Thursday, March 29, 2012

NC Gubernatorial Candidate Pat McCroy’s Stale, Unoriginal Plan for Public Schools

Yesterday, North Carolina Gubernatorial candidate Pat McCroy released his plan to reform education. Basically, that plan suffers from a total lack of new ideas and innovation and simply carries the Republican Party line of trying to privatize public education. Here’s the basic components of McCroy’s ed reform package taken from a document on his website entitled “A Passion for Education: The McCroy Plan for North Carolina Schools.”
  • Educational Choice: McCroy describes his version of choice as: 1) Choice between a college ready diploma and a career ready diploma, 2) Expanding virtual classes for public, private and homeschooled students, 3) Streamlining the charter school approval process so that its faster.
  • Use tests to determine whether 3rd graders should be promoted and a proficiency test for all ninth graders: McCroy would use the results of tests third graders take to determine whether they would be promoted to fourth grade or not. He would also implement some kind of proficiency test in reading and mathematics for ninth graders. Those not passing would take remedial courses, but he does not say that they would not be promoted.
  • Merit Pay for teachers: McCroy would change the pay system for teachers in North Carolina to “reward teachers for the job they do instead of the number of years they teach.”
  • Grading Schools: McCroy would use what he calls “unbiased,objective exams” in reading and mathematics to grade schools. Schools would be graded for both proficiency and growth according to McCroy’s plans. In his school grading scheme, half of a school’s grade would be based on proficiency levels, and the other half would be based on growth.
So what is wrong the McCroy Plan for North Carolina Schools? Here’s some things for starters.
  • It lacks any specificity at all. It isn’t a plan at all. It is at best a policy statement. I would shudder to think that anyone can reduce their plans for education reform to only three pages. That indicates either a superficial, incomplete understanding of the troubles facing public schools in North Carolina, or it indicates an acceptance of a boilerplate reform plan from special interests and political parties.
  • McCroy’s plan relies on measures that have been tried and failed or that fly in the face of research. North Carolina has tried to stop social promotion before and discovered that they just didn’t want to base a student’s future on the results of one test of dubious reliability and validity. Placing such weight on state testing also violates the state’s testing code of ethics. Also, North Carolina has tried the old high school proficiency test idea for many years with the old competency tests high schoolers had to take and pass to graduate. That ended because it wasn’t working. North Carolina even tried a form of merit pay by giving teachers bonuses based on test scores, but our politicians canned that when budget times got tight. Then there’s the research cited by authors like Daniel Pink and Dan Ariely that point out how futile merit pay is any way.  Grading schools was tried under No Child Left Behind, and we all know how successful that’s been for the past decade.
  • It follows the standard boilerplate Republican platform that ultimately seeks to privatize public education. One thing you can’t accuse McCroy of is straying from his Republican handlers. But because of that, his entire education plan is a “status quo” plan. There’s not an ounce of originality or thought put into it. It is more about furthering a political agenda than genuinely reforming schools. If it were, there would be innovative and thoughtful ideas in it, not a rehashing of what Republican governors are doing around the country already.
  • McCroy’s plan is still caught in 19th and 20th century education models. He is still hung up on classifying students by superficial grade levels, and by using “tests” to determine the “defectiveness” of products (students). Those not making the grade are recycled back through the process again. This plan still at its core believes you can grade and classify students by groups. It sees a system of education that pushes students through like factory parts.
  • McCroy’s plan keeps the faith in the power of standardized tests to accurately and infallibly measure the progress of students. McCroy’s thinking about assessment is still caught in the 19th and 20th century model of assessment. He would take our state back to bubble sheets that determine the individual fates of students, in spite of the fact that we’ve had a decade of that under No Child Left Behind and it hasn’t worked. The “unbiased, objective exams he calls for are the tools of schools that are test-prep factories, not schools that are educating students for the 21st century.
  • McCroy leaves a lot of things unsaid in his education plan. For example, how is he going to pay for merit pay schemes when our state has been unable to give anyone a raise in four years? I know he says they’ll look for places to trim in order to pay for it, but he forgets our budgets have been cut for the last few years. He also says nothing of school vouchers, which I know he supports. When politician presents a plan for something that is so vague and unspecific, you can’t help but wonder what he is hiding.
For once, I just wish a candidate for state or federal office would step away from the party line and develop a truly innovative education agenda and plan instead of relying on party apparatus to write that plan. As a twenty-plus year educator, I have to say both political parties are guilty of listening to special interests, political parties, and think tanks funded by individuals with overt or covert agendas. The “status quo” that McCroy says is so unacceptable will only be perpetuated by his unoriginal, stale, partisan education agenda that he outlines in this plan.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

