Monday, October 31, 2011

Call Me an E-Bibliophile: No More Traditional Books for Me

I can announce as of today, I am a completely converted E-Book reader. I haven’t purchased a book in physical form in over five months. For someone who historically purchased four to five books a month, that is a significant change, and I’m sure it makes book publishers nervous.

What’s really interesting about my whole e-book experience is that I remember distinctly saying when someone suggested I buy a Kindle, “I just don’t see myself curling up with one of those newfangled devices for a good read.” The truth is, I fought well for the traditional book, and vowed I wouldn’t use one of those things. Ultimately though, it turns out that “newfangled device” is pretty comfortable to use, and words are words are words. Does it really matter if they are on paper or on a screen? Perhaps for me, the real beauty is in the words anyway. Besides there are other things about e-books that make them attractive to the book lover. Here’s some more things that have hastened my conversion.
  • I now have access to my library on any device.  Now that I have Kindle apps loaded on every electronic device I own, I can read my books anywhere. I have the Kindle app on my iPad, on both my PCs, my Android phone, Kindle Cloud Reader in my Chrome browser, and I even own a Kindle too. I can literary read anywhere and at any time. In all fairness, I should also mention I had any time access when I carried my book with me too, but when I failed to bring it with me, I was left standing and wondering, “If I only had my book.” Now, with all the apps and devices, chances are my book is following me around instead of me carrying it around.
  • I can literally tote a 72 volume library around with me. I am one of those readers who reads five to eight books simultaneously which created an burdensome problem. When I had to carry around all those books, it usually meant toting around a heavy book bag. No need to worry with my Kindle library. I literally have a library at my side at all times. No more heavy book bags for me.
  • I can easily take notes and underline things to remember. I am an avid highlighter and note taker. I take notes and underline quotes constantly as I read. I could do this with a physical book, but that meant I had to make sure I had the note taking tools with me while reading. With my Kindle apps, I have a highlighter and note taking tool at my fingertips at all times, so when I come to a memorable line or quote I want to highlight, I can do so without searching for them.
  • I can buy a new book with the click of a button. This is not necessarily a good thing. It is too easy to buy a new book. But with my Amazon Kindle account, I can one-click download a book without the aggravation of going anywhere. This means I can get the book today, not to mention at a usually cheaper price too. I also means I’m tempted to buy books fairly often too.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my books. I have quite a collection lining the walls in my home. And, I love the smell of paper pages and the way the pages feel on my fingertips as I turn the pages as much as the next bibliophile. But, I have been able to sacrifice those experiences with little regret. I suppose you can now call me an e-bibliophile.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

2 Tools Administrative Tech Tools to Engage Staff in 21st Century Collaboration

One of the ways school leaders can model 21st century teaching and learning is by engaging with their staff in the use of 21st century tools. One category of tools that is quite easy for administrators to implement is communication and collaboration tools. There are quite a few communication and collaboration tools available, but here’s two that I have used with the staff and my school and some ideas on how to use them.

Google Docs:  Google Docs gives users the ability to share and modify word-processing documents,  spreadsheet documents, presentations, and forms. Users can also upload documents to Google Docs for sharing as well. In my role as principal, here’s some of the ways I’ve used this tool collaboratively:

1. School Improvement Planning: I uploaded our school improvement template to Google Docs and shared it out to staff. We used the same document in our planning meetings too. It made our school improvement planning even more collaborative. Any collaborative project works with Google Docs.
2. Scheduling Observations: I sent a Google Docs invite to staff to a document indicating the times I was available for their observations. Teachers signed up in blocks of available time for both their observation and post conference. Made scheduling much easier without having multiple people accessing my calendar which sometimes has confidential items on it.
3. Meeting Agendas: Instead of using copies, I have created the meeting agendas and placed them on Google Docs. Another way to go paperless.

Skype: Skype is one of those tools we find quite useful at our school. We have no intercom system, so this is an excellent way for staff to communicate during the school day when it is needed. It also has other interesting uses as well.

1. Impromptu Snow Day Faculty Meeting: During inclement weather last year, we all found ourselves snowed-in at our respective homes. Because we have all connected through Skype, we suddenly found ourselves discussing some school issues from the comfort and safety of our homes. We shared our thoughts and even arrived at a decision without the need for a meeting later that week.
2. Discussion Forum: On more than one occasion, one of our staff members have thrown out a discussion topic on Skype during the day that prompted some major discussion. Teachers could just comment and add to the discussion as the opportunity to do so arose. It is common practice for someone to also throw an idea out there for feedback too. Skype is a natural forum for that too.

There’s nothing fancy about our use of these tools for collaboration. It is so easy to implement simple uses for these tools. Leaders who want their teachers engaging in 21st century collaborative tools must be engaged in their use too.

What are your favorite 21st century collaborative tools? How are you using them to engage staff collaboratively? Please share.

