Practitioner Voice

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 8.59.53 AMSeveral items crossed my various feeds this past weekend, prompting me to surface ideas about the importance of practitioner voice in advancing the vision we seek for teaching and learning:

While our PLNs may appear to consist of lots of practitioners – teachers and leaders working hard to transform daily practice and writing about it/sharing to a wider network – the #edreform conversation seems to be dominated by those who have little to do with actual teaching and learning in our schools. Take for example what Lia De Cicco Remu shares in the Microsoft article referenced above.

She believes pencils, paper, and chalkboards are all outdated methods of teaching. If De Cicco Remu has her way, “inking”, or using a stylus and a tablet, will be the new handwriting. Also, kids need to have the appropriate products–all Microsoft, of course. (She plugs Office 365 and OneNote as being helpful for classroom settings.)

Who is De Cicco Remu? Check out her LinkedIn profile – certainly not someone like you or me. So why do corporate, non-practitioner voices drown out the voices of practitioners doing the actual work? Not that we shouldn’t listen to anything she or other non-practitioners have  to say, but let’s be critical about the context which many of the “edreformers” are working in. She is just one of many – many just making waves at the surface.

While the formalized media floods the #edreform channels with these voices, practitioner voice is, in my opinion, more powerful and practical since practitioners speak from experience not just the théorie de la journée. They have a unique perspective that must be more valued. They are teachers and leaders innovating in classrooms and schools, reflecting on their practice through writing and sharing powerful experiences and new ways of thinking about education, leading, teaching and learning with a wider audience. Actually doing the work! Many have mastered the six key principals of influence/persuasion outlined in the video linked above as demonstrated by their success and popularity.

There are many influential practitioners with whom to connect, but we simply need more to join the conversation. Here is a very, very limited list of my favorite practitioner voices. They are doing the work, writing about it and sharing it for the benefit of all of us.

How do we propel the practitioner voice into the mainstream of the #edreform conversation, drowning out the nonsense that currently exists outside of our echo chamber? What can we do as leaders to create the space and time for teachers and other leaders to reflect on and share their practice? (Admittedly, I need to do a better, more consistent job of this myself.) How might the six key principals of persuasion help us influence others to make the effort to share their practice?

 

Don’t wait for things to be perfect…

#stsdlearnsOver the past few weeks I’ve been reflecting on my work in my new role as Superintendent. The greatest challenge I’ve experienced is to not be consumed by the day-to-day work and find time to slow it all down, making space for both reflection and professional reading. It’s analogous to the person who doesn’t find the time to exercise. Put it off long enough and you begin to see and feel the effects. In our field of education, reflection and professional reading together are the exercise of the mind, and I need to do better at making a more conscious effort to pause and reflect. When I do pause, I feel my mind is fresh and I’m physically re-energized. I’ll get there…

This past week, I was inspired to revisit Creativity, Inc., the story of innovation and creativity at Pixar Animation and Disney Animation written by President Ed Catmull. I shared a short post earlier when I read the book. The story of innovation and creativity at Pixar is inspiring, especially for those of us school leaders looking for ways to transform schools into more innovative and creative places and spaces. Even though we have a long way to go to transform our schools in Salisbury, I find myself drawn to the ideas Catmull writes about as we work to make school different.

In the final chapter, Catmull sums up the key ideas that drive innovation and creativity at Pixar. It has been fun to take each of the 31 firestarter ideas and think about how they might apply to what we are currently doing or need to do. Where are we falling short? And where are we doing some innovative work? I’m finding there are plenty of answers to both of these questions and much work yet to do!

As I reviewed the ideas summarized by Catmull, one in particular struck me and I made a connection to some of the work we are doing this month through the end of the school year.

Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way. And that’s as it should be.

As educators, we’re good at hiding what we do. It’s easy to close our classrooms and make it a challenge to even visit the school. I know, it’s the fear of judgement. But we can overcome these perceived barriers and the fear of judgement by embracing transparency and sharing more widely what is going on in our classrooms and schools. Now more than ever, it’s easy with technology.

In Salisbury, we’re wrapping the year up with a project that provides a space for teachers and school leaders, district-wide, to share their work. With #STSDLearns, staff are encouraged to share snapshots of learning with the community through social media and offer a glimpse into the work our students and teachers are doing. Arguably, learning is more about process and less about product. Because we often feel the process isn’t worthy of “going public” and we fear criticism and judgement, we hide that work until it’s ready for prime time. When the work is “finished”  there typically ends up being no time for sharing, and little ever gets pushed out. What a missed opportunity.

