Opening our Doors ….#NBCueMarin

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“Podcasting, tweeting, and blogging opens your doors!” — Adam Welcome, Principal, John Swett Elementary School

I spent a great day at the North Bay CUE Marin (@NorthBayCue) Conference. It has been energizing to connect and learn with truly amazing educators who are opening their doors and sharing their learning with others.

The day started with the Twitter Rocks Fiesta hosted by Amy Fadeji (@mrsfadeji), Principal at Penngrove Elementary School.  Why would educators want to use Twitter?  As Amy made clear, opening the doors to our schools through social media gives us an incredibly powerful way for us to tell our stories — of the learning happening in our schools — and to create our own networks for energizing ourselves by actively engaging with other educators.

At my next session — Trevor Mattea (@tsmattea), a third grade teacher from Mountain View, facilitated an inspiring session on using digital portfolios in elementary classrooms. I was truly impressed with the many ways that he has opened his classroom door and shared his students’ learning through photography, writing and developing digital citizenship. I plan to pass on the plentiful resources he shared to my colleagues and staff.

At the final stop on my #NBCueMarin tour, Adam Welcome (@awelcome), Principal at John Swett Elementary School, facilitated an edu-awesome session on blogging in our schools and classrooms and so much more. He started with jamming beats care of incrediblebox.com, then spun a versatile playlist of digital tools for connecting, learning and communicating with our staff, parents and community.  From Audioboo for podcasting, to tweeting events from the school day, and blogging to share with the big, wide world — I came away with new ways of thinking about connecting and learning.

Each of these educators is setting a powerful example of what it means to be connected. By opening our doors, we also open ourselves to endless possibilities, not only for our own growth and learning, but to being the change we wish to see in the world — to make a real difference for the children we serve.

What are some ways you open your doors?

A time for change…

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I recently came across Tom Whitby’s insightful blog post, “Educator Fear and Discomfort.” His post provided me with some important perspective on how we approach integrating technology and learning.

Whitby highlights two counterproductive beliefs that stand in the way of fully integrating digital tools into the classroom: 1) that all kids are digital natives who know everything about technology and 2) that teachers cannot make mistakes in front of students. These beliefs coupled by a misguided notion that before a teachers can use technology with students they must know everything about the technology and all applications. Whitby correctly points out that this is simply impossible given the incredible pace of change.

The constant in education should be the learning and not the status quo. If society is moving to change at a rapid pace, then we need to develop in our children the skills and abilities to change as well, and that requires the same abilities in the educators who are charged with teaching our children.

Integrating digital tools into the learning process shifts “the learning dynamic for teachers and for students.” As he notes,”It requires a commitment to life long learning which goes beyond just the words.” In short, we must practice what preach.

He concludes by emphasizing that: “…we can better educate our students if we better educate their educators. We should never hold up our past as our children’s model for their future.”

Whitby’s post serves as an excellent reminder to educators who are focused on preparing children for their future, not our past.  Our work toward this goal needs to be focused on the learning first, not the devices. And, more importantly, bringing new digital tools into the classroom must be guided by a commitment to creating the conditions that make it possible through training, support, collaboration and encouragement for educators.

What are some ways that we can create the conditions that make this kind of transformation in teaching and learning a reality for students and educators?

On the moral obligation of sharing

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I’ve been developing a personal learning network (PLN) through Twitter and online forums for the past few years. I found my initial forays into social media to be a bit disorienting. The flow of information was overwhelming. It was difficult to get my bearings. But, I stuck with it — dipping in, then stepping away, and then returning. I found it to be a process — at first I mainly “lurked”, viewing the contributions of others, then gradually I began to share and engage with others.

Through this process, I have discovered what Lyn Hilt (@L_Hilt) has referred to as “Effort In = Reward Out.” Along the way, I have benefited in real ways from the ideas, practices and insights shared by the amazing and thoughtful educators who are part of my PLN. Engaging with the work of others has nudged me to take risks, pushed me to think more deeply, and opened up new ideas for empowering students in their learning.