Monday, October 24, 2011

21st Century Leaders Use 21st Century Methods to Communicate with Parents

Keeping parents informed has become rather easy in the 21st century. There are all kinds of tools for educators can use. I’ve personally tried blogs, wikis, and specifically designed web pages, but the bottom line is you just have to find what works best for your parents. My parents are email users. I have told them that the best way to contact me is through email, so they often use that first. It also means it is the quickest way I can get information out to them. My parent communications have become entirely paperless, so the forests can rest at ease. Central to my 21st century parent communication plan are the following:
  • Sending parents a weekly email update. I spent some time at the beginning of the year collecting parent email addresses and polishing my parent email contact list. Now, I have a reliable list of email addresses, so I just compose an weekly “Email Update” and send it them. Perhaps it is not as “sexy” as a blog, or as “techie” as a wiki, but it is highly effective. During the course of the week, I collect information to be shared in Evernote, Diigo, email folders, and even a sticky note pile on my desk. On Thursday afternoon, I usually begin compiling those items into what eventually becomes my “School Weekly Parent Email Update.” I include news and happenings from the week, information and advice, upcoming events, and a short calendar of events among many other things. It is the center of how I communicate with parents. (For those who still don’t use email, there’s a PDF version posted on our web site.)
  • Twitter Updates. This one is not quite as effective for me. Our parents just haven’t bought into Twitter yet. I’ve offered to show them how to set it up, but it just hasn’t taken root. However, we’ve installed a Twitter app on our main Web page, so our updates appear there for all to see. It is another way to get the word out.
  • Maintaining a Web announcement page. I still use our main Web page to make significant announcements. Parents do notice if your Web page never gets updated, and they are quick to let you know that too. I have a small section on our main page where I make significant announcements on a regular basis.
  • Computerized phone calling systems. I use this for significant announcements. Over used, and this one can be annoying. No one likes getting “telemarketing-like phone calls” each evening. Used strategically and parents will pay attention to your phone calls and not hang up. Use less seldom and for important announcements and parents will pay attention.
I realize there’s nothing really fancy about these items in my 21st century communication plan, but the reality is, 21st century communicators find out what works. They don’t just use a tech approach so they can say they use that approach. After all, what good is using any medium if there’s no one on the other end?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

10 Possible Ways For Administrators to Use Diigo

Like Evernote, Diigo is one of those powerful Web applications with a myriad of features. With a premium account, the versatility of this Web tool expands even more. The question of the day for me is this: What can Diigo do for me as an administrator? I have seen various resources on the Internet describing its classroom uses, but how are those features useful in my role as an administrator?

Recently, I began exploring the features of Diigo in earnest. In pondering possible uses for this social bookmarking application, here’s some that I have begun trying and have thought about trying.
  • Save bookmarks of Web resources and articles to later share with school staff. This is one way I am currently using Diigo. As I read through articles and posts in my Google Reader and from other places, I use the bookmarking feature of Diigo to store bookmarks of those resources. I also use this same feature to place bookmarks into the various teacher groups I have created. That way, I can customize my resource sharing to the groups who need them.
  • Use the highlighting feature to mark significant passages from a Web article or blog post and share those highlights with school staff. As I read through articles or blog posts, I use the Diigo toolbar to highlight items and passages I want to share with staff. I can share quotes or just the text I want to with specific teachers or with groups. This highlighting feature allows me to focus what I want to share.
  • Use the highlighting feature to draw the school staff’s attention to specific text for later discussion in PLCs. For example, suppose during the course of PLC discussion, a curriculum question arises for which no one has an answer. After that meeting, you could use Diigo’s highlighting feature to capture specific items from the Web that focus on an answer to those issues and questions. Use the sticky note feature to clarify what is highlighted or ask additional questions.
  • Use the Diigo notes to add information to the resources and to ask questions to guide staff into further reflection. For example, your could use the notes feature to clarify your thoughts and reflections to staff on some of the items shared. Your could also make suggestions about additional offline resources such as books and journals that might help them further reflect on the issues.
  • Explore other Diigo groups and recommend groups for staff to join for their own professional development. Also encourage them to create their own groups as well.  There are quite a few excellent educator groups already established. Encourage and suggest to your teachers groups they might find helpful and useful. They might also create groups around areas of education in which they are interested.
  • Based on an faculty-interested area of study, set up a Diigo group for information gathering, discussion, and resource sharing about this topic. For example, if your staff is interested in exploring Project-Based learning. Set up a Diigo group that is focused on the collecting and sharing of resources for this area of interest.
  • Use Diigo to gather and catalogue Web resources for your own growing professional library. Or, create an online professional library for others by creating a group and inviting your them to join. The gathering and resource sharing ability of Diigo makes it an ideal way to create a dynamic  and constantly evolving resource library. Giving others the ability to add more resources makes it even more dynamic.
  • Use Diigo as an online professional development tool. Instead of meeting face-to-face, use Diigo as a platform for focusing on professional development. For example, suggest resources to try through bookmarks. Then, ask group members to share their reflections on using those resources through sticky notes or notes.
  • Use a Diigo group as a collection point for resources for a faculty action-research project. Diigo can become a collaborative platform for focusing on an action-research project. Resources pertaining to the project can be shared and reflections on additional resources and actions can be added. Using the interactive features of Diigo can make it a central location for sharing and providing feedback to the group.
  • Create a Parent group to share Web resources with them. Make a dynamic online library for the parents of your school, by constantly adding Web resources you find.

