Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The 12 Days of Eduleaders

As 2014 draws to a close and the holidays are in full swing, it seems appropriate to stop and recognize 12 "individuals" who are changing education. These people are making a difference in their own schools as well as the school buildings of others. In the spirit of the season, I am going to filter this around a theme of 12 days, but for the sake of time and efficiency I am going to simply name the 12 in one post (it may be cheating but I am going with it).

Tom Murray
Tom is on a mission; a mission to connect all schools and use connectivity to empower learners at all levels. There are a good number of people on this mission, but there are few individuals with the tenacity to lead this movement to fruition. Tom now works in the policy realm and is leading the charge to create Future Ready Schools and increase connection opportunities. He has also played a large role in helping redefine professional learning in my own school. His work in the Quakertown School District helped to shape the direction we have taken professional learning in our building by empowering teachers to direct, collaborate on, and reflect upon individualized professional learning.

Jimmy Casas
I (like many others) could thank Jimmy Casas for increasing my professional connectivity exponentially. In 2012 I met Jimmy at the NASSP Ignite Conference and he immediately introduced me to individuals who have had a vast impact on my own professional learning. Jimmy is also one of the strongest advocates for student voice you will ever meet. His RSVP program at Bettendorf HS inspired our own RSVP program at LHS and is a model for providing students a meaningful and impactful voice in schools.

Dwight Carter
I met Dwight this past year at Ignite in Dallas. He is a model for servant leadership in schools and has been a great friend in helping me to wade through some of the murky professional waters that come with building leadership. He is also a model for stepping outside your comfort zone and finding a new challenge. This past year he left a school he had led faithfully to take on a new challenge in school leadership. He was open with his community as to why he was making the move and can say in all sincerity that Gahanna-Lincoln is better because he served it as a leader.

Jenna Shaw
Jenna is my Maryland edu-sister. She is a rockstar teacher and a fearless advocate for technology as a tool to empower her students. If there is a person who comes to mind when we discuss meaningful technology integration for learning and tireless advocacy it is Jenna.

The #SatChat Team (Billy, Brad, and Scott)
There are a LOT of Twitter chats for educators, but few have the impact of #SatChat. From its humble beginnings the chat has grown to coastal, international, and live versions. If you attend a conference in the Northeast that touts connectivity (and means it) you can bet a live #SatChat is probably happening. The conversations stemming from this chat are connecting educators globally and changing professional practice for the better.

Tom Whitby
I am going to refer to Tom as the Godfather of Edu-Blogging. Tom is not afraid to challenge the status quo or the popular trend when he doesn't see a benefit for students. His work blogging has produced numerous other edu-bloggers and his work with #EdChat is where the foundation for Twitter professional learning finds its roots. He is also a great person to engage in conversation (just be prepared to walk away thinking differently).

Joe Mazza
Joe is a model connected educator. His connectivity has led to colleges seeing connectivity as a meaningful and necessary professional practice rather than an unfortunate evil of the digital age. Today he is building the next generation of digital leaders and educators through UPenn and continues to be an advocate for increasing parent voice in our schools.

Eric Sheninger
Eric is the quintessential rockstar. His story of initially rejecting technology to building a learning model where it is a cornerstone summarizes the journey of many connected educators. Eric's book is the foundational work for digital leadership and he has shepherding countless educators on their connected journey. I am fortunate to have Eric in my PLN and more so as someone who I know will give me an honest take when I need one.

George Couros
George has used technology to not only empower students but also to connect leaders globally through the School Admin Virtual Mentors Program (#SAVMP). He is a dynamic speaker who has encouraged countless educators to connect and tell their own story.

Barry Saide
If you need to find a guy with passion for professional learning Barry is your guy. He is constantly working on growing professionally and is helping to develop others through his work with ASCD and ETEC. Spend just a few minutes with Barry and you will see his authenticity in becoming a better professional not for himself but for his students.

Professional Organizations that Get It
I know...not an individual. If you ask the federal government corporations are people so in my world, professional organizations count here. There are numerous professional organizations but there are few that "get" connectivity. ASCD has done a remarkable job this year in building connectivity with its members and leveraging this to empower professional growth. They are continuing to build upon this avenue through Edge and Twitter chats. NASSP gets my vote for an organization that got connectivity from the beginning. From recognizing connected leaders to building a conference off the connected model, NASSP has done incredible work in promoting connected and collective professional learning.

