Hold That Plane! How Social Media Left Schools Behind 12:365

For most of us, we have realized the power of social media. As a whole however, schools have really missed the boat. Now that we are catching on, we really need to accelerate the process to get out in front and make Social media a school ally rather than a breeding ground for publicity for the crazies!

As I read through articles about the NJSBA about new Policy that pertains to social media, I feel like this:

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The Social Media Boat left us a long time ago and our plane to catch up is going to leave us behind. We are taking a reactive approach to Social media. By legislating policies that limit how responsible, engaged professionals interact with students, parents, and their community is a reaction to the “crazies” whose stories we have allowed to dominate the medium.

While everything I have read (I haven’t found the actual policy on their site yet) is not all bad, just not created in the right frame. Sure it makes sense to educate school personnel and students, but not out of fear. Teaching people to be responsible with their digital footprint is a good thing, making it more difficult for educators to connect with Students and the community is not. The impression that each article gives, is one of legislating to the insane few, meanwhile responsible people are limited in the ways and the people with which they connect.

The plane is taking off… We can be the pilots or we can say “Its ok, I’m and educator” before we fall from the jetway!

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Why the Dark Side? 11:365

imageI recently read a post by a brand new PLN member @jenniferfox13. I love hearing some new voices! She was writing about dreaming and being inspired, thanking those who inspired her!  I myself was then reminded of why I felt that my educational path needed to be that of leadership and supervision.

When I wanted to start teaching, I had a family friend who was a Superintendent.  I had no background in education other than my parents being educators.  He gave me a chance to be the building substitute.  I loved working in schools since that day.  I spent most of my long-term subbing days as an instructional aide in 2 different classrooms, with a stint in basic skills along the way.  My first task was incredibly difficult, but it eventually lead to my first teaching job.  Each time I was given a new position, I was “asked” first.  I say that euphemistically because knowing I wanted to teach, I had little options.  What I didn’t realize is that both of those positions were not just filling a need, they were in classrooms where I learned to be come a teacher.

After a second year as an instructional aide in the same class as I was at the end of my first year, I learned more about teaching than I could have dreamed.  Through the suggestions, encouragement and leadership of several important people, along with the guidance of a few incredible teachers (Sandy Flannely, Patty Parson and especially the two years I spent with DAWN SKOMSKY) I became a teacher.

I owe all that I have accomplished in my career to these people.  To my knowledge none of them are Twitter users, though I think I can share much of this with them via Facebook.  I am inspired to walk the path, to “turn to the dark side” and become an administrator because of all that these people did for me.  Without Sheri Bocsh, Denise LaBov, and Karen Buesing, and Joe Cirrinicione I would not have had the opportunity to become a teacher.  Each of these administrators guided me in their own way, inspired me, opened a door, or pushed me to become better.

Someday soon I will become an administrator.  I will be in the same position that these people were in when I was starting out.  I hope to give that same inspiration, instructional leadership, and guidance that has brought me to this point.  A great leader can do so much good.  I hope that by going to “the dark side” I can do the same

How can teachers best learn from other teachers? #TLC2014

There is no wrong way for teachers to learn from one another. Teachers must however begin the process. We cannot remain isolated from the world on an island. Our schools provide us with so many great resources at a fingertip, but they also segregate us from the world.
Less than a mile from my single school district, is another single school district. We live in our separate worlds. Until one of my students (who I really enjoyed having) moved to the other district, I had never had any contact with anyone in that school. Instead we live our separate lives. Just through having our kids exchange pen pal letters over the past 2 years, I have learned from her. She is a great teacher and I enjoy sharing pen pals with her class. That is a small connection.
When I started connecting with teachers all over the world through blogs, twitter, voxer, and other social media outlets, I realized just how segregated I had been my whole career. It is up to us that know the truth to spread the learning. Make sure we connect everyone, those we like, those we dislike, those who disagree. Everyone’s voice provides us with a chance to learn. What will you add? How will you build upon the learning?

