Sunday, March 12, 2017

Don't Wait To Be Excellent...Start. Right. Now.


I just finished reading the latest book from Todd Whitaker, Jeff Zoul, and Jimmy Casas—Start. Right. Now.: Teach and Lead for Excellence. The authors have packed the book with wisdom and insight from their collective experiences. The end result is a book for educators that is an excellent guide for becoming a stronger leader.

Something that caught my attention right away is the idea that every educator who is effective is also an effective leader. Leadership is not just for those in formal positions. Every teacher must grow as a leader, too. And conversely, every leader should aim to be an effective teacher as well. These roles are very complimentary and are both essential to creating outstanding schools. This idea reminded me of a recent post from this blog, 7 Reasons 'Classroom Leadership' Is Better Than 'Classroom Management.'

So while Start. Right. Now. is definitely a leadership book, it is equally relevant to teachers or formal leaders like principals or directors. The authors share a framework of four qualities important to all educators who strive for excellence. These qualities are adapted from leadership guru John Maxwell.

1. Know the Way

Excellent leaders must pursue and possess knowledge of their chosen field. For educators, that means knowing content, best practices, strategies, and how to influence people. Knowing the way means knowing what works based on experience and based on knowledge passed along from others. 



2. Show the Way

Showing the way involves coming together to develop a vision for learning and then building capacity in others to reach for and achieve that vision. To show the way, leaders must be future-focused, always preparing for what is to come, while simultaneously doing the work today that will lead to a brighter future tomorrow. Always be present in the moment to create brighter moments ahead. Where some people may see only problems, great leaders see possibilities and they focus their energy accordingly.



3. Go the Way

Your example is your most powerful influence as an educator. Students and peers are always watching to see if what we say corresponds with what we do. It matters how we live out our values, and it matters how we treat everyone we meet. Every interaction counts. The following list exemplifies educators who go the way. These staff members:

  • Believe in giving back
  • Invest in others every day
  • Find time to greet children every day
  • Possess a "whatever it takes" mindset
  • Want to be pushed by others
  • Find a connection with kids each day
  • Go out of their way to share a bit of kindness with others
  • Accept that teaching is calling, not a job
  • Take time to show gratitude to others
  • Make time for others, but also make time for themselves

4. Grow Each Day

Great educators make their own personal and professional growth a top priority. The recognize that change is inevitable but growth is optional. However, failing to make efforts to grow results in certain failure. Surround yourself with excellence, invite feedback, and be open to reflecting on areas you can improve. Connect with other committed educators who can support you in your efforts to grow. The only way to reach your potential is to start right where you are and focus on getting better every day.



The book is filled with many stories, examples, and resources to support these essential leadership principles. At the end of each chapter, ideas from other outstanding educators are featured. You might recognize a number of the ones included. They might even be part of your PLN. Some of my favorites include Pernille Ripp, Neil Gupta, Glenn Robbins, Bill Ferriter, Jon Harper, Jennifer Hogan, and Heidi Veal. These short contributions add another dimension to the book.

You'll also find specific actionable strategies at the end of each chapter with links to resources to help you get started. For instance, there are suggestions to write a personal mission statement, create a vision statement, attend an EdCamp, and participate in a Twitter chat. It's packed with great ideas every educator is sure to find helpful.

Question: How are you growing in your leadership as an educator? Are you getting better every day? If you want to do something to level up your leadership, consider reading Start. Right. Now. 

I want hear from you. Be sure to leave a comment on the blog or share on Facebook or Twitter. Your thoughts and ideas take the discussion deeper.

You can snag a copy of the book at the link below. 



This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. If you visit Amazon via the links and purchase items, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

What Happened When We Launched Student-Led Senior Citizen Tech Support


We have a group at Bolivar High School known as the SWAT team. SWAT stands for Students Working to Advance Technology. The club started in 2015 to support our 1:1 program that was just getting off the ground. 

SWAT provides valuable support related to how we use technology in our school. For instance, they have presented how-to workshops for teachers during our annual PD day, the past two years. And they've been involved in parent open house to demonstrate ways technology is being used for learning in our school. They also help out in the library with issues students are having with their Chromebooks.



Most recently, the group offered tech support for senior citizens in our community every Thursday after school in February from 4-5:00pm. We publicized the opportunity in our local newspaper and on Facebook. It was a simple concept. We had some digital natives (our students) on hand to help the older crowd in our community with anything tech related we could help with.