Todd Nesloney
Todd is the most passionate educator I have ever met. He is an individual who in his classroom understood the importance of connecting classrooms and students and as a principal continues to connect his school. As an administrator I admire that Todd, even in his new role, is still in classrooms teaching students on a regular basis and serves as a relentless champion for his staff and students.

So...there it is. I could go on about even more folks but 12 is a definate number! These people are changing education but so are countless others. If you are changing education for the better keep doing the good work. If you are reluctant to jump in that is OK. Look to these folks or others for inspiration. In the end it comes back to my closing statement for every #APChat and #MDEdChat: Be better every day in every way; out students deserve it.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Why Connection Matters

First a confession: this blog post is currently in its 8th incarnation and is 3 weeks in the making. Not that it makes a difference but I share this because this blog has evolved as events have evolved along with it. What started as a reflection on the impact of one individual has been morphed by two varied conference experiences. In the end there is a commonality: connection matters.

ASCD Emerging Leader Class of 2014
The journey starts a little over two weeks ago. Back in April I was notified by ASCD that I had been selected as an Emerging Leader for 2014; with this recognition came the opportunity to attend the Leader to Leader (L2L) Conference in DC in July. The L2L Conference is unique in that it is invitation only. In order to put this into perspective ASCD has over 135,000 members worldwide and L2L has about 150 attendees - talk about feeling a little struck by enormity of influence. 

Part of Team NTSquared
As the weekend moved on we were tasked with self-reflection exercises and the development of a group project to benefit the members (or potential members) of ASCD. It would have been easy to fall into a pattern of churning out a project to meet our goal and riding out the weekend. Instead, our team became passionate about our project and its intentions (for clarity we created the Novice Educator Resource Portal). The members of our group, even when told we had no access to tech - not easy when you construct a website - believed so deeply in our goal that we adapted, collaborated, and connected to strengthen our end result. On Saturday I traveled home and since that time I have never left the L2L Conference. The people I connected with formed a Voxer chat group where we greet each other everyday with "Good Morning Everybody," share our local weather, highlight our daily agenda, and discuss educational issues. It is not the topicality that matters, it is the connection.

Shoutout to Brad Currie, Billy Krakower, Fred Ende, Eric Bernstein, Allison Hogan, Alina Davis, Meghan Everette, Matt Mingle, Amanda Britt, Aubrie Rojee, Chris Yuknis, Jill Thompson, Timonius Downing, Dahlia Constantine, Emily Davis, Michelle Sencibaugh, and countless others for proving the power of connection.

Glenn Robbins and I facilitating a session
A week later I traveled to EdCamp Leadership at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. I admit it - I LOVE EdCamp! I have never left an EdCamp without feeling stronger as an educator and a leader. I was able to re-connect with some great friends from around the country who had traveled in to take part in the learning and had the chance to finally meet some PLN connections that I had not yet met face-to-face. My first 30 minutes at EdCamp included catching up with Aaron Becker (Iowa) and Jeff Zoul (Illinois) as well as engaging in a conversation with Tom Whitby (New York) regarding the isolation many connected educators feel in their own districts/schools. I am passionate about professional learning and decided to lead a session on it. I was fortunate to have Glenn Robbins join me to help facilitate the conversation. The result was a conversation that covered professional learning, connected leadership, and remembering the pressures on educators. I also was able to attend a session on connectedness and a conversation about personalized learning for educators. As I made the 3 hour drive home I was struck by the power of connection and its ability to bring so many powerful voices into my own development and how much my school, students, and community benefit from their expertise. Again, it was all about connection.

Shoutout to Jimmy Casas, Aaron Becker, Joe Sanfelippo, Joe Mazza, Tom Murray, Tom Whitford, Tom Whitby, Brad Currie, Jeff Zoul, Reed Gillespie, Melissa Finkel, Sharon Lepage Plante, Tony Sinansis, and of course, Glenn Robbins.