Musings on teaching

#TLC2014

With a little help from my friends/teaching partners/colleagues Elisha and Rachael…here’s our first “group” blog post, responding to Gary Abud’s 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge (@MR_ABUD/abud.me)

For the week of 4/18/2014, the prompt was: “How can teachers best learn from other teachers?”

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Teachers definitely learn best from other teachers, but the question is how teachers best learn from other teachers. There was a time when I would have said that learning from other teachers could only happen by real-time classroom observation and/or a face-to-face conversation with a mutually agreed upon time, place, focus, and expected outcome. Through reading blogs like this and participating in various Twitter chats, I’ve learned that it’s possible to learn from other teachers any time, anywhere.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. I think the most important way teachers best learn from other teachers is by having an open mind. Being able to accept change…

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The Gray Areas 10×365

Ok so I promised I would go all philosophy on your behinds for some of my PLN. I was a philosophy major in college and I wrote my honors thesis on linguistic vagueness. I promise I will keep it simple and tie it to education by the end!

Language is a human convention (not having the animal language debate, its irrelevant to my point) which means that it has meaning in a two-way mode. By this I mean it requires a speaker and an audience. We have created language and therefore we give it meaning.

Many descriptive terms lack definition. For example, at what point does something go from yellow to green, from soft to hard, from bald to having hair? Most philosophers believe there is some mysterious unknowable truth. They prove this by using bivalent logic (true/false as the only possibilities) but they use that same logic to prove it! Its kind of like the Einstein quote about a fish climbing a tree… You are begging the question. If you are working in binary code you won’t get an answer of 2 even if 2 makes the most sense.

Alternate logic concepts would say that it is matter of True/Not True and False/Not False. It creates a gray area in the middle. Context gives us an understanding of what we mean when we are communicating. We cannot make sense of the language without context. Reading context clues allows us to communicate.

What does this have to do with education? It is important to create the right context when we communicate. By carefully considering the context of our words, we avoid miscommunication. Understanding contexts allows us to say more of what we mean when we talk to staff, parents, and students. Without being aware of the context we create, we are likely to alienate those we are trying to reach!

Just a Teacher 9:365

It has been just over two months since I jumped into the world of Twitter. Strange that it has been such a short time. I feel like I have been here forever!

While reading the blog of a twitter friend @tritonkory I realize that it really hadn’t been very long, because her timeline is not too different from my own. It is crazy to me how different I am now as an educator and a person.

For the longest time I would quietly acknowledge being a teacher. I would hide my views on important topics in education. I would hide my genuine passion for the version I figured was socially acceptable in this era of education bashing.

I am not that person just two months later. While having a conversation at a family event with my sister-in-law’s grandparents (from North Carolina) , I realized that I am confident in what I do. I am also confident in my beliefs about what is best for kids. Agree or not, I am not that person who will be the voiceless face of educators anymore.

My life with Twitter and Blogging has reinvigorated me. It has given me more knowledge and more confidence than ever before. I will not quietly pretend that I am just an educator. I am a superhero, a role model, a facilitator, a moderator, a creator of annoying, well armed small people that will someday rule the world. Even at my tiny school I do more good for the world in an hour than most people will do in a day. I will no longer be Just a Teacher, I am an educator and more excited and proud if that fact than ever before!

Behind the Curtain 8:365

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I have been in the educational profession for 8 years working in NJ and all jokes aside, I love my state. My parents were lifetime educators in NJ as well. For as long as i can remember, or at least as long as I care to, I have had this perception of the Department of Education as this group of faceless suits that sit in offices and are so disconnected from the classroom that they couldn’t possibly know or care what I do each day. Harsh I know.

I don’t know if this perception is commin in other states, but I know I am not alone in NJ. I saw Bari Erlichson who I recognized as a DOE member from a #njed chat I was in on twitter. I followed her beacause I was hoping to learn from her posts more about the state level ideas.

So Imagine my surprise this morning when I got a direct message from her telling me she wiuld love to chat about Student Growth Percentiles (a topic I was “not praising” just a little earlier in the morning.).