Diigo Desktop Interface

Diigo is one of the most versatile tools in my personal Web 2.0 toolbox. Like many administrators, time has prevented me from fully exploring its potential. Perhaps this list is starting point for taking advantage of Diigo and turning it into an effective administrative tool.

Friday, October 21, 2011

If Only My Class Were a Video Game…Game Design for the Classroom

How many times have classroom teachers pondered statements like, “If my students engaged in learning like they do video games…”  Lots of teachers have decided that learning can't resemble video games and to try to do so cheapens the content. But there are a growing number of researchers out there beginning to earnestly ask the question, "Is it possible to design learning to resemble video games?" Or, can game design be used to create meaningful learning activities?

In her recent book, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, Jane McGonigal, digital game designer and researcher, asks a broader question but perhaps captures an answer similar to the question above, "What if we decided to use everything we know about game design to fix what's wrong with reality?" Her whole premise in the book is that many people are finding fulfillment in game worlds that they can't find in reality. According to McGonigal, "In the United States alone, there are 183 million active gamers, or individuals who spend an average of 13 hours a week engaged in game play." The numbers globally are even larger. McGonigal perhaps captures an interesting point about gamers and their gameplaying:

"The truth is this: in today's society, computer and video games are fulfilling genuine human needs that the real world is currently unable to satisfy. Games are providing rewards that reality is not. They are teaching and inspiring us in ways reality is not."

In other words, reality, including what we're doing in our classrooms is losing to gaming. Our students do not find what we're doing in our classrooms as fulfilling and meaningful. Problem-based learning is one attempt to make learning meaningful. But could it be possible to use gaming design to create meaningful learning activities too?

Andrew Miller of the Buck Institute, recently posted a potential answer to this question on Edutopia entitled, "Get Your Game On: How to Build Curriculum Units Using the Video Game Model."  In that post, he describes how teachers can create game-based learning units which apply "the process of using games to teach content, critical thinking, and other important outcomes." Here, I simply summarize some of his suggestions.
  • Begin with the end in mind. Is this really any different from other curriculum planning? You have to begin with what you want students to learn with game design too. What are the objectives? Goals? Learning targets?
  • Brainstorm for a rigorous scenario. Anyone who has spent time playing modern video games knows that central to game play is an overarching scenario in which individual quests or missions occur. When trying to design a learning unit using game-based design, create this scenario and offer within that the smaller quests or missions that capture intermediate goals.
  • Design quests. After the scenario is created, then pay attention to the individual quests or individual learning activities within the scenario. These should build toward resolution of the main scenario's issue or problem.
Educators are actually just beginning to scratch the surface of the kinds of learning that might be made possible through game-based curriculum designs. Perhaps instead of fighting and complaining about students wasting time on gaming, we should take heed. Design learning activities that capture what makes gaming so rewarding.

Here’s Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk, “Gaming Can Make a Better World.” Perhaps gaming can make a better classroom too.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Twitter Isn't Another Announcement System: It's SOCIAL MEDIA!

When I talk with other educators and administrators, I still encounter quite a bit of skepticism about the educational and professional potential of this social media device. Usually, that skepticism centers around the belief regarding its ability to have any kind of impact on an educator professionally. Many wonder, “How can anything enlightening or educational come from posting 140 character messages during the course of the day?” It turns out, a great deal can come from connecting professionally with other educators through Twitter.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to get a school administrator to do with Twitter is move and grow beyond just using it as another messaging system along with the Web page and phone messaging system. But using Twitter for this use alone completely discounts the greatest impact it can have on them personally and professionally. Such uses leave the “social” out and turns Twitter into just a medium for communication. Which is fine if that is your intention, but I am no longer sure you are engaging in social media use.

Twitter’s networking potential is enormous. There are few other Web tools that can literally connect a user with others around the globe. Educators who have Twitter accounts sitting idle, are not engaging in the power of this simple but powerful networking tool. They are not engaging is a social use of Twitter. In a sense, you might say they really are not using social media at all.