3 Considerations for 21st Century Digital School Leaders

“Digital footprints and shadows constitute our permanent imprint on the world: a detailed summary of our life for our contemporaries and for people of the future to view and consider.” Erik Qualman, Digital Leader: 5 Simple Keys to Success and Influence

With those words, Erik Qualman outlines the precarious position all of us as 21st century school leaders face. Pre-Internet, school leaders only had to worry about their influence locally within their individual schools, districts, and communities. Now, as Qualman points out in Digital Leader: 5 Simple Keys to Success and Influence,  in a digital world, their sphere of influence and leadership has expanded tremendously, and they are forced to take on one more role: digital school leader.  What does it mean for school leaders to become digital leaders? Here's 3 things all digital school leaders have to consider.

  • There is a “no opt-out rule” when it comes to digital leadership. In an age of digital transparency, school leaders  have a digital footprint and shadow whether they want one or not. While some school leaders may hang on to the delusion that, “If I don’t post anything online, then I can control my digital footprint.” Or, “If I avoid online technology as much as possible, then I can hide.” But reality says something entirely different. Even if school leaders aren’t engaged in online activities they are leaving a digital footprint. They also have many stakeholders who are creating what Qualman calls their “digital shadow.” Parents and students are posting things about them anyway. They are commenting incessantly on Facebook about how they’re doing as school leaders. This means they can’t simply dismiss their need to manage our online footprint and shadow.They must act like digital leaders for 21st century schools by accepting digital reality. As Qualman points out, “We’re mini-digital celebrities and digital heroes to someone.” Digital school leaders must be concerned about their digital influence in the 21st century, and ignoring technology won’t make it go away.
  • 21st century school leaders have to change leadership habits to adapt to a digitally open world. There is no place in any 21st century organization for secrecy and hiding anymore. Transparency is the new norm, and effective digital school leaders will master the art of being transparent in their new digital leadership role. They have no choice but lead with increasingly higher levels of transparency. This means engaging in social media, wikis, web pages, and the tools of transparency to be open and honest with stakeholders.
  • Twenty-first century school leaders have no choice but watch their “digital reputations.” As Erik Qualman reminds his readers, the best plan for digital school leaders is to “Live online as if your mother is watching.” Their online actions do have ramifications in real life and they must act as if they do. As Qualman so aptly points out, “The digital revolution has connected our integrity and reputation in a way never before seen. Our online and offline lives have become inseparable.” For a school leader to think they live two separate lives in these domains is to deny reality. Digital school leaders are keenly aware that their digital reputation is as important as their offline one.

Twenty-first century school leaders have to become digital leaders too. They all have a digital footprint and digital shadow whether they want one or not. In the 21st century school, being a digital leader is no longer optional.

When Staff Make Bad Decisions: What Can 21st Century School Leaders Do?

As a 21st century school leader, how do you cultivate using "good judgment" in your staff when making curricular decisions and decisions about media to be used in the classroom? I recently stumbled across this article, "Wando Teacher Resigns, Ending Appeal in Jackass 2 Incident." While the article obviously provides only the bare minimum details about the incident, so I an a bit hesitant to judge the teacher, it does prompt me as a school leader to ask this question regarding fostering the use of "good judgment" in teachers and staff.

The teacher in this article made the decision to show portions of the movie "Jackass 2" to his students. According to the teacher's appeal, he admitted that he had not previewed the movie and he was only "generally aware of its content."  From the news story, my impression is there seems to be no doubt that the teacher was an effective teacher, and gathering from the reasons for his resignation, it would seem some students seemed to support him. The problem is in this case: one error in judgment ruined a career. During my 20+ years as an educator I have seen this same scenario happen more than a dozen times.

So, what can a 21st century school leader do to inoculate our teachers from making these kinds of career-destroying decisions? When it comes to making decisions regarding what kinds of media and media resources to use in their classrooms, what do we tell young teachers when they come on board? It is a sad thing to see a career destroyed by a momentary lapse in judgment. The parent part of me says, "They should have known better." Perhaps they should have, but as a school leader, do I not also have a responsibility to cultivate the "use of good judgment" in those under my charge? The classroom teacher in me hates to see a promising career destroyed by these kinds of incidents, but at some point teachers, like kids grow up, and they do sometimes make decisions that are quite painful. Like the parents we've all had, we can't protect those same promising teachers from their decisions. However, that doesn't make it any easier.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How to Become a Connected Educator: Developing an Effective PLN

According to Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall, “Teachers must learn to model connectedness and enable students to develop personal learning networks, made up of people and resources from both their physical and virtual worlds---but first, teachers must become connected collaborators themselves.”  With that, in their book The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age, Nussbaum-Beach and Hall introduce the idea of the teacher-modeler of connectedness, and throughout their book, they tell educators how to become a “connected educator.”

