Monday, December 27, 2010

Can US Learn Ed Reform from Finland?

Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of the Center for International Mobility and Cooperation at Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture, offered some interesting advice regarding what the United States education reformers could learn from them in a recent article “Learning from Finland: How One of the World’s Top Educational Performers Turned Around.”

According to Sahlberg, “Finland should interest US educators because Finns have employed very distinct ideas and policies in reforming education, many the exact opposite of what’s being tried in the United States.” Our education reformers dismiss all of what Finland does because “that country lacks diversity” or because the business world suddenly thinks it knows how to educate our citizens. What exactly are these big differences in education system characteristics?

  1. Finland approaches testing in an entirely different manner.  According to Sahlberg, Finnish children never take a standardized test. They also do not use standardized tests to compare schools or teachers. Instead, teachers, students, and parents are all involved in “assessing and deciding how well students are doing what they’re supposed to do.” Students are given sample-based learning tests to provide information to school leaders and politicians regarding how students are doing.
  2. According to Sahlberg, “Finland has created an inspiring and respectful environment in which teachers work. What does this mean? It means all teachers in Finland are required to have higher academic degrees which guarantees both teaching skills and content knowledge. Teachers are respected on the same level as medical doctors. Finns trust public education more than any other public institution.  Finn teachers are trusted as professionals.
  3. Sahlberg also says school leadership is different in Finland. He says that without exception, school principals, district education leaders, and superintendents are former teachers. This is in contrast to American culture that idolizes business CEOS and non-government leaders, who may have excelled in their distinctive lines of work. Our current batch of ed reformers think that if you can lead a corporation successfully, you can lead a school system, even though you have never taught a single class.

What can the United States learn from the Finns? Here’s Sahlberg’s three takeaways from the article and my commentary:

  1. First, the United States needs to reconsider those policies that advocate choice and competition as the key drivers of educational improvement. Not a single one of the best educational systems in the world rely on them. Sahlberg points out that Finland shows that a “consistent focus on equity and cooperation, not choice and competition,” leads to an education system where all students learn well. The United States is a world leader among developed countries in poverty rates and in income disparities. We continue to hang on to the American Dream (Myth) to our own peril. Education reformers believe that the same market-based system we have used to distribute income in this country will work for our education system. It will work as advertised. Those with resources under this system will get a quality education; those without resources will not.
  2. Provide teachers with government-paid university education and more professional support for their work. Make teaching a respected profession. The Obama administration education policy has done a great deal to erode professional support for teachers and respect for teachers. While both President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan talk about supporting teachers, their words and actions indicate the contrary. When the Secretary of Education applauds mass firings and the posting of student test scores tied to individual teachers, one hardly believes that he truly supports teachers. This administration no longer has credibility in this area when it claims to support teachers.
  3. Finally, Sahlberg says the United States has “much they can learn from these other world education systems.”  Will Americans let go of their pride and undying belief in American exceptionalism long enough to learn from these countries? I’m not sure culturally this country is ready for that.

After reflecting on Sahlberg’s article, I am not convinced that the United States can learn from Finland or any other country for that matter. Too often politicians with political agendas and a persistent belief that this country is somehow better than the rest of the world prevents us from looking to others for better ways of doing things. Our insistent belief in doing things our way, and pride will most likely cause us to continue to look for “educational silver bullets.” Instead of showing arrogance, perhaps it’s time to look for ideas to improve education in places that have found some answers.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

No Excuse for Third World Schools in Country That Bails Out Bankers for $700 Billion

Perhaps as we approach the New Year, it’s time to reflect on the progress during the past year the Obama administration has made on educational issues.

We certainly can thank the Obama administration for putting education on the forefront of a national debate that is truly beginning to ask the question, “How do we make our education system more effective?”

Where most of us disagree with this administration is its persistent “Blame-the-teacher” approach to reforming schools. In this culture created by this administration, billionaires have now taken on the job of self-appointed educational experts, and have continued with the Obama administration’s message that demonizes teachers’ unions, and seeks to continue the effort to de-professionalize the teaching profession. All this rhetoric continues to ignore some of the real problems with our American education system: lack of commitment to provide equitable resources for all students in this country.

