Sunday, March 27, 2022

Change Begins with You

When we do things a certain way, we often become comfortable, especially if we are satisfied with the result.  While this might seem perfectly fine on the surface, the truth is that progress can become stagnant.  The fact of the matter is that change will always be needed as employing the same old thinking will continue to lead to the same old results.  My hope is that if you are reading this post, you are open to growth and the pursuit of innovative practices.  That, in my opinion, is the easy part.  The heaving lifting lies in moving the masses towards a common goal. 

The hardest challenge you will face is not changing yourself, but convincing or empowering others to embrace change. 

Changing perception and behavior amongst those you work with and for can possibly be the most complex task you ever take on.  Change is hard.  There is no way to sugarcoat this fact.  It is even harder for people who don’t see the value in doing things differently or are burnt out.  The need to push forward is simple yet profound.  Every student in every classroom and school deserves excellence.  While there will always be a myriad of obstacles, the struggle and effort will pay off. 

So, where does one begin?  I shared the following in Digital Leadership:

A true testament to an exceptional leader, regardless of position, is their ability to convince, persuade, or inspire others to change, especially those who do not want to.  It’s not now about trying to get buy-in but moving others to see the value in the change through embracement.

The most challenging yet gratifying work you might ever engage in is empowering your colleagues to change.  Below are some strategies for you to consider when trying to assist your colleagues with changing their professional practice.

  • Do instead of asking.  Impactful change comes from your ability to effectively model expectations for others.  While it might be lonely at first, leading by example is the best way to empower others.
  • Justify with research and proven practices.  Sharing what has been found to work strengthens your call to action.
  • Focus on “what if". Tackle fears and resistance head-on to alleviate concerns by being ready to counter any “yeah but” responses. 
  • Connect to outcomes.  Clearly articulate how the change will improve professional practice resulting in improved student learning and achievement.
  • Be patient (to a point).  Change is a process, not an event.  Treat your colleague like a student and remember how satisfying and rewarding it was when you helped that student succeed.  Help others see the value of the change on their own by taking a step back. 
  • Get students involved.  There is no better way, in my opinion, to convince others to change when educators can see firsthand the impact it has on kids.
  • Learn together.  Encourage colleagues resistant to change to attend professional learning opportunities with you, especially administrators.  If that doesn’t work, make sure you present what you learned at any recent learning experience, either during a faculty meeting or one-on-one.

As with any advice, context matters.  Keep this in mind as you look to implement the strategies presented above.  When it is all said and done, always remember that the most difficult work with the change process involves moving the masses to scale the initiative for the betterment of all learners.  If you are willing to put in the time and work while acknowledging some of the aggravation and stress that naturally comes with dealing with difficult people, a potential positive outcome will be that much sweeter.  

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Level Up Your Leadership

Like most kids, past, and present, I loved playing video games.  During my very early years, Atari was the best and only option.  My parents eventually bought an Apple IIe where we needed to use floppy disks to load any meaningful content, which added to our gaming experience.  However, once the Nintendo was invented and stationed in our basement, we toiled away immersed in classics such as Super Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong, and Mike Tyson’s punchout.  Our goal was simple…acquire skills through analysis, practice, and watching others to reach new or more challenging levels.  I can still feel the rush when success was achieved and the bitter disappointment when I came up short.  In the case of the latter, this became motivation to press forward. 

We can take lessons learned from gaming and apply them to our own practice.  If we don’t push ourselves to grow and get better, it becomes increasingly difficult to empower those we work with to do the same.  You get what you model, for better or for worse. 

If leaders don’t get It, change rarely happens. 

In a world where technology is embedded in so many facets of society, it is incumbent upon leaders to look for ways to level up.  Social media is, and still represents, one of the most powerful ways to move a learning culture forward and engage with stakeholders.  For those who are still not seeing any value or are apprehensive by having their toe in the water instead of jumping all the way in, there is no better time than the present to make a change.  I encourage you to shift your mindset in order to create schools that work better for kids and, in the process, establish relevance as a leader, no matter your position.

In Digital Leadership, I presented an array of research and evidence-based strategies that can pave the way for any leader to level up.  I revisit some of these strategies as both a reminder and health-check for you to reflect on where you are, but more importantly, where you would like to be in the near future. 

