Tag: leadership

What IS School For?

Our Matador Innovative Teaching Academy participants are winding up their first book study, discussing What School Could Be, by Ted Dintersmith. In the discussion materials on the book’s website, I came across this video, which I promptly sent out to our innovative teachers and our district leadership. It is a fundamental question that, frankly, we don’t really hash out like we should: What is school for? Watch the video and think about it. Talk with your colleagues, your students, your stakeholders, and see how tough it is to come up with a consensus on the topic. Share your answer in the comments, if you reach a conclusion!

Traits of the Greats

Now that we’re back in school, I’ve had the chance to engage in some great conversations with some really strong teachers, observe some wonderful classes, and even do a little teaching (still a blast!). These experiences have served once again to remind me that powerful learning is not the product of thousands of dollars of laptops, or ipads, or robots, or textbooks, or online curricula, or any of this stuff. What makes a great educator and remarkable classroom so exciting and motivating, and  the learning super-sticky begins with things we can’t submit a PO for:

  • Creativity – great teachers do fantastic, engaging things that meet kids where they are and take them where they haven’t even imagined they could be. These experiences can’t come from exclusively following a textbook or a prescribed curriculum (both can be valuable resources, though).
  • Humor – the ability to smile and laugh is almost universal among great educators (my junior high math teacher excluded). Laughing is good for the soul and the mind, releasing chemicals that actually help us learn. Teachers who “don’t smile until Christmas” probably have learners who learn nada until Christmas.
  • Humility – related to the above, this sometimes involves the ability to laugh at one’s self. It definitely involves being able to admit mistakes, to embrace that we don’t have ALL of the answers, and to allow kids to know more about things than even we do sometimes.
  • Flexibility – teach in the moment and be willing to shift gears are make a radical 180-degree turn if the situation calls. If the learners aren’t responding, it is easy to blame them or their cell phones or the full moon. Be willing to scrap the plans and go in another direction as students’ responses or interests dictate.
  • Empathy – perhaps the greatest skill a master teacher has is the ability to put themself into the shoes (and mind and heart) of the student. Understanding what experiences they have had, what motivates them, what challenges them–these are fundamental to creating learning experiences that “fit” the child.
  • Grit – the teacher who never gives up, no matter the arguments for such a path, is the one who changes everything. It is about believing that kid can learn that skill or concept and going to any length to get them there.
  • Trust – amazing ideas won’t come in an environment of fear or mistrust. Students (and teachers) should be willing to try crazy ideas and, potentially, fall on their faces as a result. This mandates a teacher who won’t pounce on every mistake .
  • Love – the belief that the kid is the most important person in the room, and you will do anything to help them be happy and successful. It is protective, it is nurturing, it disciplines, it serves. It may sound cliche, but it is the thing that makes the best teachers who they are.

Here is to you, my fellow educator–thank you for all you do for all of our kids. May you have an amazing, impactful year filled with students’ wonder, marvel, surprise, and joy!

More Reflections on Why

Another impact of the Simon Sinek book Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action is that I have been giving thought to how I could put my why into one concise, easily understood statement. While not ready to declare it as final, the following is the current incarnation:

To facilitate meaningful and engaging learning experiences that equip students to reach their dreams.

Here are a few key elements:

  1. Facilitate–my role is to provide tools, training, resources needed for learning.
  2. Meaningful–meaning is a highly personal thing, and we should look for and offer diverse learning opportunities and technologies reflective of the outside world
  3. Engaging–while digital learning tools are exciting to a large percentage of kids, they do not equal engagement by default. The focus still needs to be on powerful classroom practice that pulls learners in.
  4. Experiences–with a nod to John Dewey, learning is most effective within the context of powerful experiences. Do the technologies and strategies I promote create these?
  5. Equip…their dreams–we as educators are beholden to standards. Goals for our students are dictated from ivory towers and governments. Ultimately, however, I think most of us could see no higher level of success than if our students returned to us to tell us of big dreams we inspired and how they achieved those dreams.

Finally, another thought hit me yesterday: What would it look like if we taught our kids to articulate their whys? How might making these concrete affect how our students approach learning? Would our schools even fit their whys at all?

Traits of an Innovative Adminstrator

I’m preparing a presentation for a group of administrators next week. I’m used to primarily collaborating with teachers, but I think this is a critical opportunity for me to influence a crucial group. These guys and gals set the tone and determine the instructional direction for entire districts and campuses. I’ve been reflecting upon the qualities that have made so many of the administrators I have worked with fantastic assets to me in my own job as a technology specialist and, previously, as a classroom teacher yearning to innovate. I’ve shared a few below in hopes of receiving feedback (and basically crowdsourcing my presentation) based upon others’ experiences. If you have any suggestions, they would be really appreciated! (Note–suggestions don’t have to begin with an “e”, but bonus points will be awarded!). The ideal, innovative administrator will…

  • Embody–take the time to study, experiment, and use technology in your day-to-day work. Share your experiences with your teachers, students, and parents.
  • Enable–Create the climate by setting responsible but progressive policies (e.g. filtering policies) and providing needed resources.
  • Encourage–Look for and share the successful innovations happening in your school.
  • Expect–Hold teachers accountable for using technology in the context of the curriculum, in high-level ways that promote meaningful knowledge and skills.

