Sunday, September 28, 2014

Build your PLN with more followers on Twitter

Since October is approaching and that means Connected Educator Month, I thought it would be a good time to share a few of my thoughts on building a PLN, or personal learning network. First of all, you may think it's self-absorbed or narcissistic to be concerned about how many followers you have on Twitter. And I guess that's possible if the reason you are building your network is simply for the sake of more followers or to compare yourself to others, or to get a sense of self-importance from your follower stats.

But I believe there are honorable reasons to build your following. Through my connections on Twitter, I have learned more and grown more as an educator than from just about any other learning experience. Earning my doctorate was also an incredible experience, but it was very different from the highly customized and globally connected opportunities Twitter offers.

Why grow a following on Twitter? 

1. More followers means more connections. As my PLN grows I have learned where I can go to get help with topics that matter to me.
2. More followers means greater voice. We want our students to speak out and make a positive difference, and we should look to speak out and create positive impact for our profession as well.
3. The best leaders are not just concerned about the issues facing their individual classrooms and schools but are working to influence the broader field of education.
4. Since I believe in Twitter, I want to model successful use of the platform and have a wide audience to promote how it can transform professional learning and connectedness.

10 tips for more followers

1. Post frequently. When people see your posts regularly they begin to trust your presence and content. Scheduling tweets is really the only practical way to ensure you are consistently offering content. I tweet about once every hour. By the way, it is okay to periodically recycle previous tweets. Great ideas deserve to be revisited.
2. Retweet other people's content. You generate value in the community by furthering the reach of quality posts by retweeting them.
3. Be relevant. If you are using Twitter as the vehicle of your PLN, then most of your posts should be education related. It's okay to post personal interests occasionally, but if you rarely post an education comment, then don't expect educators to follow.
4. Follow other educators. This may be the most powerful tip on the list. Look for the top educators on Twitter and follow the people who follow them. Or, follow the people who retweet them. This tip will help more people know about you.
5. Share articles, quotes, and pictures. Tweets that include helpful resources, inspiring quotes, or motivating pictures often get retweeted thus growing your value in the community.
6. Make your bio compelling. Use your bio to build your relevance and passion as an educator. Potential followers may decide to follow you or not simply from your bio.
7. Include a picture or avatar and background photo. Quality images can help others identify with you and connect with your content.
8. Participate in Twitter chats. There are many, many Twitter chats where you can connect with other educators and likely gain new followers, even more so if you reach out and follow others first. I would love to see new faces in #MOedchat. We chat Thursday nights at 9PM CST.
9. Use hashtags. Hashtags allow content to be sorted on Twitter. As users search these hashtags, your content that includes the hashtag is more likely to be noticed than if you don't use any hashtags. But be careful, more than two or three hashtags in a single Tweet may be distracting or make people think you are spamming.
10. Start blogging. Sometimes Twitter's 140 characters just aren't enough. Your blog allows you to expand on your ideas and reflect and grow even more. You can even promote your blog posts with your Tweets. Blogging is another great way to build value for your ideas in the PLN community.

If you commit to follow these tips, I promise you will begin to increase your following and get more out of your experience on Twitter. You will connect with people and ideas that will help you grow. Educators are an increasingly powerful force on Twitter, and I'm proud to see how many teachers are engaging professionally 24/7/365!

Thoughts on follow backs

Generally, I follow back anyone who is an educator and follows me. However, there are a couple of exceptions. I rarely follow anyone who has not replaced the Twitter "egg" with some type of image. I also don't typically follow users who lock their accounts and require approval before accepting a follower. I totally respect a person's right to set up their account this way, but it doesn't seem like they are that interested in connecting.

The reason I feel it's important to follow back is because I believe that is in line with my reasons for building a PLN in the first place. I am not trying to get more followers than the next person or self-promote. My goals are to learn more, share more, and ultimately make a greater impact as an educator. These goals lead me to believe that it's my responsibility to not just increase my network but also help others increase their value in the PLN community as well. I want everyone to have more followers, more connections, and more value to self, others, and the profession.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

How grades fail to send the right message

In Curriclum21, Heidi Hayes Jacobs shares the story of Mabry Middle School in Georgia. The school surveyed students to learn more about their attitudes toward learning. On the survey, students reported that they rarely did their best on academic work, but they did enough to earn a grade that would please their teachers or their parents. As you can imagine, this information was very concerning to the teachers of Mabry. They wanted more for their students than a culture where students did just enough to get the grades.

