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“with the calendar about to turn to 2014, administrators must move past these tried and true techniques in order to stay visible and transparent and have an open door as a school lead learner – in the physical and virtual world.” –Mark Roth

It is a guest post Friday! True, I have taken 2 days off. And now I am guest posting…lazy? No. Truth be told  two days were spent in bed, with my two lovely and really sick kids. The flu bug got us all. Three days. Brutal. Flu shot avoidance no more. We were scheduled to visit a teacher friend and his family (we have daughters that share names–he named first) and I was scheduled to blog about our simultaneous teacher work in distinct parts of Ontario. Instead I watched 24 hours worth of Gold Rush, Ice Cold Gold and various Survival Shows (the real kind) with my two sickies. We slept and blew noses for the other 24 between doses of penicillin for the ear issues and motrin for the fevers.  In an unrelated and funny story the autocorrect feature on my planned hosts iOS called me a “sucky butt” instead of the intended sicky bug in her response text message to my plight and change in plans. Wouldn’t Freud be happy to know that even Siri slips!

Enough of my sob stories…

Today I am happy to introduce Mark Roth.  Mark’s work as a Vice Principal for the last 8 has brought him to 4 different schools.  There he has worked on his instructional leadership skills.  I am happy to share his first personal blog post here as another example of our administrative leaders challenging themselves to make their practise more transparent via web 2.0 tools.  Fittingly Mark has risen to the challenge b speaking on that very topic.

The Closed Door: No Longer an Option

by Mark Roth

For years staff in schools have wondered why administration have had their doors closed. Why, when there was a conversation in the office was it always private? Parents couldn’t understand why they had to wait four days after a report card before they could speak with the teacher. Administrators have walked the hallways, peered through the top half of a door and asked themselves, “why don’t they share with each other more”? Perceptions? Perhaps. I see a cycle that is being shattered by our youngest learners as they seek to change the world for the better. Then we realized, visiting classrooms, greeting parents before and after school, and making oneself available with an open-door office policy were great techniques to “open the door” and build deeper and meaningful confidence on the public education system.  However, with the calendar about to turn to 2014, administrators must move past these tried and true techniques in order to stay visible and transparent and have an open door as a school lead learner – in the physical and virtual world.

As a school lead learner, one must engage in learning and effective communication with staff, parents and students or one will be seen as having the door closed. The most logical way to stay engaged is to effectively use the tools that so many of our youngest learners are already using or better yet, be ready to use the ones they aren’t even using yet.  A quick Google search brought me to The Social Web. How can one possibly keep up? Web 2.0? Apps? iPad vs Android? To blog or to tweet?  Is this even smart as an administrator?

Social Learning in the Classroom

My suggestion, use the one(s) that work for you, understand the rest and continue to learn about the new ones. Let’s face it, our parents are engaged in the digital world. A recent study by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that 77% of 18-29 year-olds with an annual household income of less than $30 000 are smartphone owners. Usage increases to 90% as household income increases. Early Years students are Tweeting their twenty-something parents from school with a device that they brought from home and Skype with them at work so they can share with the rest of the class what their parents do all day. Aren’t these the parents of the young learners that will fill our schools for the next twenty years? My own teenagers have informed me that if I want to know where practices are or what time their next game is, I can subscribe to Remind101, check the blog, browse the website or join the e-mail list.

What? No phone calls? Better open the door.
Pew Research
rothimage006

You can follow Mark on his school twitter feed @brockbulldogs.  Stay tuned as he prepares his own blog for our shared learning.

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So you have a plan to unveil a school blog page for the start of this academic season. . .

The Eastwood School Blog

Now your question might be:  What is the best way to inform our families that it will be our primary communication portal?

Well, here are a number of strategies you could employ:

  1. Word of Mouth.  Have a few contests where the kids login and answer some questions in the mornings.  The info they need to answer can only come from the blog.  Better yet, have them leave their answers on the blog as a comment and award a few winners each morning for a couple of weeks.  This will wear off eventually so be careful with the carrot at the end of this stick.  You want the reward to attract them to the blog and once there the information has to be rich in order for your visitors (parents and students) to want to come back.
  2. Get a digital club together and make sure the kids are talking the talk.  Have them adorn the hallways with posters.  Make sure there is a Digital Club blog to go with the school blog so that kids are attracted to the work of their counterparts.  Make sure you are embedding Dig. Cit. into your days as someone will test the boundaries and make some faux pas.  That is okay.  It is all about the learning.  Careful…don’t want to scare them away with punishment, on the contrary you want to attract them with learning.
  3. A Facebook and Twitter account with a brand page or school page helps and be sure to link both to your blog.  Facebook will get your blog in parent circles the fastest.
  4. Decide on a strategy ahead of time for dealing with comments.  Moderating comments maybe the best way to go in the interest of preserving everyone’s Digital Footprint.  Better to have a moderated comment to talk with a student about rather than a public one.  After a meaty discussion on Dig. Cit. allow the student to then make the decision about whether the comment need be public or edited.  Interpretation learning is always so rich.  When students and parents see their comments they are empowered to join the conversation.
  5. Use the school sign to advertise the blog address all year!  Order a large banner from the school photographer if you don’t have access to a school sign.  They offer these for free with your yearly contract.
  6. Send a newsletter until January and advertise the blog in every issue on the front.  Let the community know the timelines.
  7. Give the Whys of the Blog: eco-friendly, fiscally responsible, up-to-the-minute, always available, more interactive, read/write, etc.
  8. Keep your posts up to date.  The longer they are stagnant the more readers you lose.  Keep your posts short and tidy.
  9. Don’t be afraid to move beyond information items and include some important stuff on the blog with decisions to be made.  Increase the value of the visit.
  10. Add pictures to all of your posts.  Make sure all consents are up to date and signed! Call parents when you are showcasing or naming a student.  This double redundancy is so appreciated by parents and puts safety and courtesy first.  Adding the Flickr widget is a great help especially when combined with the iPhone app!
  11. Add polls to some of your posts.  Let the community vote on some items.
  12. Add video to some of your posts.  Keep them short and to the point.  (My first couple “From Mr. Cowper’s Desk” were dreadful!  Too long and wordy.)–you need a safe YouTube channel to do this right.
  13. Allow students to contribute writing to the blog.  This increases your word of mouth traffic.
  14. Enable the Post from Email function.  This allows you to update from anywhere with no app required.  Make sure parents can subscribe to the blog via email.
  15. Install the WordPress App on your iPhone.  This way you can quickly and quietly fix spelling errors or delete posts.
  16. Put the blog address everywhere.  Let the community know that this is where the stuff is and if they aren’t reading it they are missing out……not in these words of course…you get the point.
  17. Use tags!  This will help your readers find the blog when they lose the address.  They will lose the address.  Make sure the blog has the school name in the address and make sure you tag with the school name each time.
  18. Change the phone message and have the message state the blog address for the most recent and up to date information and “goings-ons”
  19. Think Multimedia: video, pics and audio.  Audioboo is another great little iPhone app that lets you add real-time conversations and audio from around the school with three clicks!
  20. Add a Clustr-Map widget to the blog to track visitors.
  21. Get the staff Blogging!  The more familiar it is to all stakeholders the more it will “stake a hold!”

I hope these ideas help you increase your communication level with your school community.  Enjoy the analytics that WordPress offers.  This will help you track the most interesting posts and the times that your blog is used the most.

Happy school blogging in 2012-2013 everyone!

If you have other ways that you have increased the school blog use please comment!

Thanks.

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A video that was inspired by @Johnwink90 ‘s 136 character tweet.

On Saturday, July 18, I participated in #satchat.  I had some time while the kids were playing Plants versus Zombies (the “Cowper Game App of the Summer!”).   I had a coffee and my partner was reading beside me.  I figured….why not.  The topic of the day was “Back to School” and leading us was @DCulberhouse.  I knew that the majority of the educators were West Coasties and I was interested in their take on Back to School.  Of course there were many other participants from all over North America.  Until the spammers got ahold of the hashtag things were going great.  Of course the infiltration of spammers has nothing to do with the good people leading or participating in #satchat.  On the contrary.  The fact that we were trending a topic on a Saturday morning across the continent (and warranted the most inappropriate spam) speaks volumes about the quality of the 140 character content.

As @dougpete explains in What does Twitter for PD Mean; Twitter can be a launching pad:


The best learning for me happens when the conversation takes off and doesn’t necessarily stay in the social media.  I like following the links – take me to news reports, research, forums, wikis, and blogs where the meaty stuff resides.  You don’t get the full monty 140 characters at a time but like the library card catalogue, it should be there to tease and inform you about where the good stuff is.

After reading @dougpete’s blog entry and considering many conversations with incredible learning leaders like @kellypower and @globeandtims I continue to rehash the essential question:  Is Twitter a Professional Learning tool?

Well, in this particular instance,:

  1. I participated in the chat on Saturday with a group of like-minded educators passionate about learning and opening the school year (from all over North America).
  2. I learned of a myriad of ways other leaders are handling logistical issues that are ever-present in the first weeks of school.
  3. I grabbed a few nuggets of wisdom that resonated with me.
  4. I learned of many ideas, best practises and innovations for having a successful Back to School Night.
  5. I learned of one Principal (@JohnWink90) making “How To” videos for his parents and community.
  6. I made the committment to “give it a go” (thanks for the lingo @jessmcculloch) myself with an iPad, iMovie and our Eastwood Eagles YouTube account.
  7. I filmed the entire video using my own children and a few adult helpers as “actors” on the very same day.
  8. I then sent the video to three individuals (@avivaloca being one), I have never met face to face, for their perspective and assistance (as well as an administrator in a neighbouring district.)
  9. I also sent the video to two Vice Principals in my district for their perspective and assistance.
  10. Finally I uploaded the video to our school blog and mailed it directly to our faculty (we have some new faces)

I have captured the moment I got the idea with this image:

This endeavour involved professionals, learning, technology tools, acting (doing) and reflecting.  I will undoubtedly get feedback from the community, other school leaders and the kids.  Granted there is not a direct impact on student achievement.  I still believe firmly that the reason I engaged in the entire process was because I am a member of an ever-expanding professional learning network through Twitter.  Again, in this instance the power of social media lead to deeper learning experiences.