Bari exchanged message with me while I checked email, read an article about planning “unconferences” and tying the strings on kites. Here are some things I learned:

– The DOE definitely have people who want the best for our schools. Bari seems as genuinely passionate about giving kids a great education as myself.
– We have common ground. There were many things upon which we agreed.
– Just like different levels of leadership do in a school district, the DOE had to filter through their own (for lack of a better word) crap, much of which they deal with before it gets to the district level.
– At least for one member, its clear she is interested in what goes on in the classroom. It is incredible to think that she took a half hour of her day(i am sure she was multitasking as well) just to talk to a teacher (aspiring administrator) in a tiny South Jersey school.
I don’t know how many more DOE members engage with the general public, but her efforts go a long way to dispel the myth I had never questioned. She is pulling back the curtain and bridging the gap between leaders in the warroom and schools in the trenches I hope I find more people like her, willing to engage and meet Teachers on their level to communicate and understand the issues from all sides.

Why Schools Need To Be On The Edge 7:365

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All of us are aiming at the same lofty goal, preparing children for some unforseen life in some unforseen future. Essentially schools not only play the countless roles they have for years, we are also trying to predict the future. I warn you now this is a longer post, but I believe its worth the time to say this correctly!

With the rate at which technology advances, just imagine the world 30 years from now. 30 years ago, home computers were a dream for most families. Now, for the first time ever, the majority of people in each age bracket have a smart phone. In 30 years we went from having almost no computers to having better technology than the astronauts who landed on the moon, sitting in our pockets.

So how do we stay ahead? We create interactive learners. Here are two things I can see revolutionizing education and the world in general.

1. 3D Printing- we are just starting to explore the power of creating objects out of thin air. Right now 3D printers in China are pumping out 10 houses a day! In some schools, students are starting to explore the possibilities of 3D printers.
Where could this go? Imagine a world where we all have the ability to 3D print any object we need by purchasing raw materials and design pattens.
Where you can print food from protein strands. Where famine, homelessness, and lack of adequate clothing is not an issue. Sure we will have others, but 3D printers have the potential to create a new world. Like computers put into the hands of kids 30 years ago in schools, the evolution of 3D printers could change the world!

2. Google Glass- most people do not trust glass yet. 30 years ago, most people didn’t dare store their most valuable information inside a microchip, now with 3$ worth of plastic people can carry all their information on a key ring!

Glass has so many potential applications, but I will focus on education as everything else will stem from that.

Imagine a classroom where children can read some text, take and record notes at visual and oral command, ask questions and explore answers, check teacher commentary on the topic, and the share their ideas beyond the classroom with others. Imagine a student manipulating design and mathematics problems through interacting digitally with a real life problem.

Glass isn’t quite there yet. It will require some research and trials, but the potential is there. 30 years from now, Glass, or something like it,will be as common as a smart phone. People will be connected around the planet in ways like never before.

Why do schools need to find this edge and live there? If we don’t where will our children learn about it. We already missed the mark once. Social media got to kids before we got to it. Now we deal with it, trying desperately to figure out how to manage and leverage it so our schools can find value in it. While we slept on Social media, kids were using it, now we are trying to catch up! Get out there on the edge, live there, take that chance, or continue the new pattern of reactionary leadership!

Find Your People 6:365

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I have blogged about this for new teachers, but I think that it is even more important for administrators.  Being a leader is not always  a position full of opportunities to make friends, ask for help, or be part of the group.  Often when you are the leader, the buck stops with you.  Sure you may have other leaders in your district, but how do you find the right people to help you get better.

I love when random things inspire me.  Today, I was chatting at lunchtime with some PLN members on twitter while I caught up on a few projects in my room.  She shared a study about coffee being good for your liver, to which I replied that I must have a superliver (I drink way too much coffee) and that being around me might have the same impact.  She commented that she was always looking for the right people to be around for a good impact!

While she was joking about coffee, I thought it was so much more important than that.  The same is true all around.  Later, while talking with a professor/principal who has gone more than out of his way to help me on my leadership journey, I thought about how important it is to have people who push you in the right direction.

I try to open up my PLN to as many different voices as I can.  I love to get different perspectives, but I realize that I also need to surround myself with good people both online and in person if I am going to succeed as a leader.

