube has long been the video tool of choice for digital leaders. Principal Tony Sinanis has used it as a communication tool for years by having his elementary students deliver morning announcements.  As principal I used a tool called ZippSlip where I could record video messages to my parents that were then embedded as YouTube videos right into the email.  Using YouTube as a public relations and branding tool is a seamless shift when leaders record and then share school events focusing on students such as art shows, concerts, athletic events, and award ceremonies.  For videos longer than fifteen minutes leaders can take advantage of Vimeo for free.  Want to learn something new? Check out YouTube EDU.

Archived video (short length)

Tools such Instagram have revolutionized the way leaders can share innovative practices in brevity.  With less than fifteen seconds, tools like this can capture short highlights that demonstrate the awesomeness occurring in our schools every day. These short video clips go a long way towards building a brand presence that extends well beyond a local school or district.  With such a short window to record, the excuses not to use these tools quickly fades. Want to use short video to support your learning? Well the popular walkie talkie app Voxer has you covered.  Voxer now allows users to take and share videos up to fifteen seconds in length.

Live video

Ustream set the standard for streaming video live, even in HD. When my New Milford HS students engaged in a book discussion on Drive with Dan Pink, I streamed the session live using this free tool and archived it to share with my superintendent and BOE.  The latest rage is Periscope, a free, live video streaming app for iOS and Android device.   As a “live video streaming platform”, educators can transmit live recordings of themselves to Persicope and Twitter followers.  Since Periscope is owned by Twitter it automatically links to your Twitter account.  Users get a notification anytime the educators you’re following do a live transmission. Periscope is great for catching glimpses of live presentations at conferences or sharing knowledge instantly using the power of video. You can re-watch any video from your followers for 24 hours after the live broadcast, but after that they disappear and are not permanently archived. For more information on Periscope check out these great resources:


Free applications such as Skype and Google Hangouts allow leaders to easily connect with both experts and practitioners. We used videoconferencing in my district to make better use of our precious time. In lieu of face-to-face meetings where we had to leave our buildings, I suggested to all of the building leaders across all schools to meet via Google Hangouts. The free group video chat feature was a game-changer for us.

Great leaders always strive to continuously improve professional practice.  Don't neglect the power of video to become a better communicator, learn on the go at times convenient for you, become the storyteller-in chief, and construct a school/district brand that will build greater support and appreciation from all stakeholders.