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"The things taught in schools and colleges are not an education, but the means to an education." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Twitter's Influence On Me

Public schooling as a career is still pretty isolationist, in the sense that teachers can still close their doors and do their own thing with only students and an occasional parent to interrupt the flow of teaching. As long as you make it appear kids are learning and don't do anything that will get you in the 24 hour news feed, its all good. School administrators can filter those who get to see them or get to talk to them or get to influence them and largely keep control over their schools with only the occasional interference from a central office lackey or parent or intrusive state official every once in while.  As long as you appear to keep good discipline numbers and make it appear teachers are teaching, its all good.  The status quo is acceptable because its what "people" have come to expect.

Of course, the vast majority of educators are working hard to make sure the children entrusted to them by an unwritten social contract get world class educational experiences. But, so many are doing it in isolation because it is not seen as an effective use of public dollars for teachers and administrators to learn about their craft and get better at it through professional learning, professional conferences, or professional dialogue while on the clock.  The common perception is that if you aren't in front of students, you aren't doing the job of a teacher.  If you aren't with students or observing your teachers, you aren't doing the job of a principal.

Most parent surveys or polls of the general populace indicate that public schools are all bad, that is except for the ones MY kid attends.  Its not a new thought that because nearly everyone in America has experienced formal schooling on some level and the vast majority have experienced public school, nearly everyone has an opinion and feels entitled to declare what schooling should or shouldn't be. It makes it difficult to engage in meaningful, knowledgeable, evidence based discussions about what's best practice in teaching and learning.  Folks who wouldn't dare offer an opinion on how to write a legal brief or suggest how to lay out a business plan for a loan don't think twice about expressing how to "fix" public education.  This is an oft-lamented point on the edublogs and teacher sites across cyberspace.

In light of these three points, its easy to understand why highly educated professional educators keep to themselves and keep doing the best that they know how for the kids entrusted to them. But, social media is changing the landscape for educators both from a professional standpoint and from and instructional standpoint.  Twitter has become an extended personal learning network for many professional educators.  The micro-blogging space has created the opportunity for educators to engage in any number of chats at specific times each week where they get together with complete strangers to discuss something completely essential to their being as people and professionals.    Its created for me an opportunity to engage in discussions with other educators about topics that are meaningful in my day to day work, but also on a deeper philosophical basis.  From exploring the power of social media, to the best ways to use formative assessment, to how to be an effective principal the conversations are as diverse as those engaging in them.  Its is powerful to hear that the work we do in Georgia in our district can be both informed by and informative to the work being done in New Jersey, Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas, Rhode Island, and California.    Not only that, but a good many of the chats are done at convenient times when kids are in bed, families are settled in and the few minutes of solace that educators can grab to think about their work can be shared with others from the convenience of a smartphone, mobile device, or computer.  My PLN has inspired me to keep digging in and working for the right things for kids and for learning. It has helped to invigorate me when I needed it, and center me when I needed it.  Its like being in graduate school all over again.  Not the parts of graduate school where I was in class or writing papers, but the parts of grad school where I was engaged in profound conversation with intelligent people that cared deeply about the art and science of education and leadership.   If you haven't discovered Twitter and created your own PLN, you are missing out.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Inspiration at Teacher Induction

Below is the text of the speech I gave at the Teacher Induction Program for new teachers. 

This clip by Taylor Mali is one of my favorites. I watch it before the beginning of every school year and it helps focus me on the work that we do to support teachers in our district. Yesterday, you heard from the members of the business community about their strong support for Henry County Schools and for the teachers we have here. Over the course of the past two days, you have heard about the vision to ensure the success for each student. You have learned about your area of curriculum, you have learned about classroom management, and you have learned about the importance of being passionate and engaged in the work you do every day.