But what can a new Twitter user do to engage this social media tool in earnest? There have been quite of few posts across the blogosphere that dealt with this advice. I have posted a few times on this topic myself. With almost 3 years of Tweeting, what advice would I offer new administrators and educators engaging in the use of Twitter for the first time or trying to take a Twitter account out of idle? Well, perhaps here’s some Twitter advice from my latest experiences in Tweeting that might make that happen.
  • Pay attention to the content of what  you share through Twitter. As I’ve grown and become what I hope is a more seasoned Tweeter, I have cut back on the quantity of what I’m tweeting when I share resources. I have tried to share more articles and resources that I find interesting and I think others will find interesting. I try to share interesting quotes from books or articles I’m reading. These days I pay closer attention to the content of what I’m Tweeting.
  • Realize that there is nothing wrong with posting thoughtful and provocative Tweets. Obviously you need to protect yourself professionally and not post something that reflects negatively on your organization, but provocative tweets engage others in a Tweeting exchanges that can be informative. It helps to make sure your Twitter account does not in any way connect you to your employer or the school where you work. When I Tweet as the 21stprincipal, I am not Tweeting in my capacity as principal of a school. I have tried to make sure the 21stprincipal is a separate personality. I might refer to things happening on the job, or some of the successes I have experienced in my job, but what I say as 21stprincipal is my own personal and professional opinions and ideas and not those of the organization for which I work. It still means I must exercise caution.
  • Don’t use Twitter to share what you’re eating for lunch, or what you’re watching on TV. Well, truth is, sometimes that’s OK, but if that is the entire substance of your Tweets, then I doubt many will find your Tweeting engaging. Try to Tweet to share professionally and thoughtfully.
  • Try to master the art of saying a great deal with 140 characters. As a former English teacher who loves words, this is perhaps the most fascinating thing to me about Twitter. Trying to find a way to say the most with the least words and in a powerful way is both fun and challenging. Yet, that is what you need to do with Twitter. Expressing your thoughts or opinions with only 140 characters takes a great deal of thought. Trying to convey tone through a Tweet can be equally challenging. There have been many times a Tweet that I thought was humorous was taken seriously by others. I failed to convey the tone of the Tweet to readers and had to clarify with other tweets. Still, there is an author’s joy inside when the Tweet I’ve composed captures my sentiments entirely on a topic, idea, or issue.
In the end, I suppose Twitter could simply be a way for one to share out that they are having a hot dog at the City Diner, or sitting in front of the TV watching a movie. And, I’m also sure it can be an effective announcement system for events at the school. Still, I think those uses actually leave the “social” out of the media description of Twitter. To be social with Twitter, you’ve got to engage people socially, and you can’t do that with bland Tweets about what you had for lunch or about the dance your school is having Friday night.

Monday, October 17, 2011

4 Uses of Dropbox for Teachers and Administrators

Every so often someone comes along with one of those tech ideas that rise above other tech ideas. Dropbox is one of those ideas. Dropbox has become a regular part of my routine as school principal. I continue to find ways to stretch its uses. Here’s five good ways to use this cloud storage tool as a teacher and administrator.
  • Set up a faculty-staff forms and documents filing cabinet. Using Dropbox’s ability to share folders, create a folder entitled Faculty-Staff Forms & Docs. In that folder place all those school-wide forms everyone keeps asking you to send them copies of. For example, place the District Mileage Form, Textbook Request Form, and all those other forms you use as a school. Then, share that folder with your school’s entire faculty and staff. If they need a Discipline form, they can download from the Dropbox filing cabinet. Best of all, when it’s time to update a form. Just update the copy in the Faculty-Staff Forms & Docs Dropbox folder. No need to update drafts on a web site or worry about someone downloading and using an old form.
  • Use a Dropbox folder to collect bragging documents and items about your school. Create a folder and call it something like “Brag File” or some other name. When you encounter a document or item that shows your school in a positive light, dump it in the Brag File. Then, when you feel a need to brag to superiors, share the file  folder with them.
  • Let Dropbox be your portable file cabinet. I save every single document of substance I create in my Dropbox folders. For example, if I create an official letter to send to a parent, I save it in my Dropbox. If I have investigation notes I want to access anywhere, I put them in my Dropbox. Dropbox has become a cloud filing cabinet that follows me everywhere. This is extremely useful when a question arises about a letter sent or an investigation done. All I need do is find the file in my Dropbox.
  • Use Dropbox as a collection box for lesson plans and other teaching ideas for staff. I don’t usually ask my teachers to provide me with lesson plans, but if I did, why not have them dump them into a shared folder in Dropbox? Better yet, let that folder become the place where teachers dump teaching ideas and resources for all to share. It can be a resource collection in the clouds!
I am sure there are many other ways to take advantage of Dropbox’s capabilities. With iPad and Android apps your Dropbox literally does follow you everywhere. Perhaps the time has come when you can judge a school administrator’s commitment to 21st century education by the size of the file cabinet they keep in their office. Sorry, but mine is in the clouds!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

7 Ways Administrators & Educators Can Use Evernote

Recently, I received a email from someone in response to my post The 21st Principal's Top 10 Web Tools for Administrators asking me to be more specific on how I use each of these tools. Here’s a bit more explanation on how I use Evernote.

Evernote serves mainly as "an information collection tool",” though I use it as well for task management by placing my To-Do Lists there. I started out by creating seven notebooks, each of these notebooks serves a different purpose. Here are those seven notebooks and a description on how I use them.

  • Administrator Log Notes: An administrator I once worked for a principal who stated, "If it ain't documented, then it didn't happen." Those words have stuck with me all these years. As a principal, I try to document everything I possibly can. There was a time when I kept "administrator log" notes in a spiral bound book tucked in my desk. Then, I became a little more technology-oriented and began creating daily administrator logs as word documents, saved in a folder on my desktop. I finally moved them to Evernote last spring. I did this for three reasons. First of all, the Evernote interface is designed for the kinds of quick notetaking I have to do during the course of the day. Secondly, because I have an Evernote account, I can take my administrator log notes anywhere and I have access to them on multiple devices. Finally, I can use the Evernote tag words feature to catalog my notes for easy recall and access. One other factor that makes Evernote the perfect place for my Administrator Log notes includes the ability to easily export and share them either in other formats or through email.


