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The Inequities of Curiosity, Creativity and Innovation

The Inequities of Curiosity, Creativity and Innovation

Year after year, local communities are losing their schools because of test scores…not just test scores but lack of so many pieces that contribute to such a fate. For example, I just read that New Orleans has officially become an all charter community full of TFA teachers because their schools were beyond low performing. What’s left out of that story is that their schools were also more than likely underfunded and full of under-developed teachers who were teaching kids with gaps growing more and more by the year.

On the other hand, I know of several schools in Texas, full of teachers and administrators doing the best that they can and yet, their schools are also in danger of being repurposed…because of testing. Just announced, La Marque ISD Annexed.

It’s a sad reality…one that we can’t ignore just like we can’t ignore that academically students of color and/or poverty are more than likely at the losing end of this entire discussion because what happens is that when schools perform low…when kids perform low, there is almost always some sort of “rigorous” remediation plan put in place.

We go to our “tech spaces” and talk about choice, digital storytelling, gamification, flipped learning…blah blah blah…and even if there are teachers who are willing to implement such ideas into courses, these kids won’t get that. They’ll get test prep software, test prep questions, assessment apps, monthly campus-wide exams and if they do happen to get the privilege of “recording their thinking”, it’ll be through the lens of testing.

We can all agree, I think that high stakes testing is horrible.

We do, however, have to consider that accountability of learning has its place and that somehow we have to look at the integration of curiosity, creativity and even “innovation” through what and how we are empowering learning within our kids. Maybe accountability is the wrong word entirely. Maybe it should be the reflection of learning….maybe.

A few years ago, my school attempted something radical. Instead of standard “after school remediation”, we empowered our kids to create to learn. They made videos, collaborative displays, drawings, interactive applets and voice recordings. All of their learning was housed on a website…completely populated by them.

We also had embedded professional development where teachers learned to provide choice, use formative assessments and ask better questions.

That year, our school would’ve been in trouble had our kids not performed.

Thankfully they did.

Perhaps we should not stop at apps but instead focus on how technology can impact learning in ways far greater than what we do for testing…because of testing.

Perhaps, we can also talk about ways to make sure that the kids that get such access to creative problem solving aren’t just our best and brightest but…all kids.


Confessions of a Digital Leader: The Wins Are Everything

Confessions of a Digital Leader: The Wins Are Everything

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 4.43.00 PMA few weeks ago, 50 teachers joined an internal google plus community meant to connect them to each other as we all began to take on the digital learning challenge. In a few weeks, these teachers began to create, share and freely ideate their goals for professional growth…all within the safety of our community. Last week, their challenge was to create a blog and share it, a completely new venture for most. It was uplifting reading their profound thoughts, taking a glimpse inside their classroom trips and reading reflections of risk taking with the greatest rewards…students owning their learning.

Amidst the chaos of digital learning purchasing (I’m talking to YOU Minecraft EDU and YOU Apple Volume Purchasing), chromebook enrollment, GAFE setup, Brightbytes data collection/analysis, professional learning plans and even a few top secret (mindblowing) initiatives along the way…it has been truly heartwarming to hear how teachers are excited to try new ideas or how they’ve shared what they are learning with others in their building…and they want to try too.

I’ve loved watching our principals transform into digital leaders…risk takers. To see schools completely change the way that they collaborate just by adopting a few ideas is one of those wins that hits you in the gut when you least expect it.

Our district specialist are new to this world and so far, even with my constant blurting out of tools that we have to try (and yesterday), haven’t yet run for the hills! They’re both growing together, learning…and allowing themselves to be vulnerable. Of course, we are blogging and even recording short tutorials for our teachers and principals on our own collaborative youtube channel. This district is pretty lucky to have two specialist who are so dedicated to supporting teaching and learning.

No, things are not perfect. Our wifi access needs work but it’s safe to say that we have all acknowledged it and will move forward while we make plans to fix it. Maybe we’ll temporarily need a few portable access points to account for classrooms needing access in their entirety while we do what we need to improve overall connectivity. Whatever we need to do, we’ll do it and that’s comforting.

There are moments when I get so stressed that I have to remind myself to stop and smell at the great things. Those stressful times are usually met with something awesome even when I didn’t expect it. Like…

The principal who taught herself to code and started a coding club on her campus

The principal who decided to use google classroom for a book study with her staff

The principal who said that he called another principal to ask how they were being more productive and collaborative…implementing those ideas on his campus too

The teacher who said, “I was so excited about the ideas that I learned at Fall Virtcon that I completely changed my thinking in my classroom”

The student who excitedly shared his collage of adjectives with us that he created when his teachers said, for the first time…”Let’s try BYOD”

The students who were excited to collaborate via padlet because their teacher took the risk to learn and get her campus on board!

All of our Digital Ambassadors, patiently waiting on their devices, and blogging…finding their voices in the world!

