Monday, December 31, 2012

iPad or Samsung Tablet? Get the iPad

FINAL UPDATE 1-1-2013: Just to let everyone know, Samsung absolutely refuses to resolve this issue with the Galaxy Tab 7.7. In a phone call today with Verizon tech support, their hands are tied because SAMSUNG WILL NOT SUPPORT THE DEVICE. They refuse to acknowledge there is a problem, and made no offer to me to even explore the issue. I am amazed of the arrogance demonstrated by Samsung in this matter. Since I will be switching to an iPad as soon as the one I order comes in, this will be the last update in this situation. Samsung apparently do not stand behind all of their products. 

UPDATE 12-31-2012: My Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 replacement arrived, and it immediately started trying to do the same thing my old one was trying to do. It tried and failed to update the Galaxy Tab operating software three times in less than an hour. I immediately called Verizon tech support, who then engaged an individual from Samsung. Neither of the two could help, nor did they understand why the tablet was behaving this way.  Samsung simply washed their hands of the ordeal and said it was a Verizon problem. The bottom line is my post below is even more true now than it was when I originally published it. The only good thing in this whole ordeal has been the helpfulness of the manager of our local Verizon store. It seems to me purchasing s Samsung tablet is a pretty bad idea these days, especially since they can't adequately support them.

The old adage, “You get what you pay for” has haunted me since I chose to purchase a 4G Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 instead of an iPad.  I got what I paid for: a device that crashed, poor battery life, and one that simply could not successfully complete a operating system update. Throw in just plain awful tech support from both Verizon and Samsung, and you ultimately get a miserable tablet experience. Verizon is trying to do something. They sent me an empty box to ship the tablet to them, but I have no idea what they are going to do at this point. I have basically been paying for a data plan that I can’t use because I don’t have a device to access it.

In the meantime, I have blown the dust off my first generation iPad and have been using it in place of my Android tablet. Using it has reminded me once again why I should have gotten an iPad  to begin with instead of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7. The iPad has two qualities that beat the Samsung hands down: reliability and a long battery life.

From a reliability perspective, the iPad is formidable.  I have had my first generation iPad since November 201o and have never had a single update issue. In contrast to this, my Galaxy Tab 7.7 failed to update so many times I lost count, and ultimately had to be boxed up and sent to tech support. Also, I have never had the device crash a single time either. On the other hand, my Galaxy Tab, crashed at least once a day, and it would often happen at the most inconvenient time. Getting out my iPad and using it again, reminded me just how reliable that device is.

As far as the battery life goes, the iPad is hard to beat. The battery life for my Galaxy Tab 7.7 has proven to be an issue. With heavy use, I usually had to plug it in twice a day. With the iPad, I only had to plug it in every other day, and sometimes even longer.  The battery just lasts longer with the iPad.

From a tech support perspective, don’t expect a lot of help from Samsung either. Should there be an issue, apparently their answer is simply to send you and empty box to ship back to them. They don’t give you any information regarding what they are going to do once they get the device either. Throw in Verizon ineptitude, and the words “tech support” are misnomers for sure. There just isn’t any. Amazingly though, I have never had a reason to call Apple for tech support for my iPad to begin with. Perhaps making a product that is so reliable to begin with is the best form of tech support.

The old idea that you get what you pay for is true, and it is especially true in tablets. Take a lesson my my tablet misery and go ahead and buy that iPad instead of a cheaper Samsung tablet. You won’t regret paying the extra.

(NOTE: Just so you know, I am not being paid to make this post. It comes from my own experience with both of these devices and the tech support offered by Verizon and Samsung.)

Becoming Authentic Leaders: Coming to Terms with Our Shadows in the New Year

In the pursuit of 21st century leadership, there is much talk about authenticity. As Lama Surya Das writes, “Just as we are all born with innate luminosity, so too we are all born with a darker or shadow side.” In the interest of becoming authentic 21st century school leaders, it is vital that we come to terms with our shadows.

Just as often happens in our lives outside our leadership roles, we often find ourselves struggling with our own “shadow elements” in our many leadership roles. Our shadow side manifests throughout the day whether we know it or not. It appears in our “short-tempered response” to a question posed to us by our school receptionist. It shows itself in our immediate but angry response to a phone call from a parent. It rears its presence when we find ourselves chewing out a student for the 100th time about a dress code violation. In a word, our shadows reveal themselves at times of pressure and times of stress. Who we really are in these moments betrays us.

The truth is, we can’t rid ourselves of these shadows or shadow elements. If we do, as Lama Surya Das suggests, “Try to repress, suppress, and deny the shadow side of our own personality, and we run the risk of attracting these elements into our lives in other ways.” In other words, ignoring or otherwise dismissing these darker  parts of ourselves does not mean they go away. They simply show up in other ways, often at inopportune moments.

What then can we do to come to terms with these parts of ourselves in the interest of being authentic leaders? A strong enemy to authenticity is hypocrisy, and leaders often are models of hypocrisy because they don’t know themselves. “They are so concerned with persona and the images they present to the world that they choose to deny and repress rather that confront and handle their shadow conflicts." Being the kind of leader who is always concerned about your “presentation to the world” can lead to ignorance of our shadows, but there are ways to come to terms with these.

In the interest of the New Year reflections and resolutions, here’s two ways we can perhaps come to terms with our shadows in the interest of becoming an authentic leader.
  • Reflection and Meditation: Taking time as a school leader to reflect upon ourselves is vital. We can’t know ourselves if we haven’t taken the time to meet ourselves where we are. We can do this by finding quiet times during the day to both get in touch with who we are: our thoughts, feelings, etc.  Whether you choose to engage in some kind of formal meditation or simply sitting in contemplation with your morning coffee in hand with no other distractions really doesn't matter. What does matter is taking the time to meet yourself, each and every day. Finding quiet time is vital in coming to terms with our shadows. During this new year, making a commitment to find the time for reflection and meditation is important to fostering authentic leadership.
  • Enlisting Our Shadows as Allies: We can either make our shadows our “allies and teachers” or we can make them our assailants and opponents. Using our shadows as a means of learning and growing means once we know them, we can begin to allow them to teach us. Our shadows can tell us a great deal about our values and our beliefs. They can instruct us on things like self-discipline, patience, empathy, etc. Ultimately, as our shadows become our teachers, we find it much easier to become the authentic leaders that people prefer to follow. Making a commitment to enlist our shadows as allies is key step toward authentic leadership in the coming year.
The New Year is always a time of reflection and resolution. It’s possibilities and promise are comforting. This New Year, perhaps in our resolve to become more authentic leaders we can embrace and come to terms with our shadows as well. By giving ourselves time for reflection, meditation, and contemplation, as well as engaging our shadows as allies, we can take steps toward becoming who we really are and being the kind of leader others will follow.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Arming Educators Is a Bad Idea! Thoughts from a School Principal

After the Sandy Hook incident in Newtown, Connecticut, there have been a flood of calls by lawmakers and news pundits on the news networks to call for allowing educators and school employees to carry weapons as a part of their regular duties. That is a Bad idea!

While I understand some people place a lot of faith in Smith and Wesson, I however, do not share that same faith. Introducing a weapon into a school environment, even if that weapon is being carried by a well-meaning individual, has the potential to be disastrous  on so many levels it’s unfathomable. I will concede that I am not opposed to a law enforcement officer being hired to do this, if having gun in the building will allay the fears of those who think guns are the answer, but turning our schools into armed camps is a bad idea and non-starter for me, for several reasons.

1. Keeping these guns secure at all times could be a problem. As an administrator, this would be extremely important. Even if one child were to get their hands on a misplaced or unattended weapon and harm themselves or another, it is totally unacceptable. Or, what about the situation where a teacher tries to break up a fight, and in the process, one of the students takes his gun away and starts shooting? I would not accept the death of any child or individual under these circumstances as “the price we pay for security.” In spite of the common talking point put out by the pro-gun organizations, “Guns do kill.” They kill both when criminals use them, and when “law-abiding citizens” either get careless or give in to powerful emotions and use them. Schools are often very unpredictable places, and introducing firearms into them makes them even more unpredictable and potentially volatile.  Making sure that these guns brought into the building are secure at all times is another impossible task, since we can’t even guarantee that same security in our homes and in our businesses.

2. What Detrimental effects does  “gun-carrying” on the relationships between educators and their students have? Since we do not have many instances of educators carrying guns, there is of course, no research that I am aware of for this concern. However, I can’t help but wonder how an administrator carrying a weapon suddenly changes how students and staff suddenly begin to view this individual. I’m an administrator, not a police officer. I do not wish to be seen as the “law-and-order” sheriff of my building: the one who is going to shoot the bad guy when he tries to get into our building. That kind of relationship is far removed from my current relationship with students and staff. I suspect that if educators begin carrying guns, there will be changes, even subtle changes, in the relationships between educator and student.

3. Lack of adequate fire-arms training. Filling out a form and attending a class or two hardly qualifies you to engage in using deadly force in public. Using deadly force requires making snap decisions while assessing your surrounding environment. It requires thinking like a police officer, which simply having a concealed weapon permit does not qualify you to do. No educator I know is trained to think like a law enforcement officer in these kinds of dangerous situations. Putting guns into hand of educators who do not have the kinds of gun and gun violence training in extremely volatile situations is a disaster waiting to happen.

