Friday, August 5, 2011

It’s Not About the Angry Birds—Or is it?

How are our students using technology?  As you are no doubt aware, Angry Birds is an incredibly popular game.  However, if our students’ use of technology were limited to playing Angry Birds, we would not be effectively leveraging technology for learning.
Superintendents, principals, teacher-leaders and other leaders should promote a shared vision of how technology supports teaching and learning.  The essential conditions for leveraging technology identified by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) include the existence of a shared vision.  The Consortium for School Networking Initiative emphasizes that leaders need to “develop a vision of web 2.0 for achieving your district’s goals.”  Without a shared vision relating to technology, the educators in your school community who use technology may just be techno-cheerleaders, the term Mark Bauerlein uses to describe people who assume that technology automatically yields benefits.
Your vision for technology should be linked to your overall vision for teaching and learning.  Because they are at the heart of our district’s vision for teaching and learning, the concepts of student engagement and 21st century rigor drive our efforts to leverage technology for learning.  Another blog post provides examples of student use of technology which reflects engagement and rigor.  ISTE, in fact, encourages leaders to promote a culture “that provides a rigorous, relevant and engaging education.

The point isn’t that you must use the concepts of engagement and rigor to leverage technology.  Your district’s vision for teaching and learning may revolve around other hooks, such as project-based learning, problem-based learning or differentiated instruction.  Embed your technology initiatives in your district’s vision.
I recently was preparing for a presentation (slideshare link) at the #BLC11 Conference hosted by Alan November.  When I shared the concepts with a colleague (@ccrudy), she gently suggested that I reconsider my statement that it (integrating technology) is not about the Angry Birds.  She shared a link to a blog post entitled Angry Birds in the Physics Classroom.  The author shared multiple investigations that students could carry out relating to Angry Birds and physics.  For example, one video clip of an angry bird is accompanied by the question, “Does the blue angry bird conserve momentum during its split into three?”  This blog post led me to recognize that perhaps leveraging technology is about Angry Birds in the sense that we can use this game to tap student interest in digital tools to engage them in rigorous learning experiences.  So, before you dismiss Angry Birds, ask how this game, or any technology, can help your school community realize its vision of teaching and learning.

For a podcast discussion I had with Alan November regarding fostering change through leadership, visit this link.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Passion & Strategic Plans: An Oxymoron?

Who knew?  An international community of latte artists create artistic coffee.  They blog, tweet, and use Facebook to connect with one another regarding their shared passion of latte art.  They share photos of their latte art online for others to enjoy, comment on, and judge in competitions.  Others throughout the world use social media to connect regarding their shared passion of yarn bombing.  They knit covers and place them on lamp posts, benches and other items in public spaces during the night so others discover them the next day.  They participate in International Yarn Bombing Day.

I was not aware of these unique communities of passion until @torres21 described them last week at the Building Learning Communities 2011 (#BLC11)conference.  And in workshops following the keynote by @torres21, @AngelaMaiers emphasized that when people have a passion, they commit themselves to that passion.  They are willing to persist in the face of difficulty to pursue their passion.  They are willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of passion.  The penguin below was a sacrifice that allowed his peers to swim, although I'm not sure this was a self-sacrifice . . .  

The latte artist- and yarn bombing-communities of passion were on my mind as I prepared to speak to leaders in our district yesterday regarding our strategic plan and our upcoming Quality Assurance Review for district-wide accreditation.  Strategic plans often are dead documents which generate yawns, not passion.  Strategic plans should instead be a representation of the collective passions of our school community. 
The big ideas in our strategic plan are worthy of our passion, our commitment.  These big ideas relate to student engagement, 21st century notions of rigor, excellence, the key role of staff, relationships & school climate, and efficient, effective, service-oriented operations.  Staff members will vary in terms of which of these big ideas are most worthy of their passion.  However, what binds our school community together is our collective belief in these big ideas.

Our principals, teachers, and others are building professional learning communities that will spur action in pursuit of our collective vision. Today, principals, assistant principals, teacher-leaders, and district-level leaders gather for the second day of our Leadership Academy to focus on student engagement and rigor.  We will be talking with one another, tweeting with one another, connecting.
So, if you think that latte artists and yarn bombers are passionate, you have not seen anything yet.  As we continue to strengthen our professional learning community, as we build the back porches for shared learning, our passion for the big ideas of our strategic plan will allow us to sustain and build on the excellence of our district.