Sunday, December 11, 2016

Leader's Communication: Hear, Feel, Do

As a young leader, I see value in proactively sharing my values and beliefs. I think this builds the culture and unites the team over a common purpose. Or put differently, “If a leader doesn’t create a culture, his team will.”

So, each week, before my team dives into their data, I stand, report on a few announcements then begin to dive into the message. When I was over, I would send the teams into their sub-groups and then back to the classrooms for a week of inspired instruction based on my message.
But was it that easy?

The obvious answer is no. So, how do I ensure everyone hears the same message, or, for that matter, the message I intended them to feel. Well, I would argue two things, 1) consider the hat and 2) the continuum of speaking.

1)      Consider the Hat: In a recent podcast with Craig Groesch, he mentioned that leaders should always find the hat that matches their message. For example, a boss can wear a supervisor, mentor, or friend hat when interacting with any given employee. When a boss wears a supervisor hat, his interaction with the employee would be very direct, “You are not on time today, and if you do it again, you are fired!” A boss, on the other hand, using the mentor hat would react more like, “Jeff, I saw you arriving this morning. Look, if you want to move up and achieve more, try to show initiative. That means being on time.” Lastly, the boss can wear the friend hat, “Jeff, I noticed you were late today, is everything okay? How can I help?”

“As leaders, if we are going to communicate effectively then we must select the best hat.”

In every case, the hat the boss wear affects the emotions the listeners feel. Think about it, as you replay each one of those three scenarios, did you feel differently? As leaders, if we are going to communicate effectively then we must select the best hat. After all, any leader can speak, but the best leaders ensure their people hear and understand them.
Consider this, sometimes picking the right hat is based on the situation. If you are speaking to a large group of individuals, then the friend hat would not be appropriate, and so forth. Personally, my style with my team is far from supervisory. I work hard to deliver positive forward thinking messages as opposed to the reactive nature of a supervisor's message. After all, it is my goal to unite mindsets, not to correct behaviors with these messages.
                After all, it is my goal to unite mindsets, not to correct behaviors with these messages.”

2)      Working up the Continuum: Another area of research that really struck me at my core was from communication expert, Richard Greene’s TED Talk. To be effective, Greene asserts, leaders must move up the continuum of communication from presenters to conversations. From communication “at” or “to” them, to holding a conversation “with” them.

As a young leader, this struck a chord. I can confess, first hand, that I have been a presenter. I’m not proud, but from my earliest experiences as a PD presenter in the district to being elevated to leadership, I just assume speaking is speaking, why change. Sadly, as I drafted my talks I would visualize me presenting the information. But, as Greene displays, the greatest speakers of all time use conversation to relate to their audience. After all, he says, your team must connect with speaker and believe in the message.

                But, as Greene displays, the greatest speakers of all time use conversation to relate to their audience.”

So, as I grow as a leader, I must continue to assert my values and beliefs on the team that I manage. But, what I realize, maybe more than anything, is that my growth as a leader must begin with my growth as a communicator. Moving forward I must put deep thought into how I communicate those messages. After all, every leader is a communicator, but the best leaders will communicate using the proper hat while spreading the message with conversation.

~Work hard, make a difference, and join the crusade. Because those that plug into a higher purpose will always dream higher, see broader, and care deeper.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Success Relieves Urgency

In a recent podcast, the host said this profound quote, “Success is never owned, it is only rented. And, tomorrow, rent is due.”

Let me be totally honest; for whatever reason, every time I mention that quote it gets my juices flowing! It fires me up! And, with a little reflection, I realize how true that quote is. I think as professionals we have to constantly battle complacency.

Complacency relieves urgency.

First and foremost, complacency relieves urgency. Have you ever worked with someone that just seemed to be better than you? I have, and it fueled my urge to get better, quickly. For whatever reason I had to be better, and when that was not the case, my drive for improvement jumped into overdrive.

