Sunday, September 30, 2012

5 Suggestions for 21st Century School Leaders on Web Presence Management

According to Kitty Porterfield and Meg Carnes, in the book Why Social Media Matters: School Communication in the Digital Age, school leaders should

“Think of your website as home base for your school information platform.”

A great deal is written about school leaders engaging in the use of social media. I myself have done the same. But, most of us have a more powerful way to communicate information and image to the broader world than social media, and that is our school or district web presence.

My own experience is that most districts do not spend a great deal of time deliberately thinking about their web presence. They simply post a web site because either “everyone’s doing it” or there’s some written or unwritten mandate out there that says they must. The result of this often means a school or district has a web site, but it is highly underutilized and poorly updated, and that is a shame. A web site is an opportunity for a school or district to get its message out to the world.

I am going to propose a new idea: “21st century school leaders need to take charge of their web presence.” In other words, school leaders need to make their web sites purposeful places of information and news about their schools and districts, make it a tool of public relations and organizational promotion.  To do that, here’s some simple suggestions:

1. Do not delegate updating the web site to someone else. I can already hear the protests on this one, especially from those “not-so-tech-savvy” school administrators, but hear me out on this one. Too often, school administrators have no clue about how web sites work, and how important web presence is. If a school leader takes on the role of updating and monitoring their school web site, then what goes on it matters. They also know what’s on their school web site. I am afraid there are probably administrators out there who don’t even know everything that is on their web site. By taking on the role of managing your web site, you know what is there. You can also make sure it projects your school mission and vision to the world. In a word, when you take on the job of managing your school site, you take its content personal, and that is important.

2. If you do delegate your web site management and maintenance to someone else, make sure you are involved. Too often, web presence is delegated to someone who knows how to do it, then the school administrator rarely assists in its management and maintenance. If a school leader is going to delegate this task, she needs to meet periodically to review the site and examine it for content, style, aesthetics, etc. This periodic review also needs to look at the site’s statistics. By looking at analytics such as web traffic and traffic sources, school leaders can tell if they are getting the most out of their web presence, and look for ways to increase traffic to their site, after all, why have a web site if you aren’t interested in its traffic?In the 21st century, just having a web site isn’t enough. To utilize that web presence to fullest, school leaders need to be involved in its management and maintenance even if the mechanics are delegated to others.

3. Use social media tools to direct traffic to your web site. While social media can be used to make announcements, which I do myself, it can also be used to promote your web site. This is especially important for those longer announcements and more detailed information that can’t be shared on Twitter in a 140 characters, or on a Facebook page. Using social media tools to direct traffic to your web presence, simply means posting using social media tools when there’s significantly new information, or just important information on your web site. Ultimately, my personal goal is to get parents, and the larger world,  to visit our web site regularly without prompting, even getting them to subscribe to changes with RSS, if that’s possible. Ultimately, social media is a means to call attention to our school or district’s web presence.

4. Update and revise your web site often. If you want people to visit your school or district web site often, then you have to give them a reason to do so, and this can be done by constantly providing new and engaging information. If you take a moment and visit some school or district web sites today, and you return to them a year from now, you will probably see little change. Maybe the calendar widget has changed, or the little announcements box has new items in it, but if you click on the “principal’s message button” you are treated to the same message he posted last year. If you want people to return to your site again and again, you have to give them a reason to do so. This means updating and providing new and engaging information about your school on a regular basis.

5. Carefully and deliberately select your web presence manager. Too often the role of web presence manager is simply “dumped” on someone with the tech savvy to operate the software. This is a big mistake. Instead, 21st century school leaders should delegate their web presence management to after carefully and deliberately selecting the person who will take on this role. Yes, the person needs to tech know-how, but they also need to be expert communicators, knowing how to make the most of the medium. They need to be able to do more than just “update the web page with latest announcement.” They need to know who to make the most of web presence in promoting school or district. Simply selecting someone who knows how to work the tools makes little sense in a digital age when you are projecting a global image by your web presence.

The reality is, a number of school leaders view just having a web presence as enough. The truth is, those who think that are missing out on using an effective tool to get their school or district’s story out to the world. To get the most out of our web presence, you have to start looking at our web site as “information central” about your school and district, and take an active role in its management and maintenance.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Turning Your Classrooms into 21st Century Learning Spaces

“Where a school is located and how it sets up internal structures determine its possibilities,” writes Heidi Hayes Jacob in the book Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World. As she argues in this book, we have inherited spaces in our buildings that were designed for learning of another era.