The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age

Nussbaum-Beach and Hall begin by defining what a connected educator is. According to these authors, a connected educator has these characteristics:

  • Connected educators are "do-it-yourself learners." They don't wait for someone to deliver professional development to them. They seek out professional development and learning that meets their individual needs.
  • Connected educators have a "network of collective wisdom" to turn to when information and knowledge is needed. Educators who are connected have fostered and developed, over time, a network of other professionals to turn to for professional knowledge needs.
  • Connected educators are "collaborative learners." They rely on others to help provide learning and they contribute to the learning of those in their personal learning network.
  • Connected educators have moved away from the "paradigm of isolation and closed doors" to sharing a strong commitment with other educators to learn and understand more and more about teaching and learning. The educator who is connected no longer closes their classroom door and carries on teaching. They actively enlist the help of others and offer their help in return.
  • Connected educators have leveraged online networks to solve their instructional problems through crowdsourcing and relying on the wisdom of the crowd for resources on teaching and learning. The educator who is connected does not hesitate to engage others in the face of the issues and problems of teaching. They use the crowd to learn more about the craft of teaching.
After providing a clear definition of what it means to be a connected educator, Nussbaum-Beach and Hall then provide clear guidance on how to develop this connected learning for educators, which tools to use, and how to sustain being a connected learner over time.
Nussbaum-Beach and Hall's book The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age is powerful book. For the educator and 21st century leader who is just wading in to the development of personal learning networks, it provides a clear path to making that happen. For the experienced connected educator, you walk away with a comprehensive understanding of what personal learning networks are, how they work, and how to optimize your own network. It is an excellent manual for administrators too, who want to transform educational practice in their schools or districts to capitalizes on 21st century technologies.

Monday, March 26, 2012

6 Must-Have Mobile Device Apps for the School Administrator

Ask yourself what makes an app on a mobile device useful, and the answer is that the most useful apps have these four characteristics:

  • The app is available for and syncs across multiple devices. This means users can use the app on their iPad, Android phone, or even their Kindle Fire. Because of this feature, data created or stored by the app is available on any one of the devices used.
  • The app is easy to use. This rule applies to any software, but most especially to mobile apps. It must have an easy to use interface and design. If it is too complicated, the difficulty of use outweighs any positive features the app might have.
  • The app facilitates the easy sharing of data stored or generated. Being able to share using app has rapidly become an expectation, especially with mobile device apps. The ability to Tweet out a note from your note taking app or to email someone found links in your social bookmark app makes the app useful for 21st century learners. Any app that is about collecting needs to be able to share out what is collected.
  • The app is free or relatively inexpensive.  People aren't willing to spend a great deal for apps they use,especially if there are functional free alternatives, which there often is. At the most, the apps need to be inexpensive as well if they are to be most useful for the money.

With those four characteristics in mind , here are my suggested apps for the administrator looking for mobile apps, whether it is the iPad, iPhone, or Android phone, here's my top six.

Note Taking App Evernote Evernote is by far the most versatile note taking app available currently. It easily has all four of the characteristics above. Evernote is accessible on my deskop, the web, my iPad, my Droid phone and even my Kindle Fire. Sharing notes is easy too. Even the premium version of Evernote is quite affordable. For more information check out
Cloud-Based Storage App Dropbox Dropbox is the easiest to use of the cloud-based storage options. Making sure a file appears on multiple devices is as easy as saving in your Dropbox folder. Sharing access to files and folders is easy too. Dropbox meets all four criteria above to easily become my cloud-based storage app of choice. For more information regarding Dropbox check out
Social Bookmarking

Diigo for iPad

Powernotes for Android Device
Diigo is definitely the way to go to customize how you share bookmarks and notes with others. It also has versions of its apps available on anything electronic, and sharing through social media, email or groups is a cinch. Diigo meets all four criteria above as well. For more information regarding Diigo, check out For information on Powernotes, check out
PDF Readers

Goodreader for (iPad)

ezPDF Reader for Android Devices
Good PDF readers allow users to easily access, read, and annotate PDF documents. While neither of these apps meet all of the criteria above, both of these apps make reading PDF documents easy. For information about Goodreader, check out For information about ezPDF Reader, check out
Twitter Clients