Similarly, so does an organization. In recent years, the school I am presently at went from a “D” ranking to an “A” ranking. When we became a “D” school, it was almost as if it was life threatening. In other words, we were in constant pursuit of excellence, and for whatever reason, we would not be denied! Our teachers worked after school, during lunch, and before school to tutor struggling students.

Then the new ratings came out this summer. We jumped to an “A.” No, that’s not a mistype, an “A.” Can you imagine the excitement in the air? The staff was rewarded for their hard work. We rolled through first of the year PD. We performed a pep-rally for all district teachers, organized an individualized approach to implementing technology on campus, and met with departments and whole staff about organizational needs. In the words of one new teacher, “This has been most organized and energizing PD I have ever experienced.”

Just to recap, we are now an “A” school, we fired the staff up with celebrations and focused PD, so what’s the issue. The issue is this, now that the emotions of achievement have worn off, what is our new level of urgency? Are we still in overdrive pursuing our mission? Or have we reached a level of complacency?

You see the biggest threat to future success is current success.

And just so you know complacency is scary, it cannot be seen in the mirror and is often not seen until it is too late. Complacency is a mindset, and if it sets in then, we start just GOING through the motions. We go to our J-O-B and go home. We forget that every kid depends on us every day. We lose focus, and start to think that since we are the best, how dare the kids of this year not step up! When this happens, we are in trouble! When we fell to a “D” we took on a new mindset, do we still have it?

“The default mode of any organization is complacency.”

I love Craig Groeschel’s quote, “The default mode of any organization is complacency.” Which make me wonder, what are we doing daily to inspire and motivate our teachers and students to become the “Absolute best high school in the state of Mississippi”? Do we understand that success is only rented and without the urgency of last year, our future success is not guaranteed? You see the biggest threat to future success is current success. So, as an organization we have to start dreaming bigger, seeing broader and caring deeper, because tomorrow… RENT IS DUE!

Because tomorrow… RENT IS DUE!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Good to Great Assignment - Reflection on Leadership Experience

In education, the public often sees numbers while educators are more prone to see faces. For years now, leaders have stumbled to improve results so that their public report card could display the type numbers that the public could take pride in. However, as I began my leadership career I luckily got introduced to a new way, a new focus, a model of leadership which influenced the organization from the inside out. In reference to Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, The Social Sector (2005), this mentor leader concentrated on the First Who principle to strengthen and build a successful organization.

In my first year as an administrator, I was placed in charge of curriculum, data, and improving instruction. I spent countless hours developing forms, organizing teacher schedules for common planning, and creating massive data walls to display our school results. I created a system of rewards to motivate the teachers to work harder than ever, and I was convinced I was about to flip my school’s data and be their savior, which of course is a terrible example of Collins’ Level 5 Leadership (2005). After about nine weeks, it hit me like a ton of bricks, our teachers were doing no more than they ever did before. They were no more motivated to improve their classroom instruction, use data, or improve the hard to reach students than ever before.

Fast forward to this past year, my second year, but my first year in a new district with a new proven principal. This principal had previously won national middle school and high school principal of the year for SREB (Southeast Regional Educational Board). I could not wait to see what he did differently.

Immediately he began “getting the right people on his bus” (Collins, 2005). First, he filled the thirteen vacancies within two weeks. Of the thirteen, six of them were specifically recruited and chose to come. And in one case, the newly hired teacher left a higher paying job to come work for our award winning principal, I could not believe it. Meanwhile, he met with his leadership team every day. As the leadership team, it became apparent right away that we were his focus, we were the right people, and soon we all spoke the same voice. Next, he began his implementation process for SREB instruction into the classrooms, and it is only mid-June. To do so, he met with all the department chairs and selected list of influential teachers. In these meetings, he set the foundation and groundworks, then expressed his vision for how instruction and delivery should look on our campus. And, to top this off, he charged each one of these teachers as the instructional leaders on our campus.
In using the First Who principle by Collins (2005), our school's culture was flipped before the remaining teachers ever stepped foot on campus. And, in alignment with the First Who principle, our principal understood some very key elements of a successful organization.