Administrators Log in Evernote

  • Bloggers Notebook: While my blogging is mostly for personal-professional reasons and not directly connected to my role as principal, I use my Bloggers Notebook in Evernote as both a placed to collect blogging ideas and as a place to write early drafts of blog posts.


 Bloggers Notebook in Evernote

  • Email Update Ideas: I send a Weekly Email Update to both my staff and to parents every week. In each of these updates, I provide news and updates about the school, but I also share information and resources from the Web and elsewhere. Evernote serves as a temporary collection point before these items are shared. Often, I complete drafts of this Email Update in Evernote before I send the email version.


Email Update Ideas Evernote Notebook Entry

  • Filing Cabinet: This notebook is the catchall notebook for items from all other notebooks when I am finished with them. For example, when I’ve finished using a resource from the Email Update Notebook, I will move it to the filing cabinet. This saves it in case I need to refer to it later. Because I tag each item, it is fully searchable.


Filling Cabinet Notebook in Evernote

  • Inbasket Notebook: This notebook contains notes about items that are on the current To Do list, or items I need to be able to use to complete a task in the short term. Once I have finished with the items in this notebook, I move them to the Filing Cabinet Notebook.


Inbasket Notebook in Evernote

  • Theater Arts Lesson Plans: This year I am also teaching a Theater Arts class in addition to serving as principal. I have created a Theater Arts notebook in Evernote for my lesson plans. I use a simple template for each lesson plan.


Theaters Arts Lesson Plan in Evernote

  • To-Do Lists: I create a weekly to-do list every week in Evernote. I copy and paste any left over items from the previous week, and I use the check box feature before each item in the list. As the week and day progresses, I add items to the list and check off completed items.


To-Do List Notebook in Evernote

For me Evernote is exactly the right tool for my job as administrator. Its easy-to-use interface, no-worry formatting, and access-on-any-device-anywhere feature make it easily the one Web tool I use every single day.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Why Merit Pay Is Still a Bad Idea & Waste of Time

The Education Commission of the States (ECS), an organization whose stated mission is "to help states develop effective policy and practice for public education by providing data, research, analysis, and leadership" has released  a report entitled "More on Pay-for-Performance." In that report it describes Pay-for-Performance models, and it reviews the current research regarding pay-for-performance policies in schools. The studies they review are the following:

Nashville Tennessee's Project on Incentives in Teaching (POINT): In this study, it was found that bonus pay alone does not result in higher student performance.

Study of Six Teacher Incentive Fund Sites (Louisiana, Arizona, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas): This study boasted a laundry list of positives: 1) Greater academic growth, 2) Increases in teacher retention rates, 3) Increases in schools meeting AYP goals, 4) Increases in high school graduation rates, 5) Significant increases in math and reading proficiency, 6) Increases in teacher collaboration. According to the ECS report though, this wasn't a "study" at all because an experimental design was not used in the research so no one can really say these positives were attributable to the pay incentives.

What's more of interest in the ECS report are its suggesting policy implications.

  • "The theory of action for pay-for-performance may be flawed." The report draws the same conclusion that many of us educators in the field have been screaming loudly: "Incentives alone may not be sufficient to prompt improvement in teacher and student performance and to attract high-quality teachers to hard-to-staff schools and subject areas." There's no doubt that teachers want more pay. Who doesn't? But teaching and learning is such a complex process, achievement can't be reduced to a single test score. Paying incentives for test scores is morally wrong, and most teachers know that scores are the result of much more than the teaching and instruction they provide. As far as incentives for teachers to teach in hard-to-staff schools? What about dealing the with conditions at those schools that make them hard-to-staff? There's a reason teachers don't want to teach in those schools, and it certainly isn't necessarily just pay. The whole idea that you can use pay-for-performance schemes in education is flawed and will only turn our schools into places where test scores matter more than kids.
  • "Performance pay incentives may have a low motivation value as compared to accountability systems." In other words, the authors of the ECS study review suggest that NCLB may have "diminished the power of pay incentives." NCLB's penalties and sanctions could have possibly affected the effects of incentive pay, but what is objectionable to many educators is having a entire system of incentive and punishments based on test scores. That kind of system elevates "the test" to the center of everything that happens in the classroom. Most teachers find no joy in teaching test preparation. Both performance pay and performance punishments suck the joy from teaching and learning.
  • "Pay-for-performance reforms may take several years to realize their desired outcomes." This ECS statement frightens me. We know what pay-for-performance systems based on test scores do in the short term. The "test" is elevated to the center of the curriculum. Schools and classrooms turn into test-prep factories churning out students who have either acceptable or unacceptable scores. The whole idea of implementing that model long-term may destroy public education in the US. The truth is we don't know that the long-term implementation of performance pay will improve education either.
  • "Securing sustainable funding for pay-for-performance remains a challenge in the current economic climate." With this statement, the ECS is right on target. Even if states were to implement pay-for-performance schemes, they have difficulties funding the current pay schedules much less new pay schedules. What if they changed to a pay-for-performance scheme, and in the third year of that scheme, two-thirds of the teachers in a state meet the pay-for-performance standards specified by the pay scale? But the state only budgeted enough money for a third meeting those standards. State funding streams do not increase based on the performance of schools and teachers. It is relatively fixed.  The state in this case has two options: a) find more revenue, b) freeze the incentives pay due to lack of revenue. States rarely are willing to increase revenues because that usually means more taxes. They usually resort to the second option. They freeze pay. I can only imagine the effect of telling two-thirds of teachers in the state who were expecting a bonus, now suddenly finding out the money's not coming. But wait a minute! That's happened in North Carolina for the last four years. The state did away with testing bonuses when the economy went awry. Teachers were to get $1,500 or $750 bonuses based on test scores. Instead, they got nothing. Ultimately, what ECS is suggesting here is that pay-for-performance schemes for states may not be sustainable in both short term and long term.
Pay-for-performance schemes in education are not new, despite politicians and billionaire ed-reformers attaching the word "reform" to them. They have been used before. The reason they weren't continued is simple. They didn't work. Never mind that states and districts found out they couldn't afford to pay their promised bonuses. Pay-for-performance schemes ultimately are attempts to buy our way to a better school system. The problem is that price is too high and it is too-short-sighted.

