Tag Archives: administrators

Forgiveness or Permission?



My career has offered me many unique perspectives. First I was a teacher, teaching students in every grade from 7-12 for 13 years. Then I was an assistant principal for two years, and now I am an Educational Technology Integration Specialist (the title has a lot of syllables I know). In each of those roles I have been able to view public education from a different point of view and they have all honed my current thinking about the state of school.

When I was a teacher I distinctly remember being frustrated by speed at which things moved. I was always excited up to try new things in the classroom, particularly when it came to technology. I got to a point where I would consistently ask forgiveness rather than permission from my administration when it came to pushing the envelope with technology in my classroom. One example of many was when blended learning was brand new I saw its potential right away. I found an LMS platform that was free called EDU20 (now called NEO). I brought the cart of laptops into my room and had all of the students create accounts for the service. I tried to have the kids use all of the safety measures that I knew, ensuring that they did not use their full names or birthdays. But I did not consult with my principal about it, I didn’t explain to him why I thought it was powerful and what it was going to do for the learning in my classes. He did not even know that I was using it until he saw it in an observation of my teaching. Because he trusted me and he could see its value he was not terribly upset with me, but he did have privacy concerns that I did my best to assuage.

When I was a principal I got to encounter a similar situation when one of my teachers was interested in using Minecraft in the classroom. He came in to have a conversation with me about the research that he had done on the program and how he was specifically going to use it. I remember thinking how grateful i was that he had come to me before starting the program so that I could be a part of the process. I had to think about the legalities of the matter, both in terms of protecting the students and the teacher, and we worked together to hash out a way to use the program in a way that was copacetic for everyone.

No matter where I go I am still saddened when I see a confrontational culture between administration and teachers. Public schools are a huge organization with many stakeholders, and everyone has skin in the game. If I had to go back and do it again I would surely have a conversation with my principal before I used the program with my students because I understand that I am a part of something very big and that transparency and communication are an important part of earning and retaining trust, especially those of use that are pushing the envelope with educational technology.

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2010 Edublog Awards Nominations

This is the first time I have participated in the nomination process for the Edublog Awards. As trite as it may sound this was quite an arduous task, taking me nearly two weeks to complete. There are so many great blogs out there, these are my favorites.

Best individual blog: Spencer’s Scratchpad

  • I’m reasonably sure there is no blogger out there that I admire and respect more than John Spencer. Like a pragmatic philosopher, John eloquently and truthfully reflects on teaching and living. His writing simultaneously inspires me and makes me fume with envy, that’s how I know its great.

Best individual tweeter: Joe Bower

  • Joe Bower’s antagonistic and rabble rousing tweets about abolishing the grading systems in schools have inspired me to question, if not actively undermine the status quo. Joe’s tweets are like 140 word punches in the arm.

Best group blog: Connected Principals
Best new blog: Connected Principals

  • Although new on the seen the Connected Principals blog deserves to be recognized for giving a united voice to innovative administrators.

Best class blog: Mr. C’s Class Blog

  • Not only has William Chamberlain created the amazing #comments4kids, which has had a direct impact on my own students, but he also maintains an amazing blog for his class. With this blog William’s students are reflective and engaged. I wish my own children could have William as a teacher.

Best resource sharing blog: iLearn Technology

  • Kelly Tenkely and her blog really need no introduction, but no one works harder or with a happier spirit to share tools and best practices with educators.

Most influential blog post: The 30 Goals Challenge

  • This is more than one single blog post, but it is the most influential I have seen. The 30 Goals Challenge has lead to action and has made a tangible contribution to culture change in schools.

Most influential tweet / series of tweets / tweet based discussion: #edchat

  • Edchat really needs no introduction. It is the reason I came to Twitter and the reason I stayed.

Best teacher blog: Teacher Reboot Camp

  • The magnitude of Shelly Terrell’s contributions to education can be overwhelming, but don’t overlook her excellent blog. Her blog is practical and useful and contains something for everyone. From interviews to challenges this blog has it all.

Best school administrator blog: The Principal of Change

  • The first time I got the chance to interact with George Couros was during and after the Reform Symposium this summer. His sense of humor makes him easy to relate to but it is his ideas about education and school culture that will stick.

