Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Avoid these 5 critical mistakes in #edtech planning

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If you've been in education very long, you've probably seen money wasted on some technology initiative. This year our school is going 1:1 with Chromebooks, and it is very exciting to think about how the devices will support learning in our building. But I feel a great sense of responsibility to ensure that the significant investment by our district (and ultimately our taxpayers) results in a more relevant and more effective learning experience for students. Careful planning should help us avoid some of the catastrophic failures that have happened in other schools (LA Unified for example). In fact, I am confident that with the proper implementation, tech initiatives are a necessary investment to greatly improve opportunities for students. So why are millions of dollars wasted each year on failed technology initiatives?

1. Schools purchase technology without considering exactly how it will be used to support learning. More than likely, there is at least a vague idea of the purpose of the tools, but the clear development of a vision and the communication of that vision is lacking. We should never make digital acquisitions simply because "our middle school students really don't have access to much technology." We aren't spending our school budgets just to say we have digital resources. That type of thinking makes 'having technology' more important than 'using technology' to add value. We need to have a clear idea of how digital access will benefit learning.

2. Schools purchase technology without considering the total cost of ownership. I hear the stories all the time in my work with teachers. Our school district bought laptops, but no one considered the expense of support and repairs. Or, we got these devices but our wireless network wasn't sufficient and now there's no money to make the needed upgrades. Or, we had this technology dumped in our laps, but there was no training for teachers. The total cost of ownership should be considered and allowances made for important contingencies that may not have been anticipated.

3. Schools fail to get buy-in from teachers, students, parents, etc. Without the buy-in of key stakeholders, a learning initiative (involving tech or not) will most likely fail to achieve its full potential. So how do we get buy-in? Have conversations about why the initiative is important. Ask questions. Get feedback from those who will be involved. Truly listen. Communicate the vision and consistently offer information and education on how the initiative will impact student learning. Finally, develop leaders from among these stakeholder groups and invite them along to help with the effort.

4. Schools purchase technology without providing support for teachers. This is one of the most common complaints from teachers about tech initiatives, "These devices were just dumped in our classrooms without any training or support." There needs to be a plan for helping teachers learn more about how tech can help with learning. Notice I didn't say that PD or training needs to be scheduled. There is nothing wrong with having training, but I think it's even more powerful to have a culture of sharing, communicating, and learning that is ongoing and teacher-driven. I want ownership for professional learning to be shared by the individual(s), and not just the responsibility of the organization. Another important area of support is related to help being available when the technology isn't working. Teachers need responsive tech departments who can assist.

5. Schools purchase technology with no plan for how to determine if the effort is working successfully. If we are going to spend significant amounts of money, and invest valuable resources of time and effort on a learning-focused technology initiative, there needs to be a clear idea of what success will look like. What types of learning improvements are we ultimately seeking, and how will know our students are gaining from this as we intended? These indicators of success need to be revisited often.

Monday, June 22, 2015

8 Digital Tools to Enhance Your PLN

Every connected educator needs to find tools to help with search, content delivery, communication, and digital curation. I regularly experiment with different tools to improve my work flow and help me get the most out of my personal learning network (PLN).

The basic foundation of my PLN is Twitter, and so these tools are companions to Twitter and help me get the most out of it. They also help me contribute better content, because I want to learn from my PLN, but I also want to add value and share content that needs to be shared.

Here are 10 tips for leveraging the power of personal and professional learning!

1. Twitter advanced search--Instead of performing a normal Google search, I will often use Twitter to search for information on a particular topic. Google dominates search, and its advanced search features are impressive. But I also really like advanced Twitter search. It has a variety of operators from which to query, and you don't even have to be logged in to Twitter to use it.

Search by Words. In the advanced Twitter search interface, it is possible to be drill-down more precisely to get the results you really desire.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

10 inspiring images to promote a #GrowthMindset

We know the importance of developing a growth mindset for ourselves and for our students. It's really the essence of learning. Carol Dweck's book Mindset is a fantastic contribution for parents, educators, and just about everyone.

We need to constantly remind ourselves and our students that mistakes are part of the learning process. No one is perfect and perfection is not even the goal. The goal is to learn and grow be the best version of 'you' possible. The only way to journey toward reaching potential is to persevere through mistakes and embrace failures as opportunities. It's important to model this mindset for students. When we make a mistake, we should own it and not view it as a failure.

Friday, June 12, 2015

What if we had Genius Hour for teachers?

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We currently have time built into our weekly schedule for teacher collaboration, and that's a good thing. But all good things need to be reinvented, or at least reinvigorated to make them better. We need to be creative to make the use of time and resources as valuable as possible. Our weekly collaboration time grew out of the Professional Learning Communities movement, and our school has benefited from the PLC structure. But I see a new vision for collaboration and growth emerging.

What if we had Genius Hour for teachers, a time for professionals to work on projects they have passion for. I've seen this idea tossed around on various Twitter chats, and it's reportedly been done in forward-thinking schools. The idea is to empower people to use part of their productive work time to pursue projects they believe are most meaningful for them and for their students.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Maybe I've flipped out...a few thoughts on learning

There are all sorts of mindsets that work against a healthy approach to learning. These are well-documented because we've heard our colleagues complain about them before. "Students nowadays don't know how to...." or "These kids are so..." But this post isn't a rant against students. That is completely unproductive. Learning is a natural part of being human, and the problems students have with learning has a lot less to do with them, and a lot more to do with us.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A message for the Class of 2015

It was an especially exciting graduation season for our family this year since my son Drew was among the 180 students in the Bolivar HS Class of 2015. When your dad is also principal, commencement is a little different for sure. He was even quoted in the yearbook as saying he was frequently asked, "So what's it like having your dad as the principal?"

For me, it was a great honor and privilege to get to present him with his diploma. And I wish him and the rest of the Class of 2015 a fantastic future. The group is filled with wonderful, interesting, and talented young adults. As far as achievement goes, they did okay on that account too. The grads earned nearly $2.3 million in scholarships, setting a new record for BHS.

Each year, I have the opportunity to make a few remarks to encourage and congratulate the graduating class. I always try to keep my message short but hopefully meaningful. My speech this year follows.

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