4. Guns do kill people. The purpose of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines is to kill as many people as possible is a short period of time. As we have seen in recent events, these do that highly effectively. We already keep a number of weapons out of the hands of ordinary citizens because they have no reason to have them. Bazookas, hand grenades, and rocket launchers pose a threat because they kill people, lots of people at once. Just by saying “Guns don’t kill people” does not make it so.

There are certainly other reasons that I personally oppose arming educators. By introducing guns into our schools in the hands of our teachers, what kind of message does a “gun-toting” teacher or administrator convey? I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to worry about is having a “Rambo” as a teacher in my building.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Crawling Out-of-the-Box: 5 New Skills for 21st Century School Leaders

I received an email from Best Buy today that is indicative of what happens when businesses and organizations are stuck with "inside-the-box thinking" instead of “out-of-the-Box Thinking.” The email from Best Buy offered me $25 if I would spend $500. My immediate reaction was, “That’s not a deal; that’s an insult.” You would think a company that is in Best Buy’s predicament could come up something better than that. Sadly though, I am sure that email is a product of inside-the-box thinking and not outside-the-box thinking. It is apparent from this offer why they are struggling as a retailer. I would say their “Marketing Department” suffers from a bad case of “Inability to get outside-the-box.”

When it comes to “getting out-of-the-box,” Paul Houston had this to say in an essay entitled “Out-of-the-Box Leadership.”

“It might be argued that finding ways to crawl out of the box has become a basic skill for leaders.”

I would argue that “Crawling Out-of-the-Box 101” would be an excellent course for 21st century leaders, but what would the course syllabus look like? What exactly does a school leader need to know to be able to master “crawling out-of-the-box” as a leadership skill? Here’s a few things that come to mind:

1. Bridge Building: To use a phrase Paul Houston uses, 21st century leaders need to be able “build a bridge and lead people across it, because it is only by crossing that bridge people can find a new place to stand.” Bridge construction requires knowing how to foster the development and creation of elements necessary for that bridge. Things like vision, mission, and core values are a part, but also courage and integrity are needed to lead people to new places. Without “bridge-building” skills in their leaders,  people stand in the same place, a recipe for doing the same old thing.

2. Pushing the limits and expanding personal perspectives, or engaging in lateral thinking: To crawl out the box, you have to change the lens with which everyone in your organization views the world, including your own. You have to entertain new perspectives and points of view that haven’t been entertained before. Once that is done, courageously pushing the limits of current practice is necessary. Engaging in practices that hover around author Milton Chen’s “edges of innovation” are a must. You can’t crawl out of the box without trying on new perspectives, engaging in lateral thinking, and pushing beyond current limitations.

3. Engage in the business of school leadership as a creative process: Too many school leaders still see their job as maintaining what is. Anyone who dares think differently or venture outside the parameters of declared thinking is, at worst, exiled from the leadership pack. At best, they are simply ignored. Being a 21st century school leader requires creativity, not just maintenance management skills. The issues and problems our schools are engaged in require a different kind of school leader: one willing to view leadership as a creative process of fundamentally finding new ways to engage in the business of education effectively for all students.

4. Barrier and Obstacle Reduction and Removal: Being able to effectively remove barriers and obstacles to innovation is a key 21st century school leadership skill. The world inside the box doesn't like the innovative, the new, so all manner of roadblocks appear in the way. It takes a 21st century school leaders skilled in barrier  and obstacle removal to lead the way through these and onward outside-the-box. Finding ways to innovate in a system resistant to innovation is a key 21st century school leadership skill.

5. Focus on the smallest “big-changers”: To crawl out-of-the-box doesn't necessarily mean blowing it up. Too many leaders try to change everything, when a focus on a few things can dramatically bring about the kinds of innovation we seek. This skill means 21st century school leaders need to focus on the fewest things that make the biggest difference. Choose to engage and focus on those strategies that will help you crawl out-of-the-box effectively without blowing it up at once.

Best Buy’s offer to me suffers enormously from “inside-the-box” thinking. There is absolutely nothing in that offer to entice me to spend more money, unless I was planning on spending $500 anyway. Education too often suffers from this same kind of “locked-in-the-box thinking” too. Evidence of this can be seen in many of the reforms being currently pushed by policy makers and politicians. The standards and testing movement is just one example. Another would be ideas about changing graduation requirements, which in North Carolina is redone every time we have changed governors over the past several years. None of these things fundamentally change education because they are not outside-the-box thinking; they are inside-the-box thinking. Crawling out of the box in which our education system finds itself will require more than any of these reforms which only continue to tweak the edges. Twenty-first century educational leaders desperately  need skills that will help education “crawl out-of-the-box.”

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Making the Most of Your Online Professional Learning in the Digital Age

“Most successful teachers learn from a combination of resources, including local communities, virtual communities, and research,” writes Kristen Swanson in her new book Professional Learning in the Digital Age: The Educator’s Guide to User-Generated Learning. In other words, educators learn from the communities to which their are connected, and having the tools to make those connections are truly vital in the digital age. That’s where Swanson’s book comes in. Packed in only 109 pages, she gives readers the process and tools to become a connected educator in the 21st century, and engage in “user-generated learning.” Professional Learning in the Digital Age is a must read for educators who want to fine-tune the process of building and maintaining professional learning networks. And, for those have yet to venture out and begin the process of becoming a connected educator, this book gives them clear straightforward advice on how to do it, and a Tool Repository at the back of the book with which to get started.

Swanson begins by defining what is meant by “user-generated learning” which she defines as “learning acquired through active curation, reflection, and collaboration to a self-selected collaborative space.” In other words, user-generated learning is a very deliberate process of carrying out three specific actions that can transform an educator into a connected one, and by default transform his or her educational practice. These three actions that bring about the kinds of learning fostered through online connections include:
  • Curating: Process or action of carefully collecting relevant resources. In this case, these are resources entirely associated with our professional practice. There are online tools that aid in the process of curating the content and information on which learning is based.
  • Reflecting: Process or action of making sense of this newly curated information and determining what it all means for professional practice. Reflecting is vital to assimilating our new learning. Tools such as blogging assist educators in reflection.
  • Contributing: This is the final process of action of user-generated learning. It consists of giving back to the community of learners to which we are now connected. Contribution fosters connections.
In simple terms, engaging in these activities result in fostering and growing as a connected educator. Swanson gives readers a powerful formula for fostering “user-generated learning” through connectedness, capitalizing on one of the most powerful professional development tools educators have in the 21st century.
Professional Learning in the Digital Age: The Educator’s Guide to User-Generated Learning, Eye on Education,  is powerful-succinct guide for all educators to learn 21st century style.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