The senior adults could bring their own device (most of them did) or the students used their Chromebooks to help with Facebook, Gmail, or whatever tool they wanted to learn.

We didn't really know what to expect. It was our first time trying something like this. But it was a huge success. We had customers every single Thursday, and several of our guests came back week after week.




This activity was beneficial on several levels. 

1. It was helpful to the senior citizens we served.

Our students helped with Macs, PCs, iPads, Android devices, multiple smart phones, and a Kindle Fire. I don't think there was a single question that our students didn't handle effectively. In one case, it took about 45 minutes to research a solution, but in the end, they resolved the issue.

2. It was a fantastic opportunity to connect with our community.

I think it's great when students can go out into the community or we can bring the community in. In this case, we had quite a few people into our school building that might not normally stop by for a visit. 

3. It was a great learning experience for our students.

Our students had the opportunity to give back and lend a helping hand. They got to practice communication skills, empathy, patience, and problem solving. It gave them the opportunity to serve others.

4. Everyone seemed to love it. 

Our students enjoyed this experience so much, they asked me if we could keep doing it each week. For a variety of reasons, I made them take a break for the month of March. We'll see after that. But I was proud they wanted to continue. And the senior citizens seemed to have a great time too. Some of them asked me if we could keep doing it, too! Okay, after reading that I feel like a scrooge for making them take a break. :)

Here's a 2 minute video that includes some student voice about how they experienced this project...



Question: Is this something you might try with your students? What questions do you have about this activity? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Hottest Posts Everyone's Reading this Winter

The last few months have been incredibly busy. It seems like it was just Christmas, and somehow we are almost ready for Spring Break. I hope you're having the best school year ever. But even if you're not, keep in mind you are growing, learning, and contributing every day. Your work matters, and you are making a difference.

I'm just reflecting a little here on some of the posts from the winter months. Thanks for being loyal readers, for all of your comments and shares, and for your desire to partner with me to learn and grow. I appreciate your commitment and dedication to students and learning.

So without further adieu, here is a list of the most popular posts from the past few months. If you missed something that looks interesting, take a few minutes to read it and let me know what you think. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

15 Reasons #EdTech Is Valuable Beyond Student Achievement



When we were planning for 1:1 at Bolivar High School, we had numerous community meetings and invited feedback and questions from our stakeholders. One of the questions that was raised went something like this, "How can you be sure student achievement will increase as a result of every kid having a device?"

And that's a very good question, at least on the surface. It would seem reasonable that if a school is going to spend thousands of dollars on devices, there should be a direct correlation, even causation, in the research to demonstrate a positive effect on measurable learning outcomes. 

That question comes up again from time to time. Our middle school is now also working toward implementing their own version of 1:1.

The research on the impact of 1:1 programs is mixed. Some studies point to flat achievement or even declining achievement, especially with low-income and minority students. Other studies, like Project Red for instance, have found that schools implementing a 1:1 student-computer ratio along with key implementation factors outperform other schools.

But I'm a bit skeptical of studies on either side of this issue. It is very difficult to isolate any single factor or group of factors to show direct impact on measurable student achievement outcomes. There are so many moving parts in what students learn and to what extent they learn it.

I do believe that technology implemented properly CAN have a positive impact on student achievement. But I would also argue that there are many, many reasons to go digital in schools besides student achievement. And I mean student achievement in the narrowest sense. Everything we do is related to student achievement in my view, but researchers and bureaucrats usually examine this factor through a narrow lens of standardized test results.

Since I believe so strongly in the benefits of technology for students, I asked my PLN for feedback on what they believe are the most important reasons to go digital beyond strictly academic outcomes. I summarize the ideas below, and you can also check out their responses in the Twitter Moment embedded below.

15 Reasons #EdTech is Valuable Beyond Student Achievement

1. Essential to learning in a modern world.

Technology is just as essential to learning in today's world as the school library. To be an effective learner in today's world means you're going to be using digital tools to learn.

2. Encourages lifelong learning.

Our school's motto is Learning for Life. We believe in the importance of developing skills that will translate to life. If we want our students to be lifelong learners, they need to understand the role of technology in that.

3. Connects students and schools with the outside world.

These tweets from Ellen Deem and Kevin Foley summarize it nicely. Technology allows us to bring the world into our school, and take our school into the world.

4. Reflects how work gets done outside of schools.

Almost every career, project, or activity will involve technology in some way. Having stronger skills related to technology brings value to most every area of life.

