Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Story & Leadership Challenge

The Story
Here is a very short story and a challenge to you as a leader.

Coaching five year old soccer players is quite interesting. I tried to structure practices so that every child had fun while getting lots of touches on the ball.  We played a lot of tag, chase, and keep away games in which every child dribbled their own soccer ball throughout most of the games in order to improve their dribbling ability.
Sharks and Minnows was one of the players’ favorite games. In Sharks and Minnows, most of the kids (playing the role of minnows) stood at one end of a rectangle with soccer balls while a player or two stood at the other end as sharks. The sharks would yell, “Are you ready to get eaten?” The minnows would yell back “Never!” (Trash talk at an early age!) Then the minnows would each try to dribble their ball from one end to the other without getting eaten by the sharks. Being eaten was defined as having your soccer ball taken or kicked away from you.
The kids loved it and I was pleased that they developed ball control skills and even tactical awareness as they dribbled around and avoided other players with sudden bursts of speed and movements into open space.
Finding the Bright Spots 
At first, only a few players had much ball control. “Finding the bright spots” led to improved dribbling by all the players.

When one player did a particularly good job as a minnow, dribbling the ball from one side of the rectangle to the other, I would stop play very briefly and ask the other players what that particular minnow had done to be so successful. One strategy they would identify is that a player – a minnow - was able to keep control of the soccer ball, without sharks stealing it, because he or she kept the ball close to their feet. As a coach, I might need to ask leading questions to get them to “find the bright spot” but they would get it, they would say, “No one could steal the ball from Johnny because he kept it close to their feet.”

Chip and Dan Heath explain how finding the bright spots provides both guidance and inspiration. In their book regarding leadership, entitled Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, they explain that finding the bright spots helps provide both guidance and inspiration, appealing to players hearts and minds.
As a soccer coach, I provided guidance by focusing attention on the importance of dribbling with the ball close to your feet. This guidance showed players what to do during the next round of Sharks and Minnows.
Focusing on the bright spots also spoke to the hearts of my 5 year-old soccer players, providing inspiration. We were celebrating that little Lexi and little Bryce had dribbled all the way from one end of the rectangle to the other without anyone stealing their soccer balls. As we cheered the minnows who had made it to the other end of the field, the message was, “This is amazing and you can do it too if you dribble with the soccer ball close to your feet.”
The Leadership Challenge
My challenge to you as a teacher, principal, or superintendent is two part: focus on the bright spots where you work; and engage others in finding the bright spots. As you do so, you will provide guidance and inspiration. You will speak to others’ hearts and minds.
“Name it, claim it, explain it” is one example of finding the bright spots. @BarbBlackburn shared it with me via Twitter years ago. Barb suggests that when you visit a teacher’s classroom, take a photo, audio recording, or video recording of a bright spot. At a faculty meeting, share the photo or an excerpt of the recording and ask the teacher whose classroom you visited to stand up, name the activity, claim it (and identify any colleagues who helped create it), and explain the lesson. “Name it, claim it, explain it” effectively provides both guidance and inspiration. Details are provided in this article.

What are your ideas for finding the bright spots?
Finding the Bright Spots throughout a Division
In my first weeks as Superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools, I have started to engage others in identifying bright spots. In a division with a strong tradition of excellence, this has been relatively easy, but important.
In order to sustain and build on the excellence of a school or school division, we need to be explicit regarding what we want to sustain. As my daughter put it, what should we avoid messing up? A solid understanding of our bright spots provides a strong foundation for building on excellence by continuing to learn, grow, and improve. 
Many people have already helped identify bright spots: high school students participating in Leadership Loudoun youth, new administrators attending orientation, and leaders at the Administrative Leadership Team institute. Through small group discussions and twitter conversations, we are identifying bright spots that can help inform the creation of a strategic plan for our schools.
Finding bright spots also provides joy. When I recall the five year-olds I coached, I can think of numerous players who still love the game of soccer.  I believe that focusing on the bright spots contributed to their love of the game. Thus, as we engage others in finding the bright spots, not only will we provide guidance and inspiration, we will help others find joy in their work. Here is my wish for you as we start a new school year:

This post is based on my remarks at Loudoun County's Administrative Leadership Team Institute on August 5, 2014.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Connectivity & One to the World

Tweet #1
Consider a One to the World initiative. Rather than labelling connectivity initiatives as 1:1 or Bring-Your-Own-Technology initiatives, consider framing them as One to the World.*   #1toWorld
By connecting students globally, a One to the World initiative would improve the quality and amplify the impact of the work of students as they master the content and competencies of the curriculum. Eight tweets from April and May illustrate how One to the World improves the quality and amplifies the impact of student work.
Four of the tweets illustrate that One to the World provides students with the connectivity to the tools and information they need.
Tweet #2
Tweet #1: A 2nd grade student works on writing a book that she will publish for peers, parents, and others to read. She uses a school-owned device to access an app to improve the quality of her work.

Tweet #2: This tweet captures middle school English students creating digital public service announcements to raise awareness and money to stop elephant poaching. After extensive research, students used their own devices AND school-owned devices to download content, access video editing software, create public service announcements, and post them on the internet for a global audience.

Tweet #3

Tweet #3: High school students at a poetry jam use their phones to access and to read aloud poems they wrote and saved to the cloud.

Tweet #4: After reading Wonder, which tells of the heroics of Auggie, a boy with a facial deformity, 5th grade students wanted to connect with an expert. They arranged to Skype with a student with the same type of facial deformity.
Tweet #4

Note that these tweets vary in terms of whether students use school-owned and/or personal devices. The connectivity of One to the World is important, not whether the connectivity is provided through a 1:1 or BYOT initiative. #1toWorld
Two tweets reflect that One to the World initiatives connect students with a global audience.

Tweet #5
Tweet #5: Three students worked to raise money and awareness relating to hunger and to collect food and other items for local shelters. They used personal and school-owned devices to access wifi to send tweets. One to the World allowed students to reach an audience that they wanted to inspire to take action i.e. donate food, clothing.
Tweet #6
Tweet #6: High school calculus students created tutorials and posted them on the internet for anytime, anywhere access by peers and others. In this case, One to the World allowed students to connect to an audience they wanted to teach.

Two final tweets show how One to the World initiatives connect students with people with whom they can collaborate.
Tweet #7
Tweet #7 Two middle school students access one of their phones to read an email from the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The email responds to questions students asked as they develop an action plan relating to cruelty to animals.

Tweet #8 Students join three other classes from around the nation in holding a Skype session with Hilary and Chelsea Clinton regarding their #NoCeilings initiative related to barriers girls and women face around the world in terms of education, health care, and economic opportunity. Not only does Chelsea publicly announce that she is pregnant during this Skype call, but the participants share ideas regarding breaking through the
Tweet #8
ceilings discussed in the call.
Five key reasons exist for using the One to the World framework, rather than 1:1 or Bring-Your-Own-Technology.

1.     One to the World does not suggest that technology or connectivity is an end in and of itself. The goal is to improve the quality and impact of student work as they learn the content and competencies of the curriculum. Note that in each of the examples featured in the tweets, the work of students was not fluff. Learning the content and competencies of the curriculum, whether that involves research, Calculus, or writing, was the heart of the lessons.

2.     One to the World emphasizes that our focus in on connecting every student globally to tools, information, an audience for their work, and people with whom to collaborate. Rather than emphasizing one student, the emphasis is on communities, whether that is a sense of community within the school or a local, regional, or global community.

3.     One to the World doesn’t assume that people use just one device. When given the opportunity, people use different devices at different times. They might use a smart phone one moment, a netbook the next, and a desktop computer later on.

4.     One to the World doesn’t assume that all students will use the same device. People naturally work alongside one another while using a variety of devices.

5.     With One to the World, we can focus on equity, on equitable access, not on who provides the device. It may make the most sense to create a plan for launching One to the World that relies on both school-owned and student-owned devices.