Bill Gates and Arne Duncan continue to crow the mantra that: “More money will not resolve the problems in our education system.” Perhaps that’s true if you are looking for a cheap solution that only hides or shifts around the symptoms of those problems, like calling for charter schools does.

A lot of people had hope that with the election of our first African-American president, many of these educational inequities would be addressed. Instead, we’ve had a continuation of George W. Bush’s education policy that places testing at the center of everything we do. We’ve had a President who relies more on business leaders and right-wing think tanks for advice on education matters rather than listening to real education experts like Linda Darling-Hammond, Diane Ravitch, and those who spend their lives in schools and in classrooms. And, we’ve had a President who, instead of being open to the criticism of professional educators, only resorted to dismissing them as “for maintaining the status quo.” In sum, this year “We’ve had little change in education that we could believe in.”

I recently stumbled on this video excerpt from the film “Corridor of Shame: Neglect of South Carolina’s Rural Schools.” I realize it’s an old video, but my favorite writer, Pat Conroy, has an introduction at the beginning of this video that I think captures the real problem in public education. I read his autobiographical book The Water Is Wide several years back about his experiences of trying to teach poor kids on Danfuskie Island, and I was moved by his passion to attempt everything he could to reach those kids. But in reality, the gaps in educational resources were often much too great, even for a Davis Guggenheim “Superman” teacher or principal. Pat Conroy states in this video, that he’s afraid “the water’s grown wider” in recent years for these kids in rural schools. I have to agree. With a Presidential administration sidetracked into believing in reforms that totally leave out educators, and ignores the role of poverty in education, that river has turned into an ocean.

Corridor of Shame: Neglect of South Carolina's Rural Schools

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fostering an Environment of Innovation and Experimentation in 21st Century Schools

If I want an innovative staff, I can't just talk the talk; I have to be willing to innovate too. Sometimes that's hard. After being in public education so long, the temptation is to just go along with the protection inertia provides. Yet, true innovation will ask both teachers and administrators to take risks. Here’s some principles of innovation I consider to be important:

1. Sometimes you have to get out of the way. The teacher side of me gets excited when I hear teachers talk about something new. The administrator side of me wants caution and care in order to avoid upsetting policy and the higher-ups. I have to sometimes shove the administrator away just a bit. If we are going to be innovative as a school, then we're not always going to do the "safe thing." I have to remind myself of that at least a thousand times a week. Sometimes, if our teachers are being truly innovative, my job is going to be a bit more difficult. Let’s just say I might have a whole of explaining to do at times.

2. Sometimes you have to move out front. Leading means sometimes being in the front when it comes to technology and innovation. It means that as leader, I am out there experimenting too. If the expectation is innovation, then school leaders must be willing to practice what they preach. For example, I am sitting here this evening trying to complete my first blog post using software and my iPad alone. I am using technology and software I have not used before to carry out a task. As leaders we can't expect our teachers to move out of our comfort zones if we ourselves are not willing to do so. True innovation means we live at the edge of that comfort zone.

3. Sometimes you have to suspend belief. Logic and the normal way we do things sometimes gets in the way of trying out the new and novel. If we want our teachers to try out new ways of doing things, then we need to move out and suspend what we normally see as the way to do things. While we don’t want to suspend common sense and solid research, we have to let go of long held beliefs to adopt the new and innovative.
In The Innovator’s Way: Essential Practices for Successful Innovation by Peter Denning and Robert Dunham innovation is defined as “the adoption of a new practice in a community.” It is vital that as teachers attempt to innovate successfully, I exercise leadership that boldly supports them and not hinder them.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Is Comparing PISA Scores an Exercise in Futility?