5. Allows for practicing digital citizenship.

How can we expect students to make good decisions and develop into responsible digital creators and consumers if we don't give opportunities for practice in school?

6. Important for teaching digital literacy.

Students need to understand digital literacy as part of overall information literacy. It's not enough to be able to read and write. You need to know how the digitally connected world works.

7. Important for practicing the 4 C's.

If we are serious about teaching communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking, technology is a great vehicle to explore those skills.

8. Kids like it.

I love this response from Melinda Miller. If we are serious about kids becoming independent learners, then learning needs to be exciting and fun.
9. Improves communication.

We gain opportunities to communicate and connect within and outside our school through the use of email, social media, shared documents, etc. 

10. Improves student engagement

Technology can play an important role in increasing student engagement and creating more student-centered learning opportunities.

11. Provides an authentic audience for student work outside the school.

Student work shouldn't be destined to finish in a trash can. It can be saved forever and shared with the world using digital tools.

12. Allows new ways to differentiate learning.

Technology is great for meeting individual learning needs. 

13. It can personalize learning.

Technology can create opportunities for students to pursue passions, make choices, and have their voice heard.

14. It creates efficiency.

With technology, we can use less paper, save time, and overcome the limitations of when and where we learn.

15. It supports curiosity.

Students have questions. A connected device provides the means to search for answers. Someone made the comment that tech has made us less curious. I don't necessarily think that's true.

Question: What are your thoughts on ways #EdTech impacts learning beyond student achievement? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. 

Also, be sure to check out all the tweets from my PLN in response to this topic. Thanks everyone for contributing!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

11 Apps That Help Me Manage My Social Media Life



I use my iPhone to do most of my connecting through social media. I guess that trend is common since mobile device use is up while use of laptops/desktops is down worldwide. This chart illustrates how that trend is expected to continue.


Retrieved: http://digiday.com/media/mobile-overtaking-desktops-around-world-5-charts/


Social media has been transformational in my work as an educator. The connections I've made and the ideas I've encountered have pushed me to grow and learn in ways I never could've imagined.

But I also don't want social media to take over my life. I work very hard to maximize my productivity and get the most out of my online work without compromising other important areas of my life.

These are 11 apps I've used that I've found most beneficial to managing my social media life. They aren't in any particular order, and they serve a variety of purposes.

1. Twitter-I use the Twitter app to read tweets and post to multiple accounts (school and personal/professional). I sometimes even participate in Twitter chats using my iPhone. 

2. Buffer-This app is fantastic for scheduling tweets and managing multiple social media accounts. I like to read and share relevant content to my followers. I've found Buffer is the best way to do this. One of the things I like about it is the ability to follow RSS feeds within the app. It brings some of my favorite content right into the app so I can review and share.

3. Facebook Pages-I help manage content for our high school page, and I also have a Facebook fan page for my blog. I can take care of both accounts through this app's interface. It works great!

4. Nuzzel-I use Nuzzel to read the hottest stories from my Twitter feed. Basically, it ranks articles that have been shared the most by my friends. I always find content here I want to share with others. It also works with Facebook. You just have to connect your accounts to the app.

5. Evernote-Anything I don't want to forget goes in Evernote. It's a great app for taking notes and staying organized. I keep a list of possible blog topics here also so I always have something to think and write about.

6. Juice-This app is another way I get content to read and share. It analyzes my Twitter and then generates new articles to read every 24 hours. I don't think very many people know about this one, but I really like it.

7. Flipboard-I use Flipboard semi-regularly, but it often frustrates me. It's supposed to aggregate relevant links and stories based on my interests. It's algorithm is supposed to learn my preferences and habits. The problem is I don't find helpful content there as often as I'd like. Am I doing something wrong? 

8. Vanillapen-This app is great for making quick and easy quote images. I like to share inspiring images or quotes and this makes it a breeze.

9. Pexels-You might share this app with your students too. It's a great online platform for finding Creative Commons licensed photos to use in projects and presentations. You don't want to violate copyright laws by choosing any photo from a Google search. The photos on this site are free and there are new pics added daily. 

10. Canva-I use Canva to create images for blog posts or to share on social media. Some of the graphics and images are fee based, but I use it often and rarely pay for anything.

11. TweetDeck-This tool is my favorite way to participate in Twitter chats. The simple column view allows users to monitor multiple accounts or hashtags all at once. For a chat, I typically have a column for the hashtag and one for my notifications so I know when someone has mentioned or tweeted at me.