As Taylor Mali points out so poignantly in his poem, teachers have with them an incredible level of influence and power to craft the experiences of young people. The vast majority of our Tipsters this year are secondary school teachers. As middle and high school teachers, you have a special and noteworthy challenge in front of you. You may hear some naysayers talk about how kids at 7th or 11th grade are a lost cause because they have already become who they will be. I challenge that supposition and I challenge you to do so early and often. From my own personal experience, the teachers I had in high school are the ones that had the most impact on me because I can remember them challenging me and allowing me to challenge them back intellectually. They helped to push me to find a course through life that would eventually lead me to here. You still have the influence, the power to make or break a child’s spirit.

High School teachers are near to my heart. My wife is a high school teacher here in Henry County. She teaches freshmen at Ola High School and coaches cheer leading. Every day she reminds me that our focus must be on supporting teachers here at the central office. She reminds me of how the decisions we make here, in our role of support those in the classroom, truly impact the work of teachers. I need to tell you a bit about my wife. I think my wife is phenomenal teacher. Not just because she is my wife, but because she is known as one of the toughest teachers at Ola. Kids dread going into her class as freshmen, but all the parents know they should be there. But she’s not a great teacher just because she lesson plans a 9 weeks at a time, she’s not a great teacher because she is the most amazingly efficient and effective grader I have ever seen, (its rare a paper isn’t turned back to a student with comments and entered in the grade book within 24 hours.) She’s not a great teacher just because she pushes kids to do more than they think they are capable of. She is all of those things. But what strikes me each day when she comes home is the stories she tells of how she is worried that her tone of voice or rushed end to a class may have impacted a student negatively. Her attention to those small details exhibit how deeply she cares about those unintentional moments that can so easily be overlooked.

Its not always the intentional things we do that impact students and their ability to be successful. So often, in the course of the day or the course of a semester, it is the unintentional things that we do that make a huge difference to a student. From the time the shy student in your class raised her hand meekly and you didn’t call on her and she never raised her hand again because you didn’t want to hear what she had to say, to the time you responded sharply with sarcasm to an incorrect answer and made a student fear opening his mouth again. Unintentional consequences from mostly harmless actions.

But it cuts both ways. There are the good things that come out of unintentional actions. The time you ask the trouble maker in class to be responsible for clicker that controls your PowerPoint and it pulls him into your lessons for good or the time you use a sample of writing of a student anonymously to demonstrate excellence and that student decides to become an author. Unintentional consequences surround us every day as teachers. Be mindful of the power and influence you have over the minds and spirits you are charged with every day. You have the power to change lives for good or for evil.

Every summer, the administrators from across the district come together for a leadership retreat. This past summer, I told the administrators that we are at a great cross roads in education in Georgia.

With the AYP waiver and the new CCRPI being put in place, with the adoption of the CCGPS, with the implementation of the POINT in Henry County, and with the increased prevalence of technology and the opportunities that new technologies offer we are at a place of great opportunity. We have the opportunity to take hold of educating our kids in ways that are innovative, transformative, and revolutionary. We have an obligation to create a school experience profoundly different from our own experiences for the students that come to our schools on August 6th.

We are doing that with a multitude of programs in Henry County. This year, we are launching Impact Academy, a full time enrollment online program for 8th, 9th, and 10th graders that allows students to take most or all of their coursework online, yet still be a part of their home school for electives like band or FACS or play on the football team. It is program built on flexibility, accessibility and customization that still maintains a high level of rigor for the students.

Here in Henry County High School, we house the Academy for Advanced Studies where students engage in CTAE coursework, dual enrollment coursework with local universities, and where they work to get industry certification to be job ready upon graduation. Next year, we will open the Academy for Advance Studies as a Charter College and Career Academy that will allow all high school students the opportunity to enroll in these programs while maintaining their enrollment at their home school.

Here in Henry County, we have students who graduate from high school in four years and at the same time they received an associate’s degree through our dual enrollment and articulated coursework. They have two years of college paid for and completed as they walk across the stage to receive their high school diploma.

