We Are Better Than This!

I was caught off guard the other day by a Facebook post adamantly stating that an incident had occurred at school and nothing had been done about it.  An investigation found there was never a complaint filed, there were no witnesses that could verify the occurrence, in fact everyone contacted about it seemed very perplexed about any such issue having happened.  I am puzzled.  Why do people make such public pronouncements about things they have not substantiated with evidence? I partially blame our infotainment obsession.  The reality media has blurred the line between what is real and what is simply entertainment.  Public attacks on others is the norm.  Our politicians do it, the media does it, AND we do it to each other.  It seems as though we have become polarized over such small differences, like the name of our political party, that we forget we have so much more in common than we have differences.  The lure of “likes”, “retweets”, and sympathetic comments have pushed people to believe in a false sense of security and popularity where the most outlandish statement, true or not, garners self esteem boosting notoriety despite negative affect it may have on someone or group.  The adults have to set a better example!  The children are always watching us and WILL imitate our behavior!  As we watch the horrible calamity unfold in Texas, please realize we all have blue blood flowing through our veins and our tears are all the same.  Observe the amazing capacity we humans have to show compassion towards each other in times of need.  We need to capture this spirit and make it a part of our everyday lives.   WE ARE BETTER THAN THIS!

Photo courtesy of SynergyByDesign’s Flickr Photostream

Where Have I Been?

jakesrpicI am not sure how to start this entry.  I have not written a serious blogpost in almost two years.  I look back and I see drafts, full of thought, yet not published for one reason or another.  Two years ago I was a self proclaimed social media guru.  I presented to groups of educators about, pushed staff to adopt, and cajoled the community to follow the many ways social media could enhance learning and connectedness.  Yes, connectedness, not even a word really, yet this network of social media had me plugged into the best things being done in schools. Things all changed for me in October of 2014 with this simple question:  “Dad, am I going to die?” My just turned 18 year old son was having an intense headache.  My response was “of course not.”  Little did I realize how harrowing the experience we would have on our journey to make that “of course not” come true.  By the end of that day my son had been tied to a hospital bed for fear he could hurt a hospital staff member or himself.  What would become the most unreal of realities unfolded in the next year and a half.  The best doctors we could find were totally puzzled by what was happening to our child.  Instantaneous answers for his problem did not exist and connecting to experts did not produce an answer to what was wrong.  Google could not give me an explanation to what was happening. My son went from being a straight A, top of the class student, to not even being able to recognize me as his father.  My beliefs about our system of education and the purpose for what we do were about to be turned upside down forever.  In my next several posts I hope to share how this experience has shaped the lives of my family and has emboldened me to fight for what is right in education for the years I have left in my career.

Hey Students! About That Tweet….

(I originally posted this five months ago, today I see things that make me wonder how else to get this point across to you!)

Dear Students,

You might be surprised to find out I have been tweeting since 2007.  My first tweet from November, 2007:

I know, pretty profound, right?  As I write this post, I have tweeted 15,369 times.  Most of them have been about school or education is some fashion.  A few have been personal about family or sports…etc.  I have also been on Instragram, Flickr, Google +, and Facebook for quite some time.  My point in addressing this with you is not to get you to follow me or read what I have put on social media.  Rather it is to address your posting on social media. I do not purposely try to find what our students are putting on social media, but from time to time what students put on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even in text messages gets brought to my attention because of what was said or pictured.  Schools have an interest when what is said in cyberspace ends up disrupting the school day or makes someone feel unsafe or shamed at school.  I have to be honest.  Some of the stuff that has been posted shocks me!  People often post things on Twitter as though they are having a private conversation yet it is in full public view and can be found with almost any search engine.  It is not my intention to punish students for what they post, although sometimes discipline is doled out when rules are broken.  It is my intention though, to try to show you that what you put on social media can have consequences outside of school.  If your applying for school or for a job, you may want to consider what you have posted.  Read how tweets may keep you out of your school of choice or may get you fired.  You may have heard of the concept of a digital footprint, or a history of your interactions on the Internet.  What would people find if they followed your digital footsteps?  Would you want your future boss (or spouse) to read what you have written?  Once you put it out there it really never goes away, even if you delete it.  People can save, screenshot, archive, printout…etc, all the things you put out there.  Even if you have your Facebook (or Twitter) “locked down” so only friends can see what you post, they might not be your friend forever.  Former friends might just share those postings when you thought they were private.  Same with snapchat.  You think those pictures go up in smoke after ten seconds…..  Avoiding embarrassment or worse is really pretty easy though.  Answer this question before you post:  Do I want everyone to read what I am posting?  If the answer is no, then why are you posting it in a public place?  If you have made posts that could cause you problems in the future, go back and delete them.  Delete profiles on services that could cause you issues in the future.  Build a positive reputation online and do your best to post responsibly.  Social media is fun.  It allows us to stay connected to those most important to us.  Be careful to use it in a positive manner and follow the Golden Rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated. (Tweet as though your Grandma reads your tweets!)


