Thursday, July 24, 2014

Mahalo, Eric Sheninger!

I believe in social media for education.  As a school leader, I realize the need to be connected to other educators, to learn from them, to validate what we are doing at Hale Kula, and to continue my professional growth.  I am also cognizant of sharing positive news about our students and staff with our school community through Facebook and blogs as well as news articles we send to the local newspaper.

Two weeks ago, after breakfast and prior to leaving for school, I checked my Google+ community and read Eric Sheninger's blog, "The End is Only the Beginning" where he shared that he would be leaving New Milford High School for a position at Scholastic with ICLE.  Eric is one of the connected principals I follow on Twitter and Google+ and at the time, I was reading his book, Digital Leadership:  Changing Paradigms for Changing Times on my Nexus tablet.  Like others,  I posted a comment congratulating Eric on his decision and added, "Too bad you can't do residencies in Hawaii :-)"  Imagine my surprise when Eric responded that he was coming to Hawaii.  I asked him, "Is it all play and no work?" to which he replied that he might be able to work something out.  Well, of course I had to follow up - this was Eric Sheninger, after all - and despite the short time frame, we were able to schedule a presentation with him today.  (Note:  When I reflect on how we put this together, I am surprised at my audacity in asking him whether he would give up part of his vacation for us.)

I was a bit nervous; I had convinced principals to attend.  Some had to rearrange meetings or miss trainings.  Others needed a little more prodding;  this is the last week before the new school year starts and they weren't sure they wanted to make the time to listen to someone talking about digital leadership. I didn't really know Eric; I just knew of him.  What if his message didn't resonate?  What if he didn't connect with the audience?

Well, I didn't have to worry.  Eric was great!  His experiences, his stories, the research, the slides, and the videos all added up to a presentation with so many high points.  We especially saw his pride when he shared news stories about his students at New Milford High School who were doing amazing things using technology as a tool to collaborate, communicate, think critically, and create - essential skills for global citizens.  I was astounded by a project, "Let's Make Some Good Art" by Sarah, a sophomore student.  Her thoughtful insights and reflections were mature for someone so young,  and I am tempted to send the link to education policy makers so they can see the possibilities when we trust our students to use mobile learning devices as a tool to share their learnings.

For me, Eric's presentation was validation that we are on the right track at our school.  We aren't anywhere near New Milford High School, but we are communicating with our community through social media, and students share their learnings using Web 2.0 tools. We've done coding, participated in the Cardboard Challenge,  and have started dabbling in Minecraft where student groups created their own community.  We share documents, presentations, etc. using Google Drive, and we have a private Google+ community for our teachers to share resources, photos, ideas, ask questions, and discuss concerns.  We know we can do more, though, and that will be one of my personal goals for next school year.

At a recent presentation I attended at ISTE, presenter George Couros shared, "We shouldn't be engaging students; we should be empowering them."  That, to me, is what we need to strive for as we become digital leaders in a changing world - empowering our staff and our students to ask, "What if?" or "How can I?" or "Why not?" and then supporting them in their efforts and giving them the confidence to learn from their mistakes.

As a school principal, it is my hope that more of my colleagues will see the value of using social media to communicate and to connect with others as part of a personal learning network.  Eric Sheninger has planted the seeds with his presentation today; now it is up to us to support each other so we can grow and flourish as digital school leaders and as a school community.  Our students are counting on us.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Classroom Management and Behavior Charts

Students will learn more when they are invested in and contributors in their classroom community. Classroom management is one of the components of our State's observation protocol for teacher evaluations.  We have been in classrooms where the teacher planned a wonderful lesson that fell flat because students were not engaged or invested.  

As a classroom teacher, I tried so many different strategies to ensure that my students would "behave." I gave out tickets to students to trade in on Fridays; it was too much work, and the students and I grew tired of it.  I wrote names on the board of students who were misbehaving, and there was a series of "punishments" if they got so many checks.  The same kids always had their names on the board so I stopped that.  I flipped it and started writing names of "good" kids, those who were ready before everyone else, who helped out another child, or who did something positive.  That was better; at least I was rewarding students and not punishing them.  Then I tried giving points to teams; this lasted longer because peer pressure was somewhat effective for most students.  However, certain teams would rarely earn points because they were saddled with the kid who didn't care.  This often led to a feeling of frustration at having "that kid" on our team.  When I saw another teacher with a traffic light system, I tried that, too, with pretty good results.  My recollection is that only one student was placed on red light that whole year.  I think his mother was more devastated than he was.