6 Strategies to Make Your School of District’s Office Paperless

This morning’s #satchat turned to a discussion about using technology to make the school administrator’s office paperless. I have actually always been “less paperful,” if I may coin a term, than other administrators because it is a by-product of relying heavily on technology, which I always have. I won’t go into the rationale for why one would want to have a paperless office because I think the reasons for doing so are rather obvious. Instead, let me just list some of my own practices that have facilitated being paperless as an administrator. I can’t hardly remember the last time I opened my file cabinet; maybe it was sometime in July. At any rate, my file cabinet lives a lonely and neglected life these days because its utility has been reduced to simply some place to put my printer. Still, I think these 6 simple strategies will go a long way in reducing the reliance on physical documents, hence paper.
  • Find some free/inexpensive Web 2.0 tools to streamline your practices. For example, I have a paid Evernote account and it is well-worth the subscription price. With this software, I take meeting notes, anecdotal notes, and  share articles/resources with staff. Evernote’s simple sharing feature means I can share the minutes from our last Professional Learning Community meeting with an email. Web 2.o tools like Diigo allow means I can share web resources I find with teachers, again, through email. My tablet’s Scanner app gives me a “scanner-on-the-go” and Dropbox gives me a virtual filling cabinet that follows me everywhere with access across devices. To go paperless requires finding Web 2.0 tools and apps that help you do many of those things you currently do on paper.
  • Invest in a copier that acts as a scanner and will send scanned documents to your email as PDF files. Or, you can get copiers that will scan documents and place them in specified folders on your network server. Our copier is capable of scanning any document, and with the press of button, you can send it to your email account. When I receive a document of importance in the mail, I scan and then file it electronically. To facilitate your paperless office, find the hardware that allows cut down on your need to store paper copies. A copier that scans and then sends the document to you will do just that.
  • Keep your computer file system simple; only use a handful of folders, the less the better. Many use conventional wisdom and start creating folder after folder on their desktop computers to file e-documents as they come in or are created. The problem with such file systems is two-fold. First, it takes time to ponder which folder in which you should place the created or received file. And then it takes time to remember which folder you put it when needed later. Instead multple folders, create one called “Working Docs” and another called “Docs Archive.” When working on that presentation next week, keep it in the “Working Docs” folder so you can access it quickly. If you are finished with a document or just are keeping an e-copy, dump it into your Docs Archive. One thing people seem to forget is that a computer is FULLY SEARCHABLE so finding a  file is a snap. Of course you have to put a little thought in what you name your files to begin with, but I bet you five dollars I could find my copy of last month’s principal’s meeting before you can!
  • When you receive a physical document in the mail that is important, always scan and then shred it. Walk in to any administrator’s office and I bet there’s a stack somewhere. In that stack are things received in the mail that are awaiting their fate, either filing in a folder or in the trashcan. I will confess that I have one of those stacks too, but I bet mine is smaller, and I use the “scan and shred” method for physical documents I receive to keep that pile in line. While sorting the mail, I immediately make a determination: doc-to-be-archived or junk. It is that simple. I handle mail only once. Docs-to-be-archived go into to pile which goes to my copier-scanner then the shredder. This keeps the paper pile at bay in my office, and immediately gets those documents into my Docs Archive, which I described in the above bullet.
  • Insist that others send you documents either as email attachments or share it with you as a Google Doc. I repeat constantly to everyone who will hear: “Just send it to me as an attachment.” Or I tell them, “Create your schedule on a Google Doc and just share it with me.” The rationale here is to get others to utilize the tools that will minimize the paper coming into my office. Most happily assist me. Those who don’t? I just keep encouraging them.
  • Create a simple email sorting system and avoid using multiple email folders. Keeping a simple sorting and filing system in email will also affect the paper load coming through the office too. I use a two-folder system in my email similar to that I use for my desktop. I create two email folders in my Gmail. One is called “Follow-Up” and the other is “Hold.” By using these folders and my email processing procedure, I always have an empty “Inbox” at the end of the day. I usually conduct two or three main email processing sessions a day. The first step in this processing is to read each email and immediately decide whether a) it requires action from me, b) it is information I will need in the next several days, c) it is informational, or d) it is spam or junk. If an email  requires action from me, I put it in the “Follow-Up” folder. If it is information needed in the short term, I put it in the “Hold” folder. If it is general information I  hit the “Archive” button, which automatically places it in my archive. If it is junk or spam, I hit delete. At the end of each session, my Inbox is empty. Later, I go back through the Follow Up folder and take care of each item there or add it to my “To-Do List.” Once an item in my Follow Up folder is done, I archive it. The goal is to only handle an email once or twice.
School leaders can set the example for everyone else in efforts to cut back on paper usage by employing the technological tools and the processes/procedures that help reduce both the need for paper documents and for  the file cabinets to store them.

Friday, December 7, 2012

5 Strategies for Using Your Digital Footprint to Create a Strong, Professional Online Reputation

If you are using virtual spaces for professional learning, it only enhances your digital footprint,” writes Kristen Swanson in her new book Professional Learning in the Digital Age: The Educator’s Guide to User-Generated Learning. Getting educators to think about their own digital footprint should be an important part of 21st century school leadership, and reflecting and managing our own is just as important. Examples abound in the media where educators post derogatory things about their students, or where teachers and administrators post improper photos of themselves through social media channels. Most lose their jobs as a result. My initial reaction as a practicing school administrators is, “Just what were they thinking?” and the conclusion I usually reach is, “They weren’t!”

The idea of deliberately shaping and molding your own digital footprint isn’t really a new idea. Experts write whole books advising businesses on how to shape their “online reputation” and their offline one as well. More and more businesses, though, are starting to take seriously this task of making their online presence positive. I personally see “digital footprint” and “online reputation” as strongly related but perhaps not entirely synonymous. One’s digital footprint is the collective substance of everything one has posted online. It is the physical substance of what you have posted. It includes blog posts, Tweets, comments on other blog posts, news stories, everything online connected to a single person. I personally consider the actual footprint neutral, but it is the digital footprint that foster’s one’s online reputation.Through all those blogposts, Tweets, Facebook posts, and all your other interactions online, people make a judgment about you, and that is your “online reputation.”

Which brings me to the whole point of this post: You shape and mold your online reputation through your digital footprint. In other words, you can use your digital footprint to shape and mold your online reputation, and in the world of the 21st century, it is imperative that educators take the time to make sure they are leaving exactly the kind of digital footprint they wish to leave: a strong, professional online reputation.

Here are some strategies and thoughts that I myself use to both monitor my digital footprint and to try to shape and mold my online reputation.
  • Monitor what is being said about you by setting up a “Google Alert” for your name, your Twitter Username, and any other identifiers connected to you. It is key to keep an ear to the ground to measure reactions to your digital footprint, after all, your online reputation is based on these. Setting up a Google Alert is a free and easy way to perpetually listen to the conversation about you. There are other tools that will help you do this as well. Here’s an earlier post describing “3 Free Social Media Monitoring Tools for the 21st Century School Leader.”
  • It is occasionally OK to post things controversial, in fact, having a strong online reputation demands it. Remember, if you post controversial remarks, you are going to get reactions from others, but playing it entirely safe may not enhance your online reputation. To have a strong “online reputation” your digital footprint has to have personality. In a word, it helps if it really reflects who you are. Be entirely neutral, and you aren’t real person. You’re a computer. How boring!
  • Everyone, administrators, teachers, superintendents, students, etc. need to be actively engaged in molding and shaping their online reputation through their digital footprint. Honestly, you have an online reputation whether you have taken an active role in developing it or not. When a parent or student posts a comment on Facebook or in response to local news article  criticizing you or one of your actions, that affects your online reputation. It is much better to engage in the use of 21st century tools and contribute your say in that digital footprint than to simply let others do so for you.
  • Establishing a strong online reputation requires a digital footprint that includes both quality and quantity. It is vital that you include thoughtful, engaging interactions on the web, such as blog posts, Tweets, etc. The quality of what you post is important. If you are simply using Twitter to post out announcements or to post what you are having for lunch, those are not qualitative additions to your digital footprint, and are not likely to add to your online reputation. It takes using these tools to post lively, thoughtful interactions to foster the qualitative nature of your online reputation. In addition, it does require a quantitative approach as well. You don’t want just a few posts or online interactions to represent the entire substance of your online reputation. You need lots of content in your digital footprint to balance out what might be seen negatively or doesn't truly reflect who you are. That means interacting and posting online often is a must.
  • Most of all, in my opinion, you have to be authentic online just as you must in real life. There’s something fundamentally wrong with posturing and being fake, and most of us don’t like it. Your digital footprint should contain content that reflects who are. In other words, it must be authentic. No one likes a phony!
The bottom line, when it comes to using your digital footprint to foster an effective professional online reputation, is simple: you either take an active role in contributing to your digital footprint, or there are those who will do it for you. It’s your choice to engage or not, but don’t think by avoiding interactions on the web that you have no digital footprint, therefore, no online reputation. We all do.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Study Suggests Using Nintendo DS Game Software Increases Engagement of ADHD Students

According to an article in the Winter edition of Journal of Research on Technology in Education, the results of a recent study by Stacy Wegrzyn, Doug Hearrington, Tim Martin, and Adriane B. Randolph had interesting results that may have an impact on how we help students with ADHD engage and focus in the classroom. According to their study, the “daily use of brain games can help strengthen focusing ability and executive functioning in adolescents with ADHD.”

In this study, students were asked to play “brain games” for a minimum of 20 minutes each morning before school for 5 weeks. Their level of engagement was then measured at three points during the day using electroencephalogram, parent and teacher reports, researcher observations, and participant self-reports.

The findings in this study suggest that we can use Nintendo’s DS software called Brain Age as a potential “nonpharmaceutical alternative to ADHD medication. It also suggests it might be a more affordable alternative than medications as well. The study cautions though, “Not every child will see an improvement through the use of brain games.”

The study suggests the following implications for 21st century educational practice:
  • Brain games, such as the Nintendo DS Brain Age software, as a form of treatment could be kept within the school or even within the classroom.
  • Teachers could allow struggling students to play the games each morning during homeroom, lunchtime, or recess.
  • Teachers could then evaluate the usefulness of the games in increasing each student’s ability to focus.
  • Unlike medication suggestions, teachers could try using the games without liability concerns, even if the games do not help increase the student’s engagement.
For more information on this study be sure to check out the current Winter edition of Journal of Research on Technology in Education. For information on Nintendo’s DS Brain Age game software, check out their web site here.

Ultimately, this is a perfect example of personalizing education for students. One can help but wonder whether these same kinds of tools can help all students focus and engage more in their learning.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Common Core: Sound Education Practice or Bad Gamble?

Now that 45 states (and 3 territories) have adopted the Common Core Standards, edu-preneurs and opportunists have gone into overdrive, churning out tons of materials, programs, and trainings to help schools and school districts implement these standards. Not a day goes by that I don't receive 15 or so emails from companies and individuals offering their wares and promising successful and complete implementation of the Common Core Standards.

 By all this hype, one would be tempted to think that the whole idea of having national standards was more about providing enterprising individuals and other entrepreneurs another opportunity to make millions from the public coffers.  Is the Common Core just another opportunity for making money, or is it a 21st century policy decision? Or, is it a continuation of a outdated education paradigm that refuses to die? Could it be that the Common Core adoption is nothing more than a "wrong bet" as education researcher and author Yong Zhao calls it?

