Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Journey to Becoming an Author

I never imagined I would have authored or co-authored a book, let alone six.  My unexpected journey began with a decision to give Twitter a try in 2009.  This should never have happened either as I was convinced that any and all social media tools were a complete waste of my time and would not lead to any improvement in professional practice. Apparently, I was dead wrong on this assumption and quickly learned that Twitter in itself wasn’t a powerful tool, but instead, it was the conversations, ideas, resources, and passionate educators that connected with me.  The rest is history. 

As my mindset began to shift from one that focused on the “what ifs” instead of the “yeah buts,” my staff and I started to transform learning in our school to better meet the needs of our students.  Social media not only gave us the inspiration but also empowered us to take action.  It is important to note that we weren’t doing a bad job per se.  The fact for us, like every other school on the planet, was that we could be better.  In the beginning, we really weren’t sure what we were doing or whether it would lead to improved outcomes, but we did our best to align every innovative idea with research and sound pedagogy.  Thanks to my amazing teachers, innovative changes began to take hold and outcomes improved in the process. 

My essential role in the transformation efforts focused on helping to clarify a shared vision, supporting my teachers, showing efficacy, and celebrating success.  Sharing why we were innovating coupled with how we were doing it and what the results were, gathered a great deal of attention that was unexpected at first.  To this day I still remember sitting in a district administrator meeting in November 2009 when my secretary called to tell me that CBS New York City wanted to come to the high school and feature how we were using Twitter in the classroom to support learning.  To say that I was floored by the interest from the largest media market in the world would be putting it mildly.  This point in time was a catalyst for the eventual brandED strategy that evolved.  I learned that social media was an incredible tool to tell our story, praise staff, and acknowledge the great work of my students.  

Little did I know, or plan for that matter, that sharing our transformation efforts would lead to me becoming an author.  This was not my intent or even a goal.  One day in 2010 I received a Twitter message from Bill Ferriter asking if I would be interested in co-authoring a book with him and Jason Ramsden titled Communicating and Connecting with Social Media.  My first thought was, “Heck no! I am no author.” Bill, the master teacher he is, reassured me that I could do this and would guide me through the writing process. Through his tutelage and many hours spent writing over weekends and breaks, the book took form.  Thus, my author journey began all because of the consistent efforts to share the work of my teachers.  

Shortly after this book came out, Solution Tree asked if I would work on another project. This one focused on a book for principals about teaching science, as this was where my experience was in the classroom.  I agreed to take this on only if one of my teachers could co-author the book with me.  This was just a small way of paying it forward since I would not have been in a position to author any books had it not been for the willingness of my teachers to embrace change and have the results to show efficacy.  

My teachers and students, as well as the support I received from the district, helped me evolve into the unlikeliest of authors.  Not only was I supported in writing books, but I was also encouraged to share our work at local and national events.  I cannot even begin to explain the sense of pride I felt by being asked to present on the work occurring at my school.  It was during one of these presentations at the National Association of Secondary School Principals Conference that I was asked by Corwin to consider writing Digital Leadership. At first, I said no as I really did not have the time needed to write a book all on my own.  After some persistence on behalf of my acquisition editor, I later agreed and scheduled the majority of the writing during the summer months when my students and staff were off. 

The publication of Digital Leadership in 2014 changed everything for me as the book performed exceptionally well and continues to do so.  As a result, I was flooded with speaking requests and asked to write even more books, including Uncommon Learning.  To this day I still can’t believe that anyone asks me to write a book.  The time then came that I knew a decision on my future had to be made. Even though I was fully supported by my district and dedicated myself 100% to the school, I came to the conclusion that I was not going to be fair to my students, staff, or community shortly. It was at this time that I made the painful decision to leave the principalship. 

You might be wondering what the actual point of this post was. As of late people have taken to social media to attack or discredit other educators who have written books while working in schools.  My take on it is this.  I am all for practitioners utilizing their time outside of classrooms and schools to write books that use research as a foundation while showing how their work and that of colleagues has improved teaching, learning, and leadership.  There is nothing more inspiring, and practical for that matter, to read about what actually works in the face of the myriad of challenges that educators endure on a daily basis.  There will never be enough books that lay out how efficacy can be achieved in the pursuit of providing all kids with an awesome learning experience.

There is a fine line here though. Authoring books should never conflict with, or have a negative impact on, professional responsibilities.  It goes without saying that all writing and sharing of books by practitioners should happen outside of regular school hours or on weekends and breaks.  My schedule as both a teacher and principal were jam packed so there was never aforethought about putting aside time to work on a book (or blog) that would take away from my contractual duties.  Sharing during the school day also sends a potentially negative message to colleagues and staff. 