Dr. Jim Taylor’s post “PISA Test Doomsayers May Have It Wrong” puts some perspective on how our students did in comparison to other countries. We are bombarded every day by those who have declared our educational system “unsalvageable” and in need of reform, but Taylor points out clearly what those who get hung up on the numbers fail to acknowledge. Perhaps is futile to compare US student performance to other countries because to do so ignores some very big differences. Here’s just a few of those differences:
  • US has one of the highest poverty rates among developed countries. 22 percent of Americans live in poverty compared to Finland a Denmark who have poverty rates under 3 percent.”
  • About half of the 40 million elementary and secondary students in the United States qualify for free or reduced lunches.
  • The United States has the greatest income inequity among developed countries as well.
  • The United States has the greatest demographic diversity with more than 25 percent of our students who speak English as a second language.
  • The United States has one of the highest low-birth weight and worst access to health care to any of these countries.
Taylor goes on to show, if you break down international test scores into equivalent groups, the United States does just about as well as any of the countries at the top of the list.
I must agree with Dr. Taylor though when he admits that for a large segment of our students, the education system does not work. He puts that segment at 60 percent. We do need to find a way to make education work for all our students.
Let’s not minimize the real problems we have in our schools and education system. We do have some persistent and difficult problems in our schools. But instead of panic and dispensing with the rhetoric of gloom and doom, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

UPDATE: This afternoon, I stumbled across this post from NASSP entitled "PISA: It's Poverty Not Stupid."  It shows even more dramatically what happens when the United States poverty rate is taken into consideration with these international comparisons.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

3 Reasons an Administrator Needs an iPad

For over a month now, I have been testing the capabilities of my iPad, and I have to admit, it has now become a seamless part of both my professional life and personal life. I would encourage all administrators to consider investing in an iPad for three reasons.

1. The iPad increases my level of "connectedness" to my staff and to PLN. Let's face it, taking a laptop into a meeting is a bulky enterprise at minimum. I have gotten into the habit of taking my iPad into every meeting I attend. During those meetings I am always connected to my teachers back in their classrooms. Using Skype and Google Talk, we can always be in contact even when I'm not in the building. For example, back at school, a teacher might have a question about whether I can attend a parent meeting that afternoon. They Skype me asking about my schedule. I immediately respond that I'm available or suggest a better meeting date or time. The combination of having my iPad and software like Skype gives me a level of "connectedness" with my staff at all times that was once not possible. I also gained another level of connectedness with my PLN using Twitter’s iPad app and the BlogPress app which allows me to compose and post blog posts using my iPad.

2. The iPad increases the level of my access to the cloud. With the applications like Dropbox, Google Docs, and Docs to Go, I have access to my entire professional document library with my iPad. I can type a letter and save it to my Google Docs or Dropbox, and have immediate access to that document using my Docs to Go app. I can type on my iPad  the outline of a letter to be sent to my parents and save it to edit and print later using my desktop. Another great function of the iPad is that I can access documents like our student-parent handbook on my iPad at any time.

3. The iPad increases my ability to manage the day-to-day tasks of my job. With apps like GoTasks and Google App for iPad, I am able to easily add tasks to my to do list and dates to my calendar. For example, should I find myself in a meeting and someone requests a meeting date, I can access my Google Calendar, locate an acceptable date, and add it to my calendar. The iPad provides just one more access point to my Google Tasks and Google Calendar.

Getting an iPad should be a "no-brainer" for the administrator. It provides increased connectivity, increased access, and a higher level of job manageability. Just make sure you download the right apps.

Short List of Must Have iPad App List for Administrators

Skype for iPad

Dropbox for iPad

Docs-to-Go for iPad

GoTasks for the iPad

Google App for the iPad

Twitter for iPad

BlogPress for iPad

Friday, December 17, 2010

Top 5 Blog Posts for 2010

The 21st Century Principal blog is almost a year old, and it has been quite an adventure. I have learned a great deal about blogging do’s and don’t’s in the past year, but I won’t bore everyone with those yet. Instead, I would like to share my Top 5 Five Blog Posts for 2010. Looking at my statistics, these were the posts that have been accessed the most during the course of this past year.

1. Could “Race to the Top” Be the Next Four-Letter Word After NCLB? In retrospect, when Race to the Top was announced, it made a large number of educators skeptical, including me. After enduring the ludicrousness of NCLB for the past several years, we are all afraid of having ed reform “done” to us again. Only time will tell whether this reform effort will truly make a difference.