Friday, October 14, 2011

21st Principal's Top 10 Web Tools for Administrators

If you're looking for some tools to put into your digital, administrative toolbox, or if you're looking for Web tools to teach to an administrator, here's my top ten that I use during the course of my job as a school administrator.
  1. Evernote: I've posted about this one many times, but it often is the first application I open in the morning. As I've said before, I use it to create my Weekly To-Do List and my Daily Administrator Log. I also use it, along with Diigo to capture resources throughout the week to share with teaching staff and others. In addition, I  use it for quick notes during a classroom visit, or meeting notes. Add an iPad app and an Android app, and I can use this one anywhere. This is by far my favorite tool as administrator. Check out Evernote for yourself.
  2. Twitter: I been using Twitter the longest. I've had a Twitter account since 2008. One way I use Twitter is through a school Twitter account to make  announcements.  Another way I use Twitter is through my  personal-professional Twitter account to share resources with my larger PLN and to engage in the international conversation about education. It is my premier tool for connecting with other educators.
  3. Diigo: This social bookmarking tool serves as one of my two resource collection tools. Evernote is the other. I use Diigo to bookmark resources, annotate interesting Web articles, cache interesting pages, and capture images. It is my primary bookmarking, resource collecting, and resource sharing tool.  
  4. Google Docs: I use Google Docs more often than Microsoft Office or any other Office Suite. I actually use it all: spreadsheets, word processing, forms, and presentations. The biggest advantage is that I can use it for collaborative documents. Things like an observation sign up sheet or my student parking registration system are a breeze on Google Docs.
  5. Blogger: I try to post to the blog often, but like many others, it is a challenge to run a school and find  time to write worthwhile blog posts. Still, throughout the day, I often log into to blogger to start drafts of future blogs. It is another way for me to share and connect with other educators worldwide.
  6. Dropbox: I access Dropbox every day as well. My administrative documents library follows me everywhere I go because of this app. I save all my documents into this application folder, and with the desktop apps installed on both my home and school computer, they follow me. Add the iPad and Android apps, and I can access these documents anywhere I happen to be.
  7. Edmodo: Edmodo is obviously an excellent tool for the classroom. It's social media-like environment enables interaction and facilitates class activities. From an administrative perspective, it can also be a tool for sharing on a wider network of fellow administrators and educators.
  8. Slideshare: I use this Web tool just a bit less than the others, but it is an excellent presentation sharing tool. I use it to share presentations from the trainings I do during the course of the year.
  9. Prezi: I am still learning this one, but it is an excellent alternative to the sometimes overused PowerPoint. With an Educator account and the desktop versions of the application, I can easily create presentations that are distinguished from slide presentations.
  10. This tool allows users to create embed codes for presentations and documents to place on Web pages. For example, I have used this app to create embedded versions of our student handbook and curriculum guide. It allows users to present documents on the Web in viewers instead of links of icons.

4 Ways to Bring Our Students to Excellence

David Shenk entitled Chapter 8 of his best-selling book, The Genius in All of Us, "How to Ruin (Or Inspire) a Kid."  In that chapter, Shenk offers advice to parents for fostering and guiding excellence in their children. He argues that the potential for creativity is "built into our brains" and that excellence is not something you either have or don't have. It is rather something within that awaits development.