So I recently had a spirited conversation about grading with @audhilly on Twitter. I think we actually agreed for the most part, but there were some differences. In examining the shortcomings of traditional grading, @audhilly indicated that the problem with traditional grades is not what they do but what they fail to do.
I completely agree traditional grades do not effectively communicate what has been learned. Instead, old fashioned grades simply lump all assignments together without providing information on specific learning targets. In the end, the grade is determined by averaging all of these varied assignments together to arrive at a grade that reflects a general, but imprecise, assessment of learning. So traditional grades do not communicate precisely toward progress on learning goals.

But I also believe grades do harm beyond this basic failure. They condition students to expect a grade for every assignment they do. Students begin to think if there isn't a grade attached, it must not be that important. Instead of drawing on passion, curiosity, and empowerment for motivation, students work the system to earn enough points (a grade) to satisfy the demands of the important people in their life (teachers and parents). Students become passive participants where they follow directions, comply, and ultimately remember enough to get the grade.

So grades fail on multiple levels. Foremost, they do not communicate precisely the progress toward learning goals so students can understand how to grow and improve. And, grades cause motivation to become increasingly dependent on external factors rather than encouraging students to strive for personal best.

When Mabry Middle School was faced with the realization of how passive students had become in the learning process, they developed strategies to make learning more engaging for students. Students were encouraged to bring personal passions and creativity into the learning process. Student work was celebrated and showcased to various audiences. These changes helped students see ways the time and effort of learning was meaningful beyond simply getting a grade.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A vision statement for transforming learning

At our last 1:1 committee meeting, we worked on creating a vision or results statement for this project. We all agree the point of 1:1 is ultimately not a connected device in the hands of every student. That's not the endgame. The power of the device is dependent on the effective transformation of teaching and learning to meet the demands of our ever changing world. If the devices help us meet this goal it will only be with a clear vision, a full understanding by everyone in the building, and leadership on the part of admin, teachers, and even students.

Here is the current draft of the statement we developed:

In ____ years, we want anyone who walks into our classrooms to see:

  • Students participating in global conversations that extend beyond the walls of our classrooms.
  • Students doing work that prepares them for the real-world work they'll do beyond graduation.
  • Students demonstrating their learning as producers of content.
  • Learning environments that recognize each student as a unique individual, allowing for self-pacing and utilizing differentiation strategies. 
  • Students participating in digital learning as responsible, ethical, productive digital citizens. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Thoughts from 1:1 planning meeting

We held the first meeting of our 1:1 committee to collaborate about what our school's vision will be for the use of digital devices to enhance learning. Our team consisted of district administration, high school principals, and several teachers along with an instructional coach. The agenda for the first meeting involved the following topics: the role of the committee in this process, what is our 'why' for looking at 1:1, review of survey results on student access, what are obstacles for us, where are teachers in their readiness, and where do we go next?

Here are several of my reflections looking back on our meeting:

1. This purpose of the planning process is to get all the voices in the conversation to make the best decision possible. I plan to get student input, and at some point we need to engage parents. Our superintendent is going to invite a board member to join our committee going forward.

2. To move forward, we need 100% understanding and 80% buy-in. 100% must understand the direction and the 'why.' If we have 80% who are bought-in, the initiative will succeed.

3. 1:1 will be a way to level the playing field for so many of our students who are under-resourced. A learning device provides a significant advantage when used for connecting and learning. We want all our students to have the best opportunities to learn.

3. The device that is selected is not as important as how it is used to enhance instruction. However, the committee recognizes that many stakeholders will have strong feelings about what device is best and will have that question from the beginning. As the process unfolds, it will be important to make a good decision about the device that fits our situation best.

4. We discussed how important it is for students to learn to use technology for learning. They are very competent with Facebook, YouTube, games, etc. Until digital tools are used regularly throughout the school, students will be hard-pressed to develop habits of using technology for learning.

5. Teachers will need professional development. However, we will never be able to move everyone to the same level. Teachers will need to take ownership of their learning and have a growth mindset. Students can also be enlisted as resources to support teachers and other students.

6. The expectation will be for teachers to increase the utilization of technology in learning. There will be times when the devices will be set aside and that's okay. We will respect that all teachers are at different places in their digital journey. We will be looking for growth.

7. We acknowledged that introducing 825 devices into our building also presents more opportunities for distraction and non-learning behaviors. We will need to learn from other schools and make digital citizenship a priority.

