A Principal’s Reflections

The 21st Century skills discussion and debate has waged on even prior to the onset of this century.  The ensuing conversations have provided an opportunity for schools, districts, and organizations to critically evaluate what students need to know and be able to do in order to succeed in the new world of work.  As we have moved further into this century the number 21 has less of a meaning, but the skills are still important.  Thus, many educators, including myself, now refer to these as essential skills.  Over time they have evolved beyond just communication, collaboration, creativity, and global awareness to include entrepreneurship and emerging technological proficiency.

The other day I was speaking with Rose Else-Mitchell, a wickedly smart educational leader, who pushed my thinking on the whole skills conversation. As I was reviewing a talking point for a webinar that I was to facilitate later in the day, I brought up this image and discussed the skills that students needed to be critical thinkers in the 21st Century and beyond. After looking at what I had on the slide and listening to my analysis, she commented that I was (or should be) referencing and explaining competencies, not just skills, which students will need. This really got me thinking. 

As I reflected on her feedback I began to dive deeper into what the difference is between competencies and skills as well as their implications on learning.  Below is an image that until my conversation with Rose I would have just viewed as another catchy way to visualize digital skills that students (and adults) need. However, I am now more focused on how we can begin to address these as competencies to really prepare students for success in a disruptive world.


Image credit: www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/06/8-digital-skills-we-must-teach-our-children/

While skills are an important part of learning and career paths, they’re not rich or nuanced enough to guide students towards true mastery and success. Skills focus on the “what” in terms of the abilities a student needs to perform a specific task or activity. They don’t provide enough connection to the how. 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. There is also an increased level of depth that takes into account skills, knowledge and abilities. To succeed in the new world of work, students will need to demonstrate the right mix of skills, knowledge, 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. 

In order to really see the difference between a skill and competency I came across this great communication example provided by HRTMS
A person can become a good presenter through practice, learning from others, and education but in order to be a strong communicator one must rely on a combination of skills PLUS behavior and knowledge.  A person can learn how to be a good presenter but only a strong communicator has advanced language skills, the knowledge of diverse cultures, and behaves patiently when communicating.   In short, skills are specific learned activities like mopping the floor, using a computer, and stocking merchandise, while competencies are skills + knowledge  + behavior like problem solving, communication, or professionalism.
Competencies, therefore, may incorporate a skill, but are much more than the skill.  They include a dynamic combination of abilities, attitudes, and behaviors, as well as knowledge that is fundamental to the use of a skill aligned to a learning outcome. The Rigor/ Relevance Framework helps us move from a focus on skills to competency-based learning. The acquisition and application of diverse skills is foundational, but moving to Quad D requires the use of skills, knowledge, and abilities to illustrate cognitive growth and authenticity through solving real-world problems that are unpredictable in nature. 

Success in a digital world will rely on much more than skills.  It's time to shift our focus an energy on developing and assessing core and innovative competencies that will serve all students now and in the future. 
Posted: April 23, 2017, 12:55 pm
Change is a process, not an event.  Saying this and fully understanding the intricacies involved with the process of change are two totally different things. Change isn’t something that can just be willed on a person, people, or organization.  Mandates and top-down directives rarely become embedded and sustained components of school culture because once the focus changes (and it always does) then all the time, energy, and frustration transfers to the new initiative. These “flavor of the month” rituals driven by a need to embrace the next big thing drives everyone crazy and only exasperates the whispers of this too shall pass, which eventually morph into a chorus of resistance.

Let me be blunt.  Change for the sake of change is a ridiculous waste of time and resources. Improvements are needed in every school and district.  Some changes will be mandated from your respective state. In some cases, these will be hard to swallow, but from an accountability perspective you will need to dig deep and display what constitutes real leadership even if this is not modeled by the people in power above you.  Nobody likes change and this includes many of you!  Our brains are wired to keep us safe and be risk-adverse. This is not to say that many people are not willing to try to implement new ideas and strategies, but when we do there is often a sense of fear and concern as to what happens if we are not successful.  Rest assured it is a natural part of the change process.

Image credit: http://outsourcemag.com/

Large change efforts can stymy even the most ardent leaders who pursue different and better. There are so many moving parts, people to please, and hurdles to overcome that getting derailed is a reality that must be put front and center from the beginning. Below I am going to offer some tips on how to not only move large change efforts forward, but to also ensure sustainability and efficacy.  The tips and strategies below are framed around one large change initiative that I helped facilitate as a high school principal - a new teacher evaluation system in our district. NJ mandated every district to adopt an evaluation tool that was more detailed and moved away from the traditional narrative report.  Here is what we learned:

  • Be a part of the solution – Large-scale change typically happens at the district level. When I found out that the district was going to be selecting a new evaluation tool I immediately volunteered to be a part of the process. Regardless of your position don’t sit by idly on the sidelines. Get involved!
  • Do your research - In this case, we had to adopt a new evaluation tool and there were many choices available.  My team and I did an exhaustive study to narrow down the choices to what we felt were the best four options.  We also looked at the research that supported each tool.  
  • Embrace the 4 C’s – In this case the 4 C’s are Communication, Committee, Collaboration, and Consensus. Success of any change, minor or major, begins with effective communication. Your entire staff and community need to know the what, why, where, and when associated with the change. Communication never ceases to be a prevalent component of this process. Next, form a committee and make sure diverse voices and personalities are represented.  For the change to really take hold supporters and critics alike must come together. Establish committee norms to facilitate an environment where the goal is to collaborate to come to a consensus as to what is the best way to move the change forward.  In our case, we reviewed the research on each of the four evaluation tools being considered, allowed each company to pitch their product to the committee, and then openly debated which tool we felt would work best for our school district. 
  • Implement with intent and integrity – Once consensus is reached it is time yet again to communicate clearly why the decision was made and how implementation will proceed. The focus should be on how this change will improve teaching, learning, and/or leadership. Provide as much information that validates why the change is being implemented and be honest if any questions or critical feedback arise.
  • Provide adequate and appropriate support – Needless to say professional development (not the drive-by variety) is critical for large-scale change to succeed. After deciding on an evaluation tool, we provided in-house trainings on not only the tool itself, but also how the process of conducting observations and evaluations would change. The support continued on an on going, as needed basis until the feeling was that the path to sustainability was well on its way.
  • Evaluate, reflect, act – Nothing is perfect in the field of education.  As such we must always look to improve, not just sustain, a change initiative. The process of reflection and evaluation on a consistent basis helps to create a culture committed to growth and improvement.  Taking action to make things better leads to a culture of excellence. 

So there you have it. There is no recipe for change, but experience informs us on how we can make the process a bit smoother eventually leading to success.  

Posted: April 16, 2017, 2:06 pm
The only thing that might be harder than embracing change is making tough decisions. A hallmark of great leadership is creating the conditions to arrive at consensus when major decisions will impact the entire school or district. Giving others a say and allowing for critical conversation is a sign of strength, not weakness.  As change is a process, not an event, discussions, feedback, and reflection can and should take time in order to make the best decision possible. This helps to ensure successful implementation and sustainability. 

As a leader in your classroom, school, district, or organization the buck stops with you.  Actions are what truly matter and ultimately determine your effectiveness.  Actions change things and your decision to act under a variety of circumstances is more important than ever.  Decisions made by leaders have always been placed under a microscope, but the digital world has opened the process to even more scrutiny.  Many decisions must be made at the individual level and leaders understand this. In an age of mandates, directives, budget cuts, and a lack of time, getting some support to guide the decision- making process is a good thing.  Enter the Eisenhower Matrix.


Image credit: http://jamesclear.com/eisenhower-box

As I was perusing my Twitter stream the other day I came across this tool and immediately saw its value. Educational leaders are faced with a barrage of decisions daily and sometimes they come in clumps.  During my time as a high school principal this seemed to be more the norm than the exception. So what do you do when faced with juggling numerous issues at a time? Some decisions have to take precedent over others. This tool can assist you with deciding on and prioritizing tasks by urgency and importance. Through a critical reflection of the decision at hand you can begin to sort out less urgent and important tasks that can be either delegated to someone else or not do at all. Below are some simple tips to consider when using the matrix to improve productivity by making better decisions.


Image credit: http://www.ciaraconlon.com/

The Eisenhower Matrix illustrates that indecision is an option available to leaders. In your respective position begin to align items to each box that correlate with the types of decisions you have to commonly make.  The uniqueness of your position and professional beliefs will result in priorities that differ from your face-to-face colleagues and those in your Personal Learning Network (PLN). Delegate when possible, but own the decisions that will have the most impact on your students, school, and district.  

As you begin to follow through on making both difficult and not so difficult decisions, be cognizant of what must come next, which might be even more important that making the decision in the first place. Be an active part of the process through modeling actions to bring about change. Don’t be a boss…be a leader. Anyone can tell others what to do. Showing them how is what separates real leaders from the pretenders.

Posted: April 9, 2017, 1:42 pm
People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou 

When I was asked a while back to write a book for Jossey-Bass, I was relatively non-committal.  I had just finished back-to-back projects that resulted in Digital Leadership and Uncommon Learning, which took up a great deal of my time.  In my mind I needed a break from writing and on top of that really had no clue what to write about. For me, the ultimate goal I establish when taking on a book project is to try to write a unique piece that either greatly enhances existing work in the education and leadership space or creates an entirely new niche. I’m not going to lie – in this bold new digital world this is extremely hard.

The acquisitions editor at the time never gave up on me. This made me think hard and reflect on what topic I was truly passionate about. I eventually settled on branding in education, but not for the reason you might think. During my career as a principal branding became synonymous with the successful digital transformation that occurred at my former school. Using digital tools, we crafted a new narrative about the amazing work that was taking place that was backed by evidence of results.  We showed that embracing innovative practices aligned to a sound pedagogical foundation could create a learning culture rooted in meaningful learning and relationships. Efficacy, in part, was transparently integrated in our stories of struggle, systems change, and success. The power of telling our story galvanized and inspired us in ways we never could have imagined. 

The outcomes described above might never had come to pass had it not been for Trish Rubin.  In 2009 as I began my journey to becoming a digital leader, she relentlessly reached out to me and explained how I was incorporating branding principles in innovative ways.  Trish, a former educator turned business maven, helped me realize that a focus on telling, not selling, was creating unique value to my school community.  As a result we embarked on a journey to delve into how a brandED mindset could help promote, sustain, and amplify the great work taking place every day in schools across the world. We scratched the surface in 2013 as I worked with her to include a chapter on branding in Digital Leadership, which later came out early in 2014.  However, there was more to this story.


