Sunday, April 24, 2016

Waving Goodbye to Drive-By PD

There has been a great deal of knocks on professional development as of late and rightfully so. More often than not, professional development is something that is done to educators as opposed to an experience that they truly value for growth.  For many, district professional development is a one-size-fits-all isolated event with no follow-up or support.  If impact, changes to practice, and sustainability are the ultimate goals then efforts must be made to better support teachers and administrators. It’s time to move past the practice of “drive-by” PD that has very little, if any, impact on professional practice. 

Image credit:

Let’s first tackle the stigma that comes with professional development. Learning is the ultimate goal for our students, not development. As such, districts need to invest in professional learning opportunities that will result in fundamental changes to teaching, learning, and leadership.  

Learning Forward describes what effective professional development looks like:
“Effective professional development enables educators to develop the knowledge and skills they need to address students’ learning challenges. To be effective, professional development requires thoughtful planning followed by careful implementation with feedback to ensure it responds to educators’ learning needs. Educators who participate in professional development then must put their new knowledge and skills to work. Professional development is not effective unless it causes teachers to improve their instruction or causes administrators to become better school leaders.”
Professional learning definitely matters and effective planning and implementation is key.  A research review by the Wallace Foundation found that effective districts invest in the learning not only of students, but also of teachers, principals, district staff, superintendents and school board members. A motivational keynote that provides practical, proven strategies for improvement is a good start to set the table, but what happens after this is what really matters. In order to ensure a wise investment of time and resources that will result in sustainable changes, it is important that professional learning be:
  • On-going
  • Job-embedded
  • Supported with coaching (face-to-face or virtual)
  • Personalized and differentiated (i.e. micro-credentials)
  • Facilitated by people who have done the work and implemented successful change that resulted in improved student learning outcomes and achievement
  • Directly correlated to professional practice
  • Aligned to research and cases studies
  • Addresses real challenges educators face
  • Sustainable over time
So what does this actually look like? Our work at the International Center for Leadership in Education has been focused on these elements above for many years.  This is something I take great pride in. Since coming to ICLE we have integrated these principles into our Digital Leadership and Learning services as outlined HERE. Using the Digital Practice Assessment (DPA) process, we have helped districts and schools embrace meaningful change leading to digital transformation.  

Change takes time. Districts need to take this into consideration when investing in and implementing professional learning if the goal is meaningful change to improve student learning and professional practice.  This cannot be accomplished with drive-by PD. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Blogging Hurdle

During my typical digital leadership keynote or workshop, I consistently talk about the importance of blogging in relation to the pillars of communication, public relations, branding, and professional growth. When I ask attendees how many of them blog, usually ten or less hands go up. This question is quickly followed by how many of those who blog do so consistently. At most there are five hands that go back up, but usually it is less.  I then proceed to tell the majority of the audience why they don’t blog and offer up some specific reasons:
  • I don't have time
  • I don’t know what to blog about
  • No one will read my blog
  • I don't know how to start a blog
  • I can’t write
I get it.  Back in the day, I was against the idea of blogging as I thought Twitter was good enough to meet certain leadership and learning goals I had established.  If something is important to you then you will find a way. If not, then you will make an excuse.  At the time blogging just wasn’t important enough to me so I came up with as many excuses as I could to avoid the topic. 

My exact excuses are listed above. It wasn’t until a man by the name of Ken Royal pulled me aside and gave me some advice that totally changed my professional career. He basically said that we were doing such great work at my school and I should share it in detail so others could benefit from our experiences.  He essential convinced me that I had to blog. The conversation we had motivated me to move past the excuses I had concocted and to do my best to write in detail about practical strategies that successfully resulted in sustainable change. To this day I have never stopped blogging, although my style and topics have changed with my career transition. Consistency is important, but getting started and valuing the process is crucial.

Let me make this crystal clear – Your work matters more than you realize! Awesomeness happens in districts, schools, and classrooms every day. If you are not blogging about these daily wins, you are selling your kids and community short. Don't let the excuses hold you back from sharing the inspirational stories and practical strategies that can combat the negative rhetoric in education. As I have said since 2009, if you don't tell your story someone else will. Digital leadership compels us to become the storyteller-in-chief.  

So what should I blog about? Here are some general topics and tips to get you motivated to either start or write more consistently:
  • Communicate news, events, building projects, student achievements, staff accomplishments, and other information
  • Tell great stories as a means to take control of your public relations
  • Reflect on your learning, successes, and failures
  • Develop a positive brand presence
  • Share practical strategies and evidence that have resulted from change initiatives
  • Provide insight on how specific technology tools can be successfully integrated to support/enhance student learning
If you need even more blogging ideas or prompts, then check out the Ultimate List of Blog Post Ideas

Take the plunge. There are a variety of blogging platforms to chose from including Blogger, Wordpress, Medium, or Tumblr. Put aside at least 45 minutes a week to write. There are no rules on length of posts. Once your post is complete share on social media using mainstream hash tags. If you connect to my work or interests, shoot me an email so I can read it. Most importantly, write for you and no one else.

