Saturday, September 21, 2013

Superintendent Gottardy Embraces Technology

     Over the last few weeks I have heard murmurings about proposed changes coming to the NEISD hinting to technology in schools. This morning I read that Superintendent Gottardy's vision was to " create  more competitive students, and have them truly prepared for tomorrow's world." He went on to say "I couldn't learn that way, but have now realized that is how younger generations are learning, so we can't ignore that".  The statements made by Gottardy are not new because most leaders realize that the world has changed greatly with the advances  in technology and they agree that our students should be prepared for the future, however many are at a loss at where to begin. Others feel that incorporating new systems into an already established learning environment could be disruptive and cause greater damage than good. Many examples can be found where schools or districts go all in on technology (at a great cost) and do not reap the benefits they believed were inherently entitled as an end result. The problem often lies in the planning and training necessary before the implementation of such an undertaking. Gottardy has invited stakeholders, including parents, teachers and students to offer their input to help create the plan which will be revealed in the Spring. The success of the proposed changes will be largely based on the success of the plan.      I  postulate that coming to a consensus on technology in schools will be as easy as reaching consensus in the White House over budgeting issues. The problem exist in the perception of what is best for today's youth. Many believe that technology has helped propel the world into a fast paced, out of control state where soft skills ( face to face conversations, handshakes, eye to eye contact) has given way to abbreviated language, shorter attention spans and the inability to focus.  Technology has helped create a world where students feel a need to express themselves constantly and sometimes in bizarre ways based on what they have seen others do online. Cyberbullying, Sexting and Internet predators are real problems spawned by our modern digital society. These issues have taken a forefront in the digital debate and have become the weapon of choice for those who believe "the world is too much with us".
     I agree that the internet has become the setting for a modern version of Golding's classic Lord of The Flies, where shipwrecked youth run wild, adapting murder as a solution for misguided emotions but this story exists to reveal what would happen in a lawless society without supervision and guidance.  In my opinion, schools are our primary source for rescuing these net-wrecked kids.
If schools integrated technology into every day operations in classrooms the benefits are numerous for society and students. 

  1. Students will be more engaged using the tools and techniques their generation's preference.
  2. Schools have the opportunity to continuously teach students proper netiquette rather than in one mandated lesson.
  3. Schools can offer differentiated instruction through computer based courses.
  4. If students use texting, blogging and writing daily in schools then teachers can change the habits embedded in modern digital dialogue with conventional rules of grammar. 
  5. If we harness the power of technology schools can offer learning opportunities beyond the confines of a normal school day.   
     Innovation expert Clayton M. Christensen details how businesses must understand what they are providing in order to make the most of new and innovative ideas. As educators we must remember that we are not in the book business, the paper business nor  the computer business. 
We are in the business of educating children and our goal is to educate every child to the fullest extent possible. Unless we adapt new methods we will not meet the needs of every child. Very few children, if any, are brought to school in a horse and buggy and yet many are still taught using the tools and techniques from the era of the horse and buggy. 
     "We need to prepare kids for their future, not our past".

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Focus on Learning

The doors have opened, the students have arrived and the t****** begins. The T in this case is either teaching or testing. Here in Texas most teach towards the test, teach for the test or even teach to the test.
The two T words are becoming interchangeable. It is a fact that all students will take the state mandated tests in the spring and every student, teacher, school , administrator and district will then be judged on the test results. If you represent a school that has not met the standards a sense of urgency overshadows all that you do. This tense energy churns and gnaws, seeking resolution through swift and immediate action. 
The act of of pouring your energy and efforts into many activities can become dangerously wasteful. Our efforts must not be aimless but highly focused. If we expend energy into an action it should be a a high yielding action. Our aim should not be focused on testing, teaching, time nor data but on learning. Everything else is a by product or a tool. “The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.” The educational tools we use are important but they are the fingers that point to learning. Our highest priority and focus should be on actions that support, increase and nurture learning. ( 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Planning for Success