Connected Leaders bonding at NASSP in Dallas
The final piece is where this post started. The week I headed to L2L Eric Sheninger announced he was leaving New Milford High School to join the International Center for Leadership in Education. During that weekend I had a conversation with Brad Currie, someone I met through Eric and who I consider the epitome of connection. We were discussing Eric's move and we got hung up on one question: how many people is Eric responsible for getting connected? Many people know Eric from his book Digital Leadership; I am honored to say I got to know him before that time. I only say that because Eric is the reason I decided to join Twitter. He is the reason when I was told to leave Twitter behind I continued to connect. He is the reason why I have fought to not only make Twitter a component in our school but also to open up every other school in our district to engage and connect. When there were questions in our Central Office about OpenCourseware and BYOD in our school and district he agreed to meet with them via GHO and answer their questions with experience and class. Thanks to these efforts my students have the opportunity to take OCW courses and this year our district goes BYOD. Summing it up in a simple sentence: Eric Sheninger made my school better. I am not alone in my story. It is not an understatement to say that Eric Sheninger has had more positive impact on schools in the last 5 years than any other individual. His insistence on pushing forward when someone said no but he knew it was right for his students is a spirit we all hope to embody. He has connected more people than we can count and in his new role will be better able to be a boot of the ground to connect the unconnected. If there is one lesson I have learned from Eric and the countless others that I have met through the connected world it is not the technology or the opportunity - it is the connection that matters.

Friday, March 21, 2014

What PD Can Learn from TV

Study the picture to the left for a moment. Anything stand out? Maybe not...so let's look at it from a different perspective. Study the picture to the left for a moment with a thought to how it resembles traditional professional development. Any difference in analysis? The image to the left is a visualization of professional learning as many schools and districts know it. Individuals gathered around a central screen with some potentially not particularly drawn by the content. Let me elaborate the metaphor.

The nature of learning has changed. Learners today, even adult learners in a professional session, are no longer drawn to a central, shared screen. The nature of viewership has changed.

In the 1950s options for television were slim. The most channels available at any point in the decade was 4...that's right, 4. Now let's think about the 2010s and television. Today you have a seemingly endless stream of channels to choose from, but that's not the most important part. The most important part is the shift to on demand content. As a majority viewers no longer sit to view a program from start to finish when it is first aired. Many DVR to watch when they are able, stream through the commercials and content that is not of use to them, and even more are viewing on-demand services. So what does this mean for professional learning? It means that we need to move away from the model of professional learning that resembles 1950s television.

No longer is it acceptable to offer professional learning that centers on a singular, sit-and-get moment. No longer is it acceptable to offer professional learning that is void of true choice. No longer is it acceptable to offer professional learning that fails to facilitate personalization. 

We need to find ways to mirror our professional learning system to the viewership habits of our learners. As society shifts to one where we are on-demand consumers then it is time to offer professional learning that meets an on-demand world. We have an obligation as educators, leaders, and professionals to develop professional learning models and opportunities where our educational professionals are provided an on-demand model for their own learning. We must stop making excuses about policies, mandates, and requirements and begin to redesign our professional learning models. As we make this redesign a reality we will begin to model learning strategies to extend to our students and classrooms. This redesign is not about revolution it is about evolution.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Testament to Servant Leadership

Over the past several years of my career I have been fortunate enough to be engaged in a number of conversations centered on leadership. Opinions, perspectives, and thoughts tend to follow the normal stream: leaders are people who others want to follow and who have a sense of direction. On the surface, I agree. However, as my conversations have manifested with others I am found myself a stronger proponent of leaders who build others' capacity, be followers themselves, and can stand outside the spotlight and be proud in handing the "reigns of power" over to others. Admittedly, these are not easy for most leaders. After all, there is a sense of directional authority and purpose as well as an engrained compass of control that manifests itself in many leaders.

This week I am proud to say that I reached a new destination in my journey to becoming a better servant leader. Over the past two years I have instituted a number of new programs within my school, many of which are designed to promote creativity, innovation, and enhanced student/professional learning. Late last week one of these programs was prominently featured in our local paper.

Last Spring I began the process of recruiting a core group of teachers to serve as pilot classrooms in a flipped classroom program. I looked for teachers with skills not that dissimilar to those identified in effective leaders: risk takers; collaborative; forward-thinking; data-driven; and positive. A year ago this week was my first meeting with a teacher who I believed would be a good catalyst for the program. She was tentative about the methodology and required several conversations on how it could benefit her professional practice and her ability to facilitate student learning. During the coming months we met with the other pilot teachers and developed an understanding of the program and the methodologies. We met with Todd Nesloney (@TechNinjaTodd) virtually in a GHO to get his perspective as an experienced flipped classroom teacher, watched teacher videos and discussed our takeaways, and designed the first videos. This past Fall I met with each class within the program and explained the method of learning and their responsibilities. Then I backed off...I let the teachers take the reigns and served in a support role as necessary. Fast forward to February 2014 and the teachers who piloted the program are now training other teachers and expanding their own class programs.