We need to work to change that routine. Why? For two reasons. First, because by hiding that work we deprive our students of a wider audience and potential feedback and interaction with other experts, not to mention the opportunity to develop their digital footprint. Second, We reinforce the traditional concept of school and our education system as not creative and not innovative. We want our schools to be vibrant places for learning. And in many ways they are. It’s our job as leaders to shape that reality and help share the work with our constituents. I hope that #STSDLearns contributes to a shifting culture where sharing our work and the work of our students is just another everyday occurrence. Check out the Storify from the first week of #STSDLearns!

How do you provide space for your teachers, students and leaders to “show early and show often”? Why do you think it’s important in a culture that values creativity and innovation?

 

 

(Re)learning Change is Complex

relearnI’m one of those people who finds myself reading (and listening) to multiple books at the same time. I’m not sure why, but it has it’s pros and cons. Probably something I should think about changing. Currently, I’m working my way through Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers (for about 2 months now) and Ritchhart’s Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools (for about the same time).

One of the pros of reading multiple books at the same time is that you get to make connections between the ideas, even in books that focus on seemingly different areas of our field. For me, the connections often result in surfacing previous learning. Take for instance these two excerpts:

From Hattie:

In many ways, our schools have emphasized the ‘software’ (the programs in schools) and the ‘hardware’ (buildings, resources) rather than the ‘Intel inside’ (the core attributes that make schools successful).

From Ritchhart:

I believe that culture is the hidden tool for transforming our schools and offering our students the best learning possible. Traditionally, policymakers have focused on curriculum as the tool for transformation, naively assuming that teachers merely deliver curriculum to their students. Change the deliverable – Common Core, National Curriculum, International Baccalaureate Diploma – and you will have transformed education they assume. In reality, curriculum is something that is enacted with students. It plays out within the dynamics of the school and classroom culture. Thus culture is foundational. It will determine how any curriculum comes to life.

For me, the common message of both texts is that too often in education we define our gaps and never really get below the surface to address and enact the change. Hattie shares extensive research to help us understand what truly makes the difference to student learning. Ritchhart helps us understand the complexities of culture (through 8 forces) as the key to transforming our schools.

What have I (re)learned? Change is complex. Really complex. If the solution seems too easy, it probably isn’t an effective solution. We’re probably just scraping the surface and need to dig (and think) more deeply. Authors like Hattie and Ritchhart provide inspiration (and frameworks) for us to move through what can be the fog of leadership. Thinking about getting below the surface prompted me to revisit an old presentation I did at Educon 2.3 back in 2011 – Leadership: A Missing Piece – Reimaging School and District Leadership. Making connections across the various writers, thinkers and frameworks I find helps me in addressing the day-to-day challenges of my own leadership practice.

What (re)learning do you experience when you take part in professional reading – whether books or blogs/online articles?

 

Twitter for Superintendents – Pt. II – The WHAT and HOW

twitter_mac_icon_300_transparentLast week I shared a post outlining 6 reasons Superintendents should start using Twitter.

  • Engage with constituents
  • Engage with policymakers
  • Connect with professional organizations
  • Network with superintendents locally and nationally
  • Model being a lead learner
  • Build a personal and organizational brand

So you find the reasons compelling! Now what? In this post, I’ll share some resources and ideas for moving forward. Let’s start with the WHAT. What is Twitter? Depending on where you are in your Twitter learning path, you may want to watch this informative, short video or move on to the HOW.

How can I get started? Great question. Here are some ideas to get you on the road to being a connected Superintendent. Since learning is social, find a partner – maybe an Assistant Superintendent or Director – and learn together!

Before you begin, make sure that your school policies support the use of social media. You may want to consider creating guidelines for social media use in your district if they do not already exist.

