Thursday, May 30, 2013

Power of the Tweet - Building a Virtual PLN

A Personal Learning Network (PLN) is one way to stay collected with trends and issues in your field and to work, and share, collaboratively. Social media is a great way to create and maintain your PLN. PLN's are really useful because you can connect with those individuals and groups that best meet your needs. The benefits include

  • access to useful resources and information;
  • ability to search for new tools and innovative practices;
  • thoughtful suggestions and critique of your ideas;
  • helping you to think more deeply about your work;
  • meeting professional contacts for job growth.

A virtual PLN can be created using social media like Twitter. A recent article by Tom Murray, Director of Technology and Cyber Education for the Quakertown School District in Bucks County, PA describes the benefits of a virtual PLN using Twitter.

Howard Johnston and I describe how to create and maintain a PLN in our book The School Leader's Guide to Social Media from Eye on Education. We'd enjoy learning about how you use PLN's to improve your work.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Speed Geeking

I recently read a study about how educators are often reluctant to use new technology. Part of the reason is our comfort with what we currently do but other factors also impact the decision. For example, educators often don't want to look unsophisticated with technology especially if they're working with middle or high school students who may be far more savvy.

This week ASCD EDge introduced me to a new concept---speed geeking. It's essentially a speed dating model for technology. Faculty moved from table to table and learned from students about a new technology and how it impacted their learning. It reminded me of when my school had a group of students who worked with teachers on technology. They were basically the "geek squad" of Tappan Middle School.

It's an interesting idea for sharing, learning and growing. I believe teachers respect the knowledge and skills of their students and "speed geeking" is a fascinating way for teachers, and others, to become acquainted with how technology is used by students to improve their learning.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

District Proposes Limits to Birthday Celebrations

My grandson recently celebrated his 6th birthday. He was so excited about becoming six and about have a celebration at school on his "special day." As a teacher and principal I remember the ritual of recognizing student birthdays and working to assure that the whole day wasn't impacted by the "party."

So I was interested in a recent decision by the Manchester, NH schools to limit classroom birthday celebrations to once a month. No more individual parties, just a single celebration each month. The policy, under consideration by the Board of Education, is designed to limit consumption of sweets like cupcakes and ice cream and to promote eating fruits and healthier snacks.

As you might expect, not every parent is sold on the change. It's an interesting response to the growing problem of childhood obesity and the disruption of the instructional day.  Here's a link to a story about the policy on a Manchester television station. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts about what Manchester is proposing.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Staring Down Poverty

I recently read a report about the increasing number of school-age children who are raised in poverty. It's a real national problem and we know that students from families in poverty often struggle in school. They're more likely to be absent, more likely to change schools, and more likely to lack the materials and other resources necessary for school success.

The May issue of ASCD's Educational Leadership looks at the issue of poverty and provides useful strategies for teachers and principals to assure that students from families in poverty are successful in school. One of my favorite articles is written by a friend, Carol Ann Tomlinson, from the University of Virginia. Carol is best known for her work on differentiated instruction but in this article discusses her experience with poverty. She identifies the personal beliefs and attitudes that are present when educators help students from poor families create a better future for themselves. She describes it as "staring down poverty" and I find it a powerful way to describe the work.

I'd enjoy hearing from you about your response to Carol's suggestions and what you've learned about how to support students from poverty so that they are successful in school.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Family Friendly Schools

The involvement of families in school life has consistently been shown to have a positive impact on student success. I'm always looking for good ideas about how to make schools more "family-friendly" and read an Eye on Education blog last week that suggested ten useful practices. They include
  • Maintaining open lines of communication
  • Making positive phone calls
  • Cleaning the school before parent meetings
  • Hanging student work in classrooms
  • Celebrating student success
  • Creating a "We Don't Brag" bulletin board to share positive information
  • Organizing a family/faculty event
  • Post graphs of student achievement
  • Holding a contest to encourage attendance at parent meetings
  • Encouraging parents to bring a parent of one of their child's friends to a school meeting.
You can get much more detail by clicking on the post. I'd enjoy hearing from you about other things you do to involve families in school life.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Principals and School Improvement

Schools are being held to higher levels of accountability for student learning. That's not a bad thing. We should accept responsibility for the learning of our students. But what's emerged is a trend to micromanage teachers and their work. That's not such a good thing. One example is the nationwide trend toward more intense supervision and more complex evaluation systems. Again, evaluation is not bad, but it should be part of a system that promotes growth and engages teachers in thoughtful analysis of their work and implementation of strategies to continue strengthening their performance.

There's lot of evidence that simply telling people what to do doesn't get the required results. You may get short-term compliance. But rarely do you get long-term change. While many of the mandates may be well-intentioned, they are often imposed on educators without engaging those affected in a discussion of the problem and possible solutions.

A recent article by Rick DeFour and Mike Mattos discussed this paradox. They suggest some common-sense strategies that principals can use to positively impact student learning in their school. They also share the results from a comprehensive study of school reform that found an increase in student learning when teachers participated in professional learning communities (Vescio, Ross, & Adams, 2008).

I'd enjoy hearing from you about your experience with PLC's and their impact on student learning.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Successful Principals Have Good People Skills

A recent study described Google's efforts to identify the characteristics of "good" bosses so that those skills could become part of their training program. It turned out that leaders didn't need great technical skills but instead good people skills, things like being a good coach, expressing personal interest and asking thoughtful questions (Bryant, 2011). A recent article in Educational Leadership's April edition discussed the parallels between Google's experience and that of school principals. It linked the high turnover rate among principals to that absence of some of these essential people skills.

Here's a link to the article about the absence of people skills and turnover among principals. I'd enjoy hearing your thoughts about the importance of people skills in your role.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Advice for School Leaders Entering or Leaving a Job

I've always been sensitive to the transitions that occur when there is a change in leadership at a school. If you're a new leader it's important to respect those that preceded you. It's important to build relationships with teachers and the community. You'll want to make changes but don't do so brashly. If you're moving to another school or leaving education you'll also want to exit gracefully. It's never helpful to "burn" bridges on the way out.

Last week I read a blog by Peter DeWitt, an elementary principal, about these sorts of transitions. I found his advice to be really helpful especially if you're making a transition in your work life. I'd enjoy hearing from you about what you've learned about navigating these changes.