After that, I went into administration, never discovering the "perfect" classroom and behavior management system.  As I visited classrooms and spoke with teachers, it was evident that there were many different systems in place, and some worked better than others.  But was it the system, or was it the teacher?  Last year, I made the decision that any behavior management system needed to include opportunities for students to be rewarded for positive behaviors and not just moving down for "negative" behaviors.  I was concerned that the first question I heard parents ask their kindergartener at the end of the school day was, "Were you on green today?" And it bothered me when parents requested a classroom change because "my child is on red every day." I really thought that if we started looking for opportunities to recognize positive behaviors in a child, the classroom climate would be so much more pleasant.  Was it successful?  For some teachers, it was, but for others, it didn't really matter if there were 3 colors or 5.  There were students who still got on red more often than not.

Last week, one of our teachers sent me this blog, "So What's My Problem with Public Behavior Charts?" and it was so timely.  As a principal, I want to see well-managed classrooms where students are happy and meaningfully engaged and empowered through challenging activities.  I have been in classrooms where the teacher never raises her voice, where students help each other, and a compliment by someone else - a visitor, another teacher, a parent, the principal - means a marble added to the class jar which, when filled, means a special prize for the whole class. There is no "individual" chart where students are supposed to feel badly about being called out for an inappropriate behavior.

Often, an individualized behavior chart can have the opposite effect of what is expected, creating an "I don't care" attitude which can lead to a butting of heads between the teacher and that student.  This student then is labeled as "challenging" and may be recommended for counseling services or is referred to the office to speak with an administrator.

Changing teachers' mindsets about behavior management can be difficult, but I realize that is part of my responsibilities as an administrator.  We need a discussion about the best way to get students to want to be a positive contributor to their classroom.  It starts with being included as an integral part of their classroom community and knowing our students so we can fully engage them as learners.  In other words, we need to build positive relationships with all of our students if we want them to gain the most benefit from the time they spend in our classroom.

P.S. - For more thoughts on this topic, read No Punishment/No Rewards.  Thank you, Pernille Ripp, for sharing your thoughts so clearly.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Reflection - ISTE 2014

Three years ago, we sent a team of three teachers to the International Society for Technology in Education conference in San Diego, and they came back so excited about all they had learned.  They also shared that they heard the message over and over that change cannot occur without the support and leadership of the principal.  Now, they agreed that I am not a barrier at our school, but they felt it was important for me to attend a future ISTE conference just because - because there were so many opportunities to learn something new; because it was a chance to network with like-minded individuals; because it was so inspiring to hear and see how others are using technology in the classroom; because it motivated these teachers to know that our school was on the right path with our initiatives; and because they wanted me to be as excited as they were about all the possibilities.

So this year, I decided to request funding to send a team of three - myself, our librarian/media specialist, and an instructional coach - to ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.  Truthfully, like any large conference in a crowded venue, there will be positives and a few negatives as well.  Let me share some of my take-aways from ISTE 2014.