  • Strategically utilize an array of free tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tik Tok to communicate real-time information that stakeholders can access on any device.  Consistency aligned with intent is vital.  
  • Become the storyteller-in-chief and take control of your public relations.  If you don't share your story, someone else will, and you then run the chance that it will not be the one you want to be told.  Stop reacting to public relations situations you have limited control of and begin to be more proactive.  When supplying a constant stream of positive news, you will help to mitigate any negative stories that might arise.  
  • Any leader can harness the power of a brandED by telling, not selling, in order to build powerful relationships with stakeholders and empower learning like never before.  A brand presence is no longer restricted to the business world as everyone has access to the tools at their fingertips to do this in a way that won’t break the bank.  Simply communicating and telling your story with social media tools can accomplish this and organically develop your positive brand in the process. 
  • If you are the brightest and most innovative person in the room, you are in the wrong room!  Develop or enhance your Personal Learning Network (PLN) to connect with experts, peers, and practitioners across the globe to grow professionally through knowledge acquisition, resource sharing, engaged discussion, and to receive feedback. 
  • If you are an administrator, work to loosen up filtering policies and allow educators to use digital tools that can engage learners, unleash their creativity, and enhance learning.  As many schools know, CIPA does not require many of these to be blocked.  That’s a local decision. 
  • There is a golden opportunity to teach kids about digital responsibility and positively address their social and emotional needs when digital tools are used with purpose across the curriculum. 

In a disruptive world, societal change happens fast, and this has a ripple effect on education.  Leveling up your leadership flies in the face of the status quo, and “that’s the way we have always done it” to constantly move schools in a better direction.  By consistently chasing growth, you not only learn how to become a better leader, but you also empower those who you serve in the process.

Together we can continue to be the change we want to see in education. 

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Virtual Learning Done Right

Through adversity, we rise to the occasion. So many important lessons were learned during the pandemic that can be used to not only improve our practice but also to pave the way for a brighter future. The key is not to have a short memory while working to push forward with implementing initiatives that benefit all learners. One important lesson learned was that face-to-face learning does not meet the needs of every child. 

I have been inspired to see how districts and schools have acted upon this fact and created a standalone virtual option for students to accommodate health, safety, and emotional concerns. For others, the added flexibility allows them to thrive in ways that brick-and-mortar does not. No matter the reasons, virtual options illustrate a large-scale effort to provide personalized options that focus on equity. 

The move to remote learning at the height of the pandemic allowed us to work out kinks pertaining to creating and sustaining effective virtual environments. Through my work with schools on remote and now virtual learning, I have decided to create a one-stop resource that others can use based on successful programs such as the Bullitt Virtual Learning Academy in Kentucky and Davis Connect in Utah.   

  1. Clarity in expectations
  2. Systematic use of a Learning Management System (LMS)
  3. Sound Tier 1 instruction and engagement
  4. Breakout rooms for discourse and collaboration
  5. Purposeful use of tech (voice and choice)
  6. Asynchronous personalized learning 
  7. On-going professional learning
  8. Family engagement


Virtual students must understand what they are expected to learn and why they are learning the concept(s) and how it will be used outside of school. A straightforward way to set this stage is to unpack the standard(s) into a learning target. Additionally, they need to know what is expected when in synchronous and asynchronous sessions. 

Learning Management System (LMS)

The consistent use of an LMS such as Google Classroom, Schoology, or Canvas works to create a more equitable virtual environment for all kids and families. It can become the hub for all lessons, videos, activities, assessments, student work, and SEL check-ins using Google or Canvas forms. A foundation can then be established for more personalized approaches such as pedagogically sound blended learning, self-paced activities, and bitmoji classrooms. Students and families win as they have on-demand access to resources. 

Tier 1 Instruction and Engagement

The success in direct or whole group instruction relies on the use of tried-and-true strategies such as the anticipatory set, reviewing prior learning, checks for understanding, modeling, and closure. While these have immense value, it is equally critical to ensure that students are empowered to think and apply their thinking in meaningful ways. As you build your virtual ecosystem and back of strategies, consider using the Relevant Thinking Framework to develop a common vision, language, and expectations that strengthen instruction and increase engagement.

