Saturday, May 11, 2013

Out of Touch

Two weekends ago, I was watching an interview with Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen. I found the most interesting portion of the discussion about cyber-warfare. One rhetorical question they advanced during the interview was, At what point of cyber-warfare does the destruction become significant enough to warrant actual warfare?

Twenty minutes later, I was breaking up a full-on, head-lock brawl between my six-year-old and my ten-year-old because the former destroyed the latter’s much-loved architectural tower he had build in a shared Minecraft world.

It seems to me that any online interaction that stirs strong emotion (such as anger or love or inspiration or trust) always leads back to face-to-face interaction. It also seems that the more significant the problem to be solved, the more likely people will meet face-to-face in solving the problem. What implications does this have for education?

At what point are problems that we are trying to solve in education significant enough to warrant face-to-face interaction? At what point is the innovation exciting enough to warrant a face-to-face workshop or summit? At what point is a student's remedial-need significant enough to warrant face-to-face time?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Power of the "Node"

Source: Gapinvoid
It's interesting to explore an instructional leader's motivation to engage other leaders with digital-age tools. We indeed build collegial friendships because of the mutual experiences we share, common interests we have, and interesting information we seek. We've been networking in a face-to-face platform environment for decades, but now we have tools to extend our networking platform.These tools can help us convene to process complex ideas, solve problems, console each other in difficult situations, and share fresh and fascinating information. But, these tools only help us if we engage reciprocally by not only lurking but tweeting/discussing/sharing, by not only reading but blogging/commenting/curating.

The power of this network does not come from extracting the energy off of the grid, but when the nodes of the network generate energy by actively engaging. We all need to put more energy on to the grid than we take off of the grid. Pragmatically speaking, how do school leaders do this?

We dialogue, vent, analyze, relate, change your mind, connect, collaborate, advocate, and criticize. We bookmark, share, categorize, and retweet. We reflect, blog, generate ideas, and apply concepts. In a word, we are active.

What kind of "node" are you?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Going from Third-Person, to First

Pause for a moment and reflect on the cumulative effect of the projects currently at play in Wisconsin: Common Core, RTI, PBIS, InTASC, SBAC, new district report cards, and a new educator evaluation system. Not to mention the fact that we are powering up these initiatives at a time of record-low revenue and depleted morale in Wisconsin. 

All these initiatives are worthy—there is no question about value or merit. However, to paraphrase Peter Drucker, culture eats projects like these for breakfast, and without considerable attention to the softer-side of organizations, our school districts will suffer and struggle to not only implement but also realize any student-performance benefit from these mass-scale reforms.

To a large extent, school leaders have little influence over any of these projects; in a practical sense, they are mandates—from the top, down. We must implement them, and we have trivial authority over the particulars.  While we have insignificant influence over the actual reforms, we have substantial inspiration in how we choose to implement them at the local level. 

School leaders today have direct affect on the climates in which these reforms come to fruition. If the quality of our partnerships aren't strong, if we aren't in agreement about continuous improvement, and if our vision isn't powerful and based on community values, these reforms aren't going to get very far.  No matter how innovative and research-based these reforms are, they will fall short without powerful work at the local level to inspire motivation, commitment, vision, and empathy. 

For teacher leaders, building principals, district administrators, and board members, we now are fortunate to have this flash of clarity. Yes, the limelight is on top-down reform and the white-hot spotlight is directed at us, yet this affords us the opportunity to direct the action.

Ironic as it may be after decades of efforts to lobby huge and impersonal education legislation, we realize that our most influential efforts are best played out on a local scale, with our own communities, on personal relationships and collegial trust. So today, we shift to calling forth the gifts of kids and colleagues, finding a way to let people’s light shine, and to go from third-person, to first. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Other Things Being Equal

For a little more than a year, I've had the awesome opportunity to work with fellow administrators from across the state in helping them to better understanding digital-age tools. As a part of this effort, we've worked on social bookmarking, micro-blogging, blogging, and creating screencasts. We've delved into the concept of PLN creation, and we've looked at the ways that digital-age tools amplify administrative capacity to support PLCs. I have learned as much from these people as I hope they have learned from me.

The most striking realization with which I have come away from this experience is that technology know-how only matters so much. After the cursory proficiency in understanding how any digital-age tool works, other things matter. After someone knows how to log-on to twitter, and understands the concepts of a tweet, hashtag, RT, HT, and list, then what?

