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Campus Leaders: Developing Teacher Tech Leaders

Campus Leaders: Developing Teacher Tech Leaders

 

The following is an excerpt from my book, The Missing Voices in Edtech: Bringing Diversity into Edtech. It is the chapter on teacher voice in edtech decisions where I describe ways that campus leaders can help teachers grow as digital leaders.

As a classroom teacher, I would have definitely described myself as a “Tech-Fearless Educator”. I’ve always enjoyed exploring to learn and definitely embraced that in my own teaching and learning. Any opportunity that I had to either train other teachers or serve on decision making committees, I jumped at it which helped me to swiftly develop as a leader.

In thinking of my own experiences, I have to wonder if we are in fact offering teachers on our campuses the opportunities to do the same? In other words, are we creating an environment in which teachers feel that they not only have a voice but a platform in which to grow?  Are we creating a community of developers or a community that needs developed?

Ideas for Developing Teacher Tech Leaders on Campus
Don’t make the “fearless-tech” teacher your only go-to for all things technology. When you do this, you are creating an environment of  “only them” instead of  “us too”. The fearless-tech teachers is one of your greatest assets in terms of willingness to tackle new ideas but we must be careful that as we continuously validate the ideas of the teachers with automatic buy-in, that we don’t inadvertently invalidate the others. Many teachers will not automatically jump at the chance to share because they don’t realize that what they are doing in their classrooms is in fact transformative. As you see those moments, encourage those teachers to share with their team or even staff.
Have an unconference led by your campus teachers.  What I love most about “edcamps” is that they are 100% driven by the collective knowledge of the group. An unconference isn’t about the “star” of the room but about amplifying what participants want to learn and their comfort in leading the learning. This is an excellent way to help teachers become more confident leaders which will only further the cause when it comes to technology. In addition, this a great way to pose an open discussion where teachers can freely voice their technology concerns.
Have an open policy for when teachers want to teach official campus training. This should be a priority. When teachers want to lead training, they should be given the platform to do so. Yes, your “fear-less” educator may be compelled to lead sessions as much as possible but by encouraging teachers to be collaborative, they will only gain more through developing together .
Encourage your teachers to submit proposals to speak at conferences. As a frequent conference attendee/presenter, I actually love hearing from teachers who are currently in practice versus a specialist who is not. In addition, it is a proven fact that when a teacher or trainer is faced with sharing with a broader audience, they almost always become even stronger experts of the content that they are teaching.
Form a committee to explore campus technology goals and give teachers ownership of ensuring that goals are met. This option is like killing two birds with one stone. Teachers get to not only lead a charge but have a voice in its development. For campuses that are in charge of their own technology purchases in lieu of a district office, this is huge.
Get teachers connected. As cliche as it may sound, being connected can be a game-changer for anyone with a vested interest in education, especially teachers. Through social media, teachers will not only have access to the global dynamics of classrooms but also to learning events that are often not communicated about in school. While twitter is not the only platform for connectedness, it is one of the most widely used.

Rethinking My Educational Perceptions
For the first time, I sat in a department meeting of a school that was not my home. In my current edu assignment, I’ll do many more of these visits across multiple campuses. I envisioned myself in the role of the teacher attendee…doodling, sort of ignoring directives, rolling my eyes and thinking about the kids in my room who needed my attention much more than the whine-fest that was our meeting. I then remembered my life, one year ago, as the person leading those meetings and watching the battered faces of the educators that I saw.

I had a few realizations…

Meetings should be more conversational. We wonder why teachers feel beat down. Here’s a clue…in most cases, they are absent of a voice. Someone is always talking at and not including their input or ideas. The department chair should not “run” the meeting but should facilitate the conversations. Admins shouldn’t be there overseeing or overtaking those meetings. Empowered teacher leaders should be trusted to facilitate this process with the goal of student learning being the focus. Teachers should not meet just to say that they met but to share in ideas to accomplish goals.
You can’t expect teachers to “be innovative” and “think outside of the box” when it’s not happening at the top. This one is so deep that a new post will follow specific to this thought.
Technology, to some, is still a “thing”…It’s now the new “district thing”…not a reflection of normalcy. Moving reluctant teachers is one thing. Changing the thoughts of an entire school is another. Regardless, it’s still a process that must be approached purposefully.
 

The Audacity of Growth

The Audacity of Growth

Earlier today, one of my former principals shared this quote…

“When a seed is planted, the creative urge is to grow. It never stops trying… The audacious hope of rooted things…”

From the novel “Ruby” by Cynthia Bond.