Now back to the feature story...
Carroll County Times
When I informed our first flipped teacher that there was going to be an article on the program she assumed I would be a large chunk of the story. In all honesty, I felt that I should prepare for my portion of the interview by providing a detailed description of the program. I am glad I didn't. The reporter who visited the room didn't need my help; the teacher had such a command of the process that it spoke for itself. I watched her handing the reigns of the learning process over to her students and standing back facilitating when the students needed it. When she was asked by the reporter who to speak with she proudly replied, "any of them...they are all awesome!"

This is where my proud father story begins. When the article appeared she and the students were the featured stars. Sure, there were pieces of me explaining resources and supports, but the article starts and ends with the students and the teacher. Then came Monday of this week; I was made aware that the article was picked up by the Associated Press and sent across the AP Wire. As a result the article appeared in media in over 280 unique locations, including 2 other continents. I shared this with our teacher and her students and they were shocked. Their classroom was no longer just theirs, it was also the world's. They were teaching others through their actions. They were truly a global classroom!

As a leader I have to admit that this is has been one of my proudest moments. Sure, something that I started has grown faster than our expectations but more importantly, the program is no longer mine. I have witnessed others taking the program and making it their own. I have witnessed a teacher coming into her own and becoming a more visible leader herself. I have witnessed students taking ownership and control of their own learning. In summary, I have witnessed my leadership not in terms of direction and edict but instead in terms of building capacity and leadership for others.

The next time I am engaged in one of those discussions about leadership you can be sure this will be one of the examples I pull from. I am proud to say that I have become better as a servant leader.

Carroll County Times Story

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Scarce Resources? Information Isn't One of Them (NASSP Ignite14 Day 1)

I would be lying if I said that finding a topic to speak about from day 1 of the NASSP Ignite14 Conference was easy. At many conferences I have found one session or one statement that stands out - that's not the case here in Dallas. Instead, I find myself full of inspiration and motivation after the first day of the conference. From dynamic speakers to my PLN there is so much that leaves me inspired to return to my school and make a positive impact.

Information was once scarce
Thursday saw the opening Thought Leader Session with renowned psychologist Carol Dweck (Author of Mindset) and Educator/Speaker Daniel Wong (Author of The Happy Student). During the panel discussion Mr. Wong was asked about the state of public education; his response was extremely profound and is sure to be a topic for many Twitter chats in the near future. His response was simple: "the problem with public education is that is built on a foundational idea that information is scarce...that idea is no longer true." BAM! There is the underlying theme of every discussion about educational change in the digital age. When I went to school (not that long ago) my sources of information were found only at school and the public library. The access limitations of these two mediums meant that learning was largely driven by the information made available to me in school. I had things I wanted to learn but the only way to gain that knowledge was to ask an educator for the resources and hope they didn't filter my knowledge source. How far we have come from this!

Information is no longer scarce for the learner
Today, our students have the ability to not only find any piece of information at the tap of a finger on a screen, but individuals also have access to the collective knowledge base and learning tools of the world at the click of a mouse. MOOCs and OpenCourseware programs allow an individual to take courses from our highest institutes of learning anytime, anywhere, for FREE! Connectivity allows us to find information quickly and in varied forms. Need an answer? Google it and explore. No longer does someone have to find an educator as the conduit for personal learning; technology has made us our own conduits of learning. 

Information is no longer scarce for educators
Students are not alone in this shift - educators (students in their own right) are also at an informational buffet. Let's look at Twitter. Twitter has changed not only my professional life but also my school. I firmly believe that connected educators are at a distinct advantage in enacting positive change within their schools and communities. Years ago an educator's access to colleagues and information was limited to those individuals directly around them. Today, social media allows educators from across the country to connect and learn together anytime, anywhere, for FREE! (Sound familiar) When I come to an NASSP Conference I arrive knowing I am going to connect with friends from across the country. However, 20 years ago this was my one opportunity to truly connect; today, these colleagues feel like educators down the hall from my classroom/office.

A quick look at the collective knowledge of my PLN in Dallas makes it clear that information is no longer scarce. The picture to the left is from dinner Thursday night. In that group are three renowned speakers and authors, five Digital Principals of the Year, a National Principal of the Year, a state AP of the Year, and two state Principals of the Year. How did these people form a bond? Twitter. We met, connected, and now grow together daily. That bond formed is centered on the principle that we can make our schools better. As educators we can make a difference. As educators we can collaborate and break down the walls of informational barricades.