First, in alignment with his core values and vision, he understood who the right people are. The right people in our organization are not motivated by incentives or rewards but rather the mission. Even in one case mentioned above, one of our right people gave up money to come work for an organization that had effective leadership and a mission worth dedicating themselves. Further, the principal would often tell us, the leadership team, that the people he wanted are motivated, determined, disciplined, and persistent. And, if that meant using less talented people, then he would.

Second, he knew that when the right people begin to get on the bus, the wrong people would either conform or get off. We often discussed that if eight out of ten are on the bus, then the bad apples will eventually make a choice. If they decide to leave, then we would begin building our organization like Roger Briggs, the suburban physics teacher from Collins’ book. We would simply hire better (2005). Otherwise, if eight out of ten were on board and one of the two of ten was still on the fence, then they would eventually decide to join forces.

Now seeing the First Who principle for myself, I can see how it is done; however, it seems daunting since I am yet to be the top leader of an organization. Moving forward I plan to use this principle to build shared leadership, ownership, and commitment with my future staff members. Not only do I see this as one of the greatest challenges for social sector leaders, but maybe the most important challenge, specifically in school-based leadership.

And remember, in order to improve the organization, you must think higher, see broader, and care deeper...


Collins, J. (2005). Good to great: The social sector. Boulder, CO: HarperCollins Publishing.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Effective Leaders are More Efficient Leaders – How the Leader's Time Management Affects His Influence

Let me let you in on a secret… Leadership is busy, very busy, and times overwhelmingly busy. As leaders we must set the direction, cast our vision (over and over and over again), and complete every task. This can often become overwhelming and very stressful. So, how do the most exceptional leaders do it? And, in many cases, why do they never look as stressed out as I think I do?

Every day I have people come talk to me, some are just trying build relationships, and others are needing something. Whatever the case, I feel like I am always dismissing these conversations on account of “I’m too busy.” Don’t get me wrong, in the body, I am standing there, but there is no listening. And in some cases, okay, maybe one specifically, I literally begin retreating while that person is talking to me (in my mind I’m laughing right now because this particular person evidently does not catch on to ANY social cues).

You see, my problem was that I am constantly obsessing over the completion of my next task. My biggest problem is not my intentions; it is my time management. I was routinely allowing the urgent (the next task) to always take over the important (building relationships and leading intentionally). You see as leaders, we must be able to build relationships; and when we are too busy to connect, then our time management drastically reduces our influence.

“I was routinely allowing the urgent (the next task) to always take over the important (building relationships and leading intentionally).”

What I have learned is that wise time management is not doing more; no, wise time management is doing more of what is important to you. As leaders, we have to set the “P” word, priorities. To accomplish the most important task, build relationships, cast vision, and manage, we have to clearly understand what is most important to us.

“What I have learned is that wise time management is not doing more; no, wise time management is doing more of what is important to you.”

But what about the task we deem non-essential? Do they just not get completed?

Of course not, we must be effective delegators. After all, the job of the leader is not to build more followers but to grow more leaders. If we unite this principle with effective time management, then we, create a more efficient leader that produces more influence.

So as leaders, sit down and reflect. What is most important to you? Once you decide, write it down and do it first. Because to be effective, we must say no to many small things to efficiently accomplish a few big things which will drastically grow our influence.

“Because to be effective, we must say no to many small things to efficiently accomplish a few big things…”

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Be Yourself. As a Matter of Fact Be More of Yourself.

Be yourself. As a matter of fact, be more of yourself. Recently, I began listening to Craig Groeschel’s leadership podcast (go check it out if you have not already). As he typically maneuvers through an array of leadership topics he always ends with the same saying, and I think it unbelievable profound. Each podcast concludes with this, “Be yourself… People would rather follow a leader who is always REAL before they follow a leader who is always RIGHT.” Wow, for whatever reason that hits me at my very souls.