Order your copy TODAY!

As I reflected on my journey with Trish my mind became set on writing BrandED as a way to pay if forward with Trish and thank her for how she helped me as a leader. She opened my eyes to a concept that resonated not only with me, but also my stakeholders and countless educators across the world. She helped me address my own bias with a business only view of branding and together we worked to unlock the benefits of become the storyteller-in-chief.  To model this, we wrote the book using a conversational tone. Chapters have been re-titled conversations as we take readers on a journey through the history of brand and how a mindset shift can leverage powerful aspects resulting in an improved learning culture, expanded school performance, and increased resources. 
"If you want to change education, change the story being told." 
With change in education the brandED conversation is more important than ever.  As greatness occurs every single day it is imperative that we share in transparent ways to create a new status quo using brandED strategies. Quite simply, if you don’t tell your story someone else will.  Define before being defined. It is our hope that our book will lay the foundation for all educators to tell their story, empower learning, and build relationships. Relationships are built, in part, on feeling. BrandED illustrates to readers how feeling can be cultivated through image, promise, result, vision, belief, emotion, and value.  Below are some key takeaways:
  • Leverage digital tools to become the storyteller-in-chief and build better community relationships
  • Strengthen internal and external communications among students, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders
  • Increase resources by establishing strategic partnerships and strengthening ties to key stakeholders
  • Promote connectivity, transparency, and community to build a positive culture that extends beyond the schoolhouse door to build powerful relationships
As with all books BrandED has been a labor of love.  One thing that Trish and I emphasize throughout the book is how the strategies presented connect to research. Some other key aspects include reflective questions at the end of each conversation to help readers think critically about how to implement the strategies presented.  There are also practitioner stories throughout the book that illustrate how brandED thinking can positively impact learning and leadership. Finally, the book wraps up with numerous resources curated in an appendix including digital tools that can be implemented immediately to begin, sustain, or enhance your brandED journey. 

On behalf of Trish and I we really hope you enjoy reading this book as much as we enjoyed writing it. Grab your copy today and join the conversation on social media by using #brandEDU. Below are a few reviews.

"Branding instead of being branded. Defining instead of being defined. Innovative educators must stand up for their ideas and actions instead of being judged and branded by external agencies using standardized measures. Eric Sheninger and Trish Rubin present an excellent guide for educators and education leaders to tell their stories through BrandED."
Yong Zhao, PhD, Foundation Distinguished Professor, School of Education, University of Kansas and author of Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon?

"A great resource for educators who want to strengthen their connections with students, teachers, parents, and the wider community. These two innovative leaders don't just capture how to tell the story of a school—they show how to create it."
Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Originals and Give and Take

"Every day in every one of your schools, great things happen. How does your community know? Schools that are Future Ready boldly engage their community to build relationships and empower both students and families. Powerful yet practical, BrandED is the perfect resource to help your school share its story with the world."
Thomas C. Murray, Director of Innovation, Future Ready Schools

"Eric and Trish demystify what it means to brand one's school by providing eight compelling conversations that not only lead to a deeper understanding of branding, but provide relevant ways for school leaders to frame their work… . In the vast sea of information in which we currently reside, using the BrandED Leadership methods described in this book will help school leaders reach their audiences in ways that create trusting relationships and loyalty."
Dwight Carter, Principal, New Albany High School

"Disruption is the new normal. And the great disruptors of our time are shaping the culture itself in innovative ways. Eric and Trish's book BrandED sends a very compelling message to school leaders that developing and executing a smart, innovative brand strategy can disrupt the best practices' conventions of the existing school system. Like great disruptive brands from Apple to Uber, educators now have the ability to get the community engaged and immersed in the school's brand equity—and BrandED provides the roadmap for getting there." 
Scott Kerr, Executive Director of Strategy and Insights, Time Inc.

Posted: April 3, 2017, 12:29 pm
As an identical twin it was always a challenge going through school.  Initially my brother and I had to deal with the fact that our teachers could not tell us apart. My grandmother rectified this problem by outfitting each of us with belts that had our first initial on them.  As we aged beyond the elementary years, teachers began to tell us apart better as some slight differences in appearance began to take shape as well as some major shifts in personality.  Thank goodness for that, as we would never have survived through the middle school years if we were still forced to wear those belts. 

The second challenge came in the form of academic achievement.  For my twin, learning and success, based on traditional metrics, came very easily.  It seemed to me at least that he did not have to put in much effort to earn high marks on assessments. Obviously my stance on grades and learning has changed a great deal since then, but this nonetheless posed yet another challenge of being a twin.  I had to study twice as long or longer just to earn a B in many of the same classes where my brother got an A. School came much easier for my brother.

My saving grace came in the form of some amazing teachers. I loved the life sciences, particularly biology. My love for science eventually led me to pursue an undergraduate degree in marine biology.  This genuine interest took hold in the 7th grade thanks to Mr. South, my science teacher.  As I got to high school I still had a strong interest in science, but struggled in certain courses such as chemistry and anatomy/physiology.  The struggle was amplified as my brother excelled in both courses. Ah, the joy of going to a small school.

Thankfully for me Dr. Raymond Hynoski was the teacher of both these courses. He was a quirky fellow at times, but someone who had a firm grasp of the content and helped students master the concepts.  Each of his classes was filled with humor, relevance, and inspiration that everyone in the class could be a chemist or doctor.  His most endearing characteristic was how he consistently went above and beyond to let all his students know that he cared.  Each day I looked forward to attending his classes even if I struggled.  I might not have done as well as I would have liked in his courses, but I tried hard and Dr. Hynoksi was able to emphasize even the slightest successes in my efforts to learn the concepts. I had to take chemistry.  It was not a choice. Anatomy and physiology was an elective that I only signed up for because Dr. Hynoski was the teacher. 

There are many lessons that caring educators such as Dr. Hynoski teach us.  So much pressure is placed on teachers and administrators to achieve at all costs. Rankings, stakeholder perceptions about the importance of standardized test scores, and honor rolls do nothing but make this issue worse. This is unfortunate as grades and scores are not what students will remember.  What will resonate with students long after they have passed through our schools are the educators who believed in them. The ability of educators to provide hope and encouragement that inspire learners to follow their dreams and aspirations provides a priceless value that is not often acknowledged publicly, but greatly appreciated privately.


Image credit: Jackie Gerstein

The power of empathy and the act of caring could mean the difference between a child sticking out school or dropping out.  School to many children serves as a refuge from the harsh world that is their unfortunate reality. It could also provide invaluable lessons that fuel a career path that might never have been imagined.  Showing that you care daily takes only a little effort, but the potential payoff is much more valuable than what you could ever receive in a monetary sense. 

All kids have greatness hidden inside them. It is the job of an educator to help them find and unleash it. Show that you care especially as students struggle. You can never care too much.  Thank you to Dr. Hynoksi and many of my other teachers for teaching me what truly matters in life.

As adults we must not forget the power of showing each other we care.  Positive encouragement and support go a long way in helping others cope with the challenges of life while building lasting relationships. Take the time to mail a card, make a phone call, or send an electronic form of communication not just to those in need, but to others on a whim. In my opinion, there is not a right or wrong way to care…. we just need to make more concerted efforts to do it regularly.

Posted: March 26, 2017, 12:40 pm
I remember the days when I was not a very big believer in educational technology. For one, I saw the use of tools just as a means to become more efficient at delivering instruction. Man, could I rock a PowerPoint lecture. As Chris Lehmann says, “You deliver pizzas, not instruction.” Boy, did I have it all wrong.  As I moved from the classroom to administration, I still saw technology from a mere delivery aspect. My goals were all about replacing overhead projectors with LCD projectors and screens or interactive whiteboards.  Updating the few computer labs was also a priority so students could complete projects using the Internet in a safe, controlled environment.

From 2004 through 2008, I basically rubber-stamped the status quo while adding a splash here and there of technology.  My personal views towards social media and mobile devices remained unhinged during this time, as I was adamantly opposed to both. Not only did I run around the halls of my school taking devices away from terrified students who dared to take them out during the instructional day, but I also helped write the policies that blocked many social media sites.  To say I had a fixed mindset would be a gross understatement. Enlightenment eventually came in the form of a little blue bird.  The informal learning in digital spaces taught me about the real role technology could play in our transformational process. Social media was my savior and helped me to develop a growth mindset.  


Image credit: http://www.walktallarena.com/

Technology is a fantastic tool that when integrated with purpose can support and enhance learning in ways that many of us never imagined. With all tools there are limitations as to what they can do.  As I have said over and over, I truly believe that pedagogy trumps technology, especially in the classroom. Success is inherent upon how students and educators use tools to transform teaching, learning, and leadership.  The successful digital transformation that took place at my school is well documented.  However, I am the first to acknowledge that the most significant catalyst for change that resulted from our entry into the edtech world was a new lens to critically reflect on professional practice. 

Engaging in several technology initiatives over a five-year span brought to light many areas of our school culture that could be dramatically improved. We must reflect on past practice in order to improve current practice. The edtech lens helped to develop a focus on examining not only our pedagogical practices, but also other core components of the learning culture at our school.  This lens enabled us to see more clearly as to what had to improve for edtech to actually live up to the lofty expectations that have been promoted by so many pundits. In terms of improvement the edtech lens compelled us to reflect on the following:


All of the above elements are critical in determining that there is a Return on Instruction (ROI), which is evidence of improved student learning outcomes when integrating technology. Integrating technology and innovating just for the sake of it will never pay off in the long run. If we don’t hold others and ourselves accountable for purposeful technology integration aligned to real results, we run the risk of precious time and money being wasted.  

Schools and educators across the world are doing amazing things with technology. We must always be cognizant of the way in which technology is integrated. Does technology support high-level learning? Are students using technology to demonstrate conceptual mastery in ways that they couldn’t without it? How do we know if teaching, learning, and leadership have changed in order to unlock to full potential of technology?

Be proud of the steps you have taken to make learning more relevant and meaningful with technology. Continue to embrace innovative practices in order to implement new learning pathways for students. I ask you though to always lend a critical eye to both technology and innovation using a lens that peels away the talk, hype, and surface-level appeal.  Improve and strengthen the foundation of your professional practice. Identify elements of school culture that are being held back by the status quo. Most importantly, continually look to build powerful relationships with stakeholders, especially students. 