 

The beauty of this quote is in its direct relationship to the art and science of being a learner. If we get education right, we will in essence be creating a culture of growth just like a seed…all types of seeds that grow in their own way…their own purpose.

Over the course of my career, I have had many great mentors, experiences and opportunities for growth. Some I excelled at immediately and some were epic failures…all of which leading to lessons that I continue to learn from today.

When I left Arlington, I envisioned myself doing full time contracting and continuing to work with a team to develop a system of learning. As with all paths, sometimes there are forks and we must choose. I’ve always known that my heart belonged in public education and when a friend offered a nudge to look into a career opportunity in Lufkin…I pondered, prayed and decided to take the leap of faith and try.

It’s now been about 1.5 months since that initial nudge and here I sit as the new Executive Director of Professional and Digital Learning for Lufkin ISD…a role that I’ve dreamed about my entire career…before I knew that it existed.

I am extremely honored to join such a student and community centered school district like Lufkin and as I take the time to look, listen, learn and build relationships…I am proud to continue to be the seed…growing with each moment, conversation and experience.

I am fortunate to have worked with many amazing educators over the years while also being connected to some of the best educational leaders globally. With that said, I could not be more excited to work in a district with such a prolific superintendent and executive leadership staff that completely understands the power of innovative learning with countless opportunities for all learners.

Aside from myself, I am also excited for my son as this change will be just as significant for him with a move three hours away from the only home that he has ever known. I will admit that even after our visit to Lufkin, he was understandably apprehensive about moving. With my family living in Ennis, he could still opt to stay and graduate with his peers. This path will be his to choose.

As of now, I am watching him as he looks through the extensive course guide of Lufkin High School…verbally commenting on classes that he would love to take…classes that are not offered in our home town. I have a feeling that he’ll soon understand the importance of taking the leap into his own future.

Growth is amazing like that.

The audacity of it…

 

My Thoughts on Gaming and Learning from G4L15

g4lBefore traveling to New York for the Games for Learning Summit, I talked to my teenage son about his love of gaming and why he is so captivated by the game, Assassin’s Creed. My son looked at me and said…

“Mom, I know that you have some influence in education…or at least you think you do. But, if you say or do anything that makes Ubisoft change Assassin’s Creed from what it is to some watered down game for schools, I will hold you personally responsible [insert smile]”

My son loves this game because of it’s captivating graphics and brilliant integration of fiction and history. He also loves the video vignettes that take place throughout the game and has quite honestly, learned more about history through gaming than he did sitting in his desk…listening to lectures and writing down notes from powerpoint.

During my keynote at “G4L15“, I shared my son’s words as well as how he learns through playing games like Assassin’s Creed. I was also clear in saying that this is not a game for K-12 schools but that the intentionality with which the game was created to immerse players into a real historical experience was something that we should not ignore.

Gaming in My Classroom

As a classroom teacher, I integrated games but my games were specifically math based. I even blogged about them and how “great” they were. If my only focus was on skill development, those games would have been okay. However, my students demanded more than that. They were just beginning to download mobile games and wanted more “education-less” application that didn’t care whether they found the value of x but cared more about if they understood the why and when of the math itself.

Our deep dive into gaming started with Angry Birds but eventually landed in the territory of games like Farmville, Plants vs. Zombies and even certain sports games like Madden and the Tony Hawk series. Kids began to recognize algebraic and geometric patterns that existed within the context of gaming and that is how they often made their real world connections….ironically in a world that wasn’t real.

What they wanted to know was…

  • Why is it that math games created for school are boring and seem to follow the same formulaic pattern…skill practice, test, mini-game?
  • Why is it that games created for phones and consoles seem to apply more skills without making it seem “educational”?
  • Why aren’t we just playing the games that we want to play that use these skills instead of playing games that focus on the skill? (translation…math games = glorified worksheets with sound)

My Son’s Ideal Game

I asked my son if he could design a game for school, what would it be. His response is below…

“If I could design a game, I would make it a cross between The Sims, World of Warcraft, Assassin’s Creed and Grand Theft Auto…except without violence or stealing. I want the characters to speak languages of the world and even learn them, go to work/school and solve real problems in school and even in the community. If they go to a class in school, I want them to sometimes complete real assignments on their own and sometimes work collaboratively with their peers on projects in the game (project based learning). I want them to have social interactions and even experiences like trying out for the basketball team, going to dances and playing games. I would create a game about about the things that we experience as teens but I would make sure that it included things like anti-bullying without being too preachy and some way that kids could play, learn and feel good about themselves in the process. Oh, and I definitely want it to be in a realistic 3d world.”