In his latest book, World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students, Zhao writes:

"The traditional education paradigm may have worked before but it is no longer adequate for the changed world. The efforts to develop a common curriculum, nationally and internationally, are simply working to perfect an outdated paradigm. The outcomes are precisely the opposite of the talents we need for the new era. It is the wrong bet for our children's future."

The thought that "If we just have the right standards, the right tests, then our students will achieve still blindly sees students as products to be developed. As long as we continue to view education as a process by which we bring students up to "standard" and not to their true potential, we are doomed to remain in the same cycle of education reform we've been in since the 1950s. Over and over, the political mantra has been, "We've got to raise educational standards!" Yet, little really every changes in our American education system. We are, in a word, hung up on a core assumption that education is something done to students rather than something they engage in.

I would like to hope that somehow the Common Core is an answer to our educational problems, but my own experience and knowledge tells me that it very well could be the "wrong bet" as Zhao calls it. Here's where some of my own skepticism lies:

  • There is no research that says having common standards is going to somehow better meet the needs of 21st century students.Some will say "Common sense tells you that having common standards will raise the achievement of all," but then again, "It was common sense that told us the world was flat too."
  • Common standards by its very nature assumes students have common capabilities, abilities and talents to some degree. Reality tells us something much different. Students have all manner of abilities and talents, and being able capitalize on individual talents and abilities rather than trying to standardize each child is what education should be about which is not what the Common Standards movement is about.
  • The Common Core Standards movement is at its core more about having "standards for comparison purposes" than it is about truly meeting the individual needs of students. When politicians, policy-makers, and education leaders are more interested in developing a system that allows them to say "Our education system is better than yours," the needs of individual students suffer. The assumption that "we need to be able to compare students" is perhaps faulty to begin with. Students, and human beings, are different, and can't be considered cogs in a system.
  • We are truly deceived if we think having the bragging rights of saying "US students lead the world in test scores" is going cause companies to suddenly relocate jobs and businesses in the states. Businesses move to other countries for economic reasons: they move to where labor is cheapest, period. To argue that "test-score bragging rights" will suddenly turn around our economy ignores the reality that businesses want cheaper employees, not necessarily more educated ones.
I know those who developed and have been trying to sell the Common Core mean well. Educators in the US have meant well all the way back to Sputnik and beyond. Still, I think it is important for us to remain skeptical as well, especially of initiatives like the Common Core implementation. A great deal of money and effort is being put into this education reform, and I can only hope it is more about the kids we teach every day, than business opportunity and professional advancement and political bragging rights. I just hope we haven't made the wrong bet.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

5 Principles That Make Outdated Educational Practice Impossible

Last night, the #edchat topic was, "How should teachers deal with colleagues who are comfortable with 19th century and punitive measures for non-compliant students?" Judging by the responses, many teachers either felt they could gently prod this colleague to changing his or her practice. Others did not see this their responsibility at all. They saw it as the responsibility of the administrator.

At first glance, I would agree that the administrator does have the responsibility to address the issue of teachers using outdated practices. However, I think the real solution is a bit more complicated and can be captured with another question: How can a teacher engaged in outdated pedagogy and practice possibly exist in a true 21st century school? Should the school environment not be so innovative and challenging that such teaching is impossible? Perhaps the real problem is that we have been fooling ourselves into thinking our school is a "21st Century School" when it's not. Just maybe our school systemically allows teachers to continue do what they've always done and avoid growing personally and professionally

As long as you have a school, school district, and school system that allows people to use "outdated methodology in instruction and educational practice" such practices are going to exist. In other fields such as medicine, obsolete practice is rooted out by a culture that values innovation and pushes out obsolescence. Why can't schools foster that same kind of culture?

What would a school or school district that has a culture that makes obsolete educational practice impossible look like? What are the operating principles? Here are some ideas to start with.

1. A strong expectation of personal and professional growth permeates the school and school district environment. Everyone, beginning with leadership, are lifelong learners, and their every action is focused to that end. There's an attitude of perpetual learning and professional development surrounding everything that is done.

2. The school and school district culture values risk-taking more than playing it safe. Valuing risk-taking takes courage from leadership and everyone else. It means accepting failure as part of learning. Leadership that values risk-taking can't ask others to take risks if they themselves aren't willing to do so.

3. Leadership in the school includes more than the principal. When the leadership includes strong teacher leadership, it is difficult for those not growing professionally to exist. Teacher leadership means there are peers pushing those teachers to develop professionally.

4. Collaboration among staff is the norm. When issues and problems and challenges are viewed as "our issues/problems/challenges" then everyone is expected to be a part of the solution. This means those who are hanging on to outdated practice find it more difficult to do so. Their colleagues are pushing them to take ownership of the school's future and they can't continue to exist in their tiny isolated compartment within the school.

5. There's a strong sense of entrepreneurship among staff regarding the school. They feel that it is "their school." Staff who feel this aren't just provided a token opportunity to give feedback on School Improvement Plans. They have a say in the direction and focus of the school because it is genuinely their school too. Teachers engaged in obsolete practice can't continue to operate in an obsolete manner because colleagues push them to do better.

So, in answer to last night's #edchat question, "How should teachers deal with colleagues who are comfortable with 19th century methods and punitive measures for non-compliant students?" I submit that the answer isn't just a question of what the teacher should do or what the principal should do. It is a systemic problem that can only be addressed by creating places that make obsolete educational practices impossible. It's a question addressed by creating a school or school district culture that will not tolerate obsolete educational practice.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

3 Reasons to Purchase a Kindle Tablet Rather than a Nook Tablet

Now that I have had the opportunity to test drive a Nook Tablet, I can say, without a doubt, if you’re looking for an e-reader, you may want to consider purchasing a Kindle, rather than a Nook.

First, not all the books I purchase through Barnes and Noble are available across all my devices. For example, I purchased a special edition of a book entitled Crucial Conversations, and I am unable to access that book on my iPad. There are also at least two other titles I am unable to access either on my iPad or through using the Nook desktop app. For someone like myself, who is an avid reader, being able to access books on all my devices is vital. Unlike the Nook and Barnes & Noble e-books, every title I have purchased through Amazon has been available across every device. In the age of e-books and those of us who are avid e-readers, having anytime-anywhere access is key and the Nook fails on that count.

Secondly, the Barnes & Noble Nook tablet e-reader software makes for a “buggy” reading experience. On several occasions my reading has been interrupted with a screen inexplicably going blank, and I usually have to back out of the book I’m reading and reload it to get the text back. Also, on several occasions, the text I highlight either does not highlight, or I am unable to select specific words due to software glitches. In addition, on a few occasions, when I have tried to advance a page, the page simply would not advance. There also have been occasions when the “highlight text selection bar” freezes on my screen and I am unable to clear it. When e-reader software has this many bugs, it can make for quite a miserable reading experience. In contrast, with my Kindle Fire, I have never had any of these experiences. Avid e-readers like myself don’t mind a few bugs and quirks in the software, as long as they don’t unduly affect the reading experience. So far. my experience with the Nook e-reader software on the tablet has been borderline miserable.

Finally, the Nook PC Desktop software has many problems too. It suffers from many performance issues. It runs extremely slow in comparison to the Kindle PC software and takes much longer to load. It also suffers from strange, buggy behavior like the Nook tablet software. On several occasions, titles I have purchased, suddenly ask for credit card numbers to verify I have purchased them, even though I have purchased them. This especially happens after you download and install an update. It can be quite frustrating to have to uninstall and redownload purchased books again and again, but that is what I’ve had to do with the Nook desktop software. There are also titles I’ve purchased that I can read on my Nook tablet, but can’t access through my desktop app. Being able to read all of my purchased books on my desktop is important to me. The Nook desktop software is also prone to freezing on occasion as well, and this shouldn’t happen because I have more than enough memory and processing power. In addition to these issues, there are timee when  I highlight text and make notes on my handheld devices. These do not sync with the desktop app. This is important to me because I often highlight, read text, and make notes while using my tablet, then refer to those on my PC, but with the Nook desktop app, this is impossible. In contrast, any notes I take or textual highlights made using the Kindle handhelds appears in the Kindle Desktop app too. Over all, the Nook PC desktop app suffers from performance issues, buggy behavior, and syncing problems.

Overall, Amazon e-books and the Kindle offer readers a much better reading experience than e-books purchased through Barns & Noble and read on Nook devices. Barnes & Noble e-books and the Nook tablet suffer from performance issues that make for one frustrated reading experience.

Monday, November 26, 2012

21st Principal’s 2012 Edublog Nominations

Here’s my 2012 Edublog nominations. While it is difficult to narrow down my choices, these are sites I visit and read just about every single day and important nodes in my own professional learning network. Thanks to all!

Individual Blog
Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day: Consistently, day-after-day provides links to valuable information for all educators.

New Blog
Diane Ravitch’s Blog: Diane Ravitch’s new blog gives voice to public education advocates everywhere.

Best EdTech/ Resource Sharing Blog
Free Technology for Teachers: Very reliable and consistent resource on web and technology tools for the classroom.