Well, first, let me describe to you my early leadership struggles. As a coach entering the educational field, you tend to bring with you a stigma. And, it’s not a good stigma. The not good stigma, like associated with New Orleans Saints fans in the 90’s; yeah, paper bag over your head kind of OUCH. You see as a coach I was not supposed to be a great teacher. I was expected to be lazy, only focused on my sport. But, for whatever reason, my mind was not made that way. Instead, within four years I became the teacher of the year. Not because I inherited the world best instructional skills, but because, I think, I outworked everyone around me and gained their respect.

My first leadership position came quick, after my second year, the principal approached me. She said we need a new leader in the science department, can I lean on you? In my mind I was thinking, “Hey I’m just a coach, why would these science geniuses listen to me?”

Our first meeting comes around, and let's tell you I was ready! I created a PowerPoint with a built in timer. I created an agenda to pass out. And, stressed all day.

You see, I saw this as an opportunity. I just received my first promotion within the ranks, and I could not let the principal down.

So, as we entered the meeting, the teachers took their places. As for me, I’m just 26 years old, ready to speak and watch them hang on every word. We will conquer the school, change the world, and become legends.

As I begun to speak a silence hit the air, they were all looking at me-and me at them. I delivered instructions for how I wanted our PLC to look then released them to uncover struggling students, figure out how to enrich proficient students, and share classroom instruction that worked. It was beautiful.  Finally, after forty minutes we dismissed.

In the days following, I could not wait to see and hear about the changes.

Instead, however, all that happened was that the teachers returned to their classrooms to do more of the same. Nothing changed! What did I do wrong? Why did I not inspire change?

You see I had stood in front of all of them, pretended to be an expert, then sent them back to their classrooms to perform my task. As a young leader, I thought it was most important to appear as an expert who knows it all. Ha, boy was I wrong. I had big goals, I knew the big plan, but I spent zero time with the team to discuss what they saw, what they wanted, and how they thought they could get there. I wasn’t leading I was criticizing them cloaked in a disguise. I masked myself as a charismatic, scientific prodigy who had all the answers. And, let me tell you, THAT’S NOT ME.

You see leaders HAVE to be themselves, as a matter of fact, more of themselves. My skill set was based on coaching. I needed to be a coach, not a science prodigy. Heck, those guys knew WAY more than me about science, and they knew it. So, while they respected me enough to listen to my face, once they returned to the classroom they didn’t respect my message. I had gone about it the wrong way.

If life had mulligans, then I would definitely have used it on this one. I should have spent my first meeting uniting the team and building a culture of transparency and collaboration, and that’s only after I spent days leading up to the meeting developing relationships. As a 26-year-old with minimum teaching experience, science knowledge was not necessary. I needed to be a coach. I needed to spend twice as much time listening as I did speaking. My team needed to be empowered not bossed around by an inexperienced colleague.

This was a lesson taught best through experience. We have to be ourselves. After all, people will follow leaders that are REAL (use their God-given skills to influence) before the follow people who are RIGHT (whether your right or not-your tactics are empowering the team to action). 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Bigger, Broader, and Deeper

What is the mindset of a successful organization? And, how does a leader set a standard of excellence that never dissolves? Recently, the answer punched me right in the face. As I listened to my daily podcast, author and pastor Craig Groeschel said, “Leaders must think higher, see broader, and care deeper.” At last, a eureka moment. He was not just describing a leader’s mindset, but he was describing the effects of effective leadership on an organization. This was ABSOLUTELY profound. As leaders of an organization, we must do three things every chance we get. We must inspire our people to

1. Think bigger (higher)
2. See broader
3. And care deeper

Think bigger. I honestly believe that the first step in growth is to have a think bigger mindset. As an educator and professional, I must continually try to think bigger and aspire for better. Thinking bigger is not just a leader issue, it’s an everyone issue. In the best organizations, everyone develops this think bigger and higher mindset. Let’s face it, if I’m the only one thinking higher than that is not leadership, that’s a personal goal. We have to inspire and challenge our people daily. We must communicate where we are and where we want our organization to go. We must incessantly reflect, then continue to chase the finish line.