With a One to the World initiative, significant implementation questions exist relating to capacity building. For example,
·        What technology infrastructure is needed?
·        What policy and procedural infrastructure is needed?
·        How should we reallocate/obtain the resources needed to support One to the World?
·        How many devices should be purchased by the district? What devices should be purchased by the district?
The most important questions, however, relate to teaching, professional learning, and leadership. For example,
·        As Alan November has asked, “How can we build capacity for all of our teachers to share best practices with colleagues in their school and around the world?”
·        How can teachers design high quality work that engages students in using the connectivity of One to the World in order to master the content and competencies of the curriculum?
What are your thoughts regarding these questions? Also, what are examples of how your students have connected with the tools, information, audience, and people with whom to collaborate in order to improve the quality and amplify the impact of their work?

Answering these questions will be incredibly rewarding. Let’s get started!

*I first heard the phrase One to the World from Alan November in 2012. I published a blogpost regarding this phrase in November, 2012. Alan November published an article on this topic in January, 2013.

Related Blog Post:
Top 10 #EdTech Posts

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Superintendent & Teachers Do “Snow No” Dance

Actually, it was more of a snow chant with arm gestures.

We’ve already had five snow days this year. Some people enjoyed the first few days, but with another storm approaching we decided we’ve had enough.

Click here to view the 6-second “Snow No”Dance that I did this morning with the teachers at Seaford Elementary School. It will be obvious that we spent no time on choreography or rehearsal. This clearly was a one-take effort.

We’ll see if it works.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Great Teaching of Rich Content Happens In Spite-Not Because-Of State Exams

Would reducing the number of state exams undercut student learning? Would teachers stop teaching what is no longer tested until a future grade level? Would learning suffer because teachers receive achievement data from fewer state tests?

No. No. And no.
Let’s look at the third grade Social Studies exams in Virginia to illustrate why. Currently, Virginia’s third grade students take state exams in reading, math, science, and Social Studies. Proposals winning widespread support in the state legislature would remove the third grade tests in science and social studies (among other exams in grades 3 to 8), while retaining the tests in these areas at later grade levels.    
Reducing the number of state exams would support effective Social Studies instruction because the large number of state exams can lead to an approach where teachers just try to race through presenting an endless stream of facts without sparking student interest or deep understanding. Reducing the number of SOL exams would allow for more in-depth instruction and deeper, longer lasting learning.
The Ponce De Leon team makes its pitch!
The Sail Away with Me project taught by the third grade team at Seaford Elementary School illustrates that deep, long-lasting learning of important content and skills often occurs in spite (not because) of state exams. Playing the role of an explorer with access to modern technology, students create an iMovie commercial. They seek to persuade aspiring explorers to travel with them to the New World by sharing the successes and achievements that they had on previous voyages. Because they want to create compelling videos for their peers, students commit themselves more fully to learning about Columbus, Ponce de Leon, Cartier and Newport.
Students in each class signed up to join one of the explorers. Check out some of the results below. Here is the video that garnered the most enlistments.

Important content is at the heart of this project. This is not content-lite. This project addresses third grade state standards relating to History, English, and Writing.
The assessment data provided by this project is much more useful for modifying instruction than the information provided by a state exam. The teachers don’t have to wait until summer for results. They immediately gain important assessment data regarding student strengths and weaknesses that helps them adjust instruction now. For example, the teachers used a rubric to assess the English and Writing standards involved with this project.

Unfortunately, many teachers hesitate to teach this or other in-depth projects because they believe they don’t have time for deep learning when they need to prepare students for so many state exams. Reducing the number of statewide exams will help teachers realize that they can teach projects such as Sail Away with Me.  The state standards will then be taught in a much more engaging, effective manner. And then students will be even better prepared for Social Studies state exams in future years, even if they don’t have a Social Studies exam in third grade.

Kudos to Stacey Herrick (@Herricks_Hokies), Heather Long, Kelly Skinner, and Amanda Mayfield for implementing this project!

Want to learn more about the project?

Here is a two page overview. Here is the writing assessment. Here is a link to the sixteen videos created by the students.

Related Posts:
School Board Speaks Out On High Stakes Testing
5 Reasons to Exhibit Student Work


Friday, January 31, 2014

Top 10 #Edtech Posts

Here are the top ten Promoting Student Engagement blog posts relating to the use of #Edtech. Following the top ten list with descriptions, you’ll find the posts sorted by topic (vision, leadership, and BYOT/1:1).