My son told me that he has been dreaming about doing this for 3 years now and although he has been trying to learn to code, it’s not as simple as he thought. He’s also not giving up on the idea of game designing which is a great reminder about the importance of kids learning to design their own games which is still an entirely different but necessary conversation.

Also…My son’s game + adding elements of financial responsibility that can’t be solved with simple cheat codes would be a remarkable game and if anyone wants to make this or help him…he’s in.

Reflecting on G4L15

If I learned anything at the Games for Learning Summit…it is that there are entertainment game developers and organizations with a vested interest in education who want to find some way of engaging in this space. It is also important to have educators immersed in these discussions as well as development. If you think that this is not worth exploring consider this…

Educational Gaming 2015 = Britney Spear’s Dance Beat (2002)

I should know. I owned, played and beat that game…because in 2002, dancing via controller was a thing. (Yes, I am admitting this in public)

Our kids deserve so much more than this.

One more thing…to the teachers that say that games are not for learning and continue to bar such amazing experiences like Minecraft, I challenge you to spend one day with me, my son and any device.

Game on!

 

Privacy, Trust and Voice

Privacy, Trust and Voice

For the past few hours, I’ve thought, rethought, written and erased…over and over again. In between going back and forth, I got to experience the vile realities of twitter trolls…people creating accounts for the sole purpose of saying the most unreal, racist, sexist, body shaming…things to me. Clearly, speaking out against the “media interpretation” of awesome teaching ruffled some feathers.

And yet, I am still stuck at…

How do I best convey why #IWishmyteacherknew is not just a “bad thing” but a “Oh heck no” thing….

First let me say that I am an advocate for student voice. I believe wholeheartedly in not just hearing from kids but fully including them in the education process. I have also called out the educational community, on a number of occasions, about equity, community and decision making with students and families of poverty.

So, naturally I was intrigued by this campaign as the example that I saw was mild. It was the child wishing for friends. I shared it and then I read the article…many articles. I was mortified because those shares were not just “students sharing their thoughts”….those shares were “students sharing personal family experiences”.

In the age of social media, this is NOT good…not at all.

You see…aside from this teacher, and the colorful index cards of notes that she tweeted, there are families who are also connected…families who have children in her class…in the community…families who have facebook, twitter…the evening news.

No family should have to hear that what their child was feeling and shared with their teacher was posted to social media while watching the news. Talk about being blindsided…

Now, before you go all, “She had to have had permission” on me…

Let me be clear in saying that this teacher was asked on multiple occasions about permissions and the only permission that she seemed to have had was from the kids. They are 8 and 9 years old….sharing personal FAMILY details. If those thoughts were shared without parental consent, this is a problem…a Big one!!

I even consulted with my sister who is blind on this issue and I asked what she would do if she saw that my nephew wrote to his teacher about issues that should have been discussed with her but were instead shared online. Let’s just say that if that happened, a visit to the school and superintendent would have been in order.

There are quite a few who demand that this teacher was “brave” in selflessly sharing the voices of her students. No…the bravery was in the kids who wrote them. I personally find it quite exploitive that following the viral state of her shares…were tweets to give to her donors choose projects. That’s not brave. That is called pushing an agenda. Those tweets were auto tweeted to anyone that used that hashtag…same verbiage…even to me.

In addition…I need to alert the greater world that…

THIS TEACHER WAS NOT THE FIRST TO DISCOVER AND SHARE THE EXISTENCE OF POVERTY.

Newsflash: Millions of children in this country live through extreme poverty or unreal living situations. As a matter of fact, if you extend this prompt across the nation…you may even hear stories about…

  • Homelessness
  • Abuse
  • Divorce
  • Neglect
  • Drugs/Alcohol
  • Depression (as a matter of fact, a teacher actually shared a student saying that they had depression via this hashtag)
  • Starvation
  • Lack of guidance
  • Struggle
  • Worry/Concern
  • Lack of resources/supplies

You may even hear about kids who are poor but still happy. Those stories exist too. (You didn’t read many of those though) Even with the pieces of story shared are parents, siblings and extended family members. There are multiple sides that are not considered. There are parents who work late and hard to support their kids. Often, kids at that age do not connect with that. Imagine that working mother reading that her kid needed her in a news article online…and feeling the guilt 10x over beyond what she may already feel.

Maybe that’s not the story. Maybe it is. We don’t know though.