“Every organization’s default mode is complacency.” (Groeschel, 2016) Now I realize this sounds harsh. And, maybe you're thinking, that’s not us. BUT STOP. There is some truth here. It is really easy just to show up to work, do your job, go home, and then do it again. When this routine sinks deep, then growth stops, and you have fallen into complacency mode. And just for the record, I have operated in the zone many, many times. As leaders, it is our job to live differently, see more, operate with an owner’s mindset, and inspire greatness. We must ask ourselves daily IF DEFAULT MODE IS COMPLACENCY THEN WHAT ARE WE DOING EVERY DAY TO IGNITE PASSIONS AND MAXIMIZE PERFORMANCE?

In short, we must challenge everyone to think bigger.

See Broader. The organization becomes EXPONENTIALLY stronger when our people see what we see. Sometimes as leaders we operate as owners and see the big picture. Our people will never perform this way unless we openly communicate our vision every single day. When staff members begin acting as owners, instead of employees, they see changes that need to be made before the leader does and create channels of upward communication. Let’s face, it is their boots on the ground; and they if effectively communicated, see the changes needed to grow the organization. However, these changes are never recognized unless you instill an owner’s mentality in your people.

One of my favorite stories involves an overflowed sandwich shop during lunch hour. As a guy waited in line to order a sub, he watched as two sandwich makers worked calmly to fix sandwiches (and by calm I mean they were taking way too long) while another employee ran frantically back and forth cleaning tables, pouring drinks, checking out people, and fixing sandwiches when he could. So when the patron got to the front of the line, he asked, “How long have you been the owner?” What he was watching were two different mindsets. The employees were satisfied with producing whatever they did at a slow pace. After all, it is not their store, and they are only getting paid by the hour. On the other hand, the owner showed extreme ownership over the store’s success. He saw key issues and fixed them. So often I think leaders see problems, fix them, then move on; which produces followers. In this system, people overlook issues and wait for the leader to fix it. However, what we must create is a new mindset, an owner mindset, where leaders produce more leaders. When an organization is focused on growing more leaders with owner-like mindsets, then the entire organization gets stronger.

Care deeper. The third truth is simple, where is your heart? Have you ever been around someone that you could just tell their heart was not in it? Of course you have, and no matter the disguise they try to mask it with, it’s obvious. When we care deeper, operate with more passion, purpose, and compassion, people notice; and this is infectious. What I have learned is that deep care of you people trickles down to their treatment of others. For this very reason, caring deeper maybe the single most important element in this formula. People who care, do not see their jobs as work, but rather a passion. One of my favorite quotes is from Simon Sinek, a leadership expert. He said, “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.”

As leaders, we must invigorate our people to treat others with love. We must kindle a passion from within everyone because caring deeper is infectious. In education, this care can be felt by students, parents, and the community; and as educational leaders, we must inspire this type of heart, or as we tell our staff routinely, “You have to burn HOT!”

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Scores and Scholarships are our Products, But What Business are We In?

Recently I overheard the founder of Starbucks say, “Coffee is the product we make, but it is not the business we are in.” These profound words rang in my ear long after hearing it. The words made me think; what about education, are we focused on the right things? And, if we shift our focus, how does that affect our product?

I would argue, that grades, scholarships, and scores are the products we create, but uncovering students’ passions and purpose, developing their critical skills, and creating a generation of informed citizens is the business we are in. You see, in secondary education, we must begin to see our “why” differently. We have to start connecting college and career with everything we do because in four years or less our students will enter the workforce or the college classroom whether they are prepared or not. And the truth of matter is that an exclusive drive for the product will never uncover a student’s real potential.

Our fix and our approach to our “why” is through Career Academies. Our students no longer take random electives, but rather select from a narrowed list of classes that directly relate to their career or college pathway. These electives then, allow for the student to find a purpose, explore the skill necessary for that field and become more informed about life after school.