Do you already have a blog? If so share a link in the comments section below.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Supplement Your Professional Learning with edWeb

Since 2009 I have been a huge believer and advocate for connected learning and the formation of Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s). Now don't get me wrong, I still highly value face-to-face experiences, as there are some natural limits to learning exclusively in a social media vacuum.  The discussions, interpersonal connections, and relationships that result from these events are priceless.  It is also extremely important for district and school teams to collaborate in person on specific goals. Doing this exclusively online, outside of the school day or year, can be quite a challenge if not impossible.

As digital technology continues to evolve, educators now have numerous options to connect, learn, and grow in both formal and informal ways. These pathways provide an incredible supplement to formal learning opportunities that are provided through district/school trainings as well as off-site conferences, workshops, and presentations.  One of the most significant benefits of connected learning is the ability for educators to follow their specific passions to improve professionally.  Motivated by an intrinsic desire to improve, connected learning and PLN’s provide personalization and differentiation like never before.

There are so many fantastic tools that educators can use today to connect, engage, and learn with colleagues from across the globe. One of my favorite tools is a digital discussion forum called edWeb.  It is comprised of a community of over 100,000 educators from across the globe. Here is why edWeb should be a part of everyone’s PLN:

  • Anyone can join for FREE!
  • Ability to join specific communities aligned to professional learning needs and interests.Be sure to check out the Leadership 3.0 community that I facilitate. 
  • Watch and participate in live webinars aligned to professional learning communities that are of interest to you. There is also a calendar that provides information on all the webinars being offered by month.
  • Practitioners who are actually doing the work as well as experts in the field of education conduct Webinars.
  • All webinars are archived so that educators can watch and learn at times convenient to them no matter where they are in the world.
  • Continuing Education (CE) certificates are provided at the conclusion of each webinar and are accepted by many schools, districts, and states.
  • edWeb can be accessed on any mobile device.

A new feature that has been rolled out recently is edWeb TV.  This paid subscription option provides educators access to over 800 on-demand webinars for a nominal fee. Each webinar has also been aligned to the national professional development standards.

edWeb has provided a supplement to my professional learning since it’s inception. Give it a try and I have no doubt that it will become one of your favorite connected learning tools as part of a vibrant PLN.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Change Needed Today to Prepare for Tomorrow

There is always a great deal of talk about what schools need to do now. The problem though is that most of the talk is not followed with action. Then there are those who want to act, but do not have the adequate support to do so. Herein lies the issue with all the change talk, rhetoric, and opinions.  Very few people reading this post will deny that the education system has to change now or we run the risk of preparing students for a world that no longer exists. 

Change is needed today to ensure learner success in the modern era, but just as importantly to prepare them for the unique challenges of tomorrow.  The reality though is that change in education becomes a balancing act with pressure from stakeholders on one side demanding increases in achievement as measured by standard metrics such as test scores. On the other side is the need to innovate in order to successfully cultivate the next generation of thinkers, doers, inventors, and creators who will be able to solve some pretty serious global problems in the not so distant future.  We have to stop looking at each side of the balance here and begin to focus on disrupting the system with bold ideas that blend results with meaningful learning.

Hence, I come back to the need to support schools and educators in this endeavor. For over 20 years the Model Schools Conference has provided educators with a learning experience driven by the districts, schools, and educators who have closed the achievement gap.  There is no better way to learn what works in a seemingly endless debate about the needed change in schools than from those who have successfully done it.  As a Senior Fellow with the International Center for Leadership in Education, one of my responsibilities is to help provide practical strategies for accomplishing change in the digital age. As many readers of this blog know, I am a huge proponent of innovative change that leads to actual results in teaching, learning, and leadership.  This has resulted in innovative changes to the Model Schools Conference to provide attendees with the skills, tools, strategies, and mindset to initiate sustainable change. 

Here are some highlights and areas of focus for this year’s event:
  • Closing the achievement gap and digital divide – Teams from model districts and schools will present proven pedagogical and leadership strategies on how they accomplished this in challenging times. There will even be a special Future Ready Schools strand.
  • Innovative spaces for attendees to learn inDesign empowers learning, which is why we want attendees to experience this firsthand. Connections will then be made to how we can begin to transform spaces in our schools to improve student-learning outcomes. LEGO will also be on hand to lead immersion sessions on the importance of creativity in learning. 
  • Making to learn – For the second year straight there will be a working makerspace staffed by local students and outfitted by Table Top Inventing. What better why to see how making impacts learning than through our own students?
  • The power of virtual reality – As a result of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s strategic partnership with Google, there will be an immersion experience for attendees using Google Cardboard and Expeditions. Attendees will also be exposed to emerging ways on how virtual reality can support rigorous learning.
  • Return on Instruction – A hallmark of the conference will be a focus on the Collaborative Instructional Review (CIR) process, which will be on full display.  This process can help transform every administrator into an instructional leader, capable of unlocking the instructional power of every teacher and, in turn, the learning potential of every student.

In addition to the awesomeness listed above, numerous sessions will be led by some of the most prominent thought leaders and practitioners in education today.  Join us to get the support to initiate the change needed today to prepare for tomorrow. For the latest updates follow along on Twitter using #ModelSchools.