Edublog Award Alternative

It is that time of year again where part of the edublogging/twittering world gets all excited about awarding those blogs they like with the “edublog award”. Then there is the other part of the edublogging/twittering world that gets all upset about the awards. I fall into neither camp. I am not offended nor am I motivated to nominate or vote in the proceedings. I have a rather simple proposal. If you feel you need to nominate blogs for an award, then also nominate educators that have yet to connect to this powerful community for us to contact an persuade to join twitter or start a blog. What do you think? My thoughts on this started today after hearing Diane Ravitch speak in Chicago and being amazed at the number of educators who had never heard her views nor knew about the facts she talks about. Those of us on Twitter know of her quite well and many of us advocate in our sphere of influence in the same ways, BUT, we are still the minority. So along with nominating the most loquacious writers, I think we should nominate other educators to join our community. We will be stronger in larger numbers and we can use something that sometimes divides us (edublog awards) into something that unites us and makes us strong as well as smarter. What do you think? Answer with a comment.

One Hundred and Thirty Fortnights Ago…..(35 in dog years)

September 18, 2007, I posted my first blog on what would become the PCHSdirectorBLOG.  I had no idea what to write so I simply copied a description of the school I had written for a brochure and published it.  As I wrote more entries, I found that I was writing to myself about my thoughts and ideas about Paris High School.  My focus early on was about the use of technology in the classroom and engaging students with learner centered activities.  As I grew more comfortable expressing myself in this space, I started criticizing education policy and advocating for changes in our school system based on the work of practicing educators, not politicians or philanthropists.  I have written to students, parents, our local staff, and to the education world in general.  I am not sure that I have changed anything but me, but I know this, writing is a cathartic activity that forces me to grow and examine my own thoughts and philosophies about the profession I love.  On this fifth “Blogoversary” I have decided to rededicate myself to writing in this space and pushing myself and the learning community to consider new ideas and follow my lead.  In order to get my staff to follow, I must lead by example and continue to learn transparently here.

Photo courtesy of sonson’s photostream of Flickr

#Leadership Day 2012

To All Who Lead by Design, by Proxy, or by Accident,

Dare to take risks, dare to put yourself out there, dare to fail, most of all be a transparent learner. Write to yourself in a public place, like a blog. Make videos. Put them online for students, teachers and parents to view and learn with and about you. Use technology to engage your staff. If you are not willing to be the change you want to see to make education better for students, maybe it is time to sell insurance or take up some other noble profession. You need to connect with resources outside of your local networks. Be bold enough to try connecting using Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook. Better yet, try all three. Be the person your staff, colleagues, and students can look to and say, “See, she/he was able to do that, I should be able to as well.” Most of  all, push the envelope enough to make it comfortable for people around you to try something new. Schools need to be places where innovation, creativity, and risk taking are valued. If you as a leader show that you value those qualities and actions by being a doer, your learning community will likely follow! Most of all be bold!

Has Blogging Rocked My World?

What has creating the PCHSdirectorBLOG and writing about education and technology done for me? How has writing here changed me or the way I approach my work? Have I learned anything? I know this for sure……I know less than I thought I did.  Thinking in this public space has forced me to acknowledge that I do not have all the answers. Not only have I had to admit to not “knowing” it all, but realizing that fact has made me eager to learn more about just about everything to do with my passion, educating the youth of my community. Writing this blog has given me a great way to reflect and refine my thinking about many of things I do everyday and explore many of the current trends in education. When I was challenged to write a blog (by my school librarian), I had no idea that participating in the world of education blogs would lead me to joining a learning network that includes some of the brightest minds in education today.   In a way, writing here has led to a lot of frustration.  I think the online network of educators that I interact with are primarily progressive types who long for meaningful change in the way we do our jobs.  The lack of true change is very frustrating especially for an educator like me who has children currently in the system.  That fact has created a sense of urgency that schools have to change now. We cannot afford to waste time doing what we have always done.  Blogging has led me to understand that my most important role is that of lead learner.  I have to continually demonstrate for my staff and my students that learning is the goal, and knowledge is the result of our endeavors.

This post was written in response to the “How has Blogging Rocked Your World meme”

Avoiding the Revolution?

