Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Are You a 21st Century Communicator?

As school and district leaders prepare for the 2015-16 school year, one of the most important things they can do is create a comprehensive communication plan that utilizes various social media tools to keep stakeholders in the loop. Taking advantage of all of the technological tools that can connect your school community with what is happening is a no-brainer at this point. Allowing an ongoing flow of information from school to the community is a wonderful way to build positive energy about all of the news and accomplishments of students and staff.

The creation of a 21st century communication plan is the perfect  way for school and district leaders to model the type of communication that they expect to see from other educators with whom they work. We are well past the point of this type of communication being optional for school leaders. Bill Ferriter, a friend and educator from North Carolina, summed up the matter perfectly in a recent blog post titled Note to Principals: You Can't Keep Ignoring Social Spaces:
"If you believe that communicating effectively with the people that you serve matters, then you simply CAN'T keep ignoring the tools that the people you serve are using for communication."
In other words, school and district leaders need to meet their stakeholders where they are. Mailing out newsletters and posting press releases in the newspaper may still work for some families, but there are better ways to get the word out that will reach more families and also save you time. These modern methods of communication allow for two-way conversations between schools and stakeholders that could never occur through newsletters and press releases. 

In Burlington Public Schools, we share news and updates on our district Facebook Page, our district Twitter account, and our district Instagram account. Our superintendent started the first blog in the district when he arrived seven years ago and his modeling has led to the creation of nearly 200 blogs from educators across our school district. Due to the amazing amounts of information and learning being shared daily on these blogs, we created a daily post series on our Burlington Public Schools Blog that highlights a post from a teacher or student. We got this idea from George Couros who started the 184 Days of Learning Blog in his district in Edmonton, Canada. 

Another great way to ensure a regular flow of information is to start school and district hashtags on Twitter where people can both share and receive information and ask questions. In Burlington, our two most widely used hashtags are #BHSChat for Burlington High School and #BPSChat for the entire Burlington Public School District. If you are interested in investigating this for your school or district then check out this great handout that Bill Ferriter created to help school leaders get started. 

Once you decide on which tools you will use to get out information in your school or district be sure to let people know your plan. Here's a look at how our high school principal does this. You may want to send out a newsletter or postcards with information on new methods that you will use to communicate. It is also important to review these with parents at open houses and parent nights and offer on-site tutorials for those who may be new to the use of using social media tools. 

While one of the ultimate goals is to move away from the time and energy needed to put out mailings and paper newsletters, it is important to make sure that you are not cutting off parents who do not have access to online information. The creation of a brief survey at the beginning of the year that all students need to return is a great way to get the feedback you need on making the digital transition for communication. If you are looking for more ideas on how you can make sure that you are a 21st century communicator, check out the Digital Principal Award Winners from the National Association of Secondary School Principals. These school leaders model these skills daily and they are happy to share their work to help others move forward.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Danah Boyd's Research Is Mandatory Reading For School Leaders

A couple of posts back I discussed the importance of school and district leaders taking an active role in facilitating discussions around the topic of students and digital devices.  The reason for this is that the endless number of articles that have been written citing the dangers of device usage can create fear for parents who are playing catch up with the idea of ubiquitous technology.  The two most common topics for these anxiety-provoking articles are the dangers students of connecting with strangers online and students being exposed to too much screen time during the day.

Fortunately, there are experts who have been dealing with this topic extensively who can give us concrete research on how much of this worry is misguided. In my estimation, the most valuable resource for school leaders involved in these discussions in their communities is Danah Boyd and her study surrounding the online activities and behavior of students. Boyd, who has been looking at this topic for over a decade published a brief article in the New York Times last week titled Blame Society, Not The Screen TimeBoyd puts the extensive use of technology in our society into proper perspective with the following statement:
"Even though multiple generations have grown up glued to the flickering light of TV, we still can't let go of the belief that the next generation of technology is going to doom our kids. We blame technology, rather than work, to understand why children engage with screens in the first place."
One of Boyd's major points in regards to causation of the need for students to lose themselves in the digital world is the fact that they are over-scheduled and have little time to decompress due to their hectic lives. "We're raising our students in captivity and they turn to technology to socialize, learn and decompress," Boyd noted. "Why are we blaming the screens?"

If people want to discuss how and why teens do what they do online and have a clear understanding of this activity, they must start by reading It's Complicated, a book written by Boyd after seven years of research which included interviews of over 150 teenagers.  It is misleading to toss out personal opinions and paint an ominous picture about on-line activity based on a few observations of teenagers or a few headlines.  A look at Boyd's work helps paint a much clearer picture of what our students are doing and why they are doing it.   A faculty or community read of the book may also foster conversations between students and adults and help others realize a point that Boyd shared in her preface to It's Complicated"I recognized that teens' voices rarely shaped the public discourse surrounding their networked lives."

We who consider ourselves educational leaders who value student voice have the power to help our students be understood on this critical topic. 