Posted: March 19, 2017, 2:14 pm
A great deal has been written about the future and the importance of preparing students with the skills, mindset, and attributes necessary for success in a rapidly evolving world. Truth be told, this is quite the harrowing task and one that should compel us all to pause and critically reflect on not only where schools are, but more importantly where our students need them to be. If schools continue down the track of sustaining outdated practices we will continue to churn out a population of students that are only good at doing school.  This applies not only to K-12, but also higher education.  Change is not coming, it is already here beating down the door. 

Speaking of change . . . With the rapid pace of technological change, specifically advances in robotics and artificial intelligence, it is nearly impossible to hypothesize the types of jobs that will be available.  Thus, schools and education in general need to create a learning culture that not only inspires students, but also prepares them for success in their future. This means re-integrating trade-based courses and programs that use to be the norm in virtually every school.  After all, the world will still need plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and auto mechanics well into the future. The caveat here though is to employ forward thinking to create new areas of study and exploration. These revamped programs should afford students the opportunity to use real-world tools to engage in meaningful work that aligns with a future-focused vision. How well schools do this might ultimately determine not only the future success of our students, but a prosperous future in general. 




Without a crystal ball it is difficult to foresee with certainty what the future will hold.  However, an endless array of cues garnered from technological innovation affords us the opportunity to reinvent schools in ways that can give students a fighting chance in the new world of work. We first acknowledge the fact that the way many of us were taught and assessed has little value in today’s world, let alone the future.  The second acknowledgement is that an effectuation with standardized test scores, grades, and homework will only result in schools going deeper down the rabbit hole.  Something must give.

The new world of work presents a wakeup call of sorts. A business as usual model based on efficiency, repetition, and knowledge acquisition will only prepare students for a world that no longer exists.  Skills that emphasize the unique abilities specific to human beings will enable not only current, but also future generations of learners to prevail in a world where technology will eventually replace most jobs currently available.  The challenge for education is to begin to embrace new modes of thinking and innovative practices that are disruptive in nature and difficult to assess using traditional metrics.  This shift will not be easy, but the outcome could pay off tenfold. 

We are at a crossroads in education.  Traditional measures of success often blind us from the truth.  Consider looking at the current job market and see where the trends reside by conducting an audit.  Then compare these to your curriculum, course offerings, pedagogy, learning spaces, available technology, schedule, and other key components of school culture to determine how prepared your students are for the current workforce.  Take your audit one step further and determine how/if imagination, negotiating, questioning, empathizing, storytelling, connecting, creativity, and design are emphasized in your school culture. This audit will help you determine preparedness for the new world of work. 

Posted: March 19, 2017, 11:59 am
Let’s face it, school, as we know it is driven by grades as the main reflection of what students do, or do not, know.  What has resulted is a rat race of sorts where many kids and parents alike have their eye on the prize. The prize in this case is either a coveted letter or number grade that is celebrated above the most important aspect of education – whether a student actually learned and can apply this newly constructed knowledge in meaningful ways. Micro-credentials, although a step in a better direction as a means to make feedback more personal, can also perpetuate this problem.  

The process of grading is convoluted and fraught with errors and at times arbitrary decisions.  Just think about the inherent disaster of points systems. Many grades are determined using an accumulation of points over a set amount of time including homework (just checked for completeness), extra-credit, meeting (or failing to meet) behavioral expectations, participation, or a loss of points for late assignments.  The last example illustrates how many grades are nowhere close to indicating what a student has actually learned. The issues with grading are not new.  After an analysis of several research studies, Alfie Kohn (2011) concluded the following:
  • Grades tend to diminish students’ interest in whatever they’re learning.  
  • Grades create a preference for the easiest possible task.
  • Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking.
Grading perpetuates a bigger problem.  If students come through our doors each day to just "do school" then we have already failed them. By failure I mean a blatant disregard for providing them with the necessary skills, behaviors, and qualities that a grade could never quantify.  Grading is a major component compelling kids to just go through the motions and “do” school. Learning, not grades, should be the reward for students. Helping them recognize this is the challenge we must all accept. I recently came across the learning pit concept and it immediately resonated with me.  With learning as not only the goal, but also the final outcome, students are guided through a process that illustrates how learning is the ultimate reward. When grades are thrown into the mix the focus becomes a path of least resistance, negating the positive outcomes associated with students experiencing the learning pit. 


Image credit: http://francinemassue.weebly.com/

What is the hard truth about traditional grades and how they are currently used? In this day and age I think grades are more for parents and schools than they are for the students we are trying to serve. Learning is not only a messy process, but it the path also varies greatly from student to student. All kids learn differently and possess different and unique abilities to show us that they understand concepts. Makerspace work and projects that students engage in are a great example of this point. Students do to learn through trial and error, failure, collaboration, cross-disciplinary connections, taking risks, and overcoming certain fears that grades bring about. The ultimate reward is making something that does something and in many cases this is a workable solution to a problem they identified. 

I think we are a long way off from abolishing all grades.  That doesn’t mean we can’t critically reflect on the role grades play and how they are calculated.  If the true goal of schools is learning then that should be reflected somehow in a grade.  We must begin by developing better formative and summative assessments that move away from students telling us what they know and instead show us that they understand. A mindset shift is also needed where students work and think in ways that allow them to experience the inherent rewards of entering and exiting the learning pit.  This is Quad D learning at its finest. 

Posted: March 12, 2017, 11:17 am
Let’s face it – great things occur in all schools on a daily basis. We see the fruits of our labor through our students as they show growth in learning over time. There is nothing more gratifying as a servant of education then when our passion translates into helping students of various ability levels accomplish tasks that they themselves never thought possible.  There are countless stories to be shared that illustrate how schools are meeting the diverse needs of learners today while preparing them for success in their future.  Telling these stories adds another layer to initiatives and strategies developed to empower students and energize a community of stakeholders.


Image credit: https://brushheadmusings.wordpress.com

The good news doesn’t stop there.  Teachers, administrators, and parents go above and beyond to serve kids and the profession. Each story told helps to establish a new reality instead of one that historically has been dominated by perception.  As I have been writing since 2009, if you don’t tell your story someone else will. When someone else controls the narrative, chances are it might not paint an accurate picture of what is truly happening in your classroom, school, or district. Embracing a storyteller-in-chief mindset should no longer be optional, but instead a decision grounded in the benefits of being transparent and building powerful relationships with stakeholders (parents, media, businesses, community members, etc.). This is the premise behind brandED leadership.

To get the good news out you don’t have to continue to wait patiently for the mainstream media to cover your stories. It also doesn’t have to result in a drain on your time.  By working smarter, not harder, you can begin the process of curating and then sharing powerful learning success stories that will help to establish a new, better identity in a digital world. One strategy I developed as a principal was to create a template for my staff to easily share all the amazing work they were engaged in both with students and their own learning. This template was used to create the monthly Principal’s Report as I called it. The categories included the following:

  • Guest speakers
  • Innovative practices
  • Student honors
  • Field trips
  • Guidance news
  • Professional learning
  • Theater arts
  • Facility updates
  • Other

The categories above are what I used and provide a frame of reference to create your own template. Each month I would send the template out and ask my teachers to share any pertinent work. Everything was then curated into a final document, edited twice, and then sent out to my stakeholders using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Remind, our school app, and an email blast. The final product was nothing fancy, but loaded with valuable news and insights to show everyone in our community the great work happening inside and outside the walls of our building. Check out an example HERE. Want to share content like this across multiple social media platforms with one tool to save time? If so check out IFTTT. Want to program specific times to send out tweets and other social media messages? Well there are tools for that as well. Check out Buffer and Hootsuite

The report became an invaluable resource for me to pull content into other digital channels and further amplify the work taking place at my school.  With my teachers permission I copied and pasted excerpts and worked the content into more elaborate blog posts.  You could even apply the same concept to Smore.  I also began to incorporate the ideas, strategies, and innovative practices into presentations I was delivering both at the local and state level. When video and pictures are incorporated you ultimately develop a digital leadership strategy that not only gets the good news out, but does so in a way that builds a positive brand presence. 

Keep in mind this simple equation to consistently get the good news out:

Communications + Public Relations = Brand presence

For more tips and ideas on how this equation can help you get the good news out click HERE. What other ways are you leveraging to get the good news out on your classroom, school, or district?


Posted: March 5, 2017, 1:53 pm
In a previous post I discussed in detail strategies to help ensure the effective use of technology to improve learning outcomes. You don’t have to be a fan of technology, but you do need to understand that it’s a catalyst for some exciting pedagogical changes.  The purposeful use of technology can innovate assessment, transform time frames around learning, increase collaboration, enable learning about information and research thanks to unprecedented access, and provide a level of student ownership like never before. These are all outcomes that any educator would (or should) openly embrace. 

I get the fact that technology can increase engagement, but if that engagement does not lead to evidence of learning then what’s the point?  Like it or not, all educators are being held accountable in some form or another for improvement in learning outcomes that result in an increase in achievement.  This is why evidence of a return on instruction (ROI) when integrating technology is critical. Just using it to access information is also not a sound use. As teachers and administrators we must be more intentional when it comes to digital learning.  If the norm is surface-level integration that asks students to demonstrate knowledge and comprehension the most beneficial aspects of digital are missed. A recent article by Beth Holland for Edutopia reinforced many of my thoughts as of late on this topic. Below some words of caution from her:
“The dissemination of digitized, teacher-driven content is not full blended learning. Though this can be viewed as a first step toward new models of learning, the peril lies in complacency. When blended learning is equated with digital workflow, students remain consumers of teacher-directed content instead of becoming creators of knowledge within a context that they can actively control.”
Student agency is one of the most powerful improvements that technology can provide.  This is the ultimate goal in my opinion, but to begin to set the stage for consistent, effective use a uniform pedagogical shift has to be our focus when it comes to digital learning.  The Rigor Relevance Framework provides a solid lens to look at the learning tasks that students are engaged in and redesign them in ways that move away from telling us what they know and instead showing whether or not they actually understand.