(Anonymity does not exist in this case for these families because original work with handwriting was published. Most parents know how their own kids write. Again…minus consent = problematic)

Sharing student work is done across the edu-sphere in all forms. This was different. This wasn’t just “work”.

We were reading notes, written in the original handwriting of students (locally identifiable…If I am a parent of a child in that class, I can simply ask my child or use community knowledge to know who those kids were and which families they were. Community shaming is real. That is unfair…period!)

But…tell me…Did you really need to see it written in the handwriting of students to know that those problems existed? Were you completely oblivious to the real state of the american child that it took the “Freedom Writer-ish” act of a “still new at this teacher” to connect with the fact that our kids need help because the world sucks and they feel it?

You should probably check your privilege because if you are too blind or disconnected to see the world around you and know that kids are affected without needing them to pour their hearts out onto colored index cards for the world to read…you are a part of the problem.

These shares are doing nothing more than what they are already doing…

…Exploiting the struggles of families

Yes people…families are stuggling…lots of them!

Student work is not owned by teachers or schools. We have zero right to share their progress, thoughts or examples. That right belongs to families and unless we get permission from parents and/or students…when they can legally consent…we have no business putting their thoughts on the web.

No, I am not muting kids. It is about ethics. It is about what is right and wrong.

One of the many twitter trolls that I had today reminded me that at the beginning of the school year, parent permissions to share student work are sent and retrieved. Let me guarantee you that parents who sign those forms did not count on their personal lives being shared. There is no way.

If this is the practice in your school or district, it is time to revisit that.

One more thing…

I am most disappointed in an educational community that turned a blind eye to this in public and were not strong enough to speak up for what we know is right concerning student/family privacy…until it became apparent that silence wasn’t the best option. It shouldn’t have to be me or any of the other educolor group members to push these discussions. Silence means that everyone loses.

If you were silent on this issue…what lessons can you possibly teach kids about the same?

In case you missed it…

We do not own student work. We cannot share personal thoughts of kids without consent. Trust matters.

My son shared a personal narrative with his teacher last week. He did it because he has great trust in her as another caring adult. Let’s hope that she does not betray that trust.

Dear Twitter Marketing: An Open Letter

I’m writing you this letter because I think that you should be much more intentional about connecting with the education community. To be honest with you, for a platform that fundamentally enables users to share stories, you are missing out on some of the most amazing stories involving twitter.

I know that you are fully aware of the impact that you are having on education. You see the stats and you may even be aware of the educational hashtags that scroll amongst the billions of tweets per second but I wonder if you truly “get it”…how deeply your platform has supported the transformation of teaching and learning.

Think about that for a second. Plenty of tech companies have tried but not many have done what you are doing…without really trying. I’m not asking you to provide any form of sponsorship, send money to schools or even change your platform in any way. (Although a private periscope channel would make that app a bit more user friendly for education)

What I am suggesting is that you have a more intentional presence in the education community.

There is an initiative going on right now to connect more kids, teachers, schools and communities. As a former teacher who used to be limited to the boundaries of her hometown, this connecting is critical and can be life changing. I had no idea that there were so many different ways to disrupt learning (in a good way) until I started connecting via twitter. I am one teacher. There are thousands more just like me.

There are schools who have completely changed the way that they approach learning because their school leaders and teachers engaged in conversations beyond their school walls. Teachers that could barely talk to the teachers in their halls are connecting daily with other teachers all over the world. That’s huge! There are kids gaining more opportunities because through twitter, practices were questioned through thought provoking questions…all in 140 characters or less.

It’s not just our teachers. Our students are connecting to each other and also to professionals in the field…real people who want to help support education.

I know that I may be asking for quite a bit but, it would be awesome if you had a presence at our educational events. You…dear czars of open communication…could even participate in conversations ranging from principles of learning to impact beyond textbooks through social justice.

You could be a part of the conversations about tech, diversity, equality and equity.

You could share amazing stories of connectedness on your blog or even help promote stories as they are being told.

The key, though, is in recognizing that we are an audience worth sharing about. Can you imagine the impact of capturing those stories on the ground in schools and sharing videos from around the globe? Think about the thousands of schools that are not connecting and that are not using your platform yet. Why aren’t they and how can you help them?

We share the power of twitter to anyone who listens because we know how much it has changed many of our lives and classrooms.

Maybe you could start sharing these stories too.

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Thank you!

Rafranz

PS: At minimum, you should have a section on your blog that shares stories specifically from education. There are plenty of them…as long as your are intentionally grabbing them.

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It’s Not About The Tech, Unless It Is

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5 Questions You Should Ask Concerning EdTech, But May Not Be

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