Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How We Can Accelerate Digital Leadership

I had the pleasure of reading Digital Leadership by @E_Sheninger , which quickly became my personal vision of technology integration for our elementary school.  Since reading this outstanding resource, I’ve piloted (and now finalized) our official school Facebook page, have expanded the use of Twitter as a tool for professional learning, and am personally attempting my shift from being simply a consumer of digital information to a producer of information willing to share with others. These are a few of my efforts to be a more connected educator which have been a direct result of my learning from Digital Leadership.

Based on my new learning from colleagues and fellow educators on Twitter, I challenged our staff to a ‘flipped staff meeting.’  Staff were given one month to consider, as part of our monthly staff meeting, what they would like to share as an example of their current use of technology with our students as well as its impact on student learning.  Seeing as we are forced to operate schools under continually shrinking budgets, I needed to ensure the money we were spending on technology was impacting the quality of education our students are getting.  I also needed to be sure the technology we were purchasing was being best and fully utilized in all classes for all students.  Living in the 21st century, we as educators now have an obligation to learn to utilize technology meaningfully throughout the day, and this was our chance to share our current knowledge and understanding so we’d know how we can continually improve.  What would come out of this challenge, unbeknownst to me, what the most outstanding form of school improvement and professional development I have experienced as an educator.  

Ripple Effect
After the flipped staff meeting announcement was made, I heard rumbling around the school as to what the meeting was all about.  I reminded all staff the purpose of the meeting (to learn, collaborate, and grow together) and asked that no formal ‘dog and pony show’ presentation be prepared.  I was simply hoping to share some of the great things that I see during individual classroom visits with the rest of our staff.

Within a week of this announcement, three grade levels contacted our K-5 library media specialist for guidance/coaching (I’ll refer to this as professional learning) for different ways they can utilize technology within their classes.  I also saw more staff researching technology tools such as use of apps on Ipads, QR codes, coding, Google Classroom, Remind texting and so much more. This then lead to the creating of activities, such as QR code scavenger hunts and Google Classroom 'projects' which were then shared with other staff members to try with their individual classes.  The staff meeting had yet to begin, but our adult learning and impact on students had already begun. The overall impact - we all (teachers, paraprofessionals, interns, and principal) learned new ways to utilize technology to deliver our curriculum and meaningfully engage our students.

January 7, 2015
For the meeting I invited a few members of our Board of Education to attend to watch with me the remarkable work of our teachers.  I’m appreciative of the two Board of Education members who had the opportunity to join us. The board members were clear they were in attendance to learn with us and to celebrate the great work our staff have been doing. Our staff meeting began and I, as building principal, sat back, relaxed, and took notes.  

Grade levels shared the following:  Individual use of Google Classroom, different sites or apps for assessment, virtual field trips, QR codes, different resources for research, examples of work grade levels were doing with our newly coined ‘tech buddies’ and much more.  Then the magic happened when the individual questions came allowing professional educators (our teachers) the ability to ask their peers about the technology, how it could be integrated within their own grade, and the collaboration which occurred each day since. This  whole experience opened my eyes to the untapped opportunities for school improvement within each of our schools -- as long as we give our teachers the opportunity to share their work.  I used to think it was the principal’s job to plan staff meetings.  I now realize it is the principal’s job to invite and encourage staff to share and celebrate their work and learning as a means of professional growth for an entire staff.
Where We Have Come
In my 15 years in education, I have yet to see a professional development activity have a greater impact and lead to more sustained and meaningful change in practice than this flipped sixty minute staff meeting.  The work our staff have learned to do has lead to exciting improvement in every class in terms of the assignments our kids are doing as well as the engagement with which they complete their assignments.  This work also lead to our school’s participation in Digital Learning Day on March 13, 2015 as well as the evaluation of district technology policy.  For a quick glimpse of the great work of our staff and students, please click here.

The culture of our school is also improving as our ‘tech buddies’ began partnering older elementary students with their younger peers to collaborate, communicate, and create projects incorporating both grades’ Common Core State Standards.  It’s amazing to see teachers step back and let our students teach their peers. In addition, our students are learning to communicate, cooperate, problem solve, and simply learn together in a fun way.  These are all benefits of allowing our staff to share their learning during our January flipped staff meeting.  