Recently I heard an amazing story of this transformation. As a parent approached the podium at a recent civic organization meeting, the parent began with “My child hates school.” She goes further to describe a child that never wanted to go to school, would come home depressed, and said that her child could not find a reason for school. However, recently something changed, she said. Suddenly her child began waking up before everyone. She became excited about school. The only thing that changed was that she had become a career pathway student. She found a purpose. She no longer viewed school as a random collection of mathematical theorems for passing a test, but rather a series of constructed skills that can open the door for her chosen career.

Again, I ask what is your “why?” Is your “why” to create standardize test scores? If it is, I don’t blame you, after all that is how our schools are measured. But how is that helping students for their future? And if we are only focused on test scores, then isn’t that actually selfish on our part? To me, that is kind of like hearing a business owner say, “I just want to be rich.” You see a business leader without a why is erroneously directed. When a school’s focus is only on scores, then students lose focus, lack interest, and all motivation dissolves. However, when the purpose is added, and passions are uncovered, students can become a better version of themselves.

I will finish with this, our goal as educators should be to balance student career and college development with how the school is measured–test scores and scholarships. A singularized aim on either initiative would perpetuate a wrong focus. If schools begin to concentrate on the business of student preparation then the school’s product, I believe, will take care of itself.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Hacking Traditional Learning with VR Technology

Wait! Which is cooler, reading words on a black and white page, or visiting the earth at all four corners to experience the visuals and culture of the content? Thanks to a new technology, students have the ability to see what they otherwise would never have seen before. Think about it, if I ask you to recall a personal memory and recant a story, you would probably provide me with a very engaging rendition. However, if I told you to remember textbook information, you would probably only deliver facts. Which is more appealing, and which offers the richer educational experience, the answer is obvious. This technology is called VR or virtual reality.

Virtual reality technology can connect learners with the content like never before. Students located in our rural county can now experience the Cuban missile crisis, World War II battlefields, and the battlefields in the middle east to experience the high cost of war. Students in science classes will be able to explore anatomy and physiology, the interworking of abstract textbook knowledge like cells and genetics, and sail the Beagle with Darwin as he explores the Galapagos. Don’t you get it? Learning for the first time can become real, not just an article out a book that is connected to questions.

First, I must admit I am an educational technology junky. I believe it allows the educator to explore content and learning in a new avenue that previous generations did not experience. As a learner in primary and secondary school, I was very unmotivated. Classrooms were full of short stories with no relevance, textbooks with no connections, and test that assessed memorization that would never be used again. In a nutshell, I hated school. Now, I am a restless learner, a lifelong learner, and professional in the educational world who is determined to connect today’s students to a new learning experience. I refuse to give learners in my schools the same experiences I labored through. I am convinced that we must hack education and engage 21st-century learners with 21st-century technologies.

Follow me for a moment. Imagine if you will be sitting in anatomy and physiology class. The teacher provides you with fifteen anatomy parts to memorize. You write definitions, make flash cards, study, and pass the test. How much real world knowledge did you gain? Now imagine you take a virtual tour of those same 15 anatomy parts. You see blood vessels pumping hemoglobin’s which filter out carbon dioxide, that returns to your heart, and you begin to see how everything is interconnected. More interesting? Then, as before, you research the parts. Now you have background knowledge that allows you to form images in your mind as you study and you develop workable knowledge of the systems like never before.

Another example. When I was a first-year teacher, I was asked to teach Botany. Quick caveat, I had no, maybe zero knowledge, of this topic. I quickly read every book I could find. I knew every type of plant cell, parts of plants, classifications of plants, and origins of plants; but you know what I don’t know? Any real world plant information. I had never experienced dogwoods blooming in the spring time, a fact I learn from my fellow science teacher. I had no idea what different plants look like outside of a textbook, nor did I have any workable knowledge about how to reproduce a plant. You see, I had no practical knowledge to dispense to my students. As a matter of fact, my students may have left that class just as well off on the topic of plants as there were before the class.