This simple, yet powerful shift can be applied to all digital activities. Now I full understand there is a time and place for basic knowledge acquisition and recall, especially at elementary level. However, the goal should be an evolution in pedagogy, especially assessment, where students can demonstrate conceptual mastery in a variety of ways. Instead of using technology to ask students what the capitol is of a state or country ask them to create a brochure using a tool of their choice and explain why the capitol is located where it is.  When designing digital learning tasks think about how students can demonstrate understanding aligned to standards by:
  • Arguing  
  • Creating
  • Designing 
  • Inventing
  • Concluding
  • Predicting
  • Exploring
  • Planning
  • Rating
  • Justifying
  • Defending
  • Comparing
It is important to understand that the verbs above should apply to a range of innovative learning activities, not just those involving digital tools.  By moving away from the use of technology to support low-level learning tasks we can really begin to unleash it’s potential while providing students with greater relevance through authentic work.  This shift will take some time, but the ultimate learning payoff is well worth it. Below are some examples of how my teachers made this shift when I was the principal at New Milford High School:
Mr. Groff’s history classes utilized Paperlet, a participatory technology platform where students created digital stories that incorporated various multimedia elements including video, sound, and image files. The students worked with Mrs. Fleming on Google Chromebooks in the library to design their e-books. During the course of the activity students made recommendations to Paperlet designers on needed changes and enhancements, which were immediately made to improve student experiences.  
Students in Mrs. Groff’s Voices in Poetry and Prose classes had been reading independently since the beginning of the school year. They chose their own books to read based on their interests and reading levels. Students then worked with Mrs. Groff and Mrs. Fleming to create book trailers on their favorite books. Students used WeVideo, Windows Movie Maker, iMovie, and other available technologies to create their videos. These trailers were then loaded onto WeVideo and a hash tag was used to share and get feedback from all over the world. 
Jessica Groff and Joanna Westbrook created an ELA task that incorporated Twitter into their unit on Julius Caesar and built on content authentic to the play – i.e. social media repurposed with and for academic discourse. To accomplish their goals, these teachers began with an informational text on the history of the Roman Forum to ground their use of social media in historical discourse and academic content. In addition, the teachers worked with students to reverse engineer the rhetoric of Twitter and generate a list of the style of the tweets students see currently in their daily lives. They also used Mozilla Thimble to create memes that allowed both the tech-savvy and non-tech savvy to present their visuals in a more professional manner. The use of this technology allowed students to bring visual clarity, some humor, and some creativity to their responses.  
Mr. Devereaux's AP Biology class used the apps iMotion and Stop Motion Studio to create stop-motion videos showing the process of meiosis. They used iMovie to put voice-overs into their videos to describe the process.
Lend a critical lens to your digital learning activities to being to develop more activities where students demonstrate what they understand as opposed to what they just know. As pedagogy evolves in step with technology, a key to success will be to ensure that meaningful, high-level, and valuable learning results. 

Posted: February 26, 2017, 1:54 pm
There is a great deal of talk and focus on the need to improve student agency in our schools and rightfully so (see my post on this topic HERE).  Empowerment and ownership need and should be associated with learning to increase relevancy, value, meaning, and outcomes.  The desire to increase agency in the form of voice, choice, and advocacy should be viewed as just as important for educators (teachers and administrators) as it is for students.  For sustainable change and innovative practices to take hold let’s evaluate the level of educator agency in our schools. 


Image credit: www.peoplematters.in

Voice

Educators, both teachers and administrators, should have a say in many elements that influence a school’s learning culture.  When we don’t listen to the ideas and concerns of others people will shut down and withdraw. This results in a negative impact on motivation, respect, enthusiasm and a willingness to innovate.  In terms of communication, the aspect of listening is just as important in leading and sustaining change as the use of verbal and non-verbal strategies.  Educator voice can be cultivated using the following strategies:
  • Flipped staff meetingsEveryone who plans a meeting works terribly hard to develop and then get through an agenda.  This results in a death-by-meeting scenario and is a main reason why most people hate meetings. Consider developing a meeting agenda using Google Docs. The added bonus here is that other documents, images, and videos can be embedded, which really creates a more dynamic agenda.  Complete this a week prior and then send out to your staff where they can add comments and content to the agenda.  Then during the actual meeting focus on one or two very important goals such as the following: How do we improve learning for our students? Have a back channel established and monitored using a tool like TodaysMeet to take educator voice to the next level.  Creating a trusting environment where staff can respond under the cover of anonymity amplifies voice even more.   
  • Planning professional learningHow many of us dreaded professional development (PD) days? Historically PD has always been something that was done to us, not something that we wanted to engage in.  The best way to change the paradigm here is to afford educators opportunities to use their voice and ideas to plan powerful learning experiences.  This could consist of speaker recommendations, workshop topics, hosting your own event, or even the development of an unconference.  Just as we want students to own their learning the same should apply to adults. 
  • Comment box – This strategy has been used in the hospitality business for ages.  Some people just want their concerns to be heard, but acting on certain concerns can be empowering on many levels.  Consider having some of your talented students create a wood box do this the traditional way and then leave it in the faculty room.  If digital leadership is your thing, set up a few tools (Padlet, TodaysMeet, Tackk) and allow anonymous comments to be posted.  Establish some ground rules prior such as including a solution to go along with the identified problem, as you don’t want this to turn into a gripe session.  The comment box should also be used as an opportunity to provide compliments and positive reinforcement.

    Choice

    In the classroom, agency empowers a shift where students can choose the right tool for the right task to demonstrate conceptual understanding and mastery. Various pathways to personalize learning and make it more personal are also emphasized.  Educators should have more choice over how they learn themselves. They should also have choice over resources that they, the experts who work with students the most on a day to day basis, feel are valuable to support and enhance learning.  Below are some ideas on how to promote educator choice:
    • Micro-credentials – The use of digital badges, otherwise known as micro-credentials, can afford educators choice over what they want to learn about as well as the specific time that they want to learn a new skill or pedagogical technique.  Accountability for learning is ensured through a vetting process and the badge represents the successful achievement of a learning goal. Thanks to the leadership of Laura Fleming we implemented a micro-credential system to acknowledge the informal learning of our teachers and administrators.  You can visit her site HERE and begin to earn your own badges through choice or work to implement your own system.
    • Genius Hour - Genius hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom.  It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during school.  This concept can be applied for educators as well.  As principal I created the Professional Growth Period (PGP) where in lieu of a non-instructional duty my staff were given 2-3 forty-eight minute periods per week to follow their learning passions.  A learning portfolio was required as part of this process and presented at the end of year evaluation conference. You can learn more about the PGP process HERE
    • Distributive budgeting – Distributive leadership conveys the importance of a shared, collective and extended leadership practice that builds the capacity for change and improvement. This can be applied to the budgeting process when it comes time to purchase learning tools, resources, and services (PD providers). The choice factor honors the expertise found in our classrooms and schools and can serve as a great catalyst for sustainable change. 

    Advocacy

    Educators need to be put in a position where they can actively advocate for system improvements without the fear of repercussion.  It is important to understand that there is no perfect teacher, classroom, administrator, school, district, or system. In education, we must focus on areas where our data tells us we can improve, but also continue to push the envelope by embracing innovative ideas and an edupreneurial mindset (learn more about this concept in my book BrandED). Advocacy educators consider voice and support for a cause to bring about needed change.  Let’s face it, even with progress in schools there still are many areas that need improvement. Forums should be established where advocates for grading, homework, schedule, curriculum, budget, and professional development reform can not only be heard, but also offer recommendations for improvement.  These need to be safe places where open dialogue is encouraged and action results. 

    These are my thoughts on improving educator agency in our schools to compliment student agency. When looking at the three essential elements (voice, choice, advocacy) what examples would you add?

    Posted: February 19, 2017, 1:58 pm
    In many cases, there seems to be a tendency to water down expectations when it comes to integrating technology.  During a recent presentation on digital pedagogy for deeper learning I asked attendees to discuss then share out on TodaysMeet how they were effectively integrating technology in their classroom, school, or district.  There was an emphasis on describing in detail what effective use of technology meant to them.  As the results poured in there were a few consistent responses that stood out. Most attendees flat out stated that they or their schools/districts were not effectively integrating technology. Others confessed that they weren’t sure what effective use constituted.  Many of the remaining responses centered on just a listing of tools that were being used as a measure of effectiveness. 

    The question about effective use provides a great opportunity for all of us to critically reflect upon the current role technology plays in education.  There is a great deal of potential in the numerous tools now available to support or enhance learning, but we must be mindful of how they are being used. Take Kahoot for example. This tool is used in so many classrooms across the world to get students more engaged and add a level of fun and excitement to the learning process. However, most of the time the questions that students are asked to answer in a Kahoot are focused on the lowest cognitive domains and mostly multiple choice.  I have nothing against Kahoot and think it is a great tool that has a great deal of promise. My issue is how this tool, and many others, are utilized in the classroom. 

    The burden of responsibility here lies with both teachers and administrators. In many cases the engagement factor is emphasized over learning outcomes and actual evidence of improvement aligned to standards. I get that this is not the end all be all, but nevertheless it is important. It goes without saying that effective technology integration should inform instruction and provide feedback as to the level of conceptual mastery students demonstrate. Then there is the unfortunate practice of putting the cart before the horse where acquiring technology and getting it into classrooms takes precedence over improving instructional design.  In either case, for technology to ever live up to the lofty, and at times baseless, expectations that have been established we must take a more critical look at pedagogy. 

    For many educators SAMR is the preferred model often associated with technology integration. It’s a catchy model and does have some value mostly in the form of what we shouldn’t be doing (substitution). Take a close look at the tech-centric language used in each category and ask yourself what does the SAMR model really tell you about the level of student learning? This is why I love the Rigor Relevance Framework as a means to ensure that technology is integrated effectively.  It provides a common language, constitutes the lens through which to examine all aspects of a learning culture (curriculum, instruction, assessment), and helps to create a culture around a common vision. 

    Technology should be integrated in a way that increases engagement through relevance. As students are utilizing technology are they just applying it in one discipline? I am not saying this is a bad thing, but we must eventually move beyond this typical comfort zone when it comes to tool use. When integrating technology does the task allow students:

    • to make connections across various disciplines and content areas?
    • to solve real-world predictable problems?
    • to solve real-world unpredictable problems?

    The other aspect of this framework is the most important.  Are students working, thinking, or both? Successful technology integration is totally dependent on the level of questioning that is asked of our students.  This is why I always say that pedagogy trumps technology.  Think about the formative and summative assessments you either use or see in your respective role. Are students demonstrating high levels of cognitive thought? How do you know whether students have learned or not when integrating technology? What does the feedback loop look like? These are extremely important questions to ask as a teacher or administrator to determine the level of effectiveness. Check out this example to see how all the pieces (rigor, relevance, tech, assessment) come together to create a powerful learning experience).