The digital learning specialist and executive assistant who decided to enroll all of the chromebooks themselves so that we could get them done faster

Learning to reinstall chrome when a teeny tiny mishap deemed it necessary.

The principal, who is modeling formative assessments with her staff, using Plickrs as I type this blog…

When you leave work, worried…stressed…think of the Wins. Smile and do it all over again tomorrow. #LufkinLearns  

Reality Checks of Digital Learning

Reality Checks of Digital Learning

Last week, one of our teachers excitedly shared that she found some old laptops in the building and was determined to clean them up in order to give her students immediate 1:1 access. I watched as the tweets went by and felt her excitement as she shared what this access meant for her students. The world was literally at their fingertips. A few days later, I received an email from her that while her kids were enjoying this new way of learning, they could barely stay online, but were being such great sports trying.

It was such a profound moment because until that point, I made an assumption that one should not make in planning for digital learning initiatives. I thought that our wireless connectivity was where it needed to be.

And then I re-learned some lessons…

Lesson 1: Know where the wireless access points are located and how such proximity impacts necessary connected learning.

Lesson 2: Wired access is not equal to wireless access. High speed wired access does not equal high-speed wireless access.

Lesson 3: Listen to your students and teachers…especially when their actions speak louder than words concerning what is and is not working.

Lesson 4: This is where having a network comes in handy. Ask questions when in doubt.

Fixing the Plane While Flying

I used to hear this phrase often and I thought it was such a weird thing to say…until now, until this year. Over the past few months, I have learned so much about people and process, including why so many decisions were made in the school districts of my past that I questioned.

Dear __________ I COMPLETELY understand why you said what you said or did what you did…I get it.

If you have ever wondered what fixing a plane while flying is like, try implementing multiple digital initiatives while learning the back ends of every system. It is the absolute worst yet fulfilling experience that you may ever encounter!

A few hits/misses and moments of clarity

  1. When you’ve never actually created student google accounts on a sub-domain and synced them with a SIS, you accept the timeline of the 3rd party vendor and trust that your new deadline of Dec. 1 won’t turn into January 2016.
  2. I used to wonder why districts had such stringent rules about in-app purchasing and then I started managing our volume purchase account. I totally get it now!
  3. Can I just say that wireless access points matter? Basically, if the reliability of the wireless network is so low that students cannot connect, the technology won’t be used in the way that it was intended.
  4. Know when to abort mission and redirect!! You’ll do this often.
  5. Using digital tools to support productivity, collaboration and creativity of the campus from a district/campus leadership perspective, is a win…especially when “the people” themselves are driving it.
  6. Teachers, even in a slightly inaccessible community, want to have a voice and connect with other teachers.
  7. If you walk into a room of kids and yell, “MINECRAFT!!!”…Prepare to lose the ability to hear for several hours.
  8. When it comes to apps, keep it simple and creative.
  9. When you order chromebooks in bulk, you better make a plan to grab help in enrolling those chromebooks in Chromebook management because if not, you will literally die.
  10. Sometimes the best ideas from social media EDU have to remain on the horizon because you learn quickly that you’ve got to make ripples in the pond before making waves in the ocean.

One more thing, always be truthful to yourself and your internal peers about where your district is in critical areas because unless we face our truths, we won’t ever fix the issues the way that our students deserve for them to be fixed.

What’s Race Got To Do With It?

What’s Race Got To Do With It?

Following the Spring Valley High assault news yesterday, I searched for student perspective from students at that school. As expected, there was a ton of discussion about the young lady being violently wrestled and tossed across the room. What I didn’t expect to see was their passionate pleas that people quit making this incident about race. They were completely adamant that the officer responsible wasn’t racist but an equal opportunity violent man who once did the same thing to a pregnant girl who happened to be white. According to them, he tossed all kids with reckless abandon. They said, and I quote…

“This isn’t about race but about an enraged police officer who didn’t need to be working in a school.”

We can argue the point about race for days on end and even say that perhaps these kids live in the same bubble that many of our kids live in….kids who are so removed from the historical aspect of racial violence that they lack the understanding of the emotional distress of seeing a young black girl tossed across the room. Maybe they lack the ability to make the statistical connection between discipline practices pertaining to students of color compared to white students.

Or…perhaps they are right and in their eyes…in their community, it’s not about race. We have to respect that just as much as we have to respect student voice in every other aspect of their learning and growth.

With that said, there are those that saw that video and immediately questioned what that student did to provoke this situation. There were those that immediately saw that she was black and placed her in the same box that they do every other “loud black girl”. Perhaps she was being disruptive, they said. She should have just been cooperative. She should have left the room. She should have done what she was told and when she didn’t that officer had no choice but to toss her out like the garbage man puts away the trash.

…but, it’s not about race, right?