Tearing down and rebuilding our schools is hardly a tasteful option in an era of tight budgets and a total lack of funding. What can we do then? We can start by redesigning our classrooms from places where “knowledge is imparted” to more of place where knowledge is found, discovered in a collaborative manner. We can turn the physical environment into places where authentic learning is the classroom business, not sitting in rows, listening to lectures. This may mean simply getting rid of desks and moving in tables and chairs that are portable and can be rearranged quickly according to the needs of the students and the teachers. It means we can change our physical spaces in our schools into 21st century learning environments without breaking our budgets.

The building we currently occupy was constructed around 1929, so you can imagine its limitations. Yet, each teacher in our building has consciously worked to create learning spaces that capture the philosophy and spirit of our school: collaboration, engagement in authentic learning, and using technology. Here’s a photo of one of our English classrooms.


I know, you can see chairs stacked on the tables. Even 21st century classrooms need vacuuming, but if you look closely,  you see tables arranged along the walls, and on those tables are laptops. Students work seated at the tables and the teacher has room to move about to assist students and monitor what they’re doing. Two tables are placed in the center of the room both for students who bring their own laptops, and for meetings among collaborative groups. It is not your normal English classroom arrangement. In this case, students can turn their chairs to attend to the teacher at the beginning of the class, then turn to their computers when it’s time to engage in whatever their projects ask them to do.

The space is arranged to facilitate, not lecturing, but engagement in using 21st century tools in authentic learning tasks and maximize collaboration. How a classroom is arranged tells a great deal about what happens the most in it.

Let’s look at another classroom.


Tables, tables, tables everywhere. No desks in rows. In fact, we do not have a single old-fashioned desk in the building and that is by design. In the 21st century students need to work collaboratively and having highly portable tables allows for maximum collaboration. This is a science classroom. Students are purposefully seated at tables in this room so that they can work on collaborative science projects. The chairs and tables can be turned and used in multiple configurations, depending on the needs of the class. Out of the picture, is a small lab of desktop computers that students can use, along with their own personal laptops and devices as well.

So, what does this say about our school? Even though we inhabit an older building designed for 20th century pedagogy, we can purposefully redesign our spaces for 21st century learning. But keep in mind, we all know that just changing spaces does not necessarily mean a change in pedagogy. We should know that from the “Open School debacle back in the late 60s and early 70s. Still, purposefully redesigning spaces for 21st century learning in your school does not have to be an expensive undertaking, but you can tell how a school conducts the business of teaching by how its learning spaces are designed.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

6 Key Personal Learning Network Literacies Every Educator Needs

“We now live in a world where even twelve-year olds can create their own global classrooms around the things about which they are are most passionate,” writes Will Richardson in an essay entitled “Navigating Social Networks as Learning Tools.”  Richardson adds this about our students, “Most of them have no adults, neither teachers nor parents, in their lives, who can help them see and employ the learning potential at hand.” With this lack of adult involvement, there is no wonder why our kids get into trouble online with cyberbullying and other forms of web mischief. Our children need to have adults in their lives that know and understand the art of developing personal learning networks and connecting with others. In other words, they need adults who are “network literate.”

There are still far too many educators shirking this responsibility of teaching children art of developing personal learning networks. Administrators and teachers create Twitter accounts and declare they are now connected and have a Professional Learning Network. District administrators and policy makers are so hung up on social media’ s negatives to see the potential of social media and personal learning networks as a 21st century learning tool. As 21st century educators,  we should be working to become network literate so we can be the adult guides for our students in using personal learning networks effectively.

But what does being “network literate” look like as it relates to personal learning networks? What are these abilities that we as educators need to be able to do in order to best teach, guide, and facilitate others, both educators and students, in their development of powerful learning networks?

Here’s my own short list of personal learning network literacies educators need to have.

Mechanics of Connecting: This involves, at the simplest level, knowledge of individual networking tools like Twitter, Facebook, blogs, wikis, and the whole list of tech tools that foster connections over the web. Educators need to understand the basics of establishing accounts with these tools, and a working knowledge that expands as the tools change. They also need to understand the potential and possibilities behind the use of each type of tool, and help students make wise selections about which tools to use in their learning situations. Being network literate means knowing both the personal learning network tech tools and the opportunities and potentials of those tools.