Teacher Blog
The Tempered Radical: An ongoing and constant voice of a classroom teacher and all things teaching.

Library/Librarian Blog
A Media Specialist’s Guide to the Internet: Site with tons of information and resources from the perspective a media specialist.

Administrator Blog
A Principal’s Reflection: Voice of an administrator who advocates for technology and leadership.
Individual Tweeter

Jerry Blumengarten Cybrary1: A trumpet blast in a 140 characters sounding the way in all things ed tech.

Twitter Hashtag
#edchat: The most influential and ongoing conversation about all things education.

Free Web Tool
Edmodo: A total online teaching environment, that I can say I have used as both teacher and administrator.

Social Network
Twitter: Most useful social media tool yet.

Mobile App
Evernote: Evernote continues to evolve and change its mobile apps, always with the end user in mind. They get better and better.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

7 Kinds of Thinking Keeping Your School or District from Transformation

Is your school or district “missing the wave of change” that is propelling many other innovative schools and districts forward? What exactly is it within the DNA and thinking of your educational organization that is causing it to resist efforts to reform, transform, or change? We only need to look to business in recent times to learn what the consequences are for “failing to adapt to the enormous wave of change” that is all around us.

In Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative, Ken Robinson writes:

“Organizations that stand still are likely to be swept aside, and corporate history is littered with the wreckage of companies and whole industries, that have been resistant to change. They become stuck in old habits and missed the wave of change that carried more innovative companies forward.”

Many of our schools are “standing still” and stuck in "old habits" and are in danger of being “swept aside.” It is difficult to believe in an era of reform, but there are still educators, policymakers, and politicians who are “stuck in the old habits” of seeing education “as something done to kids,” and who see children’s learning as a “process of adding value.” Those, who hold tight to this conception of education where children are passive participants in learning, will be standing among the “wreckage” of a public education system that stubbornly held on to past era.

Believe or not, I experienced this “wave of change” at an early age. At only seven or eight years old, I experienced firsthand Ken Robinson’s phenomenon of companies “standing still in a wave of change” way back in the 1970s. My father worked for the trucking industry, which at the time was a way to make a good living. Then, deregulation came along, and many of the trucking companies refused to adapt and cope with the new world they faced, and they went under, one by one. My father worked for a series of successive trucking companies, each folding the tent when they could not longer adapt and cope with rapidly changing transportation industry. Instead of adapting to the change, they tried to ride it out, only to ride into nonexistence.

Fast forward to more recent times and we see the same thing happening again and again with businesses. If you glance back four of five years, the names of companies like Circuit City, Blockbuster, and Borders come to mind. Each of these companies stood still in the face of change and it cost them dearly. More recently, news reports speak about the struggles of Best Buy, a major electronics retailer, who is trying to cope with the rapidly changing retail environment, and who seems guilty of the same kinds of thinking these businesses had. Each of these businesses found themselves in a changing environment and made decisions, based on specific and stagnation-generating kinds of thinking. With the exception of Best Buy at this point, that thinking ended in their demise. They could not adapt.

If you examine your school or district closely, you are likely to find this same self-destructive thinking that is causing your educational organization to “stand still in a wave of change.” If it continues, then you could find yourself standing in the wreckage.

What are these kinds of thinking that are clearly obstacles to adaptation and transformation? Over the years, I have come to see them in very simple terms. Here are the top 7 Kinds of Thinking, or what I might call “Resistors to Change.”
  • “We’ve always done it this way thinking.” In public education, I have found this kind of thinking the most common. You can easily run up against this thinking by simply questioning a policy or procedure, or by suggesting a new way of doing something. Immediate replies by the institutional-preservation police are, “You can’t do it that way. We've always done it this way.” Or, more simply, “I like the way we've always done it.” At the heart of our schools and school districts are thousands of these “ways of doing things” that are protected vehemently by others, not because there is anything special about them. These are valued because they are wrongly seen as  not negotiable for change. The best antidote for this kind of thinking? Asking the simple “Why” question. If the answer is, “Because we’ve always done it this way,” then the underlying rationale might be suspect.
  • “Head in the sand thinking.” I can’t help but wonder if this was the kind of thinking Blockbuster was guilty of. They had to see streaming video services coming, especially if they were reading anything about industry trends. But just as deadly as ignoring the “waves of change” can be, so can the same head-in-the-sand habit of getting so caught up in “the doing” that you don’t see the change coming. In other words, sometimes organizations are so busy caught up in doing what they do, that they don’t pause and connect to the world around them. In that environment, it is extremely easy to miss the “wave of change” right in front of you. Schools are sometimes notorious for adhering steadfastly to motions they've always carried out, and with change roiling all around them. Each of these businesses certainly had to be guilty of some of that. They did not notice the change until it was too late. That can happen to schools too. Antidote for this kind of thinking? Simply being informed. Having the latest information goes a long way helping education organizations avoid being blindsided by change. But there must be a willingness and courage to act on that information.
  • “It’s someone or something else’s fault thinking.” Back in the 1970s, many of those trucking companies complained that is was the government’s fault they had to go out of business, after all politicians brought about deregulation. In more recent times, I am sure there were those at Borders who blamed cheap electronic books and Amazon for their demise, and currently I read  where Best Buy is blaming Amazon for their problem of decreasing sales. Schools, school leaders, and policymakers do the very same thing. It’s the teachers’ unions fault. It’s the politicians’ fault. It’s the parents’ fault. In the interest of honesty and confession, I have been guilty of this thinking myself. Still, there’s no productivity in searching for a boogie man on which to place blame. There’s certainly enough blame to go  around anyway. If you spend all your effort and time trying to find someone or something to blame, you are wasting energy and resources that could be used to adapt and meet solidly the “wave of change” that is upon you. The best antidote for this kind of thinking is perhaps to engage in looking for solutions. That way, there’s no energy to expend on blaming.
  • “You have to do it this way because policy says so thinking.” I honestly find this one of the most ridiculous reasons why we defend so much of what we do in education. Educational institutions are notorious for this kind of thinking, and often they do it much more than businesses. Businesses, to exist for any length of time, are most often forced to question what they do, and when they become too entangled in “policy-think” they lose sight of their reason for existence: making money. Then they simply cease to exist. On the other hand, schools do the same kind of thinking too, and they continue to perpetuate it. They get so caught up in “policy-think” they lose sight of their purpose too. This is most evident when decisions are made, clearly not in the best interest of kids. When adhering to a policy is more important than meeting the needs of kids, the school or district has lost sight of its purpose, and it’s reason for existence, and the world will move on without it. Antidote for “policy-think?” Spending some refocusing on why we do what we do, the kids.
  • “I’m right and everyone else is wrong thinking.” In our polarized society right now, there is a great deal of this kind of thinking, and it can have a detrimental effect on an organization facing a “wave of change.” There was a time when being “open-minded” was a virtue, and compromise was not a dirty word. Tolerance ruled the day. Now, our polarized “”I’m right thinking” has bled over into our schools too. Polarized debates on topics such as school vouchers, sex education, prayer in schools, and teachers’ unions only serve to widen the divide between people. If someone questions the effectiveness or usefulness of these measures, they are immediately attacked.We can’t have an honest look at policy change without one side or the other cooking the data, which in educational research is all too easy to do. An immense amount of effort is going into establishing the “I’m right and you’re wrong” view, and the waves of change meanwhile are slamming hard into our educational institutions. There is greater interest in proving the other side wrong, than learning the truth of what really does work. What is an antidote for “polarized thinking?” Realizing that there is nothing sacred about being right in the debate, especially when it’s more important to do what’s right for the kids.
  • “Protect our turf at all costs thinking.” I have often thought, the only people who have a claim to “turf” in public education should be the kids, and that turf is “What’s in their best interests.” When the “waves of change” started battering the trucking industry in the 1970s, I remember well how trucking company owners held strongly to their turf of wanting wage concessions and benefit reductions to preserve the company. Union trucking company workers held equal ground on these same issues of turf, and in the end, both sides lost. Companies closed, and no one had any turf to battle over any more. Fast forward today, and the recent complaints by Best Buy about Amazon seem to be the same kind of turf battle. Best Buy does not appreciate Amazon’s selling electronics and appliances to undercut their prices, so there was talk about Best Buy refusing to sell Amazon’s Kindle readers. The end result of this turf war would not improve Best Buy’s current situation against the “wave of change” that is upon them. There is just too much money to be made in electronics and appliances. Protect the turf at all costs thinking in both these cases results in both sides losing. Amazon loses satisfying customers who want to go purchase an e-reader locally. Best Buy loses that customer who came to their store to purposefully buy an ereader. In education, protect-our-turf-at-all-costs thinking is happening on multiple levels. It is most insidious at the local level, where individuals fight hard to preserve what exists because it is their turf, and they’re not giving it up. Antidote for “turf-protecting thinking is simple. Keep your eyes focused on the real reason why we do what we do, the kids. Recognize that we share a common purpose.
  • “Change for Change’s Sake thinking.” With everyone yelling about the need to reform our education system, this is perhaps one of the most increasingly common forms of thinking that keeps a school or district from moving forward. This kind of thinking is perhaps best illustrated by the argument many make for certain reforms, by simply stating, “Well, we’ve got to do something.” This kind of thinking is responsible for the endless wheel of reform, education often finds itself on. Educators and policymakers institute change because, in their view, change is called for. Never mind whether the change is sound or really addresses the issues. Many people accuse those who speak out against such reforms or proposals as “defending the status quo” or as “advocating for what is.” But “We’ve just got change this” thinking is just as dangerous to an organization as well. When Borders decided to enter the ebook market, a great deal of blood between Barnes and Noble and Amazon had already been spilt. Their decision was late, and more importantly, it was reactionary thinking. Change for change’s sake thinking is reactionary thinking without deliberation. It is deciding to take a course of action, not because it is the best course of action, but because “We’ve got to do something.” I can’t but wonder whether a great deal of our current national ed policy under Race to the Top is this kind of thinking. There is no research to support that having Common Standards, instituting merit pay for teachers, or using value-added measures is going to raise student achievement. In fact, there is some research to the contrary, yet there’s the push to implement reform, and anyone who questions it is said to be guilty of “supporting the status quo.” Change of change’s sake thinking submits to simply taking a course of action, because there’s a perceived obligation to do so. The antidote for the reactionary thinking of this kind is simply pausing and resisting the urge to do something immediately. By pausing, you buy time for level heads to prevail. 
There are certainly many other kinds of thinking that would cause a district or school to miss that “wave of change” that propels other schools and districts to successful innovation. In my experience, the forces within a school or school district employ any and all of these ways of thinking to preserve things just as they are. Let’s just hope those schools and districts don’t end up like Circuit City, Borders, or Blockbuster.