In looking deeper, I saw testimonials from kids who said that she was new to the class and didn’t speak. Others said that they had no idea why this happened. Conflicting reports said that she was chewing gum or had her cell phone and refused to participate in class. I found it alarming that a girl causing “disruptions” wasn’t really being disruptive when the kids in the class had to question what she did to get to that point.

This is where the “teacher in me” comes out. I would like to rewind back to the moment that the teacher decided to toss the young lady from class for doing something that none of the students around her could account for. I would like to know why that was even an option. What was their policy that allowed this to occur?

I had kids that refused to do work and I didn’t toss them from class or call an administrator to force their hand. You wait. You carry on as normal and you wait…especially when that kid is new to the class and doesn’t know kids or what to expect. You wait and you talk and eventually….you get to the kid.

Especially when that kid is non-disruptive.

That’s what you do when your ego doesn’t get in the way of your decision making.

Unless the kid disrupts…talks back…gets volatile.

But that didn’t happen…did it?

I don’t have to wonder what that teacher felt about this student and that saddens me.

Confessions of a Digital Leader: The Myths and Truths of Future Readiness

Confessions of a Digital Leader: The Myths and Truths of Future Readiness

When I interviewed for my current role, I had to create a presentation and present on what being Future Ready meant to Lufkin. It was a topic that I comfortably understood but yet and still…the most difficult task that I’ve ever encountered because even back then, I understood that being Future Ready wasn’t necessarily a finite state of being. It was and still is a culture of ideas, learning and growth created to support the global preparedness of our students and teachers.

The pledge itself is created on the foundation of the 7 tenets in the slideshow below.

To be clear, I do take issue with the idea of being “future ready” but only because of my own personal hangups with the phrase itself and its literal definition. At the same token, I view the 7 tenets as important topics of conversations for districts when considering and collaborating on the belief systems and support structures for innovative learning empowering student and teacher growth.

There should be a culture of digital learning, personalized professional learning, immediate access for students with a focus on creativity over consumption, quality content (open educational resources), support for families and a shared spirit of mentorship, sharing and reflection.

There should also be a focus on equity amongst all student populations, a shared vision of support for students of poverty, intentional inclusion of diverse community populations and an evaluative system that intentionally reflects on discipline practices, gifted inclusiveness and specialized programs meant to close opportunity gaps. There should also be community connectedness, not reliant on wifi or device access, but completely focused on service in the environments where our students live. These ideas are often ignored and it’s frustrating.

See…there’s a line right before the 7 tenets that people seem to miss…

“…by engaging in a wide range of activities such as

In a world of curriculum development, we’ve learned to view the phrase, “such as”, as a suggestion and not the “end all be all”. What this means is that districts shouldn’t only focus on the 7 tenets as a checklist but use those ideas to drive discussions. At the same token, isn’t it important to look at individual communities and collectively determine what matters beyond the tools and wifi…such as equity, equality, opportunity and community?

While I agree wholeheartedly in digital access and putting learning into the hands of kids, I also believe that we have to look beyond the surface of the tools themselves and on who our students will become as people…how they will be empowered to feel culturally connected, creatively limitless and globally aware.

I said all of this to say that perhaps the greatest myth about being “future ready” is that we’re ever in a place to truly be “Ready”. If we’re doing it right, we’re constantly working, reflecting and transforming into something that far exceeds the limitations of this phrase.

I get the White House’s initiative. Believe me…I do. I also get that it’s necessary because the fact of the matter is that without this discussion, most schools wouldn’t even be looking beyond the traditions that they’ve always followed.

The truth is that all of the chatter about being future ready is forcing schools who choose it, to at least consider that operating under the rule of “we’ve always done it this way” is no longer acceptable. This is undeniably a great thing.

Perhaps we can impress upon ourselves in our local and social communities to move beyond the buzz phrase of being “future ready leaders” in “future ready schools” to be more mindful of the deepest needs of the learners that we have now so that they can not only navigate but create pathways towards a more sustainable future.

Confessions of A Digital Leader: 6 Things I Learned While Implementing Digital Learning

Confessions of A Digital Leader: 6 Things I Learned While Implementing Digital Learning

1. Google Apps Aren’t Really “Free”  Through the course of our implementation and relaunch of Google Apps, I’ve definitely learned that the word “free” is such a myth. When we decided to move forward with creating our student Google Apps accounts, I started to hear all about monitoring of teacher and student accounts. I learned… Continue Reading

Confessions of a Digital Leader: Connectedness is a Part of This Work

Confessions of a Digital Leader: Connectedness is a Part of This Work

There was a time in my academic career that I thought that every classroom should have an interactive whiteboard. As a matter of fact, I was my school district’s in-house “expert” on all things SMART. I trained every teacher in our district at some point and even conducted outside trainings and conferences. I had clickers,… Continue Reading