In his book, Shenk offers parents a concise list things to do to foster and guide excellence in their children. While this list is addressed to parents, I can't help but believe teachers would find it useful too.
  1. Believe: We have to have faith in what Shenk calls "the enormous potential of a child." It is up to us to marshal the resources necessary to bring them to excellence. We have to believe in the extraordinary potential of every child.
  2. Support, don't smother: Setting high expectations and allowing students to demonstrate resilience in the face of challenges is important. Trying to protect them to the point of "smothering them" does not allow a student to grow in excellence. Give them support as they strive to achieve.
  3. Pace and Persist: As Shenk points out, "In the end, persistence is the difference between mediocrity and enormous success." Teaching students the ability to delay gratification is key. Demonstrate and be a model of self-control for students at all times. Allow students opportunities to demonstrate self-control.
  4. Embrace Failure: Weaknesses are opportunities. Failures open doors wide. Be careful to not give up on students who have failed. With them, turn failure into an opportunity.
If we want to foster a culture where excellence is the norm, we need to strive to foster values that bring out the best in our students and ourselves. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Evernote & Diigo: 2 Web Resources for the Connected Educator

There are two Web 2.0 products I have found reason enough to purchase beyond the freemium versions: Evernote and Diigo. Both of these products figure prominently in my daily activities as a high school administrator. They are often two Web tools I open first thing every morning in preparation for my school day as a principal. Here's some of the ways I use each of these products in the course of my work day.


I use Evernote, both Web and desktop verions. I also access and use it on my iPad and on my smartphone. It has become one of my primary administrator Web tools. Here's some of the ways I use it daily:

  • To-Do List: I mentioned doing this in an earlier blog post, but I create a weekly To-Do List in my Evernote application for a few reasons. I make it weekly because so many of the tasks I face are a variety of both short-term and long-term tasks. With Evernote, I add more and more tasks as the week goes by, and for those tasks that don't get completed, it is a simple matter of copying and pasting in the next week's To-Do List at the beginning of the next week. I also can access my To-Do List anywhere through my phone or iPad.
  • Administrators Log: I once had a seasoned administrator tell me, "If it ain't documented, then it didn't happen." My Administrators Log is my documentation tool for all the of the major incidents and tasks I have to tackle during the course of the day. With the tags features, I can make my documentation notes even more easily accessible, and because I have Evernote on all my devices, I can access these notes any where too.
  • Resource Collection Box: At the end of the week, I send out an email newsletter to all my staff and to the parents. In that newsletter, I share resources and ideas on education. These resources and ideas are collected throughout the week in my Evernote Notebook entitled Weekly Email Update. By the end of the week, I usually have quite a few resources to share.

I've had a free Diigo account for over a year. It is such an excellent tool for collecting resources. Even the free version works well, But I have begun to collect more and more resources, and I wanted to be able to access those resources no matter what. I also wanted the added functionality of storing cached pages, screenshots, and unlimited images.  Without getting into all the details of explaining why being able to save more cached pages and being about use screen capture, here's the primary ways I'm using Diigo Premium as an administrator.
  • Using Unlimited Cached Pages:  By having unlimited cached pages, I can upload entire pages into my Diigo account and not just links. This saves me from having to navigate through a maze of links and bookmarks. I can collect web resources and store cached versions of the Web pages. No worry about links and bookmarks not working.
  • Using the Screen Capture and Annotation: This added premium feature allows me to take screenshots of web pages, annotate them, and upload them to my Diigo account. Another excellent Web resource collection tool. I can take a screenshot of a Web page, annotate it, and upload it to my Diigo account to use later.
  • Using the Save Images from Web Pages: Many times I find images I want to share with other educators, With this feature, in Firefox and Internet Explorer, I can capture images and upload them to my Diigo account. This is quite useful when I discover images that I want to use in presentations or otherwise share.

If there are two Web 2.0 programs I would advise every administrator learn to use, Evernote and Diigo are those two programs. If there are two Web 2.0 programs that are worth the premium price, I would again say that Evernote and Diigo are those two programs. Whether using the premium versions or not, these two programs are a must for a 21st century administrator, especially those administrators who are plugged in to the Web, and need a place to store resources.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Three Reasons to Avoid Motorola Droid Phones

In this post, I am going to be honest. I once promoted Droid 2 Phones, but I've lived to regret it. Almost a year ago, I purchased a Droid 2 phone. I've been happy with the Android operating systems and the apps I use, but I found using a Motorola Droid phone to be major disaster. It's so unreliable, I would not recommend it or any other Motorola product at this point.  Here's three reasons why I won't use a Motorola product again, especially a Droid.

Battery life is unpredictable. I knew going into using a Droid that battery life was an issue. In the reviews I read  over the Web, users everywhere talked about how to extend the life of a charge, and I tried everyone of them. Nothing seems to work. What I have found is that my Droid 2 phone will last an entire day one day, and then the next day it won't last an hour, and that is after charging it fully the night before. The battery life is entirely too unpredictable for a school administrator who must be able to use his cell phone at any time. There have been times I have only been at school an hour, only to find my phone dead. Motorola's Droid 2 has a way too unpredictable battery life for me.

Touch Screen often hangs up. This problem has to be one of the most aggravating issues yet. I will try to activate my phone by sliding the activate tab on the touch screen, and nothing happens. Or, I will try to exit an app and nothing happens. Too many times I am finding the Motorola Droid 2 screen unresponsive. I just hope I never have to use my cell phone to make an emergency call because my screen might be frozen.