When did the stone age flintknappers actually realize that their skills had become obsolete?  Do you think they looked around at the folks who were working on making a hotter fire, shake their heads and say, “We have to emphasize stone flaking and drawing pictures of our hunts on the walls of caves. This playing with fire will only get us burnt–glowing coals, UGH!”?  And did they think: “All of our young men and women must show proficiency in the ways of following the paths of the animals and the seasons of the good plants!”  “If we don’t manage to teach our youth how to better do these things, we will continue to see a decline in the herds!”? “Everyone must join us in this race to the edge of the cliff!”  How long did these people fool themselves until somebody realized that using tools that broke easily and took days to make did not make sense any more?  That controlling the animals and helping the plants grow in the same place each year made things easier? Obviously the transition from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age happened, but somewhere in the interim there were groups of people that did not make the transition and suffered in the competition with their neighbors.  I think we are at that point now.  So much of what we have our students do in school is obsolete.  Why do we continue to insist our students spend hours learning and practicing skills that new technologies have made obsolete?  School is not about just learning information any more.  It is about using information, collaborating to solve problems, and experimenting to create new understanding.  The tools we have today in our pockets make much of what we have done in the past century, well, things of the past.  If our students can do our assignments and pass our tests with out so much as doing any more than  “Googling” the answers, we are not preparing them for the world in which they live.  We need to embrace the social tools of today, give up the stage, and embrace the new role that teachers must fill today.  Every revolution in history eventually favored those who embraced change.  It is time to move on, throw away our need to hold on to what we know, and work toward creating the next generation of education.

Photo courtesy of the Hull City Council’s photostream on Flickr

You Can’t Afford Not to Become a Digital Leader!

Do you ever Google yourself?  If you don’t, why not?  If you do, what do you see?  If something about you does not come up on the first page, something is wrong.  Your learning community needs to know what you believe is important.  Your voice and ideas need to be read and heard!  If you are not blogging or putting out a digital newsletter on your school or district website, you are missing golden opportunity to communicate with staff, parents, students, and the stakeholders of your community.  Most students and parents are using digital media to communicate with friends and family using websites like Facebook or Google +.  If you or your school community are not using these digital mediums to communicate your story, you are missing out, and what is worse, people may be telling your story for you and you might not like their version!  As a leader, you have to plug yourself into these networks, to build your school’s brand, to keep your stakeholders informed, and to model good communication for your staff. 

If you lead a school or district today, you are a busy person!  Phone calls, paperwork, meetings, classroom visits, building budgets, curriculum…etc. fill your day and it is hard to stay ahead of the latest trends and news in our field.  It is essential that you be informed on national and state policy and keep up with what your neighboring districts are doing to improve their schools.  How do you do it?  Digital tools are are available to bring you the latest news and trends, cut down on desk time, and keep you connected to your staff and administrative teams.  You can have a tool that brings you the latest education news right on your desktop, customized with just the content you want (try Google Reader).  You can have educators all over the world sending you ideas and resources directly to you on your computer or phone (try Twitter).  You can collaborate with staff and teams virtually without having to physically meet (try Skype, Google Docs, or Google +).  Evaluations and data about observations can be collected, stored and distributed digitally by using a smartphone, iPad, or laptop and a form created in Google Docs.

The examples above are just a small sampling of the ever growing number of digital and social media that are available for school administrators to make communicating and dealing with data easier.  What is probably just as important as using these tools to make work more collaborative and less time consuming is to model for the learning community modern tools that today’s students and teachers need to be using daily to continue to learn and prepare themselves for the future.  You may be saying to yourself, “I can’t afford the time to figure all this stuff out.”  I say, “You can’t afford not to find the time to become a digital leader!”

Time To Go All In!

The dawn of the 2011-12 school year is just days away, hard to believe!  This year will mark my fifth as an “edublogger” and a crusader for the use of web 2.0 tools, interactive technologies, and social media in our class rooms. I have pushed my staff to use Twitter, we have Facebook pages for our library, student services and several classrooms, and I have used Youtube as a way to address issues in the school community.  We have classes creating content collaboratively using Google docs, Blogging to write to a wider audience, Skyping with experts outside of the school, and digitally connecting with the National Center for Super Computing at the University of Illinois for chemistry applications.  We were successful in obtaining a EETT grant to procure multiple laptop labs and IWB’s for classrooms.  The grant also allowed us to provide many hours of professional development for our staff about using the new equipment.   On the face of it, it seems like we have done a lot to change the way try to engage our students at PCHS, but there is so much more we can do to give the learners (students and teachers) self direction and further engage them.  As I reflect about what has changed in the past four years, I am pleased to know that we have tried to embrace what many schools still have not yet begun to explore.  I have a great staff that is trying very hard to make a learning environment that is personally connected and engaging.  We have nurtured several teacher leaders to get out in front and lead by example with the use of social media and other technologies.  My charge this year is make these practices more systemic. I have to find more ways to say yes to innovative ideas. Sometimes I will need to simply get out of the way and let my staff do the leading. We need to make the above practices the norm not the exception.  I have to continue to find ways to provide the necessary tools and exposure for our staff to make our school more geared toward student centered learning. The biggest barriers to getting to where we need to be is the need to get more tools in the hands of students and the absence of adequate bandwidth to access the information and services that are essential for engaging today’s learners.  In a sense we have dipped our toes in the water, we have been dealt a good hand, NOW IT IS TIME TO GO ALL IN!

Photo by Banspy on Flickr