Spring Cleaning

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of employing some spring cleaning techniques with my oldest son in my father’s yard. Nothing felt better than three generations pulling out the rakes, tightening the trimmers, and firing up the John Deere to tackle the task of cleaning up the yard in preparation for summer.  We picked up a plethora of sticks fallen by winter winds, raked patches of grass ravaged by grubs, and trimmed low-hanging branches weighted down by an abundance of unchecked-growth.  As we dove into our work, I could not help but soak in the smells of spring and think about how good it felt to be outside and clean-up, preparing for future growth and the summertime yard care that would be so much easier with a little up-front lift.

The tasks associated with spring-cleaning my father’s yard inspired me to think about my own PLN and whether or not I have been tending to my connections the way I should.  I realized that the “spring cleaning” we were accomplishing could easily translate into some easy actions to be ready for a season of stronger collaboration and support among my personal and professional learning network partners.  Being inspired, here is how I accomplished some spring cleaning:

Pick up the Sticks.  Sticks are not necessarily a nuisance, but more of a reminder that life is ever-changing and growing.  I went through the lists of those  I  follow on social media and discovered colleagues who had not posted for several years.   Maybe they switched positions.  Perhaps they lost interest in connecting.  Quite possibly, they found another outlet to share and connect.  In any case,  I cleaned them out.  There was no remorse, no judgment.  Just a thank you for reminding me that at one time they had helped me by being a part of my growing network.  Have you taken stock of your connections lately?

Prune the  Branches.  Sometimes it is necessary to cut branches that are no longer producing  in order to provide space for others to grow.  Sometimes pruning a branch causes it to push and produce more.  Some of my followers and those I follow had not posted or connected within the past several months.  For those folks, I did a little “pruning.”  I reached out, tagged them in a post, or messaged them directly.  I checked in.  Perhaps they will engage;  maybe they won’t.  In either case, I am testing the branches to see where I may need to do some pruning.  Have you reached out and connected virtually with someone you may not have interacted with in recent months?  Have you liked one of their Tweets, commented on a blog post, asked for guidance, updated your newsfeed?

Till the Soil.   Turning up the soil and preparing it for planting is refreshing and invigorating.  It provides the opportunity to break up layers that may have become to solid and release nutrients to provision new growth. I recently did a little “tilling the soil” by connecting with two important members of my PLN, Randy Ziegenfuss and Tom Murray.  Both are inspiring educational leaders who push my thinking and provide me different lenses to view important life, career and educational topics.  Spending some face-to-face time with important members of my virtual learning network reminded me of the importance of working the soil and getting it ready for fresh and new ideas.  Have you reached out to