Sunday, March 30, 2014

Car Ride

After an almost five hour car ride, I am finally in my hotel room getting ready for a presentation I am giving at a conference tomorrow, which I am really psyched about doing. Don't get me wrong, it is great to unwind, unpack and get comfortable but the car ride was pretty awesome. You see, I was fortunate enough to have an amazing driver for this road trip through NJ, Pennsylvania and NY. You might know him - his name is Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal) and he is one of the most passionate educators and nicest guys I have had the pleasure of getting to know over the last two years. 

So Eric is the reason I joined Twitter two years (I wrote about it here). After reading about Eric and his use of Twitter as it related to the world of education, I was hooked. Well, here we are nearly two years later and I don't know what I would do without Twitter, my PLN and the friendships I have developed on this socially connected network- they have changed my entire professional world! Today, and the five hour car ride with Eric, was exactly what Twitter is about for me - learning through the human connections I have established with other like-minded and passionate educators who are trying to do what is best for kids (I know this is not true of everyone but I see it in most of the people in my PLN). That is Eric in a nutshell - he is a dedicated and enthusiastic leader who is always looking for innovative and forward thinking ways to enhance the learning experiences of his kids and staff at New Milford.

That's not all though - Eric shared a lot more than his professional world. During this five hour car ride, I was able to pick Eric's brain on a bevy of topics from book writing to keynote speeches to creating MakerSpaces and his willingness to share, offer his perspectives and be an advisor/mentor blew me away - he shared so much to help me enhance my craft. I never would have imagined that a five hour car ride with one of my mentors who specializes in Digital Leadership (check out his book) would have been such a game changer but it came at the perfect time - thanks Eric. 

With that being said, the thing is, I could have been in the car with any number of people from my PLN (although Eric did introduce me to the best hot dogs on the planet) and the experience likely would have been similar. We talked, exchanged ideas, pushed our thinking and laughed - a LOT! In the end, that is what Twitter is all about for me... the amazing people who I have connected with (and even met in real life) who have willingly shared their expertise, passions, knowledge and experiences with no expectations. Thanks to Twitter, I have access to the best of the best who help me be a better educator and Lead Learner and these connections don't only benefit me, but they directly benefit our entire school community because I cannot wait to share what I have learned with those at Cantiague! Twitter is so much more than a digital platform... it is about connections... it is about social interactions... it is about relationships... it is about friendships... it is about the people behind the avatar... Twitter is a platform that allows for a free flow of ideas between people who make a choice to participate in this space; people who want to share; people who want to learn; people who are passionate about the world of education and want to do what is in the best interest of children.

So, the next time someone asks me about THE TWITTER and why I do it, I will tell them its about the car rides/conferences/text messages/voxes and everything else I share based on the human relationships I have established!      

Sunday, March 9, 2014

40 Things I Know About Education

This month I turn 40... that's right - the BIG 4-0! I am not quite sure where the last 40 years have gone (I still think I am 28 somewhere in the back of my mind) but what I do know is that I have learned a LOT in my 40 years. I have learned a lot about myself, a lot about the people around me, a lot about what matters in life and a lot about the world of education. I have been an educator for almost half my life and during that 17 year stretch, my philosophy of education, which I see as a living entity, has been shaped and refined continuously! In honor of my 40th birthday, aside from the white hairs growing abundantly on my head and the back pains that seem to increase in frequency, I would like to share 40 things I know about education...

  1. It is all about the kids... they come first, second, third and last. They are the beginning, middle and end! Every decision we make must be in the best interest of kids - even if it is a difficult decision!
  2. Educators can let the kids see them smile before December! In fact, heck, let them see you smile from day one... smiles and laughter have a positive physiological impact on people.
  3. If you are going to be successful as an educator you must lead with your heart and mind... because teaching and learning without heart is like Fountas without Pinnell!
  4. It is never about the resources/stuff/materials... it is always about the educators in the school!
  5. Differentiation of instruction needs to be at the foundation of all good instruction!
  6. Our schools/classrooms/districts need to be a safe haven for kids... and staff!
  7. We must embrace the idea that failure is a critical part of learning and growing!
  8. Homework has NO value unless it is checked and is potentially used as a type of formative assessment!
  9. Don't just do something because it is the way it has always been done!
  10. Embrace innovation and disruption... push kids (and yourself) out of your comfort zone by taking risks through disruptive innovation!
  11. Faculty Meetings should not just be a review of things that can be covered in an email!
  12. Kids need recess... don't take it away unless it is a consequence for something they did during recess!
  13. The Arts are a critical part of any educational organization... it is a way to hook many kids who aren't hooked by math, reading or writing!
  14. High stakes testing is useless because we cannot do anything with the data!
  15. Students and teachers should NOT be reduced to a number as a result of a score on a standardized assessment!
  16. NCLB, Common Core, RTTT, etc. have not addressed the systemic issues plaguing the landscape of public education in this country!
  17. One bad year in school can set a kid back for years!
  18. Kids need to read EVERY SINGLE DAY if they are to become stronger readers and THINKERS!
  19. Collaboration is critical to the success of all members of the organization!
  20. Being flexible is underrated!
  21. Don't use sarcasm with your students.
  22. Don't embarrass your students in front of each other.
  23. Spend time creating a community of learners in your classroom - it can go a long way!
  24. If kids can show their understanding in 4 or 5 math problems, don't give them a sheet with 20 or more!
  25. Kids should have a voice in their learning and assessment!
  26. Effective classroom management is rooted in trust, respect and empathy!
  27. Telling kids what they are going to learn at the start of a lesson is a great way to hook them and gives them a context for what is to come!
  28. Field trips are really important - they bring the curriculum to life.
  29. Giving kids a second chance can go a long way.
  30. We must focus on the issues... not the people... don't take things personally!
  31. Healthy and positive relationships are at the core of any successful school!
  32. Positivity goes a long way.
  33. There are many policies and mandates that we must follow but how they manifest themselves in our space is up to us!
  34. Feedback is a wonderful thing that can be transformative... don't get defensive around feedback!
  35. We must listen more than we talk.
  36. "Covering" the curriculum should not be our goal.
  37. We are all learners first!
  38. Don't ask if you taught it... figure out what was actually learned!
  39. Create an environment where taking risks (and likely failing) is the norm!
  40. Kids come FIRST!
Clearly the list could go on and on but in the end, I think these 40 points are critical to the success of any educator, student and learning organization. 