Many people, like myself, never intended on becoming authors.  It was an unintended consequence of sharing successes of others who are in the trenches every day.   To this day I can’t thank my teachers, students, and district enough for not only believing in me but also empowering me to share the ideas and strategies that we put into practice.  I hope more and more educators contribute to the field by authoring books that will add to the vast knowledge base already available while providing practical solutions to transform education. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Teachers are the Driving Force of Change

During virtually every keynote, presentation, or workshop that I give, the topic of change is very much a part of it.  Leading the effort to uproot the status quo and prepare kids for anything as opposed to something is easier said than done.  As Tom Murray and I state in Learning Transformed, "To prepare students for their world of work tomorrow, we must transform their learning today." Great progress is being made in classrooms and schools across the world.  As technology has continued to evolve at an exponential rate we have seen passionate educators begin to embrace and implement innovative strategies to better meet the needs of learners today. 

As a result, isolated pockets of excellence have emerged in virtually every school.  Don't get me wrong, this is great.  I am all for progress and a move from business as usual to unusual in pursuit of learning that will prepare kids with the critical competencies to excel in a disruptive world.  However, we cannot be satisfied with just a few pockets as every student deserves an amazing learning experience.   Change at scale is a collective effort where we must leverage the unique assets embedded in every position and at all levels.  As the saying goes, there is no "I" in team.

Now granted, building and district leaders play a huge role in supporting change and ensuring success.  Their role is to build on these successes while removing obstacles, establishing a shared vision, developing parameters for accountability around growth, evaluating if efficacy has been achieved, and reflecting on the entire process.  Reflection could very well be the most important aspect of the change process as there will either be validation or the identification of needed elements to ensure success.  Since there is always room for improvement in the education profession these leaders need to take action on the broader issues to improve the culture of learning at scale. 

The most important group, however, rarely gets the credit they rightfully deserve.  The most impactful change doesn't come from people with a title, power, or authoritative position in education. It happens at the ground level with our teachers as it is they who have to implement ideas for the direct betterment of students.  Think about this for a second.  If it weren't for our teachers embracing broader ideas and putting them into practice would any change in schools actually occur?  The simple answer is no.  

When I think back to all of the success that we had at my school it wasn't because of me or the fact that I was the principal.  Sure, I played my part as described previously in this post, but my role in the bigger picture was a small one.  It was because my teachers believed we could be better for our learners and as a result, they embraced innovative ideas.  This brings me to a critical point.  We must celebrate the invaluable leadership of our teachers while also working tirelessly to create the conditions where they are empowered to be the change that is needed.

Never say you are "just a teacher." Let your actions, not a role, define you. The change our schools need at scale can only be ushered in by our teachers. If you are in a typical administrative position to make that happen then become a beacon of support, not a roadblock to progress.  We need bold administrators to enlighten others who are unwilling or scared to embrace innovative ideas that go against the status quo. Only by working together can both groups transform learning for all kids now and well into the future. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Change the Narrative

No matter our level of digital proficiency, educators grapple with the rough-and-tumble pace that professional connectivity demands in our new age.  A change of thinking is in order if we are to face a hyperlinked world of education.  We facilitate learning and lead schools today, preparing our digitally and socially savvy students for success as adults in a future where many of their jobs haven't been created yet. To do this successfully we have to take a critical lens to our work and determine what can be done differently.  

In these changing times, opening the door to sharing and the transparency it brings in a digital age may make you pause. Let's be honest. The old-school one-way messaging behavior for leading a school doesn't jibe with our engaged, digital communication environment. A paradigm shift is in play. It is important to recognize and lean into it: Our community of stakeholders wants us to engage with them-starting with our students and ending with the world beyond our school. In this ever-evolving world of digital communication, a world where information arrives at our digital doorstep without being invited, we have to reset traditional thinking. Our stakeholders' lives are now about exchange powered by inbound social and digital forces. As outlined in BrandED, a new educator mindset is in order: one that calls for the clear, connective, engaging concept of storytelling to build trust and powerful relationships. The bottom line is that if you don't tell your story someone else will. 

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In today's engaging, digitally empowered school setting, questions arise as to whether schools are best suited for educating their learners. We have to do a better job of communicating what we do and showing how we do it. We must be part of the exchange. It gives us the best chance at connecting with current and potential stakeholders in order to win support for schools. Today's educators who embrace the power of storytelling don't need to be humble. In the noisy digital world, educators must proudly use stories of their classrooms and schools to convey a consistent message about who they are, how results are achieved, what they stand for. The importance of embracing a brandED mindset to become the storyteller-in-chief can't be overstated. 

I cannot overstate the importance of telling good stories to develop a new narrative in the education space.  Science has shown how storytelling impacts the brain and aids in getting an important message across to diverse audiences.  An article by Jonathan Gottschall in Fast Company sums it up well:
"Humans live in a storm of stories. We live in stories all day long, and dream in stories all night long. We communicate through stories and learn from them. We collapse gratefully into stories after a long day at work. Without personal life stories to organize our experience, our own lives would lack coherence and meaning."
Today's schools exist in a digital town square where people meet daily. School value is one of the most discussed topics online. People, both with and without children, search the Internet and consult online real estate sites to find data about their prospective local school. Educators need to be cognizant of this fact and leverage the inherent power of their work to create a narrative that conveys value that speaks in an authentic voice to an audience. Adopting this strategy to benefit kids helps you attain a synthesizing view, preparing you to communicate with the varied segments of stakeholders who will research, observe, and engage with your work online on a daily basis. Today's digital world is driven by mobile content in short form and long form, in text and video just waiting to be taken advantage of. 