Basics of reputation management.  The basics of reputation management involve the ability to monitor online sources using simple tools to listen and follow the reactions that others have to what we say online. It also means using resources to monitor our digital footprint. Educators need to understand reputation management so they can guide students in making the kinds of online choices that enhance rather than detract from their future prospects. Being network literate means knowing how to use the web resources to shape our online reputations.

Verifying and Checking Credentials of Connections. To create effective personal learning networks, we need to be able to check and verify whether those with whom we are connecting are the experts they say they are. That can be difficult at times. Still, understanding the need to check and how to check the credentials of our connections is important. Being network literate means knowing how to verify the expertise and credentials of those with whom we are connecting.

Information management.  Educators need to understand how to manage all of the information flowing to them from their personal learning networks. Sorting and classification and being able to determine relevancy are all necessary skills to effectively manage information from personal learning networks. Also, knowledge of tech tools that help with the management of this information flow is important. Knowing how to use RSS feeds, note taking apps, and social bookmarking are important for effective information management.  Being network literate means being able to effectively manage the information flow from your personal learning network.

Personal learning network cultivation. Understanding that personal learning networks are organic and not static is key. Once we’ve begun connecting with other educators, the work of cultivating that network is never finished. Tasks like how to grow that network and maintain its usefulness is important. The art of sharing and reciprocity are also keys to effective network cultivation. And like pruning the branches back on a tree so that it will grow in a manner desired, we also need to understand how to best prune our personal learning networks so that they are effective learning tools themselves. Being network literate means knowing how to grow and shape our personal learning networks.

Netiquette and responsible web citizenship. Knowing and understanding the whys of responsible behavior online is important for educators too. Too often, when we hear in the news media of an educator posting something insensitive or inappropriate on a blog or Twitter, it’s because they did not fully understand some key elements of netiquette and web citizenship. Educators, of all people should be knowledgeable about responsible and polite online behavior and should be models of these behaviors for their students. They should know specifically what kinds of content is appropriate for online. Being network literate means knowing the rules of netiquette and web citizenship as we engage in the use of our personal learning networks.

By remaining network illiterate, educators are truly missing an opportunity to help students use one of the most powerful learning tools of the 21st century: personal learning networks. Teachers and 21st century school leaders need to begin taking responsibility for teaching kids how to effectively utilize personal learning networks by becoming network literate themselves. This list of six personal network literacies is an excellent starting point.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

10 Things School Leaders Do to Kill a Teacher's Enthusiasm for Technology

Here's a list of ten things a school leader does to kill any teacher’s enthusiasm for using technology in their classrooms. An alternative title for this list might be, “10 Things a 21st Century School Leader Will Not Do to Discourage Teachers from Engaging in the Use of Technology.”

1. Mandate the use of technologies or specific programs. One of the fastest ways to kill an educator's enthusiasm for infusing technology is mandate a specific technology or specific program. We all have specific needs, tastes and desires, and a program that satisfies mine will not necessarily satisfy the next educators. For example, I like Evernote. I preach the use of Evernote. But, some educators despise it. It does not match their needs.It does not do the things they want to do with technology. Mandating the use of Evernote is counterproductive. The same goes for iPads, digital cameras, interactive boards, and any number of tech devices and software. Some teachers can use these technological devices because they fit their teaching style, their subject matter, and their students' needs. Others would rather get students using  devices themselves. Mandating specific devices, technologies, and software will kill an educator's enthusiasm quickly.

2. Use inadequate, faulty or overzealous web filtering systems that block sites teachers want to use. This one is a teacher enthusiasm-killer of major proportions. While school districts are obligated under CIPA and common sense to provide some level of protection for young students, a filtering system is inadequate or faulty when it dictates what teachers can and can't do with the technology. For example, I am an advocate for blogging, and as a former English teacher, the potential of blogging for providing authentic writing experiences for our students is enormous. But then comes the web filters, that dictate that blogs are off limits because the manufacturer of that filter sees blogs as a greater threat to kids' safety than its potential to get students to engage in authentic writing. A web filtering system that dictates what teaching resources teachers can use is a quick way to stifle a teacher's enthusiasm and to force them back to using textbooks and other 20th century materials.