2. Teacher Welcomes Texting in Classroom: 21st Administrators Need to Welcome Teacher Experimentation  This post includes a video of a teacher who thinks outside the box with texting. I said it, and I still mean it: Administrators need to support technology experimentation, and sometimes that means removing barriers to experimentation. And sometimes it means cleaning up a mess or two when the experiments don’t work. It’s called risk, and innovation must have it.

3. My Favorite 21st Century Administrator Tools as of Today: August 10, 2010 This post was a list of five  essential and mostly free technology tools that I still use now.  These tools are must-haves for school administrators. I might add a few more iPad apps to that list now though.

4. 5 Considerations for Allowing Students to Use Personal Computing Devices on School Wireless Networks With this post, I received a lot of emails regarding our policy for allowing students to use their own computers with our school wireless network. More and more schools are looking at providing students with this kind of access, and having procedures in place to make that happen are important.

5. Edmodo: Alternative Social Media Tool for Classrooms Using Facebook in schools makes many administrators and teachers a bit queasy due to all the security and privacy issues. This post is about Edmodo, an alternative social media solution. I have two teachers working with it now. It’s a fantastic tool.

Best Twitter Resources from 2010

Twitter is a powerful tool with which educators can engage in a global conversation about teaching and learning. Its power is in its ability to allow users to connect and to share. In the two or three years I have been using Twitter, I have been able to connect with some of the best minds in the education business.  It is central to my own professional learning network.

Some Twitter Resources for Year 2010

50 Power Twitter Tips by Chris Brogan

Top 20 Sites to Improve Your Twitter Experience by Vadim Lavrusik

26 Twitter Tips for Enhancing Your Tweets by Debbie Hemley

The Complete Guide to Getting the Most Out of Twitter by Cameron Chapman

25+ Incredibly Useful Twitter Tools and Firefox Plugins

Effective Twitter Backgrounds: Examples and Current Practices

99 Essential Twitter Tools and Applications

8 Useful Tips to Become Successful with Twitter

Twitter: 10 Psychological Insights

The Quick Guide to Twitter Chats

Twitter in Plain English Video

Thursday, December 16, 2010

5 Simple Classroom Management Principles

Learning to manage a classroom of students was the most difficult thing for me in my first years as a teacher.   For new teachers, managing that classroom of first graders or twelfth graders is often an baptism of fire. It seems no matter how much you learn about this topic, there is always room for improvement for all of us.
One of the first big lessons for me as a classroom teacher was learning to strategically choose my battles. That first year of teaching I quickly found out that I did not have 30 students sitting on the edge of their seats listening to my every word. One common reaction is to suddenly bombard students with rules and regulations. One veteran teacher told me then, “You need to crack down on them at the beginning. That way you it’s a lot easier to lighten up later in the year.” Another teacher told me, “You need to avoid having too many rules. Be lively and lighten up on them. You’ll have a much better time teaching and they will have a better time learning.” With that contradictory advice, it’s a wonder I didn’t just throw my hands up and walk out of the classroom forever. What I really learned from these two teachers was, “I just have to find out what works for me. It’s all in the teaching style.” I did find what works for me and survived in the classroom for 16 more years before moving into administration.
And that’s the issue. As much as I would love to offer some earth-shattering advice to new and old teachers about classroom management, it just “ain’t” gonna happen. Honestly, I can talk about what worked for me and that’s all. So here are four principles that guided my classroom management. Those principles are:
  1. Always let a student maintain dignity. No one likes to be singled out in front of their friends. When I dealt with misbehavior, I always tried to make sure that it was not in any way a public, personal attack on the student. If the student loses face among his peers, you have lost the war. I always tried to speak privately with a student about his misbehavior, not eviscerate him in front of his peers.
  2. Never take yourself or subject so seriously that you lose sight of the fact that you’re teaching students. With the high-stress testing culture, this is hard to do sometimes, but we can’t ever forget that those kids sitting in our class have needs and wants quite different from what we have. The best teachers crack a joke every now and then. I used to have a corny joke of the day or story to share with my students. While I am not great at one-liners, I can do some pretty dumb stuff now and then, and “dumb stuff” can be real funny sometimes. You just have to be willing to laugh at yourself.
  3. Be transparent to your students. Students appreciate teachers who admit mistakes and say they’re sorry. More than once over the years I made mistakes, but I tried to make it a point to sincerely publicly apologize.
  4. Enlist your students, when possible, in keeping order in the classroom. While high school students don’t often like to be classroom monitors and rat each other out, if you create the right kind of climate, your students will remind each other when they are out of line. It is hard to do this though, because you have to get out of the way and let them do it.
  5. Keep those class rules to minimum. I have worked with teachers who had 25 class rules posted on the walls of classrooms. It’s not hard to guess what they spent most of their class time doing: enforcing rules. Having four of five rules that cover a lot of behaviors always worked best for me, but to limit it to just four or five means you have really decide what behaviors are most important.