    The overall goal when integrating technology should be to provide opportunities for students to work and think. Another key strategy for successful integration is to use technology when appropriate. Technology will not improve every lesson or project, thus a focus on pedagogy first, technology second if appropriate with help ensure success. Many aspects of the Rigor Relevance Framework can be used to guide you in developing better questions as part of good pedagogy including:

    • anticipatory set/do-now
    • review of prior learning
    • checking for understanding (formative and summative)
    • closure

    The most important aspects of pedagogy are assessment and feedback.  If technology (and innovation in general) is going to have a positive impact on learning, let’s ensure these areas are improved first. Then going forward always lend a critical eye to how technology is being used to address standards and inform instruction.

    Posted: February 12, 2017, 2:19 pm
    Ideas are a dime a dozen. Everyone has them. Some are good and extremely creative while others are not realistic or applicable to a certain situation.  As social media continues to evolve, there now seems to be an endless sea of ideas as to how education should change and what educators should do to improve professional practice. I will go as far to say that just having an idea is not good enough. It doesn’t take much effort to develop a sound bite that sounds great in theory, but if it is challenging to implement in practice, especially at scale, then we need to reconsider the relevancy of that idea.  

    We all struggle with a tug-of-war of sorts when it comes to ideas.  In many situations we are asked to either implement or embrace the ideas of others, particularly those who we are accountable to or so-called experts in the field. This can be problematic at times if the groundwork explaining the what, why, when, and how has not been clearly articulated.  Then there are those that we develop on our own.  Throughout my career and even up to this point, ideas are constantly flowing through my mind.  There tends to be a bias towards the ones that we come up with, which throws another wrench into the process of moving an idea into actionable change.  

    Being open to new ideas is extremely important in these disruptive times.  If we continue to employ the same type of thinking, then the chances are we will probably have to settle for the same old results…. or worse.  Great ideas are the seeds of change. Many of them don’t have the opportunity to germinate because of our fixed mindsets. For the most part nobody likes change. This is just how our brains are wired, unfortunately for many of us. I can tell you that this was the case for me early in my administrative career.  It is important not to fall victim to idea voodoo.


    Don’t let idea voodoo cloud your vision as to what is possible.  Embracing a growth mindset can put you in a better position to lead change in your classroom, school, district, or organization.  This is only half the battle though. Don’t assume that just because you are open to new ideas that everyone else is.  This is where the hard, and at times frustrating, work comes in. The real challenge of change is getting the resistance to embrace and implement your idea(s). So what makes a great idea that others will embrace and take some calculated risk to implement? Great ideas are:

    Innovative
    Doable
    Energizing
    Aligned
    Sustainable

    Innovative: here are so many words associated with innovation.  Some popular ones include new, change, transformation, improvement, better, and success. Innovation to me, in an educational context, is creating, implementing, and sustaining transformative ideas that instill awe to improve learning. Fresh Ideas are needed that take into account dramatic changes in society, technology, and learner needs.  New is not necessarily better. That is why innovative ideas must focus on improving existing culture.

    Doable: This goes without saying.  Great ideas consider financial resources, time, and mandates. Doable ideas can be associated with lofty goals, but a meticulous effort on articulating the what, why, when, and how must occur to overcome fixed mindsets and an entrenched status quo. 

    Energizing: If an idea doesn’t inspire or motivate someone to embrace different and better then it might just be a crumby idea. Great ideas should be energizing and create a buzz. When people believe that a change will lead to improved outcomes embracement is more likely. Initially this might not be the case. Coming up with great ideas is a start, but the differentiator is how the idea is rolled out. Energizing ideas bring an increased joy to learning and professional practice. They are also presented in ways that motivate and inspire.

    Aligned: Great ideas should complement and then enhance what is already in place. This includes curriculum, standards, mandated assessments, and other elements associated with school/district culture.  They should also be aligned to research, evidence, and professional development. Take a critical lens to all ideas to ensure efficacy. 

    Sustainable: If an idea fizzles out then it probably didn’t meet any or all criteria listed above. Great ideas lead to changes that become embedded into school culture and professional practice. They withstand the test of time and thus become the new normal way of doing business. 

    Just because an idea sounds good doesn’t mean that it will lead to an improvement. It is time to weed out the bad and so-so ideas while striving to make good ideas great. 

    Posted: February 5, 2017, 1:39 pm
    I think, for the most part, everyone strives for success.  We want to be successful in our professional as well as our personal lives.  I strived to be the best possible principal for my students, staff, and community.  Whether I was successful is a matter of perspective. My evaluations seemed to support the fact that I might have been.  I was far from perfect, but always strived for constant improvement. When I reflect upon what was accomplished during my time leading New Milford High School I think many observers would consider my leadership a success based on what we all accomplished together.  Our digital transformation, backed by evidence of improved learner outcomes, has been well documented.  In the eyes of many this is success. 

    As I have transitioned into my new role over the past two years as a Senior Fellow for the International Center for Leadership in Education, I continue to set the bar high for myself. Again, whether I am successful is open for debate. Some observers might see the publishing of books as an indicator of success. Others could equate keynotes in the same manner.  No matter what someone’s view of success is, I can tell you one thing for certain – it is not a linear process. No one goes from point A to B by following a predetermined path or script. The question then becomes why does school, for the most part, focus on a linear transition that manifests itself in the form of curriculum? This is just one example that flies in the face of unleashing the talents of our students while teaching them what success really is. 



    Success results from a series of experiences that include constructing then applying new knowledge, failure, persistence, commitment, perseverance, adaptation, evolution, and most of all reflection. There are so many images out there that illustrate the concept of success being like an iceberg.  In the eyes of many people, success is only what you see or a final product.  The reality is that success really is a unique combination of behaviors, skills, and mindset shifts. The recipe is different for everyone as well as the criteria used to determine success. The fact remains though that the path to success is always convoluted. 


    Image credit: Sylvia Duckworth

    Learning and success are intimately intertwined.  You can’t be successful if you don’t learn. You learn to eventually experience some sort of success in life. Learning, like success, is anything but a linear process.  As such we need to be more mindful of the experiences and structures in our schools if the goal, which it should be, is to prepare students to succeed in their future.  This includes the new world of work where in a few short years many of the jobs that exist today won’t.  If we continue to prescribe students to a one-size-fits-all approach in classrooms that have remained relatively unchanged we are in a sense forcing them down a linear path. Instead of a focus on learn to do, schools need to shift their practices and create a culture where students do to learn.

    Students learn differently and have hidden talents that we must unleash. This is why I love the maker movement and makerspaces in particular.  Nothing, in my opinion, illustrates to kids the many pathways to success than learning with their hands through trial and error, open-ended exploration, and authentic problem solving.  Education needs some disruptive innovation.  We must lend a critical eye to our pedagogy, especially the way we assess and provide feedback to students. It is time for us to work harder to upend the status quo by redefining success in learning. Are you with me?

    Posted: January 29, 2017, 2:04 pm
    For all intents and purposes I had a great K-12 education.  I got relatively good grades, stayed out of trouble, and participated in a wide range of sports and extracurricular activities.  Best of all though were some of the amazing teachers and administrators I had during those years who consistently showed they cared.  In the end I was deemed college ready and was accepted to almost all of the schools to which I had applied. I was so excited to attend Salisbury University in Maryland and study Marine Biology as I was so intrigued by this area of study.  I was again surrounded by some great educators and went on my way to further study in the sciences, eventually finding my way to the field of education.


    Image credit https://media.licdn.com

    As I think back many years later, I have now realized that I was good at school. The system worked the way it was designed. It worked for me, or so I thought. Never was there any question about what I was learning or even why. It was just accepted that this was how school was supposed to be.  Conformity and compliance were well ingrained into the culture of school. As I continue to reflect, I now ponder whether or not I would be successful in a K-12 system today.  Things have really changed as a result of advances in technology.  The process of going through the motions of doing school the way I did it would have been a monumental challenge in my opinion. Do students value school today? With exponential changes to technology and the ubiquitous access to information will students of the future value it?

    What really got me thinking about the value of school was the video below.  I am not saying that I agree with everything in it, but there are many points that really resonated with me. 



    Now try to think back to when you were a student and what you learned. How much of what you learned do you actually use today?  Even though progress is being made and innovative practices are being implemented in schools across the globe, we still must look at the big picture of education. There should be inherent value in what students learn today as they need to have the skills, mindset, and confidence to succeed in the new world of work.  If anything in the above video resonates with you, then engage your students in a conversation about the value of school.  

    Engaging kids in a conversation about the value of school can and will pave the way to a brighter future. We need to listen, then act.

    Posted: January 15, 2017, 2:28 pm
    I recently had the honor of being a guest on Dr. Will Deyamport’s podcast called the Dr. Will Show. You can view the Google Hangout video HERE.  We had a vibrant conversation on the topic of Digital Leadership with a focus on school culture, embracing change, strategic use of social media, the Model Schools Conference, and innovation. A major theme that resonated throughout our discussion was the importance of becoming a connected educator and how this in itself can be a powerful catalyst for meaningful change.

    If you watch the video you will see light-hearted back and forth banter between Will and me. He totally deserved the grief I gave him as it only took about five years for him to actually invite me onto his show.  In all seriousness though, something Will said to me really resonated. At one point during our conversation he told me how much it meant to him when I gave him a shout out during my keynote at the 2013 Mississippi Educational Computing Association Conference. To be honest, I really didn’t remember doing this as I routinely try to promote the great work of educators I know every opportunity I get.  This made me reflect on the journey Will and I have taken together as connected educators and the resulting relationship we have cultivated.


    Image credit https://behappy.me

    Will and I met virtually on Twitter way back in 2009. At the time he was known as @peoplegogy on Twitter.  I remember vividly sitting at my desk when I was a principal and seeing Will tweet out each morning “How is the coffee brewing?” Our connection began like many other educators who use social media as part of a Personal Learning Network – we wanted to learn, grow, and get better. Over time we began to communicate and collaborate across an array of social media networks exchanging ideas, providing support, and dispensing out advice. I can’t even count the number of times we have now connected over the years just to check in on one another.

    A professional relationship was cultivated.  I always admired Will’s passion for educational technology and genuine interest in becoming a better educator. There are so many benefits associated with becoming a connected educator regardless of your role.  Professional relationships based on a mutual desire to improve professional practice are probably the most important outcome in my opinion. Through every connection you get new sets of virtual ears to vent to and shoulders to lean on.  Silos or isolated islands are often a fact for many of us during the daily grind. A focus on innovative practices also tends to create a lonely place for educators who go against the flow.  Not having a virtual network to complement our face-to-face relationships just seems silly to me now.