  • Visit Twitter.com.
  • Choose a Twitter handle (@). Use your name or some variation, if possible. Choose as few characters as possible.
  • Add an avatar. Ideally, include a photo of you or something relevant to your district.
  • Add a bio. Have an interesting bio that reflects who you are and what you do.
  • Follow people who are having conversations you want to listen to! For example, start by following PASA, AASA and PSBA. Find your state senator and representative. Follow them as well.
    • Visit this LIST of Superintendents and find a few to follow.
    • Search Twitter for people and organizations – How to search Twitter – and even educational hashtags if you are interested in general education topics.
    • Look at FOLLOWERS and FOLLOWING of the accounts of the people/organizations you have chosen to follow. Follow those that tweet interesting content that you can learn from or share out to your network.
  • Become familiar with the lingo or anatomy of the Tweet.
    • What’s a Twitter handle? (@)
    • What’s a hashtag? (#) Does your district have a hashtag? You may want to develop one, but first search Twitter to make sure that you will be the only user of that hashtag. Then share it out to your constituents! (For example, my district uses #stsdfalcons.)
  • Develop some interesting tweets (The T.W.E.E.T method – I found this somewhere but cannot locate the source to give credit. If anyone knows, please let me know!)

T – TARGET

  • What is your goal? (Informational, personal, etc.) Ask yourself, “Is this useful? Would I click on the link or read the resource?”
  • Does the tweet reflect positively on your role as a Superintendent?

W – WRITE – Say something (in 140 characters)! Add commentary to shared resources. Retweet (RT) others and reply.

  • What is an effective tweet?
    • Shares links to resources or images.
    • Asks an important question or contains releveant information to engage others in conversation.
    • Contains relevant hashtags.

E – ENGAGE

  • Talk to specific users by including his/her Twitter handle in the tweet.
  • Use a direct message (MESSAGES) to engage a specific user privately. (You must follow each other to use direct messages.)
  • Retweet (RT) relevant tweets to your followers. If you have to modify someone’s tweet, use MT. A RT/MT from others expands your reach!
  • Make a LIST as a way to group people you follow by interest. A list is a curated group of Twitter users and a great way to organize the accounts you follow. Here is a list of Superintendents you can follow.

E – EXPLORE

  • Search for interests and influencers.
  • Check out WHO TO FOLLOW on the right (on HOME) for suggestions based on those you currently follow.
  • Check out the TRENDS on the left (on HOME) for suggestions based on your location and those you follow.

T – TRACK

  • Track your Twitter stream by clicking on HOME in the upper left. The stream contains the tweets of all those you follow.
  • Approach Twitter differently from email. You can’t possible process all the tweets of everyone you follow. In this sense, Twitter is different than email where you want to process all communications.
  • Make Tweeting a daily part of your routine, if only for 5-10 minutes.

Things to try:

    • sending out tweets using your district hashtag and other hashtags as appropriate; engage in conversations on Twitter.
    • connecting with policymakers and engaging in conversations.
    • connecting with professional organizations and consuming information.
    • searching the #suptchat hashtag. Participate in the #suptchat twitter chat on the first Wednesday of the month at 8:00 PM Eastern.
    • Develop a PLN and learn through the connections.
    • Develop a brand for yourself and your district. Participate in #ASuperDay on the third Wednesday of each month.
    • Explore Twitter apps for easier tweet management, for example, TweetDeck and TweetBot.

Additional Resources

What additional resources or ideas can you add to the WHAT and HOW of Twitter for Superintendents?

Twitter for Superintendents – Pt. 1 – Why?

twitter_mac_icon_300_transparentThis is the first in a two-part series on helping Superintendents get started using Twitter.

It’s 2015, and social media has undeniably become a permanent part of the fabric of our society. It’s time that educators, and that includes you, Superintendents, take the leap, engaging and becoming more comfortable with these new tools. Of all the social media tools available, Superintendents seem to be favoring Twitter as the tool of choice.  Why is this? From my personal experience and work as a Superintendent, I can offer you six compelling reasons.

Engage with your constituents – parents, students, teachers, community

Social media (primarily Facebook and Twitter) is where your community resides. You can still communicate in the traditional ways – paper or electronic newsletters, emails and automated phone calls. There are people who prefer these modes of communication, and you don’t want to alienate them. Using Twitter provides the potential that your messages – your more frequent and shorter messages – will be read and understood by parents, students, teachers and community members. Tweets that engage stakeholders might include weather emergency cancellations/delays, links to your newsletter and/or blog posts, or general happenings in the district (more on that below in #6). You could even live tweet during board meetings to share the results of an important vote with those in the community unable to attend. If you want to build social capital with a wide array of stakeholders, Twitter can help you by amplifying your current efforts.