My Weekly Diigo Bookmarks (July 26, 2015)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Educational Leaders Need to Embrace EdCamps

The EdCamp experience began in 2010 thanks to a thoughtful group of educators from Philadelphia who decided to lead an "'unconference" for educators called EdCamp Philly. I'm not sure they imagined when they first gathered that hundreds of these eventswould be held across the globe within five years. However, given the fact that the majority of educators feel the district professional development provided for them lacks relevance, we shouldn't be surprised that groups of educators gathered and created meaningful learning experiences on the fly that far surpassed the quality of most other professional development. 
In fact, this now-global phenomenon has evolved to the point where the EdCamp Foundation was established to support this important movement that allows educators to lead their own learning. Fast forward to 2015 and we can officially say the EdCamp movement is making an impact on educational leaders. The people who create most of the professional development experiences in schools are getting first-hand experiences with the unconference model. Thanks to some great work from Joe Mazza and his highly successful EdCamp Leadership event last summer at the University of Pennsylvania, this year's EdCamp Leaderdhip event went global. This past Monday, EdCamp Leadership sessions were held in 17 locations in 15 states, including events in Chile and China.  
I was fortunate to participate in EdCamp Leadership Boston at Bedford High School. A quick look at the schedule gives you an idea of the variety of relevant topics that a group of thoughtful educators can develop when give the chance. In addition, the conversations and resources from EdCamps can be utilized for those who can't physically attend by clicking on links to the sessions which connect to GoogleDocs with names and contact information for attendees as well as useful links on the topics discussed. For those who are adept at utilizing Twitter, conversations and sharing of resources continue during and after the sessions by following the #EdcampLdr hashtag.
For a great summary of why the EdCamp experience is so powerful, I will borrow a few words from the EdCamp Leadership website:
Most people say that the best part of "traditional" conferences is the conversation that occurs with fellow participants between sessions, or perhaps over lunch.
Now, imagine an entire CONFERENCE built around conversations—informal, small-group gatherings with honest, earnest discourse where the expertise is fully acknowledged to be IN THE ROOM—not just at the front of it.
The ultimate success of EdCamp Leadership will be the development of EdCamp model professional development experiences back in the districts where the attendees work. School leaders need to loosen the reigns on the top-down approach to developing professional learning schedules for their teachers and ensure that educators within their schools and districts can have opportunities to led their own learning. Isn't this the ultimate goal for all learners in our schools? 
In closing, I will leave you with the ultimate assessment of the EdCamp model. Check out the look on the faces of the learners at the end of the day from three of the EdCamp Leadership locations below!  
 EdCamp Leadership Boston
edcamp baltimore.jpgEdCamp Leadership Baltimore
edcamp chicago.jpgEdCamp Leadership Chicago

Sunday, July 19, 2015

My Weekly Diigo Bookmarks (July 19, 2015)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Schools Must Foster Parent Conversations About Students and Digital Devices

With most school leaders looking to add more web-enabled devices to their schools and classrooms, they are all but certain to get questions from parents within these communities who will raise concerns about the fact that their students will be dealing with more screen time in their day.  While some may be quick to respond that we are just setting up environments for students to replicate the realities of the gadget-driven workplaces that our students will soon be inhabiting, it is important to take some time and have community-wide discussions about the topic of screen time. These conversations can help reduce anxiety for parents who see their children inhabiting classrooms that have technological resources quite different than what they experienced.
Increased conversations will help parents put into perspective alarming headlines that come out regarding the negative consequences of using electronics. Sometimes the most important takeaways from these headlines can be found well down the page, a place many do not see. One such headline appeared this past week in a New York Times article by Jane E. Brody titled Screen Addiction Is Taking a Toll on ChildrenWhile I am sure the headline is accurate in regards to the state of children and their time spent on devices, a passing glance at the story and the first three paragraphs of the article only gives enough information to scare people away from device use.
Therefore in my third paragraph, I will introduce my two biggest takeaways and bullet them below:
  • This is not a new problem: Television remains the dominant medium.
  • According to a Kaiser Foundation study, many parents seem to have few rules about use of media by their children and adolescents.
These bullets tell me that the most meaningful intervention we can make as school leaders is to offer support to parents to assist them in navigating the overwhelming new world of parenting in the digital age. This is not an area where parents can look back at how they were parented for experience: they are traveling this course with no roadmap. We need to bring parents together and let them share their successes, failures, and fears of parenting digital natives. While there is a great deal more to discuss on this topic, it is critical that school communities share openly about the pros and cons of students being able to connect anywhere, anytime. My recommendation would be quarterly parent forums on topics surrounding digital tools where parents have an opportunity to learn and share. In Burlington, our educational technology team runs multiple Parent Technology Nights throughout the course of the school year to foster these important conversations. 
Access to new technologies is far from a panacea, but it is also does not need to be viewed as the demise of our future generations. The best advice I have on figuring out the delicate balance in regards to screen-time for our children comes from my friend Beth Holland. I shared Beth's three simple questions that should be asked before deciding whether a child needs to be in front of a device in a post I wrote titled A Great Conversation on the Technology Concerns of Parents Regarding 1:1. The three questions are as follows:
  1. Is it appropriate?
  2. Is it meaningful?
  3. Is it empowering?
If we can get our students to ask these same questions before they decide to bury their faces in a screen, we will be on the right track!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

My Weekly Diigo Bookmarks (July 12, 2015)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.