Surprise phone crashes. This last problem is driving me crazy. On too many occasions to count, I have reached down to answer my ringing phone, but when I touch the screen, the phone crashes and reboots. Basically my phone crashes at those times when I need it most to work. I just hope that last call I got was not an emergency call.

The bottom line is this: My Motorola Droid 2 phone has become a much too unreliable product for me as a school administrator.  I've taken it to my Verizon dealer, and I basically had to tell them what I thought was wrong with it. I can honestly never tell when I might reach down to use it and the battery will be dead or screen frozen. I have downloaded the latest updates, and I have even taken my phone in for service, and no one has answers. At this point I will be switching to another product when my contract runs out in three months. I would welcome any suggestions any of you might have for smart phone products. If your district is looking at a new smartphone product, you might want to look elsewhere.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Leading 21st Century Schools---Great Book for the Not-Yet Tech Savvy School Leader

Cover Image"To be a successful leader in the 21st century, school leaders need to be open to change, know how to manage change, and be risk takers," writes Lynne Schrum and Barbara Levin in their book Leading 21st Century Schools: Harnessing Technology for Engagement and Achievement. But being open to change means being comfortable with change. Knowing how to manage change means having the knowledge and skills to face change, and being risk takers means understanding what you're risking. One of the reasons many administrators still are hesitant with technologically wrought change is they lack the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions, and the whole technology knowledge domain looks too daunting. Schrum and Levin's book is just the antidote to that lack of technological expertise and knowledge school leaders need to be successful 21st century school leaders.

The main strength of Leading 21st Century Schools is the panoramic view of educational technology it gives readers. The opening chapters give an overview of what has changed economically, socially, and technologically, and how these changes care driving change in education. Then the authors take readers through all the research about characteristics of digital learners, a complete overview of Web 2.0 tools, and a guided tour of instructional strategies to use with technology. Included in this book is information about how to get teachers engaged in technology in their classrooms and some basics on how to be an instructional technology leader. There is even a complete chapter that reviews the basics of laws such as Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA), Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and copyright.

This book is a complete introduction to all-things-technology for school leaders. While this book is probably not one for the tech-savvy administrator, it is one for that school leader who needs the whole panoramic introduction to instructional technology.  You might consider giving this book as a gift to your principal if he or she is still on the sidelines when it comes to technology.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Class Size Does Matter

Most of us are well aware that our students all have brains that are wired quite differently. The idea that students all learn the same way and that their brains can take in learning the same way is an assumption of a 20th century factory model of education whose time of demise has come. According to John Medina, in his book Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, here's some things that can be done in our schools to make learning more effective in a classroom of diversely wired brains.
Cover Image
  • Smaller Class Sizes: In spite of the rhetoric in the news about "class sizes don't matter," according to Medina they do matter. He says, "Given every brain is wired differently, being able to read a student's mind is a powerful tool in the hands of a teacher." It's difficult to read student minds when you have 35 to 40 minds as opposed to 20 to 25, or even smaller. Further, Medina states, "Because a teacher can keep track of only so many minds, there must be a limit on the number of students in a class---the smaller the better." If you're churning on test scores alone, maybe class size doesn't matter, but if you're trying to keep up with student minds and differentiating learning, class size does matter.
  • Customized Instruction: The old admonition to create more individualized instruction has a great deal of support in brain research. Medina writes: "You cannot change the fact that the human brain is individually wired. Every student's brain, every employee's brain, every customer's brain is wired differently. That's the Brain Rule. You can either accede to it or ignore it. The current system of education chooses the latter, to our detriment. It needs to be torn down and newly envisioned, in a Manhattan Project -size commitment to individualizing instruction." That settles it, we should strive to individualize instruction for our students rather than engage in trying to standardize it for all students.
It is clear from Medina's work that two things we need to be doing in education are providing smaller class sizes where teachers can "get to know their students' brains" and customize instruction to fit the individual brain wiring our students have. In an era that seeks more and more standardization through testing and common standards, Medina's book makes us wonder whether we are doing the right thing with our current education policy. As usual policymakers engage in reforms that are the opposite of what we should be doing.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Top 10 Signs Your School Is Caught in a Time Warp: List for School Leaders

Ian Jukes, Ted McCain, and Lee Crockett write in their book Understanding the Digital Generation, "Schools have not recognized the changes that have occurred in the world around them and have continued to teach as if it were 1980." In the spirit of David Letterman, here's my "Top 10 Signs Your Schools Caught in a Time Warp." A list for school administrators.

1.  Your school policies work harder to keep web content out rather than bring web content in the school.
2.  Your school technology policies force students to "power down" their personal devices when they enter the front doors.
3. Your textbook budget exceeds your technology budget.
4. Social media rules condemn it as the downfall of public education.
5. Your web site hasn't been changed in three years.
6.  Overhead projectors still sit prominently at the front of your classrooms.
7. The idea of an interactive board is a bulletin board with push pin figures attached.
8. There's a card catalog file sitting in your media center.
9. Your school still spends and budget's money for journals and magazines.
10. You spend a portion of your day dealing with confiscated cell phones.

What would you add to this list? Feel free to share and add.