Aside from history and science classes, VR devices have been seen in foreign language courses, English Language Arts lessons, Mathematics, and various elective courses. Imagine if you will the power behind learning a new language and visiting that country to experience. Now, obviously we could never financially support such a visit; but through VR technology our students could experience it. The power is endless. ELA teachers can place students in the contextual settings of their literature while Math teachers can provide students with an experience to generate a project based learning.

This is where VR comes in. For once, students will be able to read and experience plants, wars, and cultures. Students who were previously unengaged will now build background knowledge before recording random definitions. Boys and nontraditional learners can now experience a love for learning that will spark new career and skill exploration.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

How Technology is Transforming Teaching and Learning

Technology is everywhere, and at times, it can become overwhelming. Recently, we amended our district policies to allow for a BYOD type of learning environment. After years of archaic bans of mobile and laptop devices, we now welcome it. In fact, we believe that it may have the power to transform the educational environment. The ubiquitous effect technology has on the world around us is finally present in our classrooms.

To jump start this implementation process we did three things, we upgraded our infrastructure, provided the teachers with a  vision of educational technology, and offered professional development of various instructional technologies. In our vision, we drew a picture of technology as an instructional aid, not the main speaker. We offered an instructional design method that centered standards, not a technology tool. Afterward, we provided the teachers with nine tools taught in mini-session by our staff. This was a huge success. Teachers were giving practical applications to solve the technology integration process.

So, with all that being said, how exactly do we believe technology will transform the classroom? What do expect to see, and how does this create authentic high levels of learning? To answer that question, I believe technology has five main effects on the classroom. Bellow I have chronicled each with a description of the uses and effects.

The extension of classroom walls. Today, learning does not have to be contained within the walls of the classroom. Students in today’s classrooms are performing Mystery Skypes with students in other states or countries. Students call each other asking only questions to identify the others location. Google maps and VR (virtual reality) is now transforming how learners visualize content. Using Google Maps, students can perform geographical scavenger hunts while VR classroom experiences allow the student to walk in the shoes of the class content.

Teachers now have the ability to connect with other educators across the country. Teachers of today can find lessons, materials, and assessments from all over the country. Schools enrolled in Google Apps for Education have PLN (professional learning networks) that allow subject or grade level teachers to connect from all over.

Learning is more, not less, collaborative. One key component of effective technology integration is the efficient use of technology to facilitate interaction between students and teacher. Have you ever assigned a group project in which one student did all the work? Or added a rubric that resulted in one grade for the whole group no matter the contributors? Now, in Google Docs students can contribute simultaneously in a single live document. What is best is that the teacher can track student contributions with just the click of a button.
Student-teacher interaction has been transformed as well. Students and educators can collaborate over homework with Google Hangout or Skype. Using Hangout, teachers can have question and answer times either face to face or through written questions.

The role of teacher-student has shifted. I vividly remember the sit and get education I received. Today’s classrooms present a much different picture. Teachers in today’s classrooms have become the facilitator, not the disseminator of knowledge. Years ago when teachers were the barriers of information, this teacher-centered show was the best approach. However, now the internet and other mediums have any bit of information student could ever imagine. The teacher's new job is to facilitate the student exploration through this information by organizing and assessing learning progress.

Personalized learning. Can you remember a day when educators presented the class with the same worksheet for everyone? Then, took that worksheet up at the end of class, only to return it graded for completion two days later. I can, and I was guilty as a teacher. First, we know that students learn differently (auditory, visual, or other). Secondly, we are aware that student learns at different rates (fast, slow, or just not getting it yet). What educational technology allows us to do is provide the learner with multiple ways to uncover the material, and some cases give the student choice and ownership of this learning. As to the second point, learners can now perform a reviewing exercise either individually or collaboratively, and receive instant feedback. In either case, the material can easily be tailored to mold to the learner more efficiently.