Breakout Rooms

The social aspect of learning should never be undervalued. Discussion, discourse, and collaboration during synchronous lessons are crucial to keeping kids engaged and breakout rooms are the way to make this happen. It also sets the stage for structured cooperative learning activities that could occur live or asynchronously as part of virtual learning.

Purposeful Use of Tech

You will see a variety of images below that illustrate the power of technology in support of what has already been discussed in this post, in addition to what will be shared later. There are many digital tools available to educators these days, which often creates an overwhelming feeling. It’s not how many tools you use that matter, but instead the degree to which they are employed to facilitate engaging and empowering experiences through voice and choice.

Asynchronous Personalized Learning 

The critical tenet of personalized learning is all learners getting what they need when and where they need it. While strategies such as station rotation tend to be more effective when everyone is live online, other strategies such as choice activities, playlists, and the flipped approach are fantastic ways to empower students asynchronously where the teacher can still pull individual or small groups to targeted support. 

Professional Learning 

Typical means of professional development (PD) such as drive-by events, one-off workshops, or book studies, while having value, will not lead to impactful virtual learning at scale. There needs to be a shift from “PD” to professional learning that is ongoing, job-embedded, and research-aligned. For virtual learning to flourish, there also needs to be continual feedback, modeling of everything discussed in this post, accountability for growth, and evidence of impact. 

Family Engagement

As the African proverb states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Family engagement is an essential component of any alternative learning program. At the cornerstone is effective communication, something I emphasized extensively in Digital Leadership. This involves providing routine information and educating families on how the program works, having them involved in counseling sessions, and encouraging their children to take advantage of the opportunity to move past mistakes. 

Equity in learning is all students getting what they need, when and where they need it, in order to succeed in school and eventually in life. I believe every child deserves a virtual option. If districts and schools feel the same, let’s make sure it is designed in a way that challenges kids on par with face-to-face learning while also addressing social and emotional needs. 

Sunday, March 6, 2022

A Literate Learner

A great deal has changed since I was in school.  I vividly remember getting a TANDY laptop from my parents when I graduated high school.  It was a considerable upgrade from the Apple IIe that we all shared in the guest room.  I was mesmerized by the black screen with orange text, the fact that I didn’t have to toil over an electric typewriter anymore.  Simplistic games were also available that I could now play without being tied to a desktop monitor or television set.  Even though it didn’t connect to the Internet, as I believe it either had not been invented or was readily available yet, this was my first foray in becoming literate in a bold new world.  

As disruptive forces continually reshape and influence the world we all live in, being literate is of utmost importance.  For a long time, the term has referred to the ability to read and write.  While without question this is still accurate, we must expand our view and recognize that literacy also corresponds to competence or knowledge in a specified area.  UNESCO provides a relevant description below:

Beyond its conventional concept as a set of reading, writing, and counting skills, literacy is now understood as a means of identification, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich, and fast-changing world.

Future-proofing learning is contingent upon a focus on developing competencies as opposed to just skills.  I shared the following in Disruptive Thinking:

Skills focus on the “what” in terms of the abilities a student needs to perform a specific task or activity.  Competencies take this to the next level by translating skills into behaviors that demonstrate what has been learned and mastered in a competent fashion.  In short, skills identify what the goal is to accomplish.  Competencies outline "how" the goals and objectives will be accomplished.  They are more detailed and define the requirements for success in broader, more inclusive terms than skills do.  To succeed in the new world of work, students will need to demonstrate the right mix of skills, knowledge, mindsets, and on-the-job ability.  A skill is a practical or cognitive demonstration of what a student can do.  Competency is the proven use of skills, knowledge, and abilities to illustrate mastery of learning by solving problems. 

Learners of today, and tomorrow for that matter, need to be able to replace conventional ideas with innovative solutions to authentic problems.  Ownership and empowerment result when we create meaningful opportunities for kids to explore, interact, design, and create in real-world contexts while being about to think disruptively.  A pivotal question for any educator, school, district, or organization to ask is how is this being achieved, or where do we begin?  To bring more clarity to the concept of developing a literate learner I created the following chart in Disruptive Thinking.  

The chart identifies five key Learner Mindsets that will help learners prosper now and in the future.  Beneath each of the five overarching mindsets are five more specific Learner Behaviors our students need to acquire now and continue to refine tomorrow and throughout their learning and living journey.  To what extent are you developing the mindsets and behaviors depicted above within your learners?