Let’s co-opt the power of creating digital stories for a global audience. As educators, let’s give students opportunities to create, not just consume, digital stories. Check out this fun post just to see preschoolers, teachers, and senior citizens doing the Harlem Shake.

You don’t have time NOT to tweet. Tell people their work matters. Provide teachers great ideas. Provide inspiration. Build a shared vision.

#3  Four Policies to Support EdTech                           

Replace the #edtech lockdown mentality with a student driver approach. An open letter to School Board members.

Alan November asks, “Who owns the learning?” Effective teaching and learning involves purpose-driven work, a shift of control, leveraging the motivation of student ownership, and enlisting technology.

This post includes a humorous Best Buy commercial that illustrates why BYOT may be more appealing to some students than a 1:1 initiative.

Let the rebranding begin. Here is why we should refer to 1:1 as 1 to the World!

What are the design qualities that promote student engagement? These design qualities should drive our use of technology.

How do you get other leaders in your organization to model the use of technology?

Do you assume that the use of technology will yield automatic gains in skills and knowledge? Let’s not just bolt technology on top of current processes and procedures!

Technology is not just about the bells and whistles. We need a vision for effectively leveraging technology to support student achievement.

Here are the posts sorted by topic.

What Educators Should Learn from the Harlem Shake
The Digital Learning Farm: A Call to Action
Using Technology to Transform Teaching & Learning
Are You a Techno-Cheerleader?
It’s Not About the Angry Birds—Or is it?

Top 4 Reasons for Superintendents & Principals to Send Shout Out Tweets
Four Policies to Support EdTech
4 Steps to Leaders Modeling Effective Use of Technology


Friday, January 17, 2014

5 Reasons to Exhibit Student Work

“Remember that you are the someone in the phrase ‘Somebody ought to do something about that.’ Each of you. Me too. We are all the someone who needs to take action.” (Ghost Dog Secrets by Peg Kehret)
What can we do to change the lives of animals? Teams of sixth grade students at Tabb Middle School had just a few minutes to make their pitch regarding which animal-related causes the sixth grade should select as a focus. As parents and community members circulated in the gym and cafeteria, each group of students articulated a critical issue involving animals and proposed a plan of action. The animal related causes included puppy mills, dog fighting, a shortage of service dogs and a variety of other topics. These and other causes were pitched to visitors who each cast multiple votes for which cause should be selected as a focus for the entire sixth grade.
The students of Cindy Evans (cindyevans66), Nancy Hehir (HehirNancy), Rebecca Karatsikis (BeckyKaratsikis), and Kelley Payne (@grayfin77) each read Ghost Dog Secrets by Peg Kehret. The novel focuses on a boy who wants to rescue a dog that is being abused while his class at school focuses on helping dogs rescued from a puppy mill. After reading the novel, students investigated animal-related causes of their choice. They researched the issues, relevant laws, measures being taken to address the issues, and developed proposed action plans.
Check out this video created by Jennifer Thomas (@JennThomas75) inviting parents and other community members to the Action for Animal Awareness Community Night.
This event illustrates four reasons to exhibit student work.
1.     Increase Student Engagement
Students felt great ownership of their work because they wanted to make a difference and they knew their work would have an audience beyond their teachers. One student explained, “I liked this project because I knew I was actually helping and not just doing it for a grade.” Another student commented, “I like making a difference.
I worked hard because I wanted my project to be chosen as one that all of 6th grade will work on.” As one teacher tweeted, “I loved that students were so involved and invested in it.”
2.     Increase Student Learning of Significant Content
This was not a fluff project. Significant content and skills were at the heart of this project-based learning. Students learned skills required by state standards, such as “the student will read and demonstrate comprehension of a variety of fictional texts, narrative nonfiction, and poetry” and “the student will find, evaluate, and select appropriate resources for a research project.”
Students experienced great success in meeting these standards because they were compelled to prepare for the exhibition and to work to address an authentic problem. Their academic success was obvious at the exhibition. As one community member observed in an e-mail, “I cannot believe that these were sixth grade students. . . I asked many questions and could not believe that they answered with no hesitation. These students sounded as if they had studied animal laws for years. . . I was totally blown away that these young students are now so knowledgeable of the animal laws and problems. . . This is the type of project that these students will remember for years to come.”
3.     Promote a Shared Instructional Vision Among Staff Members
The energy level was through the roof at the exhibition. Not only were students and parents energetic, but teachers and administrators were incredibly enthusiastic. They were appropriately proud of their students. They already were speaking of changes they would make next year so that the project would be even more successful.
Given the positive experience of the exhibition, the 6th grade teachers are more committed to our instructional vision of providing students transformative learning experiences in which they learn the content and skills of the curriculum while making a difference locally, nationally, or globally. Because of the high profile success of this exhibition, our vision of transformative learning is more likely to be embraced by other teachers in our district. Exhibitions can help schools and districts scale up effective instructional practices by showcasing these practices.
4.     Develop Parent-Ownership of an Instructional Vision
Exhibitions provide parents with insight into the instructional vision of a school or district. This expanded understanding is crucial for generating support for initiatives. Too often parents view projects as fluff. John Larmer and John Mergendoller of the Buck Institute for Education emphasize the importance of distinguishing main course “project based learning (PBL) from the short duration and intellectually lightweight activities and projects to many classrooms.” Exhibitions of substantive student projects help parents make this distinction. Furthermore, because of this exhibition, parents are more likely to support our School Board’s call for changes in state assessments and accountability.
5.     Experience the Joy of Teaching and Learning
Exhibitions are hard work, but they are also joyful. In an era of high-stakes testing, exhibitions provide teachers and students with the joy of teaching and learning.