3. Provide inadequate or sloppy tech support systems. While teachers should always have plan B, even without technologically enhanced lessons, they should not have to have a plan b, a plan c, and even a plan d. If a school district has such shoddy tech support systems that using technology is like running an obstacle course, then expect your teachers to lose enthusiasm for using technology. Having technicians available is only one aspect of support. Too often administrators like to brag about the number of iPads or laptops they've added, but they failed to hire the support needed to keep those things operating. When adding technologies it is vital that school leaders factor in additional support systems and their costs as well.

4. Provide inadequate funding.  There is a great deal of frustration when a classroom teacher wants to implement a project using a technology resource, only to be told there's no funding for that.  It's not frustrating because of the lack of funding itself, it's frustrating because there's evidence all around of funded projects that were a waste, and that same money could have been used to pay for technology a teacher wanted. Sometimes I have to wonder whether some administrators get a trip to the Bahamas out of the purchases they made because they obviously could not have made the technology purchases with a teacher in mind.

5. Fail to provide adequate hardware and/or software.  I've seen so many examples of this over the years. Teachers are encouraged to get students writing and engaging in online blogging, but they don't have access to computers. Another example is even more ludicrous; students being asked to create 21st century projects yet they aren't given anything but 20th century tools such a colored pencils and construction paper. It is the school leader's responsibility to ensure teachers have adequate hardware and software for implementing technology.                                    

6. Purchase hardware or software after a sales pitch rather considering staff needs. Sometimes while attending a leadership conference or in a leadership meeting a school leader will see a demonstration of a new product like a smartboard or class response device. He becomes so impressed by the device that he forgets he's seeing a "sales presentation" and agrees to purchase 15 of them. Next thing anyone knows, these things are being installed in classrooms and no one has any idea about how they are going to be used. The devices become expensive dust collectors. Administrators should always bring in the end users when making these purchase considerations. School leaders would do well to remember that sales pitches don't always translate into effective classroom implementation when it comes to technology sales presentations too!
 7. Fail to be enthusiastic about technology use themselves. This is self-explanatory in many ways. There are many a school leaders who communicate a total lack of enthusiasm or even disdain for technology by their reaction to it. They don't talk about it. They ignore it. They even change the subject when a teacher excitedly describes a technology-infused lesson that went well. Twenty-first century education is exciting. I find it very difficult to understand the school leader who is not excited about technology's potential, but there some school leaders out there who kill teacher enthusiasm by just their reactions.

8. Refuse to use technology yourself. This is related to number 7, but involves a total rejection by the school leader to use technology. You can't be a 21st century leader by refusing to be a tech consumer yourself. Your refusal to engage in its use demonstrates what you really feel about technology. School leaders shouldn't complain that their teachers fail to use technology innovatively when they keep sending out paper memos.

9. Fail to provide training and additional resources needed for tech implementation. Training with an expert user is always a plus, even when using someone on staff as that expert. Even more important is providing time for the teacher to explore, experiment, and "play" with the technology. As far as resources, school leaders need to make sure teachers have all they need to implement new technologies: everything from powerbars to tables. Nothing can be more frustrating than having your greatest tech plans foiled by a lack of power outlets.

10. Use test scores as the only measure of successful technology implementation. This is a real killer of anyone's enthusiasm for technology. Everything we do and do well cannot be connected to a "higher test score." Test scores provide valuable information but they are not the only measure of effectiveness. School leaders who always want to know, "Will it increase test scores" aren't really interested in successful technology infusion and tech implementation anyway. Their focus is pretty obvious.

There are, of course, many other ways for school leaders to "Kill the Passions any Teacher Has for Technology" but this has to be some of the most common I have encountered. I try to use this list as reminder daily in my own efforts to support teachers use of technology.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

9 Principles of Courageous Leadership for 21st Century School Leaders

“A common requirement of leaders at all levels is having the courage to make tough decisions and take difficult actions,” write authors David Cottrell and Eric Harvey in their book Leadership Courage: Leadership Strategies for Individual and Organizational Success.  A big part of courage in 21st century leadership is standing up for what is right. As Cottrell and Harvey correctly describe, “The true measure of leadership is the ability to look in the mirror and know that you had the courage to do what you felt was the right thing to do.” 