I always enjoying new apps and have really benefited from the ones I've shared in this post. Having the right app is like finding the right tool in my shop. It makes every project turn out better!

Question: What are your favorite apps right now? I'm curious what works well for you. You can leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

7 Tips for Limiting Problem Behaviors in Your Classroom


Several weeks ago, I shared a post discussing how effective teachers develop classroom leadership skills instead of viewing themselves as classroom managers. The post describes how great teachers are great leaders, too. They have leadership skills far beyond simply managing classroom structures, procedures, etc. Great leaders connect with people. They inspire people. They don't just make people do stuff. They inspire people to want to become their best.

In our school, we've spent quite a bit of time this year working on strategies and procedures for addressing difficult student behaviors more effectively. We often think new teachers have the most room to grow in this area, but every educator should always continue to develop the ability to influence students to make positive choices. Ultimately, we want all students to contribute constructively to a better classroom learning culture.

So here are 7 quick ideas for building classroom culture and limiting those problem behaviors. 

1. Treat students with respect no matter how they behave.

Building a culture of respect is critical for classroom success. You may be tempted to get your feelings tangled up in addressing a student behavior issue. Don't. If you are having strong negative feelings toward a child, it's probably not the time to have an in-depth conversation about his or her behavior. It's okay to delay the talk until later when you've had time to process your feelings and can meet with the child in a productive manner. Note: It's okay to have upset feelings about unacceptable classroom behaviors, and it's okay to express these feelings in a productive way. But you don't want to do something that harms the relationship or robs dignity from a child.

One time during a pep assembly a group of our students did something that went directly against what I had asked them to do. And I felt hurt and angered by the choice. After the assembly, I gave them a passionate speech about how disappointed I was. I told them how much I cared about them, how I wanted to trust them, and how I would never intentionally disrespect them. This talk was filled with emotion on my part. I was intense. But I didn't disrespect anyone. I just tried to lead with my heart. In the end, I did not regret how I addressed the incident, and I think it was a productive response.

2. Be future-focused.

None of us wants our past mistakes held against us. We want to be forgiven and for people to give us grace. If you are having strong feelings about what a student did yesterday or the day before, that needs to be resolved so you can move forward in a positive way. Some people are always focused on the past. They complain about how kids these days aren't as respectful or as responsible as they used to be. But that type of thinking isn't helpful at all. 

When we are future-focused, we expect students to take responsibility for what they've done, admit how their actions were harmful, and then commit to show up in better, more productive ways in the future. 

3. Set high expectations and hold to them.

One of the most important things successful teachers do is clearly communicate expectations. That can be hard to do. It requires consistently reflecting on what's working and what's not working and then having conversations with your class about what needs to be different and why. When students understand your expectations and understand you will address deviation from the expectations, they will begin to take you seriously. I think sometimes teachers think they've communicated expectations and then just become frustrated when students don't comply. When expectations aren't met, circle back and teach the behaviors you're looking for to create the best classroom culture. I've noticed the most effective teachers work hard to set clear boundaries and expectations.

4. Design the most engaging lessons possible.

When your lessons are more engaging, your students will be focused on learning. And when they are focused on learning, there will be less problem behaviors you'll have to deal with. So be proactive and develop learning experiences that cause students to be active learners. I wrote a post on making learning irresistible. Check it out.

5. Handle private matters privately.

The older the student, the more important this one becomes. It goes back to #1. If a student feels you are being publicly critical, they are probably going to feel disrespected and the relationship will suffer. It's certainly okay to give instructions or make a request publicly, but if you are dealing with a conflict or a correction, it's better to do it as privately as possible. 

Some of my biggest failures as a teacher and principal happened when I allowed a conflict to have an audience. I wanted to resolve an issue immediately, but that isn't always necessary. The best teachers resolve the issue when the timing is right. We never want to paint a kid into a corner when emotions are running high.

It may seem obvious, but never complain about a student who isn't present. Even if what you say is true, I promise it's not helpful or even fair to share your feelings with others.

6. Be active all around your classroom.

Smaller problems can turn into larger problems when teachers aren't making the rounds in the classroom. You were probably taught about how great teachers have with-it-ness in your college classes—meaning they have a keen awareness of what is happening in the classroom and how it is impacting learning. Some teachers tend to stay at the front of the room or near their desk. But great teachers are observing and interacting with students all around the room. It helps to make sure things are headed in a positive direction.