Have you found your people?  Are they pushing you toward greatness?  Are you doing the same for them?

Who Does Opting Out Hurt Most? 5/365

imageThere is a relatively new movement that is gaining steam throughout the country, and it has taken up its post here in New Jersey as well.  Opting out seems to be gaining momentum year by year.  With state testing becoming more intense, more pressure packed, and more crucial to school and teacher ratings, more parents and students are choosing not to take the test.

I recently read an article on NJ Spotlight that discussed the movement, which I previously did not believe was legal in the state.  It says that the movement is still small, but the stories are starting to be shared (as is evident through blogs and editorials).

As much as I question the effectiveness of VAM and using Standardized testing to rate student achievement and teacher effectiveness, what I am about to say may shock you.  Think long and hard before you OPT OUT, it may not have the impact you are intending!

I understand all the reasons why you should.  They are the reasons making press stories right now.  But here is the flip side:

Your school and your child’s teacher are judged based on those ratings.  Without your child’s score, the percentage of test takers goes down and can create greater swings in the measurements.

What does that mean?  It means that your child’s score could be the difference between meeting AYP and not (don’t laugh, its bound to happen eventually.) Your child’s score could be the difference between rating categories for a teacher (again its bound to happen.) While you think you are helping your child, your child’s school loses funding, their teachers are judged more harshly and ultimately, your child’s real education is negatively impacted.

This sounds like a lot of crazy talk, I understand.  Simple put, when you lower the number of students taking the test, you increase the swings a bad score (and yes a good one) can have on the results. It makes data that is not the greatest, even worse.  It can and eventually will cause problems for schools throughout the state.

The more you look into how VAM works, the more it will impact other schools and students throughout the state.  Without your child in their respective “peer group” the “growth” of other children that would score around the same score will be skewed.  When that gets impacted, all the other schools will be impacted as well.  It will not be enough to “invalidate” the data (I question the validity of the data to begin with) but as this grows at a turtle’s pace, it will be enough to change the results across the board.

What will happen to the first school that does not have the minimum percentage of students taking the test to “validate” the data?  I for one am concerned about that possibility as well.  How will that school be viewed?  Will they be singled out for punitive measures?

If you don’t want to be “the poster child” for opt out, don’t do it.  Unless you are willing to rally a community, a school, a state, to move in a different direction for standardized testing, then don’t do it.

I know that it is a personal decision, and I know all of the reasons why you should opt out.  But, who actually has thought about the potentially significant damage that opting out creates for your child’s school and their school’s staff members.  What’s bad for the goose is bad for the gander.

I am not saying that opting out is the wrong thing to do, I simply have seen a lot of information being shared about why parents are choosing to opt out, and there is little said about the potential negatives.

I believe that there are reasonable concerns with standardized testing that aims to assess overall student learning, and evaluate teacher/principal effectiveness.  But if you are not ready to put yourself out there and make this an opportunity for change, all you are doing is hurting everyone else.  Before you say no to the test, think long and hard:  Who does opting out hurt the most?

The Poison Chalice 4/365

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Hi, I am Brian and I am a fan of Manchester United Football Club. Often soccer is my release from the education world, but in this case, the correlation was all too clear.

This year my favorite club was tasked with replacing its Manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. The man was beyond a legend, more like a myth and an idol in one. Sit Alex retired, change was coming.

Within 10 months the club has gone from an icon of quality and class (rivals will argue, but despite Fergie working the FA they know its true), to a joke. The board, the manager, and everyone in the organization have lost their stigma. The manager was fired today, yesterday it was leaked to the media, further perpetuating the downward spiral in how MUFC does business.

I see the correlation because I have spent the last 2 years studying how to implement effective change, how to integrate into an organization, and how to build successful culture. In the past year, United have failed on every front. While blame falls on the manager, it also falls with the top of the organization.

The one fan quote I found most poignant was, “The biggest mistake Moyes made as Man United manager was accepting the position, it was always a poison chalice.” Hew as never going to succeed, it was the right job, but the wrong situation. As I seek a start in leadership myself, I must be wary of the poison chalice and look for an opportunity to come into a position and be successful!