Our ability as school leaders to look at ourselves in the mirror each morning and feel that the actions we took the day before regarding our students and staff is a measure of our own 21st century leadership ability. This contrasts starkly in an American culture that wants to turn schools into clones of businesses where maximization of self-interest is a virtue, often at the expense of many others. The problem is, these philosophies are at cross purposes in educational establishments. Ultimately though, as a school leader, I feel at my best when I have successfully passed a test of courage with integrity intact.

What are some “Guiding Principles for Courageous School Leaders in 21st Century"? No doubt we all have core values we hold dear, but here’s some principles I have taken the liberty of modifying a bit from Cottrell and Harvey’s book. I think they accurately describe what we have to be willing to do in order to be Courageous 21st Century School Leaders.
  • Accept responsibility courageously. This includes accepting responsibility for all the actions of our schools from students to teachers and our own. When an unfortunate event happens under our leadership, we publicly accept our responsibility.Looking for places to cast blame is a weak, short-term strategy. If you want your school to be one where responsibility is important, then be responsible yourself.
  • Implement change courageously. Courage comes from being able to step away from the status quo and enter into new possibilities. Courage is demonstrated in convincing others to move beyond their own comfort zones to stretch toward new horizons. Courage comes from leading change in the face of fierce resistance and even potential political peril. Change takes courage, and 21st century school leaders act courageously when leading change efforts.
  • Hiring people using strict standards. Lowering one’s standards to just “fill a position” does not promote excellence. A weak person on your school staff can pull down the entire team. Hire only those who fit your school’s standards and principles. Surrounding yourself with talent makes the school or district successful. Hiring out of political expediency, or due to friendship connections is a recipe of organizational weakness. Also hiring only those who will rubber stamp your ideas or agenda is a recipe for long-term failure. Courage comes from hiring people who often are smarter and better equipped than you are, and who aren't afraid to express their opinions. Courageous hiring means getting the right people in place is a much higher priority than scoring political points or returning political favors.
  • Keeping everyone focused on what’s important. Cottrell and Harvey call this “Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing.” Courageous 21st century school leaders fight to keep the focus on what’s important: the learning of students. Real courage is demonstrated in those school cultures where this is lost, and the school leader courageously reminds everyone of what they are truly about: "Keeping the main thing, the main thing!"
  • Communicate for understanding. The purpose of communication in a 21st century organization is understanding. This means making sure what you have to say is clear, concise and on-point. There's not room for murky, unclear messaging. Courageously saying what needs to be said means there's only room for understanding, not misunderstanding.
  • Coaching others. School leaders have a responsibility of coaching those within their schools or districts. This means setting aside the title of "boss" and giving your organizational members the information necessary to improve their performance. It means inspiring those within to reach for higher levels of performance and providing them with the direction to do just that. Coaching is not playing "gotcha games." Coaching means you genuinely want others in your school organization to be successful, and you work hard to help them improve.
  • Effectively address conflict. There is no room in 21st century leadership for avoiding conflict. Minor conflict can paralyze a school or district so that nothing is accomplished. Effective 21st century school leaders take conflict head on. Courageous school leadership means having the difficult conversations. It means not passing the task of addressing a performance issue to a subordinate, or waiting on someone else to say something. Courageous leadership also means not sending "nasty-gram" emails instead of sitting down, face-to-face and talking with someone about an issue.
  • Keep focus on the positive. This can be difficult. Trying to get everyone to see that things are still positive in a toxic environment is quite a challenge. Keeping the focus on the positive isn't about lying to people and building up a false sense of the positive. It is about fostering a "positive" belief that together we're going to succeed. School leaders who keep the focus on the positive, don't dwell on the negative and drag others down.
  • Instill a culture of ethics and integrity. An organization without integrity that has as its purpose educating children is a frightening thought. Twenty-first school leaders work diligently to foster ethics and integrity in their schools or districts.  Principles are never sacrificed for political reasons or any other reasons. Organizations educating children that lack ethics and integrity have no business teaching children.
In the fast-paced environment of the 21st century, school leaders, from principals to state education leaders, courage must be a part of our leadership practice. These guiding principles make an excellent starting point to begin fostering that kind of leadership.