For me Twitter has not been the best professional learning I have ever engaged in.  I believe that saying this is hyperbole.  On the contrary I have had some incredibly moving learning experiences with one, two or three people in a room making dialogue over work, learning, dilemmas or successes of our profession.  These are the professional learning experiences that have been the most riveting and influential.  Funny thing is. . . without Twitter I may not have had the opportunity to have these conversations with the likes of those mentioned above (not to mention the 34 #UnPlugd12 -ers from last weekend!).  Twitter has turned me on to some individuals who have led me to question, bolster, appreciate, act on and essentially change my perspective on just about everything I have learned to this point.

Thanks good sir.  I hope it helps our school community this September.  I am going to have some fun filming a trailer for this academic year next!

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I had a funny evening with a couple friends the other night.  They were friends before our conversation started.  I can only hope they all are now, or, will be by the time this is Tweeted.  It started with a comment from Friend#1 that he enjoyed my tweets from a recent P.D. experience I had had.  Friend#BanSocialMedia jumped in with a “You tweet during meetings? That is rude!”  There was some silence at the table from Friend#1 and Friend#4 (a high school I.T. department teacher).  The conversation quickly lead to “Friend#BanSocialMedia”‘s expectations, complaints and comments about his students’ level of engagement in his history class.  Now let me just say, this teacher is a great teacher.  He loves his students.  He stays current.  He pushes the envelope.  He is leading the education reform movement in his school if not in his district. Sans social media technology.  He absolutely detests student cellphone use in his class.  So . . . he has procured the specifications for his own “cell-phone jammer” and is in the process of manufacturing one.

Insert laughter here.

“Instead of swimming upstream why not harness the power, knowledge and expertise that your students already have?” I asked rhetorically.  “I can teach you in five minutes how to run a cellphone, text back channel that could add in your delivery, provide by the minute feedback to you, engage your audience deeper and make you the talk of the lunch table from now until 2018!”

“Are you crazy?” was his response to me.  “Cellphones are the worst things in schools.  We banned them.  I hate them.”

From here on out Friend#1 interjected to keep the peace, Friend #4 took notes on his cellphone and the band played on.

I kinda went “soapbox” on my friend.  I asked questions like “Why are you denying me my learning?  Because of my learning style?” and “are you afraid of the feedback you will get?” and “would you take away a students pencil when he was taking notes?”  I admit, it got kind of ugly.  I finished with a statement.  “If the students are talking about what to do on the weekend, fights at lunch and who is dating who, give them something even better to text about:  Your teaching methods, your expertise and your efforts to reach them in a medium that they all get and love.  Tell them to follow your blog and follow your twitter account . . . then pump their heads full of historical fact that is more like fiction.  Give them stuff they won’t believe and then they will try to prove you wrong by doing some of their own research.  Ah . . . the old Jedi Teacher Trick, get them to learn when they think they are having fun. ”

(See Fun Theory)

I am sorry Friend#BanSocialMedia.  I went over the edge.  Please watch the video, continue your incredible work and consider buying a cellphone, engaging in some social learning yourself and with your students.  Having an experienced opinion will give you much integrity with your students.  I am sure you have taught history and World War II!  You know what “cellphone jammers” and denying the public voice pangs of.

Sorry for that last one.  I am refusing lately to take the passive way out.  Our kids, my own children are worth it.  When we refuse to meet students half way we do nothing to close the teaching – learning gap.  Instead of investing in a “cellphone jammer” why not take a leap and allow the kids to answer questions, pose arguments and ask questions via a texting back channel.  Come on . . . give it a try.  The kids are going to jam your jammer anyway.  Learning is supposed to be fun.  If we don’t make it so . . . those darned kids will!

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I have to meet this science teacher.  I mean it.  Having a student work with these mediums and allowing for this level of responsibility must have required much work.  I want to know what was involved in terms of his or her (the teacher’s) learning.  This student must be completely engaged.  Great work.  Another example of the work teachers do to engage young people in learning.

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Possibly the best stink eye on a kid that I have seen!

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Do schools need to change?  This fundamental question causes great concern for many a traditionalist.  Tapscott uses the cryogenic analogy well.  If someone from 1900 were frozen in time and awakened today the incredible improvements in technological advancements in human kind, medicine, transportation etc.  would astonish them.  They may even be so shocked that health of the person would be at risk.  UNTIL….you took them to a school where they would say….ahhhh….this looks familiar and the heart palpatations would cease.

(work in progress)

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