If you have a question about how we are expanding our digital leadership, please let me know. It continues to evolve each week and month as we learn new ways to integrate technology into our daily routine.  What I have come to realize is if we want to accelerate the digital leadership within a building, we have to better tap into the resources we currently have which are our teachers. We need to provide time for them collaborate, learn together, engage in social media, and share their new found knowledge. This shared ownership of a school's improvement can move all buildings into 21st century teaching and learning at a much quicker pace.  I’m thankful that I came across Digital Leadership and expanded my professional learning network on Twitter.  I’m more thankful to work with such dedicated and creative teachers who are willing to take risks and give these new forms of technology a try.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Challenge Accepted: We Have to Stop Pretending!

In an effort to become a more connected educator, I began utilizing Twitter as a tool for professional development in 2012.  Over the past 12 months, I've accelerated my use of Twitter and have drastically expanded my professional learning network.  This has been a fun and rewarding learning opportunity, as I am now able to learn with other professionals across the globe.

I was recently challenged by Dr. Chris Longo ( @DrChrisLongo ) to participate in an effort called, "We have to stop pretending."  This challenge asks educators to identify five things we need to stop pretending about the way we see education for all students.

In an effort to improve all schools for all students, here is my list of five things I feel we need to stop pretending:

  1. Professional development must be determined/dictated/planned/delivered by people other than teachers.  What I've found is the most valuable professional development which led to sustained improvement in practice was delivered by teachers to teachers.  It's easy, inexpensive, meaningful, and actually improves schools.
  2. We are currently engaging all families.  We know our kids will do better if families and schools partner in new and creative ways, however, many schools are still reaching out to families similarly to ways they've done ten years prior.  As a school principal, I am continually looking for better ways to engage our families and would love to hear what other schools are doing to develop stronger partnerships leading to increased student achievement and the development of stronger relationships.  Better yet - I'd love to hear from families what can be done to allow them more opportunities to feel invested in their child's school and learning. #letslearntogether
  3. PD three days in August, one day in November, and another half-day or two during the year is really professional development.  I feel the shift needs to focus on professionals (our teachers and administrators) owning their own learning, advocating for time to work collaboratively, and embedding this work into their daily routine.  For example, teachers or administrators engaging in social media for learning, attending EdCamps, or collaboration with colleagues leads to daily growth.  This to me is what causes professionals to truly develop.
  4. We are ready, meaning we all have the requisite skills to truly prepare kids for 21st century learning.  In order for our students to be connected learners they must see frequent modeling by the adults around them.  Using technology for learning, communication, collaboration, and project creation is one way to begin to model the 21st century skills we want our students to develop.  In order for all staff to develop this, they need appropriate and ongoing professional development.  This ties in to #3 above - in that we can't wait for district required or mandated professional development.  Our sense of urgency to improve should be dictated by the kids who sit in our classes every day.
  5. We begin closing gaps when kids arrive in kindergarten.  I used to think that our kids were not our responsibility until they entered school for the first time and I now realize that we need to partner with families, community agencies, doctors' offices, churches, and any other venues which have family ties.  Our ownership for our students begins the day they are born.  How we act upon that ownership will determine the strength of individual partnerships - which in turn determines the strength of each child's school readiness.  If we can articulate a shared vision and support all families in accomplishing that vision - we will reduce the opportunity for gaps in achievement, development, or vocabulary before they begin.

I have passed this same challenge along to the following outstanding educators:
Jeff Veal   @heffrey 
Bethany Hill @bethhill2829
Rachel Murat @APGovME 
Kory Graham @tritonkory
Ben Kitslaar @Ben_educating

So these are the five things I believe we as educators need to openly discuss in our schools and districts.  As we identify exactly where we 'really' are in terms of our adult actions around these five areas, we are better suited to set measurable goals for improvement.  It's been fun to see how my thoughts and feelings about education have shifted pretty dramatically over the past two years.  I thank the folks I work with each day as well as those I learn with through my professional learning network.  Let me know what you think or consider sharing your own list on Twitter using #makeschooldifferent .