Monday, October 29, 2012

More on Leadership and Why I'm Not Upgrading to Windows 8

Because one of my readers took the time to post a thoughtful comment to my post entitled "5 Reasons I am Not Upgrading to Windows 8 at This Time," I felt the need to clarify my reasoning as to why a Windows 8 upgrade is not in my picture. Because my explanation is longer than the comment-reply feature can handle, I include it here.

You have my apologies for your disappointing experience with this post, but my target for this post was clearly Windows 8 and my own experience and decision not to upgrade at this time, because everything I read about the new OS indicates that it would be a poor purchase decision for me. Like everyone else, before I spend my money on devices and new operating systems, I turn to the web for information, and in this case I did. Like the web link I included in the original post, article after article indicated to me that upgrading to Windows 8 with my current devices would not be a wise decision. All of the information I have says it was designed for "touchscreen" devices, and that those who purchased it, and were trying to use the OS with a mouse and keyboard, were finding the experience miserable at best. In the interest of fairness though, I am going to change the title of that post slightly to simply read, “5 Reasons I’m Not Upgrading to Windows 8 at This Time,” and I will do a follow up post listing all the resources that led me to make that decision not to upgrade.

It is true, I have not physically tried Windows 8, but that does not mean I can't use the experiences of others to make a judgment on whether the OS it right for me. All consumers do this. I have no testing budget for the software and hardware I describe on this blog, so that means, like any consumer, I can't just rush out and buy every new OS, software platform, or device that comes along "and try it for the sake of being a good leader."  I can and will continue to share both my experiences, and the resources that I can to help others make decisions best for their particular circumstances. In this case, the best decision I can make, with the information I have, is not to upgrade to Windows 8 at this time.

As I mentioned in the above post, I also ran the compatibility utility available from Microsoft as well, and there were way too many "driver incompatibilities" as well. The last time I did an operating system upgrade, I spent an entire day finding compatible drivers. My decision right now is based on the fact that I would have to spend a great deal of time trying find compatible drivers for things like my laptop’s Bluetooth interface, DVD burner, and several other onboard hardware devices.  There were just too many devices in the list that would force me to search the web for Windows 8 compatible devices, and that does not weigh to well against the minimal gains I might get from upgrading. Perhaps in a few months, when Microsoft has had time to work out the bugs, I can reconsider, but my laptop is running smoothly right now. If Microsoft wants me to upgrade, it is up to them to create a product that doesn't change that, and part of that is ensuring that the transition to their new products is a smooth one.

As for the need for a "consistent experience across Windows devices"? I don't need that experience, because I only have one device with Windows, my laptop.  I have recently purchased three Android tablet and e-reader devices, so I am very unlikely to purchase a Windows tablet. I also do not have plans to purchase a Windows phone. This means I have no “Windows devices on which to have a consistent experience,” so that selling point does not work for me.

Anyone can clearly see from my blog that I am willing to try new and different devices and software systems, so you could hardly accuse me of advocating for "stagnation." Choosing not to upgrade to Windows 8 at this time and sharing that decision with my readers does not mean that I am trying to advocate for anything other than informing those who might be in my same situation, that a Windows 8 upgrade might not be in their best interest.

I would love to try Windows 8, but unfortunately, because of the way Microsoft has engineered this new operating system, for me to do so, I would have to purchase a new device to fully experience it the way designers intended, and I don’t have the kind of resources to rush out and purchase a new tablet or a touchscreen computer to sample that experience.

Does any of this mean I will not upgrade in the future? No, but if I do, it will be because the software meets my needs, not because it is latest thing out there. From my perspective, leadership isn't about avoiding stagnation; those who do so, often find themselves only trendy and ineffective leaders who pursue the flavor of the week. Leadership for me is about making wise decisions using the best available information out there, and in this case, at this time, the best information is telling me to avoid a Windows 8 Upgrade at this time.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

When Policies, Procedures, and Rules Matter More Than Our Students

One of the biggest hurdles in public education isn't lack of resources, ineffective teachers, or even bad leadership. These things are often present and bad enough, but one of the most destructive force in public education is something more overt, something that is right in front of us as school leaders. That force is made up of our policies, procedures, rules, regulations and legislation. 

To put this into perspective only takes one question, "How many times do we as educators find ourselves in the position of defending and/or carrying out policies and procedures that we know are not in the best interest of the students in our charge?" Granted, none of these things are so sinister and evil that a student is physically harmed, but more often than not, these policies and procedures just make it harder for us to do what is right for kids. Let's look at some examples.

  • Calendar Laws: In North Carolina, our state legislature, lobbied fiercely by the tourism industry, passed a law that dictates the start and end date of the school year. Public schools, except for charters of course who are excused from the law, cannot begin school before August 25, and must end their school year by June 10. At the high school level, this means that our first semester exams are not administered until after Christmas break, which is usually about 2 weeks long. In other words, students are out of school, they come back to school for about a week or two, then we give them their first semester exams. If we were doing what's in the best interest of our high school students, and not the tourism industry lobby, we would end first semester just before Christmas holidays and have exams then. This clearly a case where policy, state law, and the tourism industry interests trumps the interest of kids.
  • Transportation Rules: The world of public school transportation is riddled with all manner of rules, regulations, policies, procedures and legislation, and one has to wonder if this part of public education sometimes even knows its primary purpose involves students. Any administrator will tell you that one of the first walls you run into as a first time assistant principal are regulations governing the transportation of kids. For example, I have a shuttle bus that transports students back and forth from our sister high school at four points throughout the day. This bus recently broke down and had to be put in the shop. Because of regulations, this bus is not classified as part of the "yellow" bus fleet; it is classified as an "activity bus." This meant that when it broke down, I could only use another "activity bus" to transport students, not one of the many "yellow buses" sitting idle in the parking lot. The problem really became thorny when no activity buses were going to be available. Because someone, and you never know who that someone is, says I can't use a "yellow" bus as a shuttle to replace my  normal shuttle bus, I have students who have no transportation to get back and forth between the schools. Once again, policies, regulations, and rules prevent doing what's best for kids, even when it comes to transportation.
  • Child Nutrition Rules: Public school child nutrition rules, regulations, policies, procedures and legislation are all a maze of dos and don'ts that few people really know completely and understand. Much of these rules filter their way down from our federal government because of federal subsidies, but these rules, regulations, and policy often make strange things happen in our public schools. For example, there have been instances where school districts, in an effort to keep from losing money, which often happens with lunch programs, pass rules and procedures that are clearly not in the best interest of kids. A good example of this is the practice of no money, no lunch, which is sometimes enforced in bizarre ways. No money-no lunch happens when students don't have money to pay for lunch. Cafeteria managers, who aren't the bad guys here, are instructed to take a lunch away from a student who comes through the line if they either have no lunch money in their account, or if they have already charged too much. Sometimes they are even instructed to discard that lunch, and sometimes that happens right in front of the kids, with the cafeteria personnel throwing it away right in front of the student. Most of us who have been in the schools any length of time, know how often students are sent to school without lunch money. Parents are human. They forget. Some have bills to pay, and did not budget properly, so they did not have any money to give their kids. The kid comes to school without lunch money. Because of rules, regulations, policies, and procedures put in place , we have a young student going without lunch. My question is, "How could that possibly be in the best interest of kids?"
  • State Contract Purchases: Purchasing anything for schools is long, convoluted process that could cause any administrator a headache. Sometimes these headaches are more apparent when trying to purchase supplies or resources for the school. For example, if I decide to purchase a computer or calculator for our school, it is not a matter of just looking for the cheapest price. Very often, there's a list of "State Contracted Purchases" that must be consulted if you are going to use certain state funds. In other words, if I wish to purchase a computer, and if I want to use a certain state fund to do it, then I have to buy what is listed in state contract, even though it might not fit my needs, or it might even be more expensive. As an administrator in the business of trying to meet the educational needs of children, being able to get students exactly what they need is important. Also important is being a good steward of the tax payer money we have in our charge. This means making what little money we get go further, which is also in the best interest of our students. Yet, when rules, regulations, policies, procedures and legislation dictate purchases from a negotiated contract, rather than allowing for student need, we clearly have another instance where policies rule and kids lose.
  • Federal and State Fund Expenditure Guidelines: This is the least favorite part of my role as administrator. Navigating all the rules and expenditure guidelines for all funding streams is akin to getting four root canals all at once. There are rules and guidelines tied many of the funds a school receives. What that means is for example, because this block of $10,000 comes from our state government earmarked for purchasing textbooks, it can only be used for that. That means spending them on e-readers or tablets is out of the question. Never mind that we don't use textbooks that much anymore. We can only buy textbooks from a list of books approved by a board in our state capital, two-hundred miles away. In the world of spending guidelines, a school leader can easily get lost, but that is minor compared to the fact that in the world of public education we are often forced to spend money on things we don't really need or want, instead of taking those funds and spending them on what we know our kids need. Once again, policies, rules, regulations and legislation trumps the needs of kids, even when spending on them.
  • Many, many More: In the twenty-plus years in education, there are many times decisions are forced by policy, rules, regulations, and legislation that are not always the best decisions of kids. I am sure you could easily add yours here. When schools and school districts lose sight of their reason for existence, it is easy to get lost on the policies, procedures, rules, regulations, and legislation.
Now, I realize there needs to be policies, procedures, rules, regulations and legislation. Too often, without these things mistakes are made that costs our kids even more. But, there needs to be some kind of solution that allows school leaders to make decisions in the interest of kids, even when rules and regs say otherwise. 