It is at this point in technology development that underlying leadership traits become very apparent since the way social media and other Web 2.0 tools are put into action depends largely on a given leader's philosophies about collaboration, empowerment, innovation, and learning. After the initial know-how of technology, other things matter.

This vitally modifies how I looked at development as it relates to technology. This type of development is not done separate from development associated with leadership; development in technology must be done simultaneously with leadership development, and the catalytic interplay between the two can amplify both positive leadership and negative leadership attributes of the person using the technology.

What do you think? Is the effective use of digital-age tools congruent with the quality of the leadership behind their employment? What leadership attributes are requisite for the effective use of digital-age tools, and how can we as a community cultivate those attributes in leaders around us and in pre-service leaders? 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

@JaneHart with the Top Tech Tools of 2012

Always a fun exercise for self-reflection, below is Jane Hart's top 100 tools for 2012. As you click through the slideshow, reflect on the degree to which you use these tools to convene people to solve problems, seamlessly connect stakeholders, and learn from others. Do some exploration, use a new tool, share this list with others, grow as a leader. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

As a Matter of Principal

Wisconsin public education today, like many states, is in the condition of total reform. As in, when you go to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, a splash page should flash up and say, “Under Construction.”

A laundry list of different projects make up this list of reform. Heading up the list is the shift to Common Core State Standards, followed by NAEP cute scores, SBAC, Educator Effectiveness, ACT expansion, new reportcards, WISEdash, SIS, RtI, PBIS, and this list goes on.

Without a doubt, we all shoulder some responsibility for the effective implementation of these programs, but let’s not deceive ourselves and acknowledge the truth: Our building principals are going to bear much of the weight of these reforms. Much of it is on their shoulders; they are the modern Atlas, accountable for upholding the sky (apparently from falling).  

Now, I am blessed with an unbelievable administrative team. Smart, hard working, positive, caring, driven. They arrive early and go home late. They sacrifice time with their families without question. They trust but verify, have difficult conversations based on values, admit mistakes when wrong, and care about details when no one else does. To a large extent, the professionals who make up my administrative team are also my role models.  So, I come from a considerate and measured place when I ask this question: How on earth are our building administrators going to accomplish all that they are going to be asked to do?

In the ecology of a principal's calendar, there is no white space. We've all been there: after-school learning programs, summer academic academies, district-wide assessment cohesiveness, educational gaming partnerships, Google Apps training, new elementary Math curriculum, 20 percent staff turnover, inclusionary practice programming, a BYOD initiative, English curriculum revision--just to name a few our own recent projects. Our existing educator evaluation system is currently robust, and any white space after the previously mentioned is consumed by IEP meetings, discipline, attendance issues, parental concerns, and swarm of other urgent issues.

I already know what’s coming: overused and tired responses, such as “It’s not about doing more but doing things differently.” Or, “Focus on what matters most.” The tipping point that we are at, however, is significantly beyond clich├ęs, such as “We are gonna have to do more with less.”

Principals need time, leadership development, advocacy, and emotional support, and we (superintendents) need to help.

This means fighting against interests that don’t understand administrative function and want to compress leadership roles (such as hiring a dean of students or part-time administrators). It means finding a way to help building principals access the best professional development possible and advocating to school boards-legislators-parents-and community stakeholders for principal autonomy. It means helping them focus on possibilities instead of current obstacles.

In Greek Mythology, Heracles constructed two pillars to hold the sky for Atlas, hence freeing him of bearing the sole responsibility of possible collapse. What pillars will we build to help our building principals so that they don’t singularly bear the weight of the sun, the moon, and all the stars? 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Wisconsin Education Reforms

Wisconsin is currently experiencing what amounts to tectonic plate shifts in the field of education. Of course, reform isn't rare for education. From Desegregation to A Nation at Risk, and from Outcomes-Based Education to 21st Century Skill Frameworks, many veteran educators have seen the field of education literally evolve in front of their eyes. Today, however, we are muddling through reform more sophisticated and ambitious than ever before.

Because of the quantity, complexity, and inter-relatedness of the initiatives, many even in the field of education don't fully comprehend or are aware of the broad view of these reforms. Below is a collection of resources meant to help people better appreciate current education reform in Wisconsin.

Even after these lofty projects, still more looms on the horizon, including PI-34 teacher licensing and licensing renewal reform and graduation requirement reform.

Disclaimer: This review is a simplification of a complex series of initiatives. To actually grasp the nuance and detail of these initiatives, I encourage you to visit the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction website.