Those are five classroom management principles that worked for me. The key to solid classroom management for me was integrating ideas that I tried into my teaching style. In the end, the advice given to me by the first principal I worked for was probably the best: “Just have fun teaching! If you aren’t enjoying it, the kids aren’t enjoying it.”

Classroom Management Resources

Smart Classroom Management: This is an excellent blog with a lot of practical advice about the subject. You need to subscribe to this one.

The Teacher’s Guide: This web site has links to all kinds of classroom management advice.

Discipline with Dignity: I have two editions of this book at home, the 2nd and 3rd, and I began teaching with the 1st edition. This solid book gives teachers a comprehensive approach to classroom discipline. I found quite a few gems in this book over the years.

Education World Classroom Management Archive: This is quite an extensive list of resources for classroom management tips and ideas. It has been in existence for sometime, but it is an excellent starting place for classroom management.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Facebook Filtering: Solution or Innovation Hindrance?

Does Facebook have any instructional value? That has been the question I have explored this week. What answer does this administrator arrive at? “Maybe.” If you set aside the issues of staff productivity concerns, legal concerns, student safety concerns, and potential data security concerns, I still come to the conclusion that maybe Facebook and like social media applications have classroom potential. Where does that leave me as an administrator? I am still open to its possibilities, but after my little informal Twitter poll, I am not convinced entirely it’s the best social media solution for the most common uses that were provided to me. The top five uses provided to me by Tweeters on my PLN were:

  1. Communication to Parents and Community
  2. Tool to provide guidance and instruction to student in proper use of social media
  3. Writing Instruction
  4. Collaboration with Other Students
  5. Sharing of media

In the course of my explorations, and with the help of my PLN, I did collect some interesting Facebook resources.  Here’s some of the best.

Interesting Facebook Resources

Drive Belonging and Engagement in the Classroom Using Facebook (PDF)

The Very Unofficial Facebook Privacy Manual

YouTube Video: Facebook Top 20 Learning Applications

A Teacher’s Guide to Using Facebook

Facebook Apps for E-Learning

Using Facebook to Connect with Students and Parents

8 Real Ways Facebook Enriched Ms. Schoenig’s First Grade Class

Schools Should Not Block Social Networking Sites

50 Useful Facebook Tips for Teachers

The final lesson I take this week from my exploration of Facebook in the classroom specifically, and social media generally is this: Administrators must be extremely cautious in wielding the filtering-ax. Let’s not destroy innovation by knee-jerk reactions. There is risk in experimentation, and that means there are going to be some messes to clean up once in a while.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Educational Use of Social Media: Some Logistics and Legal Concerns