The votes are in! The parents and community members at the student exhibition selected elephant poaching as the cause on which students will focus. The students are narrowing down their fundraising ideas and plan to hold several small events this semester with a culminating awareness and fundraising event in May. The team of sixth grade students that made the successful pitch for this cause included Gracie Cannon, Kaylyn Rivera and Gracie Roberts. These students understand the phrase from Ghost Dog Secrets that one group of students displayed at the exhibition: “We are the someone!”
Here is the project overview that Cindy Evans created with assistance from her colleagues after attending a PBL101 workshop presented by the Buck Institute for Education.
Related posts:

Monday, November 25, 2013

Top 4 Reasons for Superintendents & Principals to Send Shout Out Tweets

Educators increasingly recognize the power of using Twitter for professional learning. Let’s not overlook how superintendents and principals can use Twitter to give digital shout outs.

1.     Shout Out tweets tell people that their work matters. Teachers work incredibly hard, but often are underappreciated. Use Twitter as another means of acknowledging and celebrating teachers’ work, letting them know that they are significant and appreciated.

2.     Shout Out tweets provide other teachers great ideas. Use Twitter to provide great ideas for projects or lessons to other teachers in your school or district. Highlighting projects and lessons that relate closely to the instructional vision of your school or district generates momentum as you collaborate to realize your shared instructional vision.

3.     Shout Out tweets provide inspiration. Use Twitter to send the message to teachers that they can implement similar lessons. The message is that a teacher down the hall or across town can implement a particular approach and they can too.

4.     Shout Out tweets help build a sense of shared vision. So often teachers within a district or even within the same school lack a sense of common purpose. Shout out tweets that relate to your school or district’s instructional vision help people make connections between their work and the work of others in their school or district.

My tweets often relate to our district’s vision for transformative learning. The tweets highlight students

·        making a difference locally, nationally, or globally as they learn the content and skills of the curriculum;

·        creating a product, performance or exhibition for an audience beyond their teacher;

·        collaborating with peers, parents, outside experts, and/or other adults in addition to the teacher; and

·        using technology to improve the quality and amplify the impact of their work.

Share slidedecks of tweets at School Board meetings, parent events, or faculty meetings in order to provide additional acknowledgement, celebration, and inspiration. As you share a slidedeck, comment on what you have observed and how it connects to the shared vision of the school or district.
Avoid featuring students in tweets who do not have a media release form on file authorizing the release of their photograph.

So, superintendents and principals, keep on using Twitter to connect with your personal learning network, but don’t underestimate the power of Twitter for giving digital shout outs.