Here in Henry County Schools, we have nationally acclaimed ROTC teams, bands that have traveled the world to play for royalty, and Zell Miller Scholars receiving full ride scholarships to Georgia Tech. We are a district focused on ensuring success for each student and we take that charge seriously.

I shared yesterday that I left Henry County in 2003 to pursue my Master’s degree at Harvard University. Upon graduation, I had the opportunity and choice to go anywhere in the world to make use of that degree. I chose to come back to Henry county because of the school system and the belief that I had then and still hold today that this is a great place to teach and to learn because it continues to get better each day in every classroom. Each year we welcome new teachers to Henry county Schools through TIP and encourage them to make the most of each and every day they have with our students. This year you join the ranks of accomplished educators. As you step into your classroom this year,

I charge you with becoming the best teacher you know. I encourage you to own the title of teacher. I dare you to sculpt your classroom in the image of success and excellence that every child in Henry County deserves. Finally, I challenge you to be miracle worker everyday.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Educators are afraid of BYOD because they don't do it themselves

Recently, Cobb County's BYOD inititative made it into the AJC Get Schooled Blog moderated by Maureen Downey.   The interesting part of the article wasn't the push in Cobb, which isn't new in the metro Atlanta area as Forsyth, Henry, and several others have similar initiatives, but rather the back lash that you read in the comments to the posting.  The view overwhelmingly is that technology in the hands of kids will distract them and make it so they can't/won't learn in school.  It makes me wonder whether that view comes from one of ignorance about what smartphones can do and how kids are comfortable using a phone or a tablet for work and play or whether it arises from a less conscious fear of becoming irrelevant.   Ultimately, I think it is a lot of both. 
I think the first part is really a lack of knowledge and experience with technology and that creates fear for educators.   Can kids text each other answers and tweet about class?  Yes.  Are they already doing it? Most certainly, you just don't know about it because you aren't following any of your students.  (some of you are lost with what the idea of "following" is and that highlights deeper issues.)  Will kids use Facebook as a place to say mean things to others?  Yes, they already are doing so, just like they are saying mean things in the cafeteria or the hallway.  But, kids are also using Twitter and Facebook as places to share and collaborate on difficult homework problems they don't know how to do on their own. They are using microblogging and global publishing sites to put their essays, stories, and other writings out in the public domain for more than their teacher to read and critique.  They are studying together, sharing ideas together, and building their own personal learning networks (PLNs) without the guidance and support of educators who could make that work and experience so much richer if they engaged in it.

Not only do schools need to allow and encourage BYOD initiatives, but the need to use and leverage mobile technologies in ways that support the educational goals and standards we want kids to meet in the Common Core and in life.    Over and over again, business leaders tell school leaders that prospective employees need to be innovative, need to be problem solvers, and need to be able to communicate effectively via written communication. (email,etc.)  Mobile technologies offer a way for schools to harness the power of a device in every student's hand and to do it at minimal cost to the district. 

However, the technologies used must have a purpose in schools and in the lessons teachers craft.  Teachers must consider using services like Poll Everywhere to create formative assessment feeds that inform their next steps in direct instruction in the classroom. They must ask students to do work that can't just be looked up on Google or Wikipedia.  Teachers must become aware of Twitter and PLNs and Instagram and the thousands of websites kids access everyday.  Instead of blocking out of fear, we need to learn how to use it ourselves so that we can teach kids the best ways to use technologies for productive learning.  YouTube can offer thousands of videos to help learn how to do any number of activities and it offers hours of inspirational speeches and lectures.   But right next to the TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson on creativity in schools there can be a link to a dancing flamingo.  We must teach students how to wade through the millions of bits of information now at their fingertips and to make decisions about what is meaningful and important and supportive of learning.  By blocking technology, by not engaging in it with them, we only teach them that there is a world out there that adults don't want you to see.  As a teenager, that means there must be bad stuff and I got to get to it. 