What should you consider if you are going to establish a Facebook page for your school or district? Are there any possible legal pitfalls for having and maintaining a social media presence? How can you make sure staff members who are using a social media presence to promote the school, district, or their classroom are not violating the law or propriety? As schools and school districts try to establish a social media presence, there are some potential legal issues to consider as well as logistic issues.
Establishing a social media presence is important in the 21st century, because that environment is where an increasing number of our constituents and community spend their time. Just walk through the business section of the bookstore today, and you will now find a whole section of books that focus on social media and marketing. Businesses have learned that social media environments like Facebook are just another way to promote themselves and their products and services. Schools and school districts can benefit from that promotion too, but there are special considerations for these organizations that do not necessarily apply to businesses.
The first group of considerations are the legal ones. This article from the National Law Review “Legal Issues for a School Board to Consider Before Creating or Approving a Facebook Page,” and this presention posted by lawyer Daliah Saper on Slideshare “Legal Implications of Social Media” does an excellent job of describing the legal landmines school organizations must navigate around. Here’s a summary of those considerations:
  • Freedom of Speech and Public Forum Issues: Case law obviously grants individuals the free speech right to post or speak in any context that could be regarded as a public forum. Some lawyers argue that one might be able to make the case that allowing open comments on a social media page could be considered a public forum. The implications of this would mean that deleting and removing comments that were deemed inappropriate or unsatisfactory by the school district would be seen as censorship and a violation of the poster’s first amendment rights. School administrators would do well to consider this argument, and any procedures regarding the removal of material posted as comments, if they allow comment posting at all.
  • Public Records Laws: While no court has yet to issue an opinion regarding whether a social media page is public record, because it is published by a public institution, one could possibly make this argument. In light of this, schools and school districts need to possibly consider processes for archiving information posted on such sites.
  • Open Meetings Laws: This concern would mainly apply to school board communications. According to the National Law Review, it is conceivable that three or more members could post comments or opinions on a district Facebook site. It is possible the argument could be made that this constitutes a violation of open meeting laws.
  • Confidentiality Laws: Federal and state law limits the disclosure of personally identifiable student information. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) prohibits the disclosure of health information of both students and employees. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act protects the privacy of students’ educational records. It is possible that someone would post information in violation of these two laws. It might be important for schools to have processes and procedures in place to make sure information posted is monitored and removed if found in violation.
  • Student Discipline Issues: If a school or district allows postings or comments, it would be possible for a student to post controversial, harassing, disrespectful or other undesired comments on the page. There may be some legal issues regarding whether the school or district has a right to remove such comments because it might be argued that those comments are protected speech.
  • Copyright Laws: Facebook pages and other social media environments are based on the idea of sharing both written comments and other media Because of this, it is possible that someone using a district social media page could post some media item violating copyright law. Again, the district would need some kind of monitoring to ensure that copyrighted material is not posted on its social media site.
  • Badmouthing School or School District: For lack of a better word, “badmouthing” seems to describe when an employee posts derogatory comments about a school or school district on a social media site. While arguments could be made that such postings are free speech, schools and school districts need to be prepared for how they will respond to these postings.
  • Social Media Sites Used to Harass Others: The act of allowing employees use of social media, may mean that they will post comments that could be seen as abusive and harassing. Schools and districts need to have plans and procedures in place for how they will respond to these comments.
With these issues in mind, here are some additional questions to consider regarding the  use of a school or district social media page:
  • Are you going to allow comments on your social media pages?
  • How are you going to archive postings on your social media page?
  • What guidelines and policies will be in place to address the posting and comments of board members on social media pages?
  • How are you going to make sure confidential information will not be posted in violation of FERPA and HIPPA?
  • Who will monitor postings on school and district social media pages to make sure confidential material is promptly removed?
  • How will abuse and improper use of the social media pages by students and staff be handled?
  • What is the plan to ensure that information or postings on your social media pages are not in violation of copy right laws?
  • How will the school district and administration respond to postings that are highly critical of administration?
  • How will the school of district handle the use of social media pages to harass others?
Here are some logistical considerations for schools and school districts looking at using social media:
  • Who owns the social media page? If that page is used by a district employee for the official business of the school system, does it not belong to the school district?
  • What policies will guide employees in the use of personal social media accounts in conducting official school and district business? The best advice is that no employee will use a personal social media site to conduct school or district business. To do so causes a lot of questions about privacy and public information. This will also take care of the issue of whether teachers should friend students on Facebook sites.
  • What procedures are in place to ensure that passwords and log-ins to official school and district pages are provided to the right people? Is the district going to have one person who manages access to these social media sites?
  • Who will monitor all social media sites for the district?
  • Will the district have a clear social media policy?
In this age, having a social media presence is important for schools and districts. But because schools are government entities, there are legal and logistical considerations that other organizations do not have. Here are some additional posts and resources on the use of social media by educational organizations.