Tweetcaster for Android Devices

Twitter for iPad
Tweetcaster is my favorite on my Kindle Fire, and the Twitter app is my Tweeting app of choice for the iPad. The truth is, since Twitter redid Tweetdeck, it is my Twitter app of choice simply because I’ve tried others and haven’t found one I like better. For information on Tweetdeck for desktop, check out For information on Tweetcaster for Android devices, check out For Twitter for iPad, check out
E-Reader Kindle I began using all the e-book apps, iBook, Nook, and Kindle in the very beginning, but I have since become a Kindle enthusiast for a couple of reasons. First of all, I like the selection of books offered by Amazon, and secondly there are some great browser extension apps that make sending documents to read in your Kindle app easy to do. For more information on the Kindle apps, check out

Getting the most out of your technology and your mobile devices means using apps that make our jobs easier. These six apps are at the top of my recommendation list for administrators looking to take advantage of the mobility in mobile devices.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

4 Reasons 21st Century Administrators Should Get Out of the Way and Let Students Blog

As a twenty-first century administrator, and a former English teacher, I believe in the power of blogging. There's satisfaction that comes from writing and having others read it. That is fundamental to every rule of composition. So much do I believe in its power, I am excited that students at our school are blogging and excitedly talking about the experience. Once we were able to rescue Blogger from the clutches of the content filter, several of our teachers now have students engaged in blogging as a part of their classroom experience. It's writing 21st century style. Here's 4 reasons to get students blogging for those administrators who still hesitate.

  • Blogging gives students an opportunity to engage a real audience. This became evident this past week when one of our students excitedly came into my office just to tell me about individuals from a European country who contacted her because of her blog. I can't say in 16 years as an English teacher I ever saw one of my students get that excited about an essay they'd just written. Blogging gives students an opportunity to engage in real writing with a potential real audience, an English teacher's dream!
  • Blogging gives teachers and educators a real context for teaching them how to effectively engage others with writing and media. No one sits around reading essays except English teachers, and I say that as a former English teacher. Trying to engage an audience in an essay isn't real. Trying to get others to read and comment on your last blog post is real. Blogging is an environment that gives students the opportunity to experiment and try to see what works with readers, and the feedback is real too.
  • Blogging gives us (all educators) a tool to teach students to contribute responsibly to the web conversation. In the context of blogging, educators can teach students how to engage readers and engage with the right level of disclosure. Teachers can teach students how to blog safely as well as effectively. In other words, if we want students to blog safely, then we have to give them the opportunity to blog.
  • Blogging provides an environment for students to reflect on learning. Sure, reflection can be done in a journal, but journals are at best written for an audience of 2, the student and the teacher. It's in the context of a blog that students can test out what they are thinking with others. The reflection is expanded with feedback and comments. Blogging allows for interactive reflection.
Just to give you some idea of what our students are doing with blogging, here are some of our students' blogs. Some are for an AP US History class. Others are a part of their senior projects. They are doing what a 21st century administrator would be proud of. I obviously do not include their names here, but I can't help but share them with you. 

It is time for 21st century administrators to move beyond the fear of students engaging in blogging. Blogging is an opportunity for students to engage in real writing for a real audience. It is an authentic activity that has the potential to bring real learning to the classroom.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

4 Ways School Administrators Can Use Dropbox

Dropbox is on my short list of must-have school administrator web tools. It offers users and easy-to-use application and any-device access. Dropbox is my virtual file cabinet that follows me around 24 hours a day. But the truth is, this web app can offer school administrators so much more beyond scrapping flash drives and DVDs. With a little thought, it can streamline quite a few things we do. Here's four big ways to use Dropbox as a 21st century administrator.

  • Online Faculty/Staff Most-Used-Form Repository:  How many times has a staff member asked for a copy of that time-sheet adjustment form or the parent contact log? If you're like me, you've emailed it out as a attachment over and over again. Why not take advantage of Dropbox's folder sharing capability and create a folder called "Most-Used Forms" and share that folder with the entire staff? Of course they will all have to get Dropbox accounts, but they should have one anyway. A "Most-Used Forms Folder" will allow you to share all those forms and update them with ease by simply adding new files and forms as they become available.
  • Bragging Item Collection Folder: Why not create a shared Dropbox folder entitled "Bragging Items"? Then, you can invite staff members to upload files such as news releases, copies of articles, and photos to this folder. Over time, you can use contributions from staff to create a virtual library of items your school can boast about.
  • Portable File Cabinet: My 2-drawer file cabinet in the office sits at only 1 drawer half full. In an age of technology, my personal rule of thumb is, "If it can stay electronic, why waste a tree to print it?" I rarely print anything. I simply dump these items into my Dropbox folder. No, I do not create forty folders corresponding to all the areas of administration, such as buses, discipline, or testing. I dump them all in one folder. With computer files being fully searchable, who needs all those folders? You usually spend more time trying to figure out which folder you saved it in than the time it would take to do a Windows search and find it. My file cabinet not longer sits in my office, it is with me 24 hours a day and accessible from any device.
  • Staff Document Collection Tool: With Dropbox, there's no longer a need to ask staff to send documents to you. Simply create a folder, share it with them, and tell them to drag the docs in. For example, why take up emergency lesson plans? Create an "Emergency Lesson Plan" folder, share it, and tell staff to put electronic copies in the folder. You can use this method with any document collection task involving staff or even parents.
I know there are many other ways to engage in using Dropbox (and other cloud options) in a manner that make our jobs as administrators easier. The bottom line is, cloud computing has not only made aspects of teaching more efficient and effective, it has also made school administration more efficient and effective too.