What do you think should be the next thing on this list? Please leave a comment below!

Monday, March 3, 2014

My Problems with Twitter

That's right, I said it... there are some potential problems with Twitter. Some huge problems that could impact the benefit of this socially connected network that brings educators from across the globe together. Regardless of gender, race, class or geographical location, Twitter allows like-minded (or completely not like-minded) individuals to connect, collaborate, curate, engage, deliberate, discuss and learn for free... 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Need a link to an article, video or blog post? Hit up your PLN (Personal/Professional Learning Network)! Need an idea for how to invigorate a staff meeting? Tweet out the question to your PLN! Want to introduce an app into your 1:1 school to support reading instruction? Type the question in 140 characters or less and your PLN will be there to help!

Yes, the potential power of Twitter is only beginning to be understood by many in the world of education. But, as we know, with anything good thing comes some potential issues, challenges and drawbacks and this is true of Twitter. There are some problems with Twitter, at least from my perspective and I need to put them out there for myself... so I can be aware of them as I continue my journey as a connected educator. What are these problems you ask? Well, here are the ones that I see...

1) We are susceptible to groupthink! That's right - I said it! Groupthink could totally rear its ugly head and I feel like I have seen it happen already. My take on groupthink is when within a group (usually like minded people) the desire for conformity and acceptance impact the decisions that are made by those within the group. Instead of critically evaluating and deliberating the ideas and points of view of others, we just accept others' ideas as our own to fit in or gain followers or be accepted or whatever! Should we be able to agree with those who think like us? YES... but let's not miss the opportunity to reframe a problem/issue/challenge and consider it from a different lens. For example, what if we didn't view the Common Core State Standards as the death of public education? What if we viewed them as an opportunity? Not saying that I feel one way or the other about CCSS but what I know is that it's one of those topics where we allow ourselves to feel victimized and jump on the bandwagon instead of flipping the table and taking a different stance. 

2) That brings me to my other concern... there are too many people potentially taking the position of "victim" on Twitter. Is the current landscape of public education concerning? Yes! Are there lots of things happening in our schools that are not in the best interest of children? Yes! Does the push for high stakes testing, privatization of public education and accountability stink? Yes! But, why focus on all that when you are in this socially connected network of people where you have access to incredible amounts of expertise and experience (Where else can you chat with Todd Whitaker, Daniel Pink and even the Pope??) that can help you reframe challenges and see them as opportunities for growth and learning. I am not saying we shouldn't complain about all that is wrong but let's not get mired in that when we have the chance to collaborate with other passionate and motivated educators. Like I used to say to my kids, "Don't perpetuate the problem... offer a solution!"

3) Let's not just use Twitter as a soapbox or a space to regurgitate quotes and cliches... NO! Let's use this platform as a think tank... as a space to nurture and cultivate solutions... as a place to exchange ideas, resources and perspectives that will help us be better in our own contexts! Yes, we all know that there are inequities in our schools; systemic issues that our plaguing our learning institutions; and gaps in the quality of education our children are receiving across this country but instead of commenting on these issues, let's use the collective power and knowledge in this space to make things better! Let's push initiatives like Genius Hour, Differentiated PD for educators and MakerSpaces... and the 100's of other ideas and approaches that can make learning more meaningful and engaging for our kids! 

4) Twitter is not about the number of followers you have (although the more you have, the greater your reach and access to resources and perspectives) but instead Twitter is about the human connections you establish. The connections that lead to an exchange of ideas; the connections that lead to deliberations from different points of view that help us broaden our lens; the connections that give us a boost or a push when we need it most; the connections that inspire us and ground us at the same time. Twitter is about the people we get to know, respect and value... much like what happens in a well-functioning classroom or school.   

5) We need to stop pushing Twitter on the disconnected educators because I don't think that is the right approach! When I used to talk about Twitter, I think people wondered how much of the Kool-Aid I had ingested and whether or not my tweeps and I were all in a cult! Well, what I started to realize is that the Twitter experience is a journey... it is not an experience that can simply be replicated for those who have yet to be connected. It looks different for every person and we have to respect that for some people, "lurking" (and never actually tweeting) is as far as they will get and that is ok. Twitter is about learning. Twitter is about getting access to some of the most amazing resources available to educators. Twitter is a personal journey whose trajectory is dictated by the individual... not the platform!

Ok... so there you have it... these are the problems with Twitter that I have identified during my two year journey. What do you think? Am I wrong? Have I missed any? Am I totally on point? Please help me see a different perspective... help me learn and grow... please push my thinking!