    Over the years Will and I have gotten to know each other quite well.  Our professional relationship eventually blossomed into a great friendship. When I moved to Texas I drove down from New York City with my twin brother. As I was looking at our route I noticed that we would be driving through Hattiesburg, MS. I didn’t think twice about reaching out to Will and inviting him and his wife to join my brother and me in his hometown for lunch and some brews.  As I think about this story I am overwhelmed by how many other professional relationships forged through social media have resulted in great friendships.

    Becoming a connected educator has definitely resulted in an exponential increase in professional relationships for me. Each of these connections over the years helped give me the knowledge, skills, and motivation to lead a successful digital transformation at my former school.  These relationships also assisted me in overcoming fears such as writing, public speaking, and failure. I am who I am today in part because of the connected network of amazing educators I have come to know over time like Will.  It is important to embrace a connected mindset ourselves and then help others build professional relationships themselves as part of a digital leadership strategy. As appreciative as I am about the professional connections I have made, it is the personal relationships and resulting friendships that I have formed that I cherish the most.

    Focus on building better professional and personal relationships with any and all means (or tools) at your disposal.  In the end you will be stronger, more confident, and inspired as you journey down the path of professional and personal growth.

    Posted: January 8, 2017, 12:23 pm
    Another Christmas has passed and I am continually amazed by the technologies that kids now have access to.  For example, my son received a drone from my mother-in-law and has been playing with it non-stop for days now. At first, he was focused on just the basics of flying the device. After having mastered take off, landing, and balance, his focus now is on using the camera to take photos and video.  It is awesome to see how engaged he is with the drone, but that he is also learning in the process.   Technology for him, like most kids today, has become an embedded component of their lives. They have grown up in a world where they have become accustomed to the fast-paced evolution of everything digital. 

    The world as we know it has fundamentally changed our learners.  It is not that they are learning differently per say, but the environment in which they learn has dramatically changed.  The challenge for educators and schools today is to make learning REAL (relevant, engaging, authentic, and lasting) for all students and aligning it more with their world.  A great deal of emphasis has been placed on personalized opportunities for students.  Whereas there are many benefits with this approach, the reliance on technology platform and human interaction can take away from intended outcomes. REAL learning places a greater emphasis on making learning personal for students. 


    Image credit: http://pblstem.com/

    Below are some quick tips that can make learning more REAL (relevant, engaging, authentic, and lasting):
    1. Provide students access to real-world tools to do real-world work (i.e. makerspaces).
    2. Allow students to select the best tool to complete a learning task while moving away from a one-size-product-fits-all approach.
    3. Provide meaningful feedback in a timely fashion.
    4. Connect standards and learning outcomes to their interests and passions.
    5. Implement Academy programs (school within a school).
    6. Offer virtual course options and innovative self-paced learning opportunities in lieu of traditional independent study programs (i.e. IOCS).
    7. Transform outdoor spaces into flexible classrooms and stimulating learning environments.
    8. Broaden student horizons by bringing in experts both face-to-face and virtually who work in emerging fields of work. Take kids on field trips through virtual reality technology.
    9. Move away from traditional grading and homework practices.
    10. Clearly articulate the “why” all the time so that students understand how what they are learning impacts them now and in the future.
    REAL learning should be a reality for all of our students.  What would you add to the list I have started above? 

    Posted: January 1, 2017, 11:23 pm
    To this day I still remember the article that I read about Twitter in the Staten Island Advance one cold Sunday in March of 2009.  As someone who was totally against the use of social media for both personal and professional reasons, that article was intriguing to read as it essentially reinforced my negative perception. However, as I neared the end of the piece a light bulb went on.  Finally I saw a professional connection as to how I could use social media to be a better communicator and engage more stakeholders in everything that was happening at my school. This was the beginning of my digital leadership journey that started with the simple goal of building better relationships with families in the community. 

    Developing the means to communicate more effectively and better engage families was one of the main goals of our Twitter strategy that evolved from the article I read.  We were still using traditional means of communication such as memos, on-site events such as our annual Back to School Night, PTO meetings, email blasts, and face-to-face conferences when needed. We also instituted a positive referral system that combined a paper note sent home and a phone call.  I am not saying that we were awful at engaging our families, but in a rapidly evolving digital world we were not meeting them where they were at, let alone giving them a choice as to how they wanted to engage with us. It was time to transform our communications for a digital world.



    The fact of the matter was that many of our parents and students were disconnected from the school.  Many parents worked multiple jobs and just didn’t have the time to attend events and meetings on-site or even read an email or memo.  In terms of our students we were pretty much clueless as to the tools and means they were using to communicate.  With Twitter as a starting point, my goal was to engage just a few more parents and students and if I did then that was a success.  I still remember getting so giddy when parents would tell me that they read my tweet or a student would comment on a news item I shared. These little morale boosters helped me to develop a more comprehensive digital strategy, which integrated more and more tools.

    Over time we learned that the real key to success was meeting these key stakeholder groups where they were at and engaging them in two-way communications using a blended approach. I was all about getting rid of paper, but we soon realized that this was still an effective way to get information out. Some families did not have Internet access or were not on social media. Thus, I still communicated using these tried and true methods. Over time I began to integrate a variety of tools in addition to Twitter such as Flickr, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Google+, Google Docs, Google Voice, and a school app for push notifications.  Email messages were still blasted out, but instead of just all text I began inserting video messages using YouTube to make my message more personal. 

    The blended approach served our school community well as we provided numerous choices as to how parents and students wanted to interact with our school.  We embraced the storyteller-in-chief mindset to unleash the positive energy embedded in the great work that was taking place in our school on a daily basis. The lesson learned here was how we could create an image and identity for our school through transparency that would forge greater trust and support from our stakeholders. Thus, our concerted strategy of consistent communications and taking control of public relations resulted in the creation of a positive brand presence.  Going forward the brandED strategy was all about better engaging our families while building relationships in the process.

    Engaging families goes well beyond just sending out information whether it is through traditional or digital means. Communication in general tends to be impersonal even if video is used.  As part of our engagement strategy we made improved efforts to interact with families face-to-face.  In addition to the annual Back-to-School night we began hosting more interactive events to educate parents on our emerging innovative practices. Parents and students were invited to sit on interview committees for new teachers and administrators.  When we changed homework practices as a district, parents and students were invited to be part of the entire process, including reviewing synthesized research.  

    All in all we looked for more opportunities to give families a greater sense of involvement in the school community. As partnerships were formed near and far, we always looked for ways to make the connection to an improved school culture. Involvement, either active or passive, was one of our goals. However, the major goal was to build better relationships with families by showing them how much we cared about the success of their kids and the pride we had as a school in the local community. 

    Posted: December 26, 2016, 2:34 pm
    For every education professional, adversity is a constant reality: lack of time, not enough resources, outdated facilities, resistant staff, and a slew of mandates/directives, to name a few. It can be difficult at times to envision and implement progressive change when you feel buried by these challenges. I wish I could tell you that these daily demands will dissipate in the near future, but that would create an allure of false hope.  Instead, I will tell you what, in my opinion, is the greatest adversary we as leaders face: our own mindset.  

    The human brain is wired to keep us safe, and as a result we often become averse to change. The status quo and our personal comfort zones create a perceived safety net that is difficult for many leaders to break free from. In many cases, we teach the way we were taught and lead the way we were led;  our past experiences often dictate or influence professional practice. When this mindset is combined with silos that have been erected to protect organizations from information and new ideas, it becomes more clear as to why transformational change is often just an idea that never gets put into motion.



    We must take a critical look at the effect fixed mindsets can have on a learning culture. Shifting our mindset begins with a renewed focus on our senses. As leaders, we must constantly make observations and own what we see. One important reflection point: is your school is preparing students for life or only to do well in school?  Just as important as observing the reality is listening, not just hearing your stakeholders. When leaders don’t listen, people will shut down and withdraw. Saying no or refusing to embrace new ideas has become the safe bet against unwanted risk in a time of disruptive change. However, the unfortunate result is a dramatic decrease in motivation, enthusiasm, willingness to innovate, and respect for one’s ability to lead. 

    A shift in mindset empowers leaders to create change, not respond to change. It is this shift that can begin to lay the foundation for transformation. How do we do this? By beginning to challenge the way things are done; by replacing the word “no” with the word “yes” more often; and by focusing on the “what ifs” instead of the “yeah, but’s.”  This is where a growth mindset begins to reap professional rewards.  Leaders who shift to a growth mindset:

    • Embrace challenges
    • Persist in the face of setbacks
    • See effort as the path to mastery
    • Learn from criticism
    • Find lessons and inspiration in the success of others

    When leaders shift to a growth mindset, the foundation is set to really transform learning cultures. Transformational leadership is the collaborative responsibility for taking action to reach future-oriented goals while meeting the intellectual, emotional, and physical needs of each student. Transformational leaders consistently make observations, listen intently, leverage a growth mindset, and most importantly, take action to improve the organization. These leaders:

    • Focus on vision and empowerment.
    • Embrace risk to facilitate change
    • Engage in future-focused problem-solving to create learning opportunities
    • Adapt to situations effectively
    • Develop and articulate a vision about the future needs of students to ensure that all stakeholders are using the same language about leadership in the school
    • Work with people in a manner that ignites their passions, talents, and desires to attain a shared vision


    The Transformational Leadership Framework above that we have developed at the International Center for Leadership in Education has four quadrants.  The vertical axis is the vision continuum, or the level of thinking about what is important in a school.  At its lowest level—quadrant A—leaders are authoritative and focus on school rules, practices, and the management of day-to-day tasks. At higher levels, leaders anticipate the future and consider what skills and knowledge students will need and what should be added to current programs and services to help students succeed. 

    The horizontal axis is the empowerment continuum. On the left side, leaders execute leadership practices more unilaterally, making decisions and solving day-to-day problems themselves. Moving to the right, leadership shifts from the actions of a single leader to decision making by a leadership team to distributed leadership throughout the district or school.

    There is no such thing as a perfect leader, school or district. Each day we have the opportunity to improve professional practice to create a better learning culture for students and educators. Think about your own practice and the steps you can take to make transformation a reality instead of an overused buzzword. 

    Posted: December 18, 2016, 1:56 pm
    Many educators, including myself, routinely talk about the need for innovation in education. If we continue to employ the same type of thinking then we will get the same or results. We also run the risk of taking a step backwards and experiencing worse results than anticipated.  Change isn’t coming; it is already on our doorstep! Thus we must begin to embrace new ideas and methodologies.  It can be concluded then that change is necessary in a digital world thanks to the exponential evolution of technology.  