When adapted by all educators, the message of all the positive that takes place in classrooms on a daily basis becomes a beacon - the touchstone of why we act the way we do as a school, why we teach and learn the way we do, and how success is measured by so much more beyond a test score. Beyond the emotional connectivity, strategic thinking about messages shared enables educators to set measurable goals that ensure long-term trust. Without trust, there is no relationship. Without relationships, no real learning occurs. 

Change begins with each and every one of us. Together let's use our collective voices to change the narrative to one that clearly depicts all the amazing work that happens in classrooms, schools, and districts across the globe.  

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Learning Transformed Course

The reaction to Learning Transformed has been truly humbling.  Tom Murray and I have watched many book studies and Twitter chats unfold since the release of the book in June of 2017.  We have also had the honor of co-presenting workshops across the United States. All of these experiences empowered us to think about and then create a deep learning experience that could be easily accessible to all educators across the globe.  As a result, an online course was created with the help of Participate. Anyone can register HERE.

Below you will see how the course is structured as well as learner outcomes.  The content is aligned to well over 100 research studies in addition to what successfully implemented innovative practices actually look like in action. The key to change is not telling, but showing how ideas can transform teaching, learning, and leadership.  We can't stop here.  The most important aspect of this course is pushing learners to not only reflect on their own practice but to also develop focused plans to take action through constructivist learning theory.   

Course Description

The Learning Transformed course is designed to support your classroom, district or school's transformation efforts! The current speed of technological and innovative breakthroughs has led to the coming age of workplace automation, dramatically altering the world of work that our students will enter. With all that is known about how students learn and the predictions regarding the world that our students will face tomorrow, a one size fits all approach to teaching and learning is educational malpractice. 

Built on the foundation of leadership and school culture, a redesigned learning experience fundamentally shifts the teaching and learning paradigm to one that's personal. It alters the use of authentic assessments, how technology is leveraged, the spaces in which the learning occurs, the way educators grow professionally, how schools collaborate with the community, and the sustainability of the system as a whole. The authors will dissect an approach to unlocking tomorrow's schools so that today's modern learners leave ready to create new industries, find new cures, and solve world problems.

Although not a required reading, the content for this course expands upon the book, Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow's Schools, Today. Throughout the course, participants will be encouraged to reflect and share their learning using the hashtag #LT8keys on Twitter and/or LinkedIn.

The course is structured in a way for all educators to take a critical lens to their practice in order to improve the learning culture in a classroom, building, district, or organization. Each module is designed to support your learning through self-assessment, content delivered by us, independent readings to extend learning, videos that showcase innovative practices in action, opportunities to reflect, and application to practice. Tasks in each module are listed further down.  Directly below are the nine modules that participants will work through asynchronously. 

  1. Vision for Change
  2. Creating a Culture of Innovation
  3. Redesigning the Learning Experience
  4. Return on Instruction
  5. Designing Learner-Centered Spaces
  6. Making Professional Learning Personal
  7. Leveraging Technology 
  8. Collaborating and Engaging with the Community
  9. Leading the Charge

Driving Question

How can classroom, school, and district leaders transform the student learning experience to one that better prepares them for their future?

Course Objectives

Participants will:

  • Self-assess current beliefs and established practices to develop a call to action.
  • Learn from Tom and Eric as to how research-based and evidence-driven practices can transform the learning culture in your classroom, school, or district.
  • Explore and reflect on video content and innovative practices in action from educators currently leading these change efforts.
  • Complete activities to support your individual, school, or district's transformation.
  • Actively apply what has been learned to initiate sustainable change and achieve efficacy.

Course Module Activities Include:

  • Self-assessment
  • Content delivery from Tom Murray and Eric Sheninger
  • Independent readings
  • Video case studies
  • Podcasts
  • Reflection questions
  • Action items for completion that align with your specific role and context

Learning Hours

20 hours.

What You'll Get

Learners will receive:

  • Digital badge
  • Guided lessons from Tom and Eric
  • Access to Tom and Eric when using #LT8Keys on social media
  • Activities to guide transformation and reflection
  • Articles and videos to spur conversation and push thinking
  • 50 additional tools and resources to drive innovative change 

We hope you enjoy this course and encourage you to take the time to reflect and dive in to support your school, district, organization, or classroom's transformation. Your brain might hurt at the conclusion of this journey, but rest assured you will be equipped with the ideas, strategies, and tools to transform learning for every student. Together, we can do this. You are part of the solution. Register today!

Consult with your local school or district as to how this course can be used to satisfy continuing education and professional learning hour requirements.  In addition to the digital badge awarded at the end of the course, once all requirements have been met we can also send a signed certificate of completion.