Tomorrow is the first day of school for millions of students across the state of Texas. Although it is their first day the behind the scenes preparation has been ongoing since the students last day of school. Teachers have been training, collaborating and planning for the last two weeks for the first day, the first week and the first grading period. Administrators have been training, preparing and planning since July. This cycle of events takes place every year in every state with the hope of reaching every child. As a second year principal my planning is based on a years worth of soft and hard data including observations of teachers, students, faculty and previously established systems. As a first year principal I deliberately monitored without mandating changes and focused on supporting what was already in place. Going forward the first change I have made was to build a leadership team with teacher leaders. I chose conscientious, positive individuals who exhibited good teaching practices, encouraged collaborative planning and were dedicated to the success of their students. Each team leader will lead planning with their team based on the state guidelines, district curriculum and our campus needs. They will be responsible for collecting, maintaining and sharing their teams data. All teams will be given a half day for collaborative planning in the middle of the marking period and at the end of the marking period to review reading and math data. The teams will create lessons for areas of need to include assessments for students who failed to meet the standards previously taught. Data will be shared with all stakeholders in various forms to include a color coded data wall for math and reading including every students current progress. This will be manipulated and maintained by teachers to be used in team and school planning. The administrative team will maintain a quadrant based system for tracking individual classes, grade levels and the school as a whole in reading and math.
The data will dictate how much time we spend on specific TEKS. We will closely monitor our LEP  and SPED populations by identifying these students on our data wall and monitoring their progress with input from our Bilingual teachers at each 1/2 day planning session. Our Assistant Principal will also train all teachers during faculty meetings in the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol model to enhance all instruction while supporting English Language Learners. Another observation that has lead to a change is the need to conduct higher quality walkthroughs spending more time in fewer classes with more meaningful dialogue about the observed practices. These observations should be shared with teams so that everyone can benefit through shared dialogue based on specific practices with specific students. 
I have learned that effective, open and two-way communication can expedite the clarity of the message while eliminating or at least minimizing obfuscation. To efficiently communicate with staff, parents and stakeholders we will broaden our reach by using Facebook, Twitter and Digital Newsletters in conjunction with traditional methods that are already established. We will also use these tools to extend our PLC beyond the school to include input from everyone with an always on, digital platform.
I have also learned that communication is more than spoken or written words but an emotional connection or disconnection because individuals hear with their ears but discern intent from their hearts. I will create a survey from staff members on my leadership style and gather input on what  they need to be supported, encouraged and successful. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Anti-Twitter Heretic? You Decide

     This summer I have become a Twitter fan and have used it as my primary source for connecting with others and learning new information. I have only now realized how interwoven Twitter is with digital communication. The other night during a Twitter discussion, someone noted how we mostly pat ourselves on the backs, share our ideas and agree with each other. I noticed how many people, including myself repeated what someone else had previously said and began to wonder were we becoming a 'Twitter Borg". I  have also begun planning on how to use this tool for the benefit of my school as an administrator.
     However, we live in a world where everything should not be shared with everyone and the attempt to share digitally can sometimes leave room for massive misinterpretations. Have you ever been in a public forum and heard someone say something and thought to yourself "Do they know we can hear them?" Perhaps you have read something and your interpretation caused you take on an emotional swell of feelings towards a person or a group. The fear of all large groups is that someone in the group will say something that grossly misrepresents the core beliefs or values of the whole group causing backlash for everyone related to this person. Retracing and repairing such mistakes would be time consuming at the least and job threatening at the greatest. Although training is always necessary, it often  takes a back seat to emotions. When this happens there will be many questions to answer.
     As a leader the questions I address to myself before having to address them with anyone else are:
1. How did this happen? (What are the origins of this mistake?)
2. What did you do when you discovered this?
3. What fail safes were in place to prevent this?
4. How do you plan on preventing it (or similar situations) from happening again?
When I look at those questions I am uncomfortable at hosting school wide PD or meetings on an open source such as Twitter because of the lack of ability to edit tweets if and when the need arises. This may seem like censorship to many but it is part of my job to protect students from anything that could distract them from being successful learners. (A poorly chosen word or phrase can grow into a beastly distraction for a school and / or a school district) Secondly, the community holds me responsible for what comes through the school and to the public because it represents their shared beliefs.
     This fall I will begin using Twitter for sharing information with the community and I will continue using Twitter personally to learn and share.
As for me and my school I will continue my quest for an in-house collaboration tool that allows me to control who sees what information with the ability to edit in real time.
For others, I challenge you to be open to all options and/or looking at ways to make Twitter even more conducive to our needs as educators.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Hello World, I'm Awake

Imagine a set of Dominoes arranged in a row tumbling one after the other. If you are in this line, you hear the clicking sounds, you know what's going to happen and you can only wait to fall. Now imagine this scenario played in reverse and the clicking sounds become exciting as you are surprisingly lifted upward and as you are lifted you find that you are lifting someone else. This is the effect I have felt with Twitter this summer. I have grown leaps and bounds and have re-awakened my digital self. I have been whole heartedly engaged by conversations, suggestions and ideas. Witnessing so many people doing so many exciting things it's hard not to get swept away in this awesome digital tsunami.  So many thoughts, ideas and blogs. It seems that everyone is blogging. I began replacing the word Blog with Blah as I heard Blah, Blah, Blah all day long. I wondered "What in the Hell are these people Blogging about?". So I started reading them and was amazed with how many people had so many fresh and new insights on so many topics. Inspired, I decided to create a video podcast and shared this idea with @mguhlin who of course replied, "I hope you'll share your process in a blog entry".  WHAT? I just said I was making a video so why would I write about this in a blog?. Whatever @mguhlin. Yes its a smart aleck quip but he just tugged at a loose thread that was beginning to unravel and I didn't want to lose my shirt.
This morning I awoke, checked the Twitter feed and there was @RafranzDavis with her Blog entry on How-to-Be-Awesome like Beyonce. (Warning a little Beyonce can take you far but too much and you may cross the Egomaniac borderline:), being Beyonce is not for everyone, just saying) Rafranz was inspired by a Nelson Mandela quote shared by @8Amber8 who may or may not have blogged this. However, on the way to reading about being Awesome I saw a picture of a porch which instantly transported me to my childhood and like a child being lifted up by a protective grandparent I was lifted up from slumber to remember that we write, we share we exist to help others. Thank you Twitter friends, I admire and appreciate you all !