Embracing Changes for a New Year

changeA change in leadership is always an interesting experience. It’s also a great opportunity for self-assessment and adjusting your direction and focus. This is very descriptive of this year in Birdville, as we have a new superintendent and several other members of the leadership team (or, more accurately, the “cabinet”). As expected, our new leaders are examining every program that is in place in the district, evaluating its merits, costs, needs, and direction. We are utilizing the opportunity to refine our methods in the Instructional Technology team, something that’s probably overdue. We’ve dwindled from 12 strong down to 7, moved from our technology department to curriculum, and worked with several different administrators in the past 9+ years.

As a result of our reorganization, I will be working primarily with elementary schools this year (5 of them, to be exact). I’ll also support our district’s librarians and fine arts teachers, train and support webmasters, and continue to try and keep up with the emerging technologies, especially Web 2.0 varieties. I’m very excited about the year. I have an elementary background originally, spending my first six years in the business in elementary classrooms. It will be exciting getting expanded opportunities to work with younger students and our fantastic elementary teachers. As for the librarians and fine arts folks, I absolutely look forward to working with the “keepers” of information and creativity–I can’t imagine a more perfect group to work with.

Finally, I’ll also be working closely with elementary math and science curriculum specialists. My role will be evolving, but it is certain to include serving as a go-to resource for science and math teachers who wish to integrate technology into their classroom practice. I’ll also be working to add these types of resources and lesson plans to our district curriculum documents.

All in all, I’m anticipating a challenging but rewarding year and a great opportunity to  work with an expanded team of educators.


Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/broken_simulacra/103802259/

Meaningful Leadership

The past 2 years have seen exciting utilization of technology in Birdville ISD. The impact of tools of the lighthouseread/write web, online courses, and digital media have been particularly great. One significant unifying factor in the campuses where these tools are being most broadly used is the support of the campus principal. As Tom Landry said, Leadership is getting someone to do what they don’t want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve. Principals have gone beyond simple endorsement and encouragement to taking on the roles of facilitator and role-model, and they have found innovative ways of applying technology to their own practice. I believe the adminstrators whose campuses have taken the lead in using technology succeed for three important reasons.

1. “If you build it, they will come.” Effective school administrators make sure that the resources needed are made available. In technology terms, much of this has occurred, certainly, at the district level. Computer purchases, network equipment, training, forward-thinking acceptable use policies, all are vital components. However, the role of the building principal is also essential. Principals must provide time for planning and collaboration for teachers, utilize campus budgets to purchase technology tools not provided by the district, and ensure opportunities for professional development which support effective technology use (Owston, 2008, p.27). Campus staff development time, for example, was set aside for teachers at Walker Creek Elementary to learn about web 2.0 tools. Other campuses have scheduled similar training, in addition to sessions on digital storytelling, podcasting, and other applications. Greg Farr, principal of Shannon Learning Center, used campus funds to purchase digital video cameras. Several principals have allowed campus funds to be used to pay for substitute teachers in order to allow teachers to attend off-campus training and conferences.

climbing2. “Go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.” Risk-taking is a vital piece of the technologically innovative campus. Carolyn Ridenour and Darla Twale described the typical pace of change in education, stating, “Education is a culturally conservative profession that rewards conforming rather than bold behaviors.” (2005, p.158) This is especially true in the current environment, where standardized assessments focusing on limited skills seem to reward the utilization of a narrowly-focused curriculum, using traditional methods which encourage successful regurgitation of skills on the tests. It takes a bold and confident leader to encourage teachers to move beyond this tunnel vision and to see the bigger picture of the world where students will one day live and work. It takes faith in the teachers and a belief that good, relevant teaching that uses real-world tools can and will produce the desired results while still enabling students to achieve the desired test results.

3. “A good example is the best sermon.” Perhaps the most exciting development to me, personally, is the embracing of technology tools, including Web 2.0, by our principals in their own practice. Principals have taken the lead by starting blogs, for instance, to communicate with faculty, parents, and students. They have created podcasts and several are exploring the possibilities of streaming school events, meetings, etc. By applying the technologies in their own practice, they send a clear message to their teachers of their belief in the effectiveness of such practices.

The role that my department has taken in the process of creating technology-focused principals is to provide training and support. This summer, more than 20 principals attended training in digital media and Web 2.0. Their response was very positive. We have also shared ways to use such technologies in conjunction with instructional practices that are proven effective during administrative meetings throughout the school year. Efforts are made to share new tools and discuss means of applying the tools in less formal interactions, such as face-to-face meetings and email. Technology leadership is a group effort, involving district-level administrators, campus leaders, technology staff, and teacher leaders. However, perhaps none is as vital as the principal in setting the tone for the practices in the classroom. Cafolla states, “Leaders will act in ways that are consistent with their beliefs.” (1995, p.558) Get them on board, and good things will usually follow.


Cafolla, R. & Knee, R. (1995). Factors Limiting Technology Integration in Education: The Leadership Gap. Technology and Teacher Education Annual, 1995, 556-560.

Owsten, R. (2007). Contextual factors that sustain innovative pedagogical practice using technology: an international study. Journal of Educational Change, 8(1), 61-77.

Ridenour, C.S. & Twale, D.J. (2005). Academic Generations Exploring Intellectual Risk Taking in an Educational Leadership Program. Education, 126(1), 158-164.

Liveblogging: Technology Leadership Forum

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