8. Our network will need enhancements to be ready for 1:1. We don't currently have enough wireless access points to effectively handle the number of devices. Bandwidth may also be an issue.

9. We briefly discussed how the devices might be supported in the building. Having effective support will be a top concern of teachers. If something goes wrong, how can I get help?

10. Our survey results indicated there will be a significant number of students who don't have internet at home. As teachers make instructional decisions, they will need to remember students may not be able to readily connect outside the school day. However, the building does have extended hours so students can arrive early or stay late to use the school's wi-fi.

It was noted at the meeting that there are many recent examples in our school of teachers increasing the use of digital tools in the classroom, but until we get devices in the hands of students, many of the great ideas teachers have will never be fully realized.

Our superintendent reminded the committee to look at the big picture and not get caught in too many details. We need to cast a vision, and then work on the specifics of implementation when it's time.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What kind of teacher do you want for your child?

Earlier this week I was at Walmart, one of my least favorite places on the planet. Sorry Walmart! I was eager to get home after a long day, but the checkouts were backed up. I randomly picked a line since they were all busy. But this time I picked the right one. Before I knew it I was on my way home. The clerk in the line I picked was giving great effort. It was noticeable she was putting forth great effort, not just putting in her time.

When it was almost my turn to checkout, I applauded the clerk's service to the customer in front of me, "Wow, she really knows how to make a line disappear." The customer smiled and agreed. I added, "She's really a hard worker."

The clerk then replied with these magical words, "I love my job." She proceeded to double bag all of my cold items, rush around to help load bags of groceries into my cart, and even made a suggestion about a type of potato chips she liked that were similar to the ones I bought.

On my way home, I called Walmart and asked for the store manager, explaining that I had just received amazing service and wanted to commend the employee for her outstanding job. The store manager was not available, but I did talk with a shift manager and shared my story, referring to the employee personally since I took note of her name badge. The manager was very appreciative of the phone call and said she would share the complement in their store meeting.

This experience got me thinking about several things.

1. Isn't it great when people go above and beyond for a job well-done? We all appreciate having excellent service provided, whether it is in the drive-thru, the doctor's office, or the check-out line.

2. Each of us gets to choose our attitude about our work each day. I once knew someone who worked as a checkout clerk at Walmart and complained nonstop about her job. Each time I would see her at her station she barely moved a muscle, wore a frown, and said little to any of the customers. Her attitude was a choice, just like the clerk who chose to share with me, "I love my job."

3. Everyone matters. Every job matters. And I am thankful I was taught to respect hard work and to respect people regardless of their level of education, how much money they have, or what kind of job they do.

4. Even though every job matters, I think our work as educators is especially important. We work with children everyday, and we have the opportunity to help shape their future. Every word and every deed makes an impact and can be used to build up or tear down a child's dreams.

5. Since our work is so significant in the life of a child, we owe it to him or her and to her parents, to be our very best every day. We have to be all in 100% or we are doing a disservice to our profession and to the future of a child.

6. So what kind of teacher do you want for your child? I bet you want one who goes above and beyond to do a great job every day, even when it's not easy.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Using RiseVision and Animoto for DIY digital signage

A couple of years ago we wrote a grant with the Walmart Community Foundation to purchase three large flat screen TVs for our commons area. The plan was to use the TVs as digital signage to celebrate student success, communicate important information, and promote upcoming events.

After trying a few options for displaying content on the screens, we are now using as our platform. It requires a PC or signage player be connected to your screens, but it is easy to use and currently is completely free. In the future, there may be in-app purchases for storage of files or extra features. We currently have two PCs driving our three TVs.

Although RiseVision has many templates available and the ability to create custom screens from scratch, I've found that can be time consuming, especially if you are trying to keep fresh content on the TVs. But since RiseVision has the ability to stream video, I am trying a new solution.

Using Animoto, a video creation app available for PC or mobile device, I am quickly tossing together awesome videos that look great but take little time to create. Animoto will automatically create polished videos from the photos and video clips you select. In just a few steps, you can create a video start to finish.

Animoto also allows for text to be added in the video, and so I am including a few announcements within the video. Because of the convenience of Animoto, I hope to have a new video each week for our students to enjoy. I will also highlight a few building announcements in each of these.

I tested this new workflow today, and it worked great. The video I created uploaded to RiseVision and streamed perfectly in 720p. I would love 1080p but Animoto requires a PRO account for this feature.

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