Conference Connections
So how is this connected to Ignite14? Simple - MINDSET! The educators I have had the privilege to connect with are growth mindset individuals. They do not see challenge as the barrier to making our schools better. Instead they see challenges and seek creative ways to solve them. Some examples? Dwight Carter identified an issue with space and mindset in his school and collaboratively he was able to launch Clark Hall, an interactive and collaborative space for students to come together and learn. Jason Markey identified an issue with launching a large-scale 1:1 initiative and worked to develop a student-run technology support program that not only solves the basic issue but also empowers students. Eric Sheninger identified a desire for change but a limited resource pool and worked to develop partnerships so that his students have access to cutting edge technology at no cost to the school.

Concluding Thought
Information is no longer scarce and it is time that we start admitting that and working to open the informational doors for our students. At the conference I have heard several questions that were focused on why an idea won't work in their district, mostly out of their control. In the spirit of the growth mindset I would challenge those people to stop looking at these issues as barriers and start seeing them as opportunities to connect and grow. Reach out and find a colleague who has made it work. Reach out and ask questions to build your knowledge base. After all, information is not all that scarce.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Getting Beyond The Big Red Light

Jacques Plante

"How would you like a job where, every time you make a mistake, a big red light goes on and 18,000 people boo?" (Jacques Plante)

There is no lonelier position in hockey than the goalie. They stand alone, often spending inordinate amounts of time doing, well, nothing. A shot takes approximately 3 seconds to occur from setup to contact to release to save (or goal). A typical night in goal means facing 30 shots; extrapolate that out and you get 90 seconds a night that the goalie matters. A hockey game has 3600 seconds in regulation which means the goalie is active for 2.5% of every game. The numbers tell a false tale...the goalie only matters for 2.5% of the game but in most games that 2.5% means everything. Are administrators all that different?

Everyday in schools the bulk of the action happens outside the direct realm of an administrator. In classrooms, lunchrooms, hallways, and corridors students and staff interact and engage away from the goal crease. The plays develop throughout the school and 2.5% of the time an administrator is called upon to make the big save. These saves come in the form of deescalating conflicts, mediating parent, student, and staff concerns, and providing support in times of crisis and need. How we respond in these "save moments" can determine the fate of our ability to govern and manage a successful school. In other words...the way we respond when the big red light goes on can make all the difference to our students, staff, and community.

I share my own personal game experience from this week. In less than 24 hours this week (so far) I successfully helped a colleague navigate the waters of progressive discipline, facilitated successful transitions for struggling students, helped staff members address grading concerns, and waded the waters (literally) of water line breaks. All saves! I only point these out to make a singular point - the big red light stayed off, the goal stayed empty, and no one cheered...and it didn't bother me one bit! My job is making saves; it is what administrators do. What about when the shutout gets broken?

I don't always make the saves. I have made mistakes. I misjudged a direction the "puck" was going to take, didn't see the deflection, or got screened and missed the play entirely. For the 2.5% of the time I was of my game for 0.5%, but that time mattered. The big red light went on, the crowd booed, and I did what a good goalie shouldn't do...I let it show. My job is when the big red light goes on and the boos start is to put it together, reflect on why I missed, pull the mask down tight, and get right back in goal. How do I get it back together?

I remind myself that 2.5% is a false number. The goalie is much more than just saves. The goalie is responsible for calling out defensive sets, managing the clock, watching the penalty box on power play, and assisting the offense in organizing the rush. In math terms, the goalie is responsible for pretty much the entire game. When these aspects break down there is no big red light, no horn, no crowd. However, a good goalie knows his responsibility and takes ownership. They relish their leadership in times when others get praise and recognition because they internalize their successes. They stand tall when their team is riding high and they stand firm when their team needs support. They take the blame when others fail because they have the fortitude to get through it, pull the mask back down, and do it all over again. Being an administrator is a lot like being the goalie.

We protect our team, we live in isolation, yet we live for the passion of what we do. The old adage in hockey is that you find the craziest guy in the locker room, the guy with no fear, with a passion that is almost unexplainable and you put him between the pipes. Are we, as administrators, all that different? I close with a simple question to ask ourselves before, during, and after "the game" every day...How do you respond when the big red light goes on?