Engage policymakers regarding issues impacting public education

It’s no secret that public education has been experiencing challenging times, largely due to the unfunded and underfunded mandates placed upon us by policymakers. I’m sure as a Superintendent you have been advocating directly to your state senators and legislators through letters and phone calls. Enter Twitter. Twitter has become a powerful tool for social change all over the world. You can advocate and influence as you directly “mention” your senator, legislator, even the Governor and Secretary of Education directly in your advocacy tweets. (You “mention” someone by simply including the handle in the tweet, for example, @GovernorTomWolf.) As an added bonus, your followers (those students, parents, teachers and community mentioned in #1) will see your tweets and have the opportunity to engage in advocacy as well. To see an example of engaging with policymakers, click here for the recent fair funding Twitter chat with Acting Education Secretary Pedro Rivera and Secretary of Policy and Planning, John Hanger. Twitter CAN be a powerful tool for the voice of public education to be heard easily and quickly in the halls of the General Assembly and Governor’s office. And it can start with you, the Superintendent!

Connect with professional organizations – PASA, AASA, PSBA, etc.

Twitter isn’t just a place for individuals to have their voice heard. It’s also a place where our professional organizations maintain a presence. As a Superintendent, you can keep up to date on timely news coming out of organizations such as PASA (@PasaSupts), AASA (@AASAHQ)  and PSBA (@PSBA). Read a tweet from PASA indicating an important vote coming up in the General Assembly? In a few seconds, you can retweet it out to your followers and craft a new tweet directed toward your legislators and the Governor to advocate on behalf of your district and public education.

Network with other superintendents locally and nationally – #suptchat

Being a Superintendent can sometimes be lonely. It doesn’t have to be that way! Lots of Superintendents are already using Twitter, many participating in a monthly Twitter chat taking place on the first Wednesday of each month, 8:00 PM Eastern Time. On Twitter, search for the hashtag #suptchat and find some Superintendents to follow. Spend just 5-10 minutes a day scanning the #suptchat stream to see what Superintendents are sharing and talking about. Follow individuals who are sharing information interesting to you. The connections that you make can help you as you address problems of practice, and you may even end up meeting new colleagues at conferences that you attend throughout the year.

Model being the lead learner in your organization

You’ve probably heard of PLN – Professional Learning Network. Teachers and Principals are using Twitter and other social media tools to learn from colleagues passionate about education. Think about it… With a technology device, even a simple smartphone, practically the sum of human knowledge is available online. Have a problem, challenge or question? Someone probably has the answer or the information you need to arrive at an answer. With Twitter (the second most frequently used search engine next to Google), you have access to countless experts and many superintendents experiencing the same challenges you are. Need to learn more about what schools are doing with blended learning? You’ll find many experts on Twitter providing resources and engaging in virtual dialogue to help you deepen your understanding. Whatever you need to learn, you can learn it through your connections on Twitter. As the lead learner in your organization, you will uncover the power of connected learning for your administrators, teachers and students and model this huge shift toward personalized learning coming to education.

Build a brand – personal and organizational – #ASuperDay

Building a brand is probably the easiest on-ramp to Twitter for a Superintendent. We all enjoy sharing the successes of our students and teachers. It can be the highlight of our day! As you visit classrooms – tweet out a photo and short description. Tag it with your district hashtag. Use Twitter to share all the great things going on in your district – student honors, innovative teaching and learning, athletic events and the important work of your school board. You might even consider participating in #ASuperDay on the third Wednesday of each month. #ASuperDay was created by Scott Rocco, a Superintendent in New Jersey to capture the day-to-day work of Superintendents. Even something as simple as day-in-the-life-of-a-Superintendent tweets help build your personal and school brand, focusing your constituents on the positive work you and your district staff do for students. Here is a blog post on my first #ASuperDay.

So there you go – six reasons to get started on Twitter. Ready? All you have to do is get set up, find your constituents and learn the lingo. And it doesn’t have to take a lot of time. More of your time will be needed in the beginning to get set up and understand the tool, but after that, 10-15 minutes spread throughout your day to engage in the ways outlined above should be all that’s required to put you on the path to being a Twitter role model in your district. I’ll cover this in the next blog post.

For what other reasons should Superintendents be using Twitter?

The second part of this series:

  • Twitter for Superintendents; The WHAT and HOW