7. Be intentional about building strong relationships with your students.

If this list were in any particular order, this one would need to be #1. The foundation of leadership for any educator is a consistent investment in building relationships. So how do you do that? Greet students at the door, call them by their name, give high-fives and fist-bumps, get to know their interests, give an encouraging word, attend one of their activities or games, ask them how they're doing. And never, never give up on them. When students see you care about them as people first, it will result in them being better students also.

Question: What are your best tips for dealing with problem behaviors? I'd love for you to expand on these ideas. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

9 Essential #EdTech Ideas to Share With Your Team



Technology is playing a bigger role in classrooms and schools in this country and around the world. Here are a few thoughts to keep technology in perspective. Share them with your team and discuss how to best implement technology in your learning culture. I hope these ideas help guide you to more effective use of digital tools with your students. 

1. Your learning goals should drive your tech goals, and not the other way around.

Just because you have access to iPads, Chromebooks, or some other device in your classroom doesn't mean they must be the center of learning in your classroom. Not every lesson can be made better with technology. Allow your goals for learning to lead you to the most powerful ways for tech to further support those learning goals. Keep your students at the center of learning, not a device.




2. It's not enough to think tech is important for students. You must be willing to learn it yourself.

To deny that tech will be important to students' futures seems unthinkable. But it's not enough to recognize students will need tech to be successful. Your students also need to see you as a willing learner of technology. They need to see you as a learner period. And it's a shame if you aren't leveraging your skills as a teacher because you aren't willing to learn technology. All of your teacher skills are priceless, but they can be even more relevant and powerful if you know how to effectively use technology for learning, too.

3. Tech can make kids want to learn more, but more importantly, it creates opportunities for more learning.

Lots of kids like to use technology. But using tech because it is engaging isn't as important as using it because your students are engaged. If your students are curious and motivated learners, they will have questions that need answers. They will want to create and share new knowledge. You know your students. You inspire them as learners and that relationship will ultimately lead to more learning. Technology can then create unlimited opportunities to create, learn, and share.




4. Being an effective learner in the modern world also means you are an effective digital learner.

Readers of my blog know I believe adaptable learners will own the future. The ability to learn, to be creative, to see possibilities, to make something new, will be a huge advantage for future success. But in today's hyper-connected, digital world, being an effective learner also means you are effective in using digital tools for learning, solving problems, and creating knowledge. 

5. If you change the technology but don't change your lesson, nothing really changes.

Adding technology to the same old lessons doesn't automatically make them better lessons. Work to create a better lesson first—one that is meaningful and authentic and causes deeper thinking and greater understandingthen consider how technology can make it even better. Technology won't improve learning if that worksheet is now in digital format. It won't inspire learning if students are just looking up answers online instead of in the textbook. Your lesson design is always more important than your digital tool.




6. For students who don't know how to use social media appropriately and effectively, who knows what opportunities they might miss?

If you want to be successful, do what successful people do. And some of the most successful people in our world are using social media and blogging as a platform to network, share their message, and improve their work. How many kids have the chance to practice these skills in school? As digital footprints replace traditional resumes, will your students have anything to show for their work? Even worse, will their digital record disqualify them to employers?

7. Google doesn't have answers; it has information.

Learning and inquiry involves more than searching for right answers. Students make meaning of information through good thinking. The most interesting questions don't have one right answer and require students to think in ways that lead to understanding. Access to a web-connected device is a powerful tool for learning. It creates agency, empowers learning, and puts students in the driver's seat, but only if we allow it, support it, and facilitate it.




8. Tech should make us more human, not less.

It's not hard to see ways technology is both a blessing and a burden. So we need to be thoughtful about how we use technology for good and limit the negatives. We've heard a lot about how social skills are deteriorating as a result of attachment to mobile tech and addiction to device notifications and so forth. But technology can help us connect, do more good, and be more human, not less. In the classroom, technology should lead to more conversations, not less. Students are going to use technology. We need to help them use it in ways that are healthy and productive.

9. Anyone who wants to be a leader needs to be a digital leader too.

We are past the days where leaders could just count on the tech department or that one teacher to take the lead on technology. Every person who aspires to lead should expect to be a digital leader too. Leaders don't have to have better digital skills than anyone else, but they do need to model the use of technology and constantly be willing to learn. Working to stay informed, learning new tools, and being future-driven are critical to digital leadership. And every leader should strive to be a digital leader too.

Question: What essential #EdTech idea would you add to this list? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.
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