The Good

  • Keynote speaker Kevin Carroll,  was absolutely inspiring!  He asked us to be present with him and he would hopefully give us something in return.  Did he?  Absolutely!  I am sure I wasn't the only one in the audience who wished I could have videotaped his presentation, and unfortunately, I didn't even take notes or tweet out his quotes; I was that engrossed in what he was sharing. His message?  He learned his life lessons on the playground with a red rubber ball, and he reminded us of the importance of play in life.  As an early childhood education major, I had always believed that "play is a child's work" and that children need time to explore and discover through play.  Kevin Carroll's presentation validated what I have always believed (but had not put into action at our school), and I began to think of how we might have our teachers "play" so they can, in turn, understand how important that is for our students while still ensuring quality teaching and learning.
  • When I saw that George Couros was going to be presenting, I knew I wanted to attend his session.  I answered George's call last summer and was part of his #SAVMP (School Administrators Virtual Mentoring Program), a novel idea that an experienced principal could virtually mentor a beginning school leader.  I wanted to see and hear George in person, so I actually sat on the floor in the room for the previous session so I would be assured of a seat for his presentation.  And I wasn't disappointed.  I marvel at anyone who can talk for that length of time and keep the audience engaged - laughing and crying and thinking - while sharing an important message about "myths of technology." Three thoughts which had the biggest impact for me as an administrator - "We need innovative educators before we can have innovative students;"and "The biggest shift for educators is not skill set; it's mindset;" and "It's not enough to engage students; we need to empower them."
  • I had heard so much about Doug Kiang and his presentations on gaming in education.  I just happened to be passing by a room and saw that he was going to be presenting in an hour.  At that moment, I made the decision to forego the session I had intended to attend.  In fact, I sat in on the previous session, just so I could hear him.  Yes, I went all the way to Atlanta to listen to someone from Hawaii present :-)  As a competitive person who loves playing games (but who is definitely NOT a gamer), I was interested in hearing Doug share about how we can use gaming concepts in the classroom.  This is an area that I definitely want to learn more about.
  • The poster sessions provided great resources, but what I most enjoyed was listening to students discussing their projects as well as the tech tools they used to create and share.  What was really impressive were those schools in Mexico who sent students to share and how well they were able to create projects and communicate in English when that is clearly not their first language.  As I listened to them and their pride in sharing their projects, I realized that this is something we can do at our schools.  Many schools have curriculum fairs where parents and the community can view what students are learning; this is an opportunity for students to share how they are using technology to collaborate, communicate, think critically, create, and share.  We can replicate something similar at our school or in our complex or even in the state.
  • The sandboxes and playgrounds were an opportunity to learn something new from an "expert." This is really a way for teachers to participate in hands-on professional development and to share and learn from others how they use technology to enhance teaching and learning.  The only barrier I can see to implementation would be the unwillingness of teachers to give up their own time to learn through this kind of hands-on learning.  So we need to provide the opportunities, and we need to make sure that teachers take away something meaningful that they can use right away.  Successful personalized PD for teachers is something I'd like to implement this coming school year.
  • Ignite sessions - 5 minutes and 20 slides to speak on any topic you are passionate about.  How fun!  It got me thinking . . . can our students do something like this?  I think it's possible - perhaps 3 minutes and 10-12 slides would be more appropriate for our elementary school students.  We want students to be passionate about their own learning; Ignite would be a great way to have them share their passion!
The Not-So-Good
  • With the number of sessions and presenters, something that sounds good was not always applicable to me.  Taking a suggestion from others who had attended ISTE previously, I did walk out on a few presentations that sounded good but started off poorly.  I was there to learn and to make the most of this opportunity, and I really did not want to "waste" valuable time. There was too much to do and too many options to sit in on a presentation that did not fit my needs.
  • Perhaps I was not looking in the right place, but I saw few sessions for administrators.  If we are, indeed, the "missing link" in how technology is integrated in our schools, then we should have dynamic principals sharing their stories.  I would have loved to hear how principals are successfully using technology to address the Common Core State Standards - not with on-line programs but with project-based or challenge-based learning.  I could have learned from principals who have leveraged funding, partnered with their community, or sought grants to ensure that their students had access to technology.  I want to hear from principals at schools where all teachers have the opportunity to learn with and from other teachers in face-to-face sessions, virtually, or through social media.  This, I believe, was my main purpose for attending ISTE 2014, and I did not have that opportunity to learn from other exemplary principals.
So was it worth it to attend ISTE 2014?  Yes, but the real value will come when we apply what we learned to make a difference at our school.  Technology is changing education, and new apps and tools are being created every day.  We cannot possibly keep up with all the changes in technology, but we can take what we learn and empower our teachers and our students to improve teaching and learning for all.  That is one of my goals for this coming school year.