    We must begin to explore and implement innovative learning activities beyond isolated pockets of excellence.  Innovation in education can defined as creating, implementing, and sustaining transformative ideas that instill awe to improve learning. Technology not only awes, but it can also empower our learners in amazing ways. It’s time to start asking and focusing on the right questions. It is difficult for many educators, including myself, to keep up with the evolving digital landscape.  Being able to access information is only a start. When you think about it we are drowning in a sea of information. Access only matters if it is turned into new knowledge and action.

    Lets now apply the elements of innovation, change, access, and knowledgeable action to the evolving technology of virtual reality.  Just a few years ago this type of technology was financially out of reach for the majority of schools across the world. Now, however, educators can provide access to an artificial world that consists of images and sounds that is affected by the actions of a student who is experiencing. Thanks to innovative products like Google Cardboard virtual experiences can be provided to students with just one smartphone and a $15 cardboard box outfitted with two lenses.  




    There are so many educational experiences that students can engage in using Google Cardboard, the world’s most affordable VR headset. Teachers can bring lessons to life with Google Expeditions and take students on interactive, virtual field trips. Below is the description from Google:

    Google Expeditions enable teachers to bring students on virtual trips to places like museums, underwater, and outer space. Expeditions are collections of linked virtual reality (VR) content and supporting materials that can be used alongside existing curriculum. These trips are collections of virtual reality panoramas — 360° panoramas and 3D images — annotated with details, points of interest, and questions that make them easy to integrate into curriculum already used in schools.

    To get started and view a complete list of Google Expeditions click HERE. The benefit of VR and Cardboard is not limited to Google Expeditions. There is an array of free and paid apps available.  For a list of some free apps that can be utilized in the classroom click HERE.

    The potential of VR lies well beyond just accessing and viewing information on a device such as Google Cardboard.  For an innovative learning activity such as this to have real value the information gleaned from the experience should be transformed into knowledge and action.  Take a look at the video below to see what I mean.



    As the mother states, innovation saved her daughter’s life.  The doctors not only used VR and Google Cardboard, but they did these important steps:

    • Accessed and collected vital information
    • Converted information into new knowledge
    • Used new knowledge to develop a solution and act

    This example is the epitome of innovative learning.  It is my hope that we will move students well beyond just viewing and accessing information through VR technology and use the simple process above.  Actually, we need to lend a more critical eye to why and how technology is currently being used in education to veer away from surface level integration and substitution. The Rigor Relevance Framework provides great guidance on how to make this happen.

    Posted: December 11, 2016, 2:28 pm
    It is hard to debate that education is the key to the future.  With each passing day new opportunities and challenges arise that will require a new generation of thinkers who can rise to the occasion.  Schools must unlock the potential within our students while preparing them for a rapidly changing world. For this to happen we must rethink the very essence of education and ask ourselves if our students will be adequately equipped to succeed in their future, not ours.  As the world changes, education and leadership must change as well. If it does not change, we then run the risk of preparing students for a world that no longer exists.



    Herein lies the problem.  The silo effect in schools has created a false dichotomy as to what constitutes essential learning and skills in the 21st Century and beyond.  As a result, many school leaders think everything is awesome.  Just listen to the theme song of the Lego Movie and you will know exactly what I am talking about. Then ask yourself if everything is really awesome in your school? Or better yet, ask your students to come up with a list of all the awesome learning activities they get to engage in on a daily basis. Their answers alone can best predict the learning culture of a school and whether or not it is meeting their needs. It really doesn’t matter if the adults keep beating the drum that teaching and learning are changing. Proof is in the pudding. In this case the proof comes from conversations with students. 


    Everything is Awesome - Lego Movie

    The silo effect creates a mirage that everything is great.  It also restricts the thinking of the collective in order to implement innovative ideas that can transform teaching, learning, and leadership.  Many schools are unwilling to change because a factor such as high achievement on standardized tests is, in their view, an indicator of high performance.  The reality for many learners is an environment focused on a traditional model of education and criteria for success that lack relevance, meaning, and value.  Thus, a natural disconnect occurs the second they enter a school building.  Looking beyond our walls while moving outside comfort zones are key actions that can begin the process of breaking down school silos.

    The same silo effect applies to our own learning and views or that of our colleagues. Information is readily available to all who are willing to venture in the digital space to take advantage of it.  Being a disconnected nomad is no longer an option if the goal is to improve professional practice and the learning culture of a school. Accessing the wealth of information out there is just a start though. To truly break free of the silo effect teachers and administrators must turn the information they access into new knowledge and action.  

    The best ideas and strategies are now at our fingertips. We can now break free from the self-imposed silos and begin to have critical conversations about innovative change schools need.  To begin to break free from the silo effect consider these questions:
    • Is our school/district relevant? Am I relevant?
    • How can we prepare students for the future if we are stuck in the past?
    • How do we know if we are meeting the needs of our learners?
    • What are other schools and educators doing around the globe?
    • Do we collaborate and connect with educators near and far to push our thinking as well as access the best resources, ideas, strategies, feedback, and support? 
    It is important to peel away the many layers at the surface in order to gain a better understanding of where a school culture is currently. The silo effect often creates a feeling of content and satisfaction since the doorway to fresh ideas is not open.   Learning from others beyond our walls and traditional comfort zones presents limitless opportunities for innovative change. This will not only greatly impact learners, but also each other.

    Posted: December 4, 2016, 11:18 am
    There are many lessons we can learn from the business world and adapt in ways that align with education.  Take the concept of branding. Since the advent of media organizations across the globe have worked tirelessly to build a positive brand presence that resonates with potential consumers.  In short it represents a promise that is woven into a combination of words, design, colors, music, video, logo, service, etc. The promise that companies promote is aligned to specific attributes with the goal of creating a memorable experience.  If this goal is met the likelihood increases that a consumer will purchase their product. Mega brands like Apple, McDonald’s, and Nike have long embraced this concept of branding and the result has been the creation of a clear identity.

    When it comes to education people line up on both sides of the branding debate. From a purely business sense I would be against the concept myself. The purpose of school is not to sell and increase profits.  This is something that we can all agree on. However, a schools’ identity is extremely important in the eyes of the beholder, which in this case are key stakeholder groups consisting of students, parents, community members, local businesses, and educators. The idea of a promise to educate all learners and prepare them for success in a rapidly changing world is an expectation that cannot be ignored.  If this can’t be promised then why would stakeholders support our schools or trust their children to educate them?

    Identity matters in a digital world.  Do you want this created for your school or would you like to be proactive in developing one? This is where the concept of branding has value and significance for schools.  The overreaching goal of a brandED strategy is to develop and sustain positive relationships with all stakeholders. It is not about selling, but a consistent focus on sharing and telling your story. The bottom line is that if you don’t tell your story someone else will and the result could be an identity that does not align with your school’s mission, vision, or values.  


    Image credit: http://iambusinessmarketing.com/

    Embracing these elements of brandED thinking by becoming the storyteller-in-chief can begin to the process of developing a powerful school identity that resonates.  Strengthen your school’s identity with these simple tips:
    1. Amplify great work that takes place on a daily basis by consistently sharing using a multi-faceted approach that blends traditional (newsletters, email, phone, face-to-face) with digital age tools (social media). With social media tools make sure your account pages are up to date (website links, avatars, profile information, etc.). It is also wise to educate your stakeholders on social media tools and how you will be using them to increase engagement.
    2. Build trust through transparency.  The benefits here are numerous including attracting families to move to your local district or in the case of tuition (private, parochial, independent) schools, make a greater financial investment. It can also help when it comes to referendums, passing the school budget, and engaging alumni with the hopes of donating time, money, and resources.
    3. Focus on elements that align to a thriving school culture such as innovative learning, student achievement, staff accomplishments, college/career readiness, partnerships, unique traditions, and extra-curricular activities.
    4. Empower others to be active sharers and avoid a gatekeeper mentality when it comes to sharing the story of your school.  Encourage different departments, student groups, parent organizations, and extra-curricular activities to maintain social media accounts.
    5. Regularly recognizing the work of educators and students in your school can be inspirational. The result can be greater levels of motivation and appreciation, which helps to develop a positive school culture. Develop a template to curate all the great work occurring on a monthly basis. The report can then be shared in it's entirety or broken up into numerous blog posts.  
    In an education sense the identity of your school (or even yourself) is not only determined by the work, but also how the work is shared.  It stands for who you are.  Being cognizant of this fact allows you to be proactive in creating an identity that resonates with all stakeholders. Think about the identity that you, your students, and staff want. By using the tips above, engaging stakeholders in two-way communications, and taking control of your public relations, in time you will create an identity that truly depicts the amazing work taking place on a daily basis.

    Posted: November 27, 2016, 2:29 pm
    Nobody likes change, but the fact is that change is at our doorstep.  Changes in technology are quickly beginning to force the hands of schools and districts across the world. This poses some good news for students, as transformation efforts are under way to provide authentic learning experiences that provide relevance, value, and tangible skills in an unpredictable world. Even though changes are occurring, we need to be mindful of what is driving the work while looking past soft claims to ensure technology is actually improving learning and achievement.   It is important not to get sucked into the transformational aspects of the technology itself, but instead focus on the transformation of teaching, learning, and leadership.  

    With every inch of progress we must constantly be reflective of where we are at and how to improve. We can ill afford to keep investing in the “stuff” through the played out scenario of putting the cart before the horse.  Placing a device in the hands of all students and hoping for learning miracles to happen will always result in a let down.  I know this might rub technology aficionados the wrong way, but the fact remains that edtech has been over-promised and under delivered.  Any leader who has gone through a successful digital transformation realizes this.  The key is to be critical of the process in order to make sure investments pay off in terms of enhanced learner outcomes.  


    Image credit: http://core0.staticworld.net/images/article/2015/08/cx-picture-100608993-primary.idge.jpg

    Many lessons can be learned from successful digital transformations, including the one that occurred at my former school. Whether going Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), 1:1, blended, or personalized learning take note of some key elements that are essential to success:

    Infrastructure

    If the plumbing is not in place success will be hard to come by.  By infrastructure I am not talking about devices per say, but WiFi access and space design.  There is noting more frustrating for teachers and students alike when attempts are made to integrate technology with purpose only to have the WiFi not work or operate properly. Hand in hand with WiFi access is the capability to charge devices.  Make the initial investment to get this right the first time.