The extinction of the textbook. Each year we spend thousands of dollars on used textbooks, some as old as ten years. This dated material is often yesterdays news. Further, if you look at the mission statement of the district, you will notice that we are trying to make tomorrow's citizens with yesterday’s information. Something just does not match. Now, with resources like Ditch that Textbook, by Matt Miller, federally sponsored open resource textbooks, or the use of hyperlinked documents in Google, teachers can now explore content using up-to-date, relevant material. Is the textbooks a thing of the past? You bet they are.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Re-Imagining In-House PD

     When my career began, I can vividly remember the anguish I felt going into in-house professional development (PD). As the day approached, I would begin to get sick to my stomach, and I think this is a feeling that many of us have shared. So, what exactly caused these in-house PD sessions to be so ineffective? I believe it was the model we used. A one size fits all, sit and get type of PD in which I struggled to find more than one or two items of value. So, how do we move away from the arduous system and begin inspiring participants while distributing leadership among teachers? The answer, hack the status quo of the in-house PD model, give teachers autonomy of instructional learning, grow and distribute instructional leadership among staff, and only bring back the best.
     I love the term hack. Authors and educators all over are hacking leadership, instruction, technology, and now it is our turn, we are hacking professional development. For a brief definition, hacking is when you disrupt a traditional model with innovation. Our hack involves PD that moves away from the one size fits all speaker, presenter model, to a differentiated approach where teachers pick and choose sessions tailored to their particular need for improvement.
     Is it possible to hack traditional school site PD and still maintain a direction or focus? The short answer is yes. For our hack, we will be focused on integrating instructional technology; and as you may already know, there are a ton of instructional technologies on the market. The same could be said if you were implementing more writing, reading, or intervention strategies. Whatever your school needs, there is a hack for that. What is best about our hack, teachers will have their choice between nine different instructional technologies and an opportunity to learn three.
     So, how does this model look? And, how exactly does it give autonomy to teachers? Unlike my early days, I am an absolute PD junky (or nerd according to our secondary curriculum director). So far in 2016 I have attended five conferences, and every (not every other one) conference uses the same model. You listen to a keynote who gives the audience a vision; then you break out into a session of your choice. I love this design! As I get to pick, my engagement grows. Finally, after one of the conferences (EdTech’s Google for Education Summit) the vision came to us. On the car ride back, we asked the question, why can’t our PD look like that? Why can’t we empower our teachers and give them a choice over their learning?
     Our model is very simple; provide the learner with choice, use short segments of intense learning, minimize session attendance for presenter comfort, and GROW INSTRUCTIONAL LEADERS. We will have our district technology specialist deliver a keynote on infusing technology in the classroom and implement Google for Education; then, we will break out into three session segments with six choices during each session segment. The presenters, for example, will teach two of the three sessions, which gives them an opportunity to be a learner to; and, the participants will attend all three.      Each session segment is set for 45 minutes with a 15-minute break in between each session.
Another major benefit of our model is that it empowers the teachers! First, through autonomy of professional learning, the participants get a say what technology they wish to study. I love, love, love this idea. As administrators, we ask our teachers to give students choice and ownership over their learning, and now we can model what we preach. Also empowering is the idea that the participants will be able to learn different technologies as opposed to just one.
     Secondly, our sessions are taught by our teachers, maybe my favorite part! For once our teachers will become the co-instructional leaders on our campus and have a vested interest in the implementation process. This distributed leadership model will allow our teachers to be the experts and the primary source of ongoing training in these areas. As an added element of personalization, each presenter will have data collected from the session sign up process and session attendance recorded at the conclusion of each training. Presenters will have information like the level of participant experience with technology, what the participant hope to gain from the session, and as the session concludes what the participants biggest learning takeaway was.
     Last, and maybe the best quality of this model, our teachers will be bringing back only the “Best of Summer” ideas from various PD. Have you ever sat through a PD that was incredible and wished more had heard that same thing? These inspirational moments will now be brought back to our teachers. Or, look at it this way, every PD has highs and lows. When we assemble teachers from various PDs, and they only bring back the best material, and effectively our staff gets the opportunity hear the best.
     As an administrative staff, we look forward to this hack. I sincerely hope our team becomes more engaged in the learning process; our presenters become instructional leaders, and this model of PD generates a buzz across the district and more.