I am often baffled by some of the reasoning often given for allowing charter schools to exist. One of those arguments is so that schools can operate without all the red tape and regulations. But if "all the red tape and regulation" is a bad thing, THEN GET RID OF IT. Instead we have legislators passing more of it for public schools, then creating charter school laws exempting them from the same rules and regulations they created.

I suppose the only sure way for this issue to have some resolution is straightforward and simple. When school leaders, policymakers, and politicians engage in creating rules, regulations, policies, procedures, and legislation, then need to do so thoughtfully and mindfully. I'm not saying they don't, but the guiding question should always be, "Will the kids win or lose from implementation of this policy or rule?" The answer should included "always" every time.

5 Reasons I’m Not Upgrading to Windows 8 at This Time

Should you upgrade to Windows 8? The answer? Probably not if you are asking that question right now. Microsoft has made it amazingly tempting with its cheap upgrade offers. Currently, I could upgrade my personal laptop for only $14.99, but I won’t.

It is seldom that I share a single link to a single web site or resource on this blog, at least I haven’t done that lately, but this video from C/NET makes a darn good case to stay away from the Microsoft Windows 8 Upgrade. (Top 5 Reasons Not to Upgrade to Windows 8).

But the special offers from Microsoft to upgrade to Windows 8 make the idea quite tempting. Unfortunately, even though I could upgrade my laptop from Windows 7 to Windows 8 on the cheap, I won’t and here’s why.
  • My laptop isn’t a touchscreen laptop, and Windows 8’s interface is designed for touchscreens. I have read complaints everywhere on how awkward trying to navigate a touchscreen interface with a mouse and keyboard is, so for now, I’ll save myself the pain. Perhaps you should too. I’m staying with the Windows 7 desktop interface for now.
  • I want to avoid the horror of finding compatible drivers for all the devices on my laptop. I ran the Windows 8 utility to check compatibility, and there were way too many devices with question marks beside them. My laptop is buzzing along nicely thank you. I don’t won’t to spend hours trying to find compatible drivers so that my Bluetooth capability will work, or to keep my DVD burner working. Finding drivers is a nightmare. Even $14.99 isn’t enough motivation to make me spend an entire day trying to find compatible drivers.
  • Honestly, I like my desktop. I like my start button. I like whole Windows 7 interface. Honestly, I could care less about having sleek tiles on my screen. I like my task bar. I like my start button, and I like my ability to just slap folders on my desktop. Switching to something else when I like what I have makes no sense.
  • I don’t want to take time to learn a new operating system. For me to want to learn a new operating system, I need to know there’s going to be some benefit, but from what I’ve read, there isn’t simply enough benefit to force me to spend the time to learn how to operate my laptop again. Faster boot times and the Windows app store aren’t enough motivation to make the switch, and from what I’ve read those are the only other two reasons I can find to make the switch.
  • Finally, my laptop “ain’t broke anyway.” When something is running well, why mess things up? I’m afraid upgrading to Windows 8 will turn my otherwise satisfying desktop experience into a battle of bugs. No thank you. I’ll stay with Windows 7.
After a little research and discussion with other through social media, I am happy as a Windows 7 user. I am also a happy Android user too, so I don’t really need another operating system that maximizes my touchscreen experience. Sorry Microsoft, but you haven’t yet convinced me, even with your cheap upgrade prices.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Indicators of a World-Class 21st Century Education System

With all the talk about having a “world-class education system” from politicians and policymakers, one would think that our schools would be undergoing major reforms designed to create exactly the kinds of schools that foster 21st century learning and education. Too often though, I suspect this isn't the case, because these individuals define “world-class” as simply “having the best test scores in the world” because in their next breath they lament just how poorly American students compare with other international students on tests like the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). To many of these individuals, this equation seems to apply:


Without a doubt, many of these politicians and policymakers define “world-class” in ways that clearly create “world-class schools” better fitted for the Industrial age where factories and assembly lines were the ultimate destinations of students. These so-called “world class education systems” are, to put it bluntly, schools that churn out “good test scores.”  In a word, a world-class education, in their eyes,  is still about an education done to students rather than something in which they engage in.

Because of this view of “world-class education systems” our politicians and policy-makers, we continue to tweak the edges of our education system instead of really finding substantial ways to reform our education system.
  • We develop new standards and new tests, thinking that if only the hurdles were higher and the measurements tougher, then we would have a “world-class education system.
  • We extend the school day, thinking that only if we subjected our students with more of the same for longer periods of time, we would have a world class education system.
  • We add technology to our schools to help us teach like we have always have done, instead of allowing the technology to help us rethink learning and teaching.
  • We toughen or change graduation standards every four years when new at the whim of the next politician in office, whose thinking is that if we only change the ingredients of our graduation mixture, we would have a world class education system. 
In a word, we continue the same cycles of reform and deform that began with the Sputnik declarations in the 1950s and 1960s, because we can’t let go of a fundamental deeply held belief that education is something done to students rather than something they engage in.

If we were to be honest with ourselves and sincerely asked the question, “What does a truly world class education system for the 21st century look like?” we need to look further than higher test scores.
  • A “world-class” education system is about educating students to tackle 21st century issues, not about achievement test scores.
  • A “world-class” education system engages students in authentic learning experiences, not standardized learning experiences.
  • A “world class” education system actively engages students in their own learning, and does not have them sit passively in classrooms, waiting for the content to be delivered to them.
In his latest book, World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students, Yong Zhao provides a thought-provoking list of indicators of a world-class education system. According to him,  we don’t need 21st century schools that churn out “acceptable” test scores like the 20th century schools. We need 21st century schools that foster creativity, entrepreneurial thinking, and innovation. Here are “Eight Indicators of World-Class Schools” adapted and paraphrased from Zhao’s book.

1. A world class education system gives students the “right and opportunity” to participate in school governance, and in constructing the physical, social, and cognitive school environment. Zhao points out the dictatorial nature of our current education system. It seeks to dictate exactly what every student should learn, without regard to her interests or talents.  Students aren't provided opportunities to have any say in their own learning. The whole idea of “educating students” is something done to them, and they are passive participants. In a world-class education system they have a say in their own learning. They participate in the development and construction of their own learning and places of learning. In a word, they are empowered to take ownership of their own learning.

2. A world class education capitalizes on student engagement by giving students a curriculum that is broad and flexible. The curriculum gives students the freedom to pursue their own interests and the development of their own personal talents, rather than creating standardized workers capable of all performing the same tasks. Our current education still seeks to narrow the curriculum and make it rigid. The belief that there are a list of skills and talents every student should have drives a curriculum narrowly focused on skills and talents subject to standardized testing. A world-class education system has a broad, flexible curriculum that can be individually tailored to the interests, talents, and abilities of each student.

3. A world class education system provides personal support for each of its students. Our traditional schools were and still are still set up to deliver an assembly-line education in a standardized manner. A true world-class education system provides what Zhao calls sufficient and accessible “emotional, social, and cognitive support for students so they can personalize their own learning.” All students are connected to at least one significant adult in the building. A world-class education system personalizes each student’s education through a solid system of support.