In the (tongue-in-cheek) words of George Siemens, these powerful learning experiences led me to conclude that “My Personal Learning Network is the most awesomest thing ever!” Siemens’s piece challenged my thinking about PLN’s, in general, and helped me to think differently about the importance of my network and my place within it. Continue reading

“Learning by heart”

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I believe that schools can become much more than places where there are big people who are learned and little people who are learners. They can become cultures where youngsters are discovering the joy, the difficulty, and the excitement of learning and where adults are continually rediscovering the joy, the difficulty and excitement of learning. Places where we are all in it together — learning by heart. — Roland S. Barth, Learning By Heart (2004), page 29

I first encountered Roland Barth’s book, Learning by Heart, as part of the required reading for my administrative credential program in the days B.T. (Before Twitter). In his book, Barth warned about the tendency among school leaders to become so focused on the “more important matters” of the job that they miss the truly critical work of “lead learning.” Instead, he urged educational leaders to work as co-creators of a “community of learners” committed to lifelong learning, discovering new knowledge, and making their learning visible by sharing openly with colleagues. Throughout my career, I have taken his words to heart.

And, I find that Barth’s wise words still ring true for me as I try to sort out how to apply their meaning for my work today. Recently, I have started to participate an online interactive course, “Educational Leadership in the Digital Age”, facilitated by Lyn Hilt (@l_hilt) of the PLP Network (Powerful Learning Practice). Last week, one of our topics for exploration was what does it mean to be a “lead learner” in a “time of rapid change with ever-evolving digital technologies.” Continue reading

Do we practice what we preach?

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“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”

— William Butler Yeats

This week I had the opportunity to talk with a local business leader who passionately believes that to meet the challenges of our rapidly changing world, we need to “unleash our entrepreneurial spirit.”

As we talked, he described the capacities that are essential for successfully navigating an ever shifting terrain: embracing change, engaging in lifelong learning and growth, staying relevant, challenging assumptions, taking risks, considering multiple perspectives, and aligning our purpose and passion. He concluded by stating that educators need to “practice what you preach!”

Our conversation then turned toward the vital role educators play in helping young people develop these capacities. I found myself wondering how well we, as educators, model these critical habits of mind and practices? Do we engage in active, self-directed lifelong learning? Stay relevant? Take risks? I reflected on  our tendency to cling to what is known and avoid venturing into the unknown. Continue reading

Stepping into the social media landscape

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Getting started with social media can be daunting. I remember when I began exploring Twitter a few years ago. Like many others, when I signed up, I didn’t get it. I was almost instantly overwhelmed with the amount of information and could not make sense of it.

As I stumbled my way through the seemingly strange social media landscape, I’ve met some amazing guides who have paved a path. I began to read and delve into the resources they shared and slowly…I learned more. As I learned, I began to get my bearings a bit. Through their example, they have opened up a whole new world to me.

Here are just a few of the educators who are part of my personal learning network and the resources they have generously shared with those interested in learning more about how to use social media for professional learning and community engagement. Continue reading

Moving forward in the face of fear

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than one’s fear.”  — Ambrose Redmoon

In my work, I frequently hear profound trepidation about the big, wide world of social media. The chorus of voices bemoans the ubiquity of Facebook and issues cautionary tales of how social sites are diminishing our personal connections to others. And on and on…

Underneath this reluctance, I hear a genuine sense of fear — fear of our world spinning out of control. In an effort to regain some semblance of control, there is a tendency to react by wanting to “shut it down.” Instead, I’d like to urge us to be courageous in our leadership and move forward in the face of fear.

As Redmoon’s quote suggests, being courageous does not mean “the absence of fear.” Rather, it is “the judgment that something else is more important that one’s fear.” As educators, I would also add that our ability to prepare our students for their future and to engage with our communities to accomplish that goal, in a world that is growing ever more complex and fast-paced, is more important that our own fear.

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I recently revisited Open Leadership, by Charlene Li (@charleneli). Li’s book provided me with a bit of a road map to begin grappling with my own uncertainty. While the book is not geared specifically for those of us toiling in the field of education, I think educational leaders will find plenty of resources here to get started.

At the outset, Li assesses the new terrain which has been characterized by the “fundamental shift in power” from institutions (like schools) to customers (such as our students, parents, and community members).  With new social technologies, more people are online, using of social sites and sharing digital resources like never before. Li points out that conversations that used to take place in more private realms of offices, phone calls, and even the parking lot, are now taking place online. While these developments may make us squirm, we are powerless to stop them.

The question, then, is how do we manage our fears as we navigate forward in digital spaces to connect more meaningfully with our communities? Li offers four key take aways for educators. Continue reading