Best elearning / corporate education blog: Edutopia blogs

  • The Edutopia blogs are a great resource and a lot of really great writers post there. Read it.
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Call to Arms on School Reform

I felt so strongly about the topic of this week’s (7/6/10) #edchat that I needed two days to collect my thoughts. This week’s #edchat centered around what we as educators can do to move from discussion of educational reform to action. I have been participating in #edchat since November and this is unequivocally the most important topic that has ever been covered. Many participants in the chat answered the question of what we can do to enact substantive change by saying that they were already doing it in their classrooms, meaning that they are taking the things discussed on #edchat and other social forums and applying them to their teaching. This tactic employs a trickle down strategy and hypothesizes that simply by doing it in their classrooms others will eventually take note and decide to change themselves. This strategy does not work and we know it. You don’t have to look any further than certain classrooms in your own building. There are teachers who will NEVER change their teaching styles no matter how big the smiles are on the students exiting our rooms. To employ this strategy to reform is to put your head in the sand as that student exits your room and enters the other room down the hall. This illustration needs to be multiplied by ten thousand to get the picture around the country. There are some schools where there are no teachers attempting to change the system by example. What happens to the students that happen to reside in that district? On a building level really reform has absolutely no prayer of succeeding if the administration is not on board. Only administrators can force wholesale, building level change. Take what some of the things administrators who particpate in #edchat are doing, Patrick Larkin (@bhsprincipal), Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal), Deron Durflinger (@DeronDurflinger) for example. Reform is happening at their schools. But what if the administrators are content with the status quo, what then? Will they be influenced by the teacher in room 115 who’s students are totally engaged? Maybe. But maybe simply isn’t good enough anymore. There are students getting a simply terrible education in this country waiting for bad teachers to take notice of the good ones, and we can’t wait any more.

Another tweet that kept popping up was that we needed to have specific reforms in mind, not just some abstract pipe dream of the perfect school. This idea seems to fly in the face of the other idea. It suggest that there is in fact a power higher than the teacher out there that needs to be convinced that reform is needed, and that it is happening. Never the less here is my list of essential education reforms:

  1. Deemphasize so-called teacher accountability. Teachers are accountable. They know it. Rather than having teachers afraid for their lives they could focus on innovation.
  2. Deemphasize standardized testing in favor of more authentic measures of learning, which of course, we know are different not standardized.
  3. Give students more autonomy over their own learning.
  4. Emphasize skills like critical thinking, communication, and problem solving. So that students will be able to deal with problems that don’t exist.

A critique often leveled at the #edchat group is that it is simply an echo chamber where everyone involved is simply voicing the same opinion in a different way, preaching to the choir if you will. Although there is an element of truth to this I don’t think this is such a criticism. All of us discovered #edchat in the same way, we were hungry to be in control of our own learning, just as our students are and we went looking. Since we are like minded we can speak with a collective, deafening voice. If we truly want to have an influence on education reform and not simply talk about it on Tuesdays we need to think beyond the walls of our own classrooms. Start following your state government, who is making the right votes that benefit students, help them. Find out who is making the wrong choices for students and vote them out, or support their opponents. I have decided to attempt to form a political action committee with the purpose of influencing legislation to reform education. I have to try to do something to help the students who are not lucky enough to have a reformer in the room.

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What Educators Can Learn From Steve Jobs

Apple has been in the news a lot lately. They recently surpassed Microsoft in terms of market cap and became the largest American technology company, they sold two million iPads in two months, they lost a valuable prototype and then kicked in the door of the blogger who reported about it. They’ve declared Flash a dead technology and entered into a acquisition duel with Google. They’ve been busy. At the head of the tumult is the unflappable Steve Jobs who simply responds to nearly every critique of the company with some infuriatingly short email.

I have been an Apple fan since my friend Mike got an Apple IIe when I was 8 years old. I continued to be an Apple fan despite the additional pinch their products gave to my wallet. I always enjoyed the user experience that Apple provided, it somehow always seemed intuitive, as if it were anticipating my needs. Lately I have had the knee jerk reaction of feeling somewhat put off and maybe even a little angered by Apple’s very public moves. The English teacher in me feels frightened by the walled-garden of an app store that admits some applicants while dismissing others with no clear criteria for either other than Steve’s assurance that he is delivering the best user experience.

As I was reading a transcript of Steve Jobs’ latest interview at the D8 conference it became clear that there was a lot educational reformers could learn from the CEO. The part that I find particularly applicable begins at about 1:02 in the video below.

