Leaders to Learn From

Cross-posted at SmartBlog on Education.

Last month, I received the great honor of being recognized by Education Week magazine and the U.S. Department of Education as a 2013 “Leader to Learn From”. It was a tremendous honor to receive special recognition from Assistant Secretary of Education Deb Delisle and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The other 15 leaders receiving the recognition came from all around the country and the type of school systems represented was very diverse.

It was great to connect with these other educational leaders in the short amount of time we had together in Washington, D.C. We are making sure to continue to stay connected to learn from each other as we all recognize the variety of strengths we bring to the table. However, this got me thinking: if you’re a connected educator, a lifelong learner, striving to constantly be better no matter by what means, you are a leader to learn from. You have a lot to offer us. We need you.

If you’re a teacher that’s helping fellow teachers to grow professionally, you are a leader to learn from.

If you’re modeling productive, positive, and creative technology use for your students, you are a leader to learn from.

If you’re a principal that is modeling what it’s like to first and foremost be a learner, you are a leader to learn from.

If you’re tapping into the power of social media for collaboration and communication, you are a leader to learn from.

If you’re a district level leader that has a vision for the ways that teaching and learning are changing, you are a leader to learn from.

If you’re a parent that offers unconditional support to your child, your child’s school and teachers, you are a leader to learn from.

If you’re a district that’s putting more technology in students’ hands to make its use more seamless in day-to-day teaching and learning, you are a leader to learn from.

This can easily go on and on. Sure, the 15 of us mentioned above received special recognition (and many others do all the time), but it’s making me more thankful than I already was for the thousands of leaders I have to learn from. Those of you that I have become connected with over the last several years. Those of you whom I have come to call my friends. I appreciate your constant offering of your knowledge and expertise to myself and so many others.

I would encourage you to share in the comments section on what you think makes someone a leader to learn from.

Literacy Worth Investing In

'Clock' photo (c) 2005, Simon Shek - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Cross-posted at SmartBlog on Education

Learning isn’t analog any more

When I think of analog learning, I think of something static. I think of content that doesn’t change and is quickly outdated. I think of a textbook that I can’t interact with. Would you agree? If so, what do you think our students think? Is this normal to them? Do we want it to be normal to them? Do they have a say?

Learning opportunities that exist today are far from analog. The evidence of content is in abundance. That doesn’t mean we just send our students freely to the web without important conversations about things like proper digital behavior and critical consumption. This cannot be treated as a skill that we have students pick up in 8th grade from a particular course. How to deal with the flood of information and tools available to our students must become a literacy. We have a responsibility to our students. If we claim to be doing what’s best for students, yet we keep our resources and methods in the 20th century, our students are losing out.

We. Need. A. Plan.

Getting our students to a place of digital literacy begins with us. It’s a matter of modeling what we expect. It’s a matter of teaching the way we would want to be taught today if we were students in our classrooms. We must make this literacy a priority for teachers before we can expect to get our students there. Teachers: this isn’t meant to be seen as “one more thing”.  Your students want you to go with them on this journey. Let them help. Let them teach you. Grow together. Leaders: it’s not a matter of finding the time for your teachers to learn; it’s a matter of making the time.

This is why a plan is important when beginning to venture into these new horizons of literacy. We have national standards for administrators, teachers, and students to help guide us in our journey to increase our digital literacy. Be sure to check out the Essential Conditions too. All are great places to start.

Does every teacher, student, and administrator need to have X, Y, and Z mastered straight away or even by the end of one school year? I don’t think so. What we expose our students to; learning that fosters creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking provides them continual experiences for them to build on year after year.

For example, In my district, our department is working closely with our Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Instruction to plan out a year-long professional development plan to our elementary principals. Using the NETS-A as a guide, we’ve created learning opportunities that allow administrators to experience new tools, ideas, and resources they can take back and use with their teachers (modeling), which will (hopefully) have a trickle down effect. Teachers will become interested and want to learn more, which leads to teachers using said ideas and resources with students which leads to students being exposed to new tools and resources to foster the “C’s” mentioned earlier. Teaching and learning is happening in new and different ways. It’s an exciting plan to be part of and our team can’t wait to see what happens next.

Making a move from the “analog” is an important step. One that’s hard to make by oneself. Planning and support is essential. Stick with it and don’t look back. You can only get better.

Thanks for reading.

What matters in teacher professional development?

Cross posted at the SMARTBlog on Education.

What’s been your most valuable PD experience? Come on, there’s got to be one! I want you to think about what made it meaningful for you. The time where you left feeling excited to try something new and jump in feet first. You felt like you were ready to conquer the world and couldn’t hardly wait to impart this new practice/knowledge to your students.

Was it one thing? A combination of things? Was it the facilitator? Another attendee you connected with?

While I haven’t been facilitating PD for teachers for very long (coming up on 9 years), I believe there are some factors that make professional development work well and help teachers leave feeling successful. I’ve encapsulated them within three things, in no particular order.

Choice

Everybody likes choices right? Aren’t we keeping to a pretty narrow-minded view of learning if it’s only presented in a “one means to an end” fashion? Teachers need choices about what they’re interested in, passionate about, and what matches their readiness level.

These choices can be given as a traditional model of professional development, in which teachers attend a class/workshop on a specified date and time and have to physically be in attendance, or choices could be given in the form of online learning via screencasts, live webinars, or social media. The point is to offer choice and in turn allow whatever choice teachers make to be credited as a viable means of professional development.

Value

What types of learning illicit value? Fill in this blank: Learning is valuable to me when _____.  If teachers are going to invest time in professional learning, whether it be face to face or online, voluntary or involuntary, we all want to finish feeling it was valuable. When I facilitate PD, do I have a set agenda and plan in place? Of course I do. Do I ever intentionally or unintentionally deviate from the plan? Always. I am sure to let teachers know that this is their learning and I want them to feel our time together was valuable. If that means detours are taken and even some things are repeated so be it. We should want all students, regardless of age, to feel the value in what they’re learning.

Sometimes discovering the value in our learning experiences can lead to taking a self-directed deeper dive into a topic as well. Do you remember the last time that happened?

My response to the fill in the blank above? Learning is valuable to me when I understand the ‘why’ before the ‘how’.

Support

We’ve offered choices, come to understand the value, and are ready to accept the charge laid before us. Or are we? What if something doesn’t go according to plan (this never happens with technology)? If I’m in need of help where do I turn?

Teachers need multiple lifelines of support. This is a critical component of teacher professional development. Let’s say it’s the end of your face to face workshop. We need to make sure our teachers are aware of whom to contact, where to look, what to Google, etc. before they leave us. It can be an email address, the link to a backchannel, a Google Group, an Edmodo group, etc. Sure, teachers in my district know how to contact me, but I still remind them to please contact me whatever outlet I choose to provide. It can be a one way communication to you or a tweet on a hashtag. It can be both. Learn about the teachers you serve, just like we learn about the students we serve. We all need to know that support is there if we need it.

Are these the only components to making teacher professional development have meaning? No, but I think they’re three of the most important. What matters to you in making your professional development worthwhile? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!

“You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives. ~Clay P. Bedford