    Framework 

    Pedagogy trumps technology. Do you have a framework in place to ensure successful integration?  It is critical to have a common vision, language and expectations for how technology will play a ubiquitous role in supporting and/or enhancing learning.  A growing number of schools and districts rely on the SAMR model.  My question for you to consider is what does SAMR actually tell you or your stakeholders about the level of student learning taking place? We found the answer to be not very much. SAMR does provide good guidance on what to avoid when it comes to technology integration (substitution) and provides an excellent bridge to the Rigor Relevance Framework. Consider the Rigor Relevance Framework, which is learner centric, to assist in effectively aligning technology to instruction, curriculum, and space redesign. Check out this example in relation to Gsuite.

    Professional Learning

    Investing in people will always be one of the foundation elements of a successful digital transformation.  Relevant, job-embedded learning opportunities that move away from traditional drive-by approaches will help to sustain meaningful change.  Equal investments need to be made to support both teachers and administrators.  After all, success is dependent on both groups having the knowledge, support, and skills to implement, evaluate, and continuously improve the digital transformation process. There is no substitute for quality face-to-face professional learning opportunities that blend an assessment of where you stand with digital practices, courses, job-embedded coaching, and active discussion.  

    Leadership

    This element is critical in any type of change process.  It is not only about being open to change, but also being an intimate player in the process.  Thus, digital leadership goes without saying. It is about working smarter, not harder, in order to do what we already do better.  Digital leaders help to establish a collective vision, provide support, model expectations, ensure accountability, and constantly reflect in transparent ways in order to improve.  Technology is a ubiquitous component that supports the work they have always done but in a more effective and efficient manner.

    Avoid Assumptions

    Let’s begin with an example.  Students know how to use tech (assumption), but they don’t necessarily know how to use it to support their learning (reality). Students will be off task when they are afforded the opportunity to use technology (assumption), yet virtually all of us adults would go off task at times well before the digital age (reality).  So many assumptions are made when it comes to technology that reality plays second fiddle.  Progress, and ultimately success, is contingent upon removing a myriad of barriers to change that arise as a result of our mindset. Assumptions and excuses will hold you back. Thanks to the Internet and Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s) we can learn firsthand from the reality inherent in digital transformation success across the globe.  

    Evidence

    Success breeds success.  There is no greater motivator than the positive results of any change effort. Evidence of success goes a long way towards embracing change resulting in transformation. However, along the same lines of our infatuation with assumptions, a lack of evidence and connection to research tends to be accepted when talking about digital transformations. When integrating technology there needs to be a Return on Instruction (ROI) that results in evidence of improved student learning outcomes. This can come in the form of data, improved observations/evaluations, artifacts, and portfolios. Too much money and time is at stake to just rely on broad claims and a lack of real evidence of success. 

    Smart Budgeting 

    Having developed a budget for a high school over the course of many years I can tell you that there was a great deal of wasted money year in and year out. Money can be freed up in any budget if we critically analyze how the expenditure will positively impact learning.  Once money is reallocated the next step is to ascertain the role that any technology purchase will play. The question we need to be asking when going through the budget process is how will this technology actually improve learning and achievement at scale?  If there is a challenge in answering this question then obviously you are not making a wise investment.  Do your research and plan accordingly.

    Relationships

    Relationships are the glue that holds the change process together resulting in transformation.  These need to be built both internally and externally.  From a student perspective it is important to emphasize and follow through in ways to foster greater student agency in the learning culture.  You need to begin to say yes more than no as implemented ideas that come from students are the ultimate relationship builder.  From an adult stakeholder perspective it is critical to develop a positive brand presence that will result from a multi-faceted approach to communications and an evolution into the storyteller-in-chief.  Meet your stakeholders where they are at, engage them in two-way communications, and maintain a level of consistency. Over time powerful relationships will be established with all.

    All in all we need to prepare students for their future, not ours.  We can ill afford to prepare them for a world that doesn’t exist.  We need to create schools of the future, today.  Even with progress in many schools and districts it is important to always be open to critical reflection and evaluation on not just where we are at, but more importantly where we want to be.  

    Posted: November 20, 2016, 2:19 pm
    As educators it is important that we model the expectations that we have for our students and each other.  To that end, it is vitally important that we continually look for ways to push our own thinking and leadership in order to improve professional practice.  In my role as a presenter this is key. I routinely ask all types of educators to be innovative and take risks. As I continue to grow in this area, I am always on the look out for new tools that I can integrate into my presentations to demonstrate these two points as well as to illustrate the pedagogical link that technology supports in our schools.  Often times I will double down and also make the connection of how certain tools can be used to support the work of administrators.

    Recently I was tasked with delivering a two and a half hour keynote to 1700 educators in Missouri.  This posed quite the challenge thanks to the large size of the crowd and duration of the presentation.  As I went through my deck I looked for opportunities to build in numerous interactive activities where everyone in the audience would be able to respond.  Lately my tools of choice have been TodaysMeet, Answer Garden, and Mentimeter (my all time favorite).  Once all of the interactive components were added I noticed that I had more questions than different tools.  It was time to take a risk and learn a new tool.

    Thanks to the assistance of my PLN I had a variety of new tools to choose from. I settled on ProConIt.  This is a very cool, yet powerful tool that has applications in the classroom and to strengthen relationships with stakeholders. With ProConIt your audience can discuss and debate any topic you develop. Unlike typical polling tools, you create something called a "Procon" by defining both the topic of discussion and the two sides of the issue you want to gather opinions on. ProConIt allows you to ask these questions and then invite students, stakeholders, or audience members to provide their thoughts. Essentially an open debate unfolds where everyone can participate. 

    As others navigate the Procon, opinions up to 225 characters can be submitted on both sides of the issue. People can even evaluate comments that were previously submitted.  What then happens is the best opinions, either for or against, rise to the top. The needle at the top of the page tells you which way the issue is leaning while the specific arguments identify why.  Take a look at the results from a ProConIt I recently used during a recent keynote. The prompt was as follows: Do you feel gaming and the gamification of education can lead to better learner outcomes? Submit your opinion with a reason.




    This is a great tool to use in the classroom and with stakeholders to facilitate open debate on issues relating to learning concepts, global problems, policy changes, new courses, referendums, technology purchases, proposed school schedule changes, and the list goes on and on.  The key to using this tool, especially with students, is for respondents to explain why they are for or against.  Shortened URL’s can also be included as a means to provide evidence to support a pro or con stance.  

    Upon reflecting on my use of this tool yesterday, so many useful applications come to mind.  For starters, it is an incredible tool to use during presentations to engage attendees in a thoughtful dialogue.  However, the real value of this tool will be found in the hands of students, educators, and administrators. Think about the possibilities of using ProConIt as a powerful way to improve student agency in your school or to build consensus around major decisions with a better sampling of stakeholders.  How do you see yourself using ProConIt in your respective position? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

    Posted: November 13, 2016, 2:12 pm
    One of my fondest memories of school was my science teacher, Mr. South. Having attended a K-8 consolidated school in rural NJ, we knew who all the teachers were.  However, Mr. South stood out.  I remember an elementary student seeing paper flyers with a caricature of Mr. South wearing one of his famous flannel shirts. As the years passed, he transitioned from flannel to a dress shirt, tie, and jeans.  He was stylish in the sense that he always got students and staff alike to talk about what he was wearing over the years.

    There was a reason why everyone talked about Mr. South. He was an amazing teacher. Every student in the school could not wait to take his class.  Since our school was small, there was a chance you could even have him multiple times before moving up to the high school.  What separated Mr. South from his peers was his passion for helping students learn and love the sciences.  His lessons were light on direct instruction and heavy on authentic connections and application. He didn’t teach science. We learned science.

    All of his classes were amazing.  He is the main reason I pursued a degree in science initially, before taking this passion to the field of education. There was one project in particular that has stuck with me to this day.  Instead of lecturing to us about Mars he had us actually create Mars in the classroom. Students were broken up into teacher-selected groups that had different tasks to complete. The specific task of each group played a larger part in the Martian project.  My partner and I were tasked with getting materials to Mars in order to create an infrastructure on the planet.  Through our research we came across a device called the mass driver.  We presented our finding to Mr. South and he gave us the tasks of creating 2 different working mass driver prototypes

    During school and after school, my partner and I worked on developing these miniature prototypes that would actually propel mass.  This was certainly a frustrating experience, as we were never really asked to learn like this before.  Countless hours were spent outside of school working on this project. We even went to Mr. South’s house on weekends so that we could use the many different tools he had in his garage.  Through it all we owned our learning by being engaged in thoughtful work and made numerous connections to other disciplines. The process in itself was fraught with highs and lows, but in the end we developed the two working prototypes as assigned while learning with our hands.  

    Over a period of a couple of weeks each group worked to complete their assigned tasks.  The final step was then to actually create Mars in the classroom and that is what Mr. South had us do. It was controlled learning chaos that involved tools, wood, paper mache, collaboration, communication, black lights, and so much more.  When thinking of makerspaces today, our learning experience in his class was one connected to the guiding principles of the maker movement.  Once the surface of Mars was completed each group set up stations throughout the planet to present their specific projects.  The culminating activity was a multi-night presentation to parents and the greater community where each group showed off a thriving community would hypothetically be created on Mars. 



    This was by far one of the most powerful learning experiences I ever engaged in as a student.  Mr. South had us actively learn science instead of just taking notes and then a traditional assessment.  It was relevant, meaningful, and fun. Real-world predictable and unpredictable problems were tackled.  We developed the competence to think in complex ways and to apply knowledge and skills. Even when faced with perplexing unknowns, the pedagogy employed by Mr. South allowed us to use extensive knowledge and skills we didn’t know we had to create solutions and take action to further develop skills and knowledge. At ICLE this is what we call a Quad D learning activity.  

    Many of the 21st Century skills that are emphasized today were evident in the project that took place in 1988.  It is not that this type of learning is new. Heck, everything we see and hear for the most part is not new.  What has changed is how technology provides a new avenue to actively integrate this type of learning in ways that many of us could never have imagined.  The key is to focus on project-based and authentic inquiry. Taking the example I presented from my schooling consider the following elements and the ubiquitous role technology should play:

    • Driving question or challenge
    • Need to know
    • Inquiry and innovation
    • 21st Century skills
    • Student agency
    • Feedback and revision
    • Publicly presented project

    These elements, when aligned with sound pedagogy, can provide students with the types of learning opportunities that they will carry with them no matter what path they choose.  

    Posted: November 6, 2016, 12:43 pm
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