Interesting Resources for Social Media in Schools

Legal Issues for a School Board to Consider Before Creating and Approving a Facebook Page
Twitter and Facebook: The New Tools of Productivity or Distraction
Slideshare Document: Government and Social Media-The Legal Issues to Consider
Slideshare Presentation: Legal Implications of Social Media

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Future Educational Leaders Need Ability to Manage Technology Shifts

I stumbled across this post from Matthew Ingram entitled “Future Leaders Will Be Those Who Can Manage Technology Shifts.”

According to Ingram, “The big question for businesses today is how they adapt to (technology progression) and particularly how the leaders of companies handle the implementation of technology inside their organizations, and try to help their employees evolve and succeed. And the leaders of the future will likely be those who are flexible enough to move with those changes, rather than the people who moved up through the ranks the traditional ways.”

Leadership in schools will also require this same ability to adapt and help others adapt to the progression of technology. That means having leaders who embrace technological change rather than trying to keep it outside the building. (Hence my argument regarding Facebook.) If we are going to be educational leaders in this quickly shifting technological landscape, we need to be agile in every way possible.

In the video below, Allen Delattre makes an excellent argument for needing a new kind of business leader able to manage technology shifts. Much of what he says could be applied to educational leadership as well.

Watch live streaming video from gigaomtv at
Leadership for Managing Technology Shifts

Administrator’s Dilemma: Facebook-Yes or No?

What good is Facebook in education? That question and several variations of it is what I asked on Twitter two days ago. As schools continue to encounter both teacher and student issues with this social media environment, the pressure to block access is going to get more intense.  (See my previous post “Social Media: Facebook-What Good Is It? All of the Tweets or responses I received about the educational value of Facebook basically can be summarized in the six following items:

  • Facebook as a communication tool
  • Facebook as a tool to teach responsible social media behavior
  • Facebook to teach students about social media advertising
  • Facebook to teach communication skills such as writing
  • Facebook to teach students how to research
  • Facebook to teach students how to collaborate in social media environment

My next question to each of these was, “Is Facebook the best tool for accomplishing that goal or learning?’ I’m not sure I ever received a solid answer to that question, and the reason is fairly obvious now. It is perhaps impossible to argue the value of Facebook from a strictly educational perspective. It’s true value lies in the capability to connecting people, and in sharing information, video, photos, games, and other things. That is what it’s designed for, and educational tasks and learning that call for this connecting and sharing could be facilitated by using Facebook. But, I am still not entirely convinced that this social media platform is the best one for connecting students, teachers, and people resources. I am equally unconvinced that Facebook is the best means of sharing information and media. There are other alternatives much more suited for this.

In face of the pressure to block access, can we justify keeping Facebook access for both teachers and students? Of course there’s the usual arguments that you’ve got to trust your staff to be professionals, and that you shouldn’t punish the whole for the sins of the few. But are these enough to argue successfully for open access? The student argument for Facebook access in school becomes even more problematic. Why should students be able to log into Facebook during school hours? Those of us who have been in administration for awhile have had our share of “Facebook-related” discipline issues, and those alone make us want to curse its existence. It would make our job somewhat easier if Facebook did not exist, but does blocking access to it on our school networks make it go away? Does it lessen in any way my Facebook-related discipline referrals? No, because many students can access it on their smartphones now, and they have access to it everywhere else anyway. Are we going to ban them next because we want to keep schools Facebook-free zones?

Ultimately, I arrive at the following rationale for keeping access to Facebook open: It is a total exercise in futility to try to block access to it. It is waste of time, money, and already scarce resources to try to regulate access. Today we find ourselves trying to regulate access to Facebook, tomorrow it will be some other site. I don’t know about other administrators, but I have enough other battles to fight with a whole lot more severe consequences.

Social Media: Facebook-What Good Is It?

Just Google “teachers, facebook, inappropriate” and a flood of articles appear relating the indiscretions and sins of teachers who have overstepped the bounds of propriety by posting inappropriate statements, pictures, and videos on Facebook and other social media accounts.