Friday, March 9, 2012

School Administrator Uses of Evernote & Must-Have Evernote Extensions

Evernote is a must-have application for the school administrator. This week, I conducted a concurrent session on it and other web tools at the North Carolina Technology in Education Society’s annual conference. From that conference, here’s 7 Ways Administrators Can Use Evernote:

Evernote Desktop App Screenshot
  • Note Taking: This is the most obvious use of Evernote since that is the application’s purpose. Evernote has some capabilities that make note taking even more powerful. Users have anywhere-any-device access to those notes. They can also tag their notes to make them fully searchable, and sharing notes through email or social media is as easy as clicking on a button. This means the next time you attend a meeting and someone asks about what was discussed, just tell them you will send them your notes from Evernote.
  • Administrators Log: I’ve kept an administrator’s log since I was an assistant principal. It has evolved over the years from a spiral notebook to a Microsoft Word document to an Evernote note page. In Evernote, I have a notebook entitled Administrator Logs, and each day I open a new page and entitled it “Administrators Log (and date).” Throughout the day, I document the significant events I deal with, especially those that I feel might need the extra documentation. I use this log for investigation notes about school incidents, notes about important conversations with stakeholders, or notes about other significant events. With the Evernote app on my Droid phone, iPad, desktops, and my Kindle Fire, like my notes, my administrator log follows me everywhere I go.
  • Collection Tool for Sharing:  As I go through the day, I am always stumbling across web items to share. Evernote allows me to capture those pages into a notebook so that I can later share the information with others.
  • Online Inbasket: I no longer use a physical “Inbasket” on my desk, I have a notebook in Evernote entitled “Inbasket.” In this notebook I put items that require action or attention in the near future. This means my “Inbasket” does not stay on my desk, but it follows me wherever I go too.
  • Weekly-To-Do List: Evernote allows me to easily create a To-Do list that follows me everywhere too. That means I can add more things to that list any where I happen to be, and check off the things I’ve accomplished. Like my Notes, Administrators Log, and Inbasket, using Evernote means my To Do List is always with me.
  • Sticky Notes:  This is a new Evernote Trunk Item that allows users to create a Sticky Note on your desktop that automatically syncs with your Evernote account. This means that any sticky notes I create on my computer will also be on my work computer.
  • Web Clipping: With a simple extension, it is simple to clip a page into Evernote for later reading, reference, or sharing. Evernote Web Clipping allows me to easily capture things I might want to use later.

In addition to these specific uses of Evernote, I would recommend the following extensions.


Evernote Clearly Screenshot

  • Evernote Clearly: This is a Chrome Extension that allows users to easily capture a web page without all the ads and other distractions and either print it or upload it to Evernote for later reading.
  • Evernote Web Clipper: Allows users to clip web pages and resources and send them to specific notebooks in their Evernote account.

How Students Use Technology

Here's excellent graphic, reminder to all of us regarding how our students engage in technology use. There's not a lot more to say. I think the illustration says it all.Students Love Technology

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

NCTIES 2012: My Concurrent Presentations

My personal favorite time of year is here: the annual NCTIES (North Carolina Technology in Education Society) Conference. This year I will be conducting two concurrent sessions. The first one focuses on developing a Professional Learning Network from a school leader's perspective. Emphasis is on sharing ideas on how to get the most out of Twitter, Blogging, Facebook, and Google+. Here's my presentation from Slideshare for those who are interested.

On Friday, I will review my favorite web tools as a school administrator, many I have reviewed before. Here's the slideshare of that presentation.
NCTIES is an excellent opportunity to explore tech, network, and have fun with educators who are excited about technology.