I strongly encourage you to get a Twitter account, if you don't have one and begin to follow educators around the world to learn how they are using technology effectively.  Begin by connecting with someone you know and by looking at #edchat or #cpchat.  Jump into the world your students are already engaged in and begin to change the way you integrate tech into your life.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


There is exciting work being done in our district.  We have just announced the launch of Imp@ct Academy .  This is our version of a full time virtual learning program.  With this first foray into full time enrollment online learning, our district is poised to meet the individual needs of a large segment of disruptive innovators.   We have decided that our best option that meets the needs of most kids is provide the opportunity to live in a blended world where students can take part in their education and academics online while still being "allowed" to be full time students at their home school.  Through Imp@ct Academy, students enroll in those classes that they want to meet core requirements, electives, and other academic requirements.  This isn't new and their are numerous examples of online academies throughout the state and nationwide.  Imp@ct is unique in that we make it a program of choice and not a stand alone charter or virtual school.  That allows students to participate in extracurriculars, athletics, and even some choice face to face instruction while taking the majority of their classload online.  It is really about giving students and parents the opportunity to begin to tailor their instructional journey to their needs and desires.  Bundling Imp@ct with the Academy for Advanced Studies and what it will become over the next two years means that students in Henry County now have the option to learn in the ways that work best for them, while taking a rigorous course load that will prepare them for college and careers.  It a break through for public schools to be flexible, creative, and customizable.

We are blending F2F options with online options and allowing students to change the game for themselves.  Now, you can play soccer at your home school, take 4 core courses online, take band at school, and then head over to the Academy for Advanced Studies to complete your pathway for culinary arts.  Its an open campus model, a customizable educational model, a way to make learning work for kids and it is the right work.
It is so exciting to be in the midst of this game changing work where we design systems and programs that allow students' needs to be met utilizing technology, creativity, and a devotion that learning is the constant. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012


For the past 8 months, I have been involved in an amazing educational experiment where we through the use of edge technology, we have attempted to bring to scale high power instruction throughout our school.  I have been tinkering around the edges of school improvement (thanks to Larry Cuban) as a middle school principal for the past seven years.  We have tried all the traditional changes including schedule changes, teaming teacher differently, working through using coaches to improve instruction, and looking at the design of the school.  Throughout all the tinkering, our focus more or less focused on ensuring there was good standards based instruction in the classrooms. We developed walkthroughs, did professional learning targeting areas that arose from observations and needs inventories.  We looked at the PLC work and tried to take those parts of it that we liked. We tried to do Understanding by Design and took the parts that we like. We set a mission and vision and belief statements.  Those have been consistent for us throughout the last five years and they all focused on mastery learning and our ambiguous definition of what that meant. We even put in place a pretty aggressive push for blended learning in all classrooms without any funding, without one to one computing, without a wireless environment, and without a significant amount of training on what is good instruction online and what isn't.  Through it all, we did have one primary focus.  We were going to teach kids from bell to bell everyday and we were going to do with an opening, a mini-lesson, student work time, and a closing.  That expectation stayed throughout all the other initiatives that we played with.  Then, along comes the opportunity to put some real structure and framing and consistency to the instructional design that ensured that there was tight task structure, that worked to decrease the cognitive load on my teachers, and that created changes to the instructional program that were proximal to students. 

The project required us, as a cohort of volunteers and then as an entire school, to adopt a common lexicon.  This shared language allowed us to talk about instruction using the same understanding about the work before us, but not making any assumptions. We hashed out our meaning as a school for what the lexicon truly meant.  We agreed upon a task structure that was organized and tight and had common components that John Hattie and Bob Marzano have proven in meta-analysis after meta-analysis are high power strategies that make kids learn. Basically, we created a common schema around what we must accept as the tenets of good instruction and then the edge technology we use helps ensure that we do those parts in every lesson we engage students in doing.  Its only take 8 months to do some really great work with our teachers.  I have changed my views on blended learning and believe that its more about how we are using technology to help support individualized instruction for our students.