This past October, three teachers in New York were fired for having inappropriate relationships with students on Facebook. One of those relationships led to a sexual relationship. In November 2008, five North Carolina teachers got into hot water for posting inappropriately on Facebook. The phenomenon is not limited to the United States either, nor is it limited to just Facebook. In May of 2009, a teacher in Scotland used Twitter to post inappropriate Tweets. She criticized the school’s management and tweeted about personally identifiable information about individual students in her classes.

When you read these news stories your immediate reaction is to question the sanity and intelligence of people who do these kinds of things, yet, what schools are struggling with is a very unique 21st century problem: the power of social media to connect people in ways that once was not possible, and the ability of individuals to share information in and about their lives on a scale not possible before. The knee-jerk reaction of school administrators in response to these kinds of incidents is to simply shut down access to all social media in the schools with the belief that will resolve the issues.

Added to the concern about teachers using social networking inappropriately, is the concern about loss of productivity. In August 2010, the Tech Journal South stated emphatically that “Social Networking at Work Leads to Productivity Loss.” In Europe, the concerns are echoed where it is believed that billions are lost through social media. Wading through these articles makes you wonder if there is any redeemable quality for social media at all. In article after article, the “evils of social media” are reiterated over and over again. Then there’s the studies. A Nucleus Research study found that nearly half of office employees access Facebook at work, and that companies lose on average 1.5 percent of total office productivity when employees have access during the workday. According to a study performed by the British employment law firm Peninsula, “about $ 264 million is lost per day by British corporations due to office workers dillydallying on Facebook.” This same study also said 233 million hours are lost every month as a result of employees “wasting time” on social networking.

With all of this negativity, is there any value to be found in social media beyond its ability to connect people in ways and on a scale never before possible? If social media causes all these problems, then how can we argue that teachers and students need access to these during the school day?  Based on the problems that Facebook causes with both students and teachers, do you think school administrators are justified in blocking all access to social media in schools? Is there any rationale to offset the compelling argument that social media only causes “people to dillydally” and waste time?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Edmodo: Alternative Social Media Tool for Classrooms

Recently, I posted a series of questions on Twitter that asked for ideas and examples of effective use of Facebook as a classroom or instructional tool. I received only one example, and that was from a teacher who uses Facebook as a classroom communication tool. What was even more surprising, were the Tweets that suggested that Facebook be kept as far away from the classroom as possible. Most posters suggested that there were much safer and better alternatives to Facebook. One of those posters reminded me of Edmodo.

I actually experimented a bit with Edmodo back in the summer when I set up my account. It’s interface looks easy enough, and it has some features that make it much more suited for classroom use than Facebook, or even Twitter. This site is designed for educational interaction. It has a public timeline for whole class or group postings and the ability to direct message within groups. Teachers can post assignments, announcements, and reminders to students as well. It even has a calendar feature as well.

Here’s a collections of other blog posts, links, and how-to videos that provide all the “How-tos” for this free classroom web tool.

15 Brilliant Ways to Use Edmodo in Your Classroom

Using Edmodo in the Classroom: 5 Days Later

Using Edmodo in the Classroom (A Presentation)

Blog Post Commenting on Edmodo’s Features

Edmodo: Microblogging Solution for the Classroom

Social Networking Power with Edmodo in the Classroom

Using Edmodo in Your Classroom: Provide an Online Learning Experience for Students

Edmodo Is a Twitter for Education

Edmodo-A Free Web 2.0 Classroom Management Tool

Edmodo: Tutorial Video

Learning Telecollaboratively: Edmodo-The Free Communication Platform for Education

List of Resources for Using Edmodo in the Classroom

Learn It in 5: How-to Video on Edmodo

YouTube Video: Edmodo, Microblogging in the Classroom

New Features in Edmodo YouTube Video

Edmodo Instructions for Teachers Part 1 YouTube Video

Edmodo Instructions for Teachers Part 2 YouTube Video

Edmodo Instructions for Teachers Part 3 YouTube Video

Edmodo Instructions for Teachers Part 4 YouTube Video

Presentation: Using Edmodo in Your Classroom

While all of these resources focus on the classroom, I can’t help but wonder whether it is possible for administrators to use this tool for professional learning and discussions. There must be more resources and ideas for using Edmodo. Please feel free to share.