4. A world class education system engages students in authentic learning experiences that ask them to create authentic products of learning. In our current traditional system of education, students still spend a great deal of their learning time engaged in inauthentic activities involving worksheets, textbooks, and standardized tests. Instead, students in a world-class education system are engaged in learning where student work is defined as authentic and real-world. A world-class education system engages students in 21st century learning tasks that are authentic and personally meaningful.

5. A world class education system engages students in a sustained and disciplined process of learning. In the old traditional education system, students basically complete their work. The teacher grades it and gives it back. In a world-class education system, students are engaged in a learning process that asks them to develop, review, evaluate and revise. In this kind of learning, students are clearly engaged in more that finding right answers and giving them to the teacher. They are engaged in a world-class education that asks them develop, evaluate, revise, and promote products of their learning.

6. A world class education system capitalizes on the local strengths of its students, teachers. A world class education system takes advantage of the locale of its schools, and it effectively taps into community resources. The schools' teaching reflects the strengths of its teaching staff. The system provides ways for both teachers and students to exploit their own talents and interests.  A world class education system seeks not to standardize, but to make the most of both its students and teachers in all learning.

7. A world class education system has a world orientation. This means simply, that the school operates from a global perspective, not the narrow perspective of local community or even country. World-class schools seek international partnerships, and students are engaged in learning involving global issues. In addition, students are engaged in frequent interactions with students from other countries. In other words, a world-class education system moves students and their learning beyond the walls of their classrooms and even the borders of their country.

8. A world class education system develops the global competence in its students. Global competence refers to the ability of students to interact with others from different cultures. This means in world-class schools, foreign languages and cultural learning are important. It means students have opportunities to interact with these foreign cultures either through the use of technology or through field trips. In other words, a world-class education system provides opportunities for students to experience other countries and cultures in engaging and relevant ways.

Having a world-class education system is more than having one where decision makers can have bragging rights to the highest scores in the world. Ultimately, a world-class education system focuses on student engagement, student choice, personalization, authentic learning, global perspective, and global competence. Unfortunately, these are things that often make education messy.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Six Practices of Schools and School Districts Marching to Obsolescence

In 2012, the powerful inertia to keep schools and school districts the same continues to dampen and  neutralize any efforts to innovate and change how schools operate. We are still on a march to obsolescence.

A recent example of this inertia in North Carolina, was when school districts tried to innovate with changing their school calendars. School districts shifted their calendars to better align their semester schedules with student needs. But it was the powerful tourism lobby, Save Our Summers,  that then pushed lawmakers to set legal limits when schools can start and end because, as their web site says, they “seek to establish, protect and maintain a more traditional school calendar.” Maintaining a “traditional” school calendar was not about helping schools do a better job teaching kids, it was mostly about preservation of the status quo, and preserving the school calendar they enjoyed while attending Industrial Age schools, not to mention profit.

These kind of efforts are simply attempts to keep the same Industrial Age schools of the previous century. These forces of inertia are making our schools obsolete simply because too many of them are made up of people who hold tightly to a nostalgic view of an ideal standard school that never really existed, except in the minds of the few of them for which schools worked. As Frank Kelly, Ted McCain and Ian Jukes write in their book, Teaching the Digital Generation: No More Cookie-Cutter High Schools,

“The most important issue facing schools today is the reluctance of those in control of education to let go of what they are used to, whatever their role in the system.”

The people and forces at work to preserve our education system as it is are powerful and strong. There are the politicians who see nothing wrong with the school systems that provided them with opportunities, so they continue to make laws that prop up the Industrial Age schools and districts they know. Policymakers are often beholden to politicians because they are left with trying to create policy that follows the letter of the law and regulations developed by politicians. Teachers, who very often excelled under a 20th century, standardized, Industrial Age education, are reluctant to change teaching methodology because, after all, “It worked for me.” School and district administrators and staff are more engaged in carrying the dictates of policy from on high, and often do not see their place as “One to question why.” Then there are parents, who very often had positive school experiences when they were in school, so they want the exact same schools for their children.

Is it any wonder with all these forces at work, that most reform occurs at the edges of our school system as Milton Chen describes in his book Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in Our Schools? Is it any wonder we spend most of our time tweaking schedules, lengthening school days, implementing new sets of standards and new testing, and trying to force technology to help us educate students as we always have done? And yet our drop out rates only improve marginally, student measures are down. Our schools are still on the road to obsolescence, because we are still engaged in practices that preserve 20th century Industrial age schooling.

Here’s a list of some of those practices that are really moving our schools to obsolescence:
  • We still design and build schools structurally the way they always have been. While I certainly do not advocate building the open school buildings of the 60s and 70s and causing that fiasco, today, it seems little thought seems to go in the designs of our school buildings. We are still building structures containing distinct classrooms to house students in assembly-line manner to push them through the grades, like products. Perhaps we should be building schools with flexible learning spaces with walls easily removed and reconfigured to meet the needs of students, rather than fitting students to the needs of the building. Perhaps we shouldn’t even build high schools all with the same departmental classroom groupings. Maybe to meet the needs of students, classrooms are arranged by areas of interest or study, with core content teachers working within these instead of departments. Or, maybe one high school need only have art studios, music studios, or an acting theater rather than a football stadium and science labs. Such a school would be structured to meet the needs of art students, rather than STEM or athletics. In other words, we need to design school buildings to meet the needs of all 21st century students, rather than trying to fit students in predetermined school structures that have no flexibility
  • In many of our schools, we still have teachers engaged in teaching the same ways they have always taught and were taught. The argument that lecture is a perfectly fine method of teaching because it worked for me is a step toward obsolescence. We need to stop trying to fit students to teaching and instruction, and instead, fit teaching and instruction to the needs of students. Students need to have the options of learning traditionally if they wish, but they also need to be able to learn through project-based or problem-based learning if that fits their needs. They need to be able to engage in online learning and internships if those fit their learning needs. They need to be able to engage in the kinds of learning that fits them, instead of schools trying to force students to learn in ways that do not work for them.
  • We still are too often engaged in finding ways to get technology to help us educate as we always have instead of using technology to reinvent teaching and learning. Students typing 5 paragraph essays on computers hardly qualifies as technology integration. Having teachers use PowerPoint to enhance their lectures hardly makes for 21st century teaching. Using the Internet solely as an information source, instead of a tool to engage in global learning and connecting, hardly means using it for 21st century learning. Our schools still plod toward obsolescence because we still think of technology as a means to do the things we’ve always done better, rather than using it to reinvent what we are able to do.
  • We still sacrifice kids to uphold policy and procedure rather than developing policy and procedures to meet the needs of kids. How many times do we prevent a student from taking a higher level course simply because they do not have the requisite “seat time” in another class, especially when we know that student is perfectly capable to being successful in that class? How many times do we keep students in our buildings all day simply because our regulations say they have to be in the building 7.5 hours, when it would be to their advantage to spend some time working at the animal shelter? How many times have we had to purchase “state adopted” textbooks and materials because the rules only allowed us to purchase those items, when other materials would work better for our kids? Our march toward obsolescence also includes a hard-headed unwillingness to enforce and abide by policy, procedures, and regulations even though they are not always in the best interest of kids.
  • We are hard at work standardizing our schools, our curriculums, our tests, and even our instructional materials. In public education, there is a strong force that says anomalies and differences are bad. We push for schools that are same, from how they are arranged to even how their web pages are designed. Our government pushes for a standardized curriculum for all in spite of the fact that we know all students do not learn the same way, and don’t even have the same interests. We tell ourselves,  “We’re going to make scientists and mathematicians of them whether they like or not.” We give standardized tests, so that we can “measure” both students and educators and see if we have “added any value” to our students as they have progressed through our Industrial Age assembly line schools. We have policymakers pushing for e-textbooks and tablets that merely make books electronic and encourage the same kinds of learning we’ve always done. Never mind that some students do not learn best from text whether it is electronic or paper. Our efforts to standardize everything demonstrates that Industrial Age thinking still has a tenacious hold on our schools in the march toward obsolescence.
  • We are still caught thinking of school as something “done to kids” between the hours of 8 AM and 3 PM. We force teenagers into classrooms at 7:30 AM when all the research in the world, and common sense, says their intelligent thinking capacities don’t really kick in until much later in the morning. We allows bus schedules and lunch schedules drive when teaching and learning occurs instead of fitting those things to teaching and learning. We allow sports practices to dictate when school ends for all high school students, when there are some who would excel under a class schedule that extends into the early evening. We march toward obsolescence because we refuse to fundamentally rethink the school day.
I do not advocate change for change’s sake. It is just as easy to get caught up in the thinking that we have to change something because it needs changing. Many of the tweaks and changes being made to our schools are the product of this kind of thinking. Yet, our schools continue to march toward obsolescence because we are not willing to fundamentally let got of our own nostalgic view of schools and school districts. The key to moving away from obsolescence to innovation and invention is perhaps in not holding anything sacred. We must be willing question everything about our schools and school districts. By trying to find ways to preserve and better what has clearly not worked for all students in the past is a sure way to continue our march to obsolescence.