6:25PM Walt: We wanted to talk about your future mostly… but there have been controversies. I want to talk about them. I want to talk about Flash. You published this letter — even if everything you say in that letter is true, is it really fair or the best thing for consumers to just be abrupt?
6:26PM Steve: Well two things — I’ll come back to what you said. Apple is a company that doesn’t have the resources that everyone else has. We choose what tech horses to ride, we look for tech that has a future and is headed up. Different pieces of tech go in cycles… they have summer and then they go to the grave.
6:27PM Steve: If you choose wisely, you save yourself an enormous amount of work.
6:34PM Steve: Well things are packages. Some things are good in a product, some things are bad. If the market tells us we’re making bad choices, we’ll make changes. We’re just trying to make great products. We don’t think this is great and we’re going to leave it out. We’re going to take the heat because we want to make the best product in the world for customers!
6:35PM Steve: If we succeed, they’ll buy them! If we don’t, we won’t sell any. And I have to say, people seem to be liking the iPad! (huge laughs and applause)

(via Engadget)

Continue reading

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School of the Future Part 3: Administration

After taking a short hiatus from social networking due to the birth of my daughter (cutie), I return to the school of the future series with a fury. In this post I would like to discuss educational hierarchy in general and school administrations in particular. Some recent events taking place within my PLN have made this subject even more topical. Recently Beth Still put out an invitation for innovative administrators to apply for an upcoming position at her school. She also asked other bloggers in her network to cross blog her post, maximizing exposure. In a similar circumstance, Scott McLeod wrote an open letter to his school board imploring them to think about educational reform as they select new leadership. I think this is a revolution in the way administrators are selected for districts, and perhaps this will be a way administrators are selected for schools of the future.

The most important question for me is: what are the qualities we need to see in progressive administrators to insure that educational reform can move forward. How much education or experience does a person need to be an effective administrator in the 21st century? What personal qualities do we wish our leaders to possess? How can we insure that the greatest talent goes to the most needy schools?

In my experience an administrator with vision can be transformative, and a leader without vision can be disruptive so I will begin the discussion by answering my own questions. Currently administrators need to have quite a bit of schooling to be qualified in my state, but having spent time in a classroom is not a prerequisite. Personally I wouldn’t mind if the educational requirements were softened in favor of a minimum years of teaching requirement. I think that school administrators should be required to spend at least five years teaching. Hopefully this would give some administrators more perspective, both in terms of the students and the teachers. Administrators should be open minded and forward thinking when it comes to new technologies. Administrators need to continually challenge the teachers in their districts to reject the status quo, but they should do so in a way that teachers feel safe. Administrators need to have the courage to fix the problems that exist in their schools, but act with a long-term, deliberate plan that contains measurable goals.

If you were on the committee choosing your school’s next administrator, what would be non-negotiable?

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Maybe We Need to Cut Our Administrators Some Slack

Almost enough for that 1:1 project

I often bemoan, if not openly criticize the seeming slowness with which administrators are leading (or not leading) the charge to transform our schools. From my perspective as a teacher, they are an easy target, having voluntarily placed themselves squarely in the bull’s-eye after all. But just the other day I had a conversation with my superintendent that gave me pause. My superintendent has been holding small, informational meetings outlining the status of our district within the current New York State budget crisis. He explains how New York has filled budget holes with federal funding that will expire in another year, and that when that funding is gone our district will have nearly a half a million dollar hole of their own to fill. He continues to outline the choices the district (he) will have to make if the governor follows through on his threat to withhold promised funds for the spring. These choices include whether or not we can afford to have any spring athletics at our school, and whether it would be better to cut two assistants back to half time positions, or to cut one completely. In a district of this size these are people we know, who’s kids are friends with our kids.

When the meeting concludes I hang back for a moment as I usually do to chat about the status of technology in the district. He asks me how things are going and about the progress of a couple of projects that are going on. As I am about to leave I say half jokingly: “Is this a bad time to bring up my 1:1 laptop program idea?” He grins and I follow up with: “What is your opinion about these programs?” He says in my aha moment of the day: “I haven’t.” Then he points back to the pie chart projected on the screen, that spells a possible doom despite its pastel colors.

It was only later upon reflection that I realized the gravity of that instant. How can we expect our administrators to be thinking about whether or not our students are learning 21st century skills when they are trying to figure out how to pay for heat? My Superintendent used to be a teacher, and from the little I know a good one. I know that he would rather be talking about these intellectual ideas with me but he just can’t when the futures of people we know hang so precariously on every decision he makes. Until the day that public schools are funded in a more equitable way situations like this one will continue to exist. Administrators, especially in small schools will be too preoccupied with counting beans to look much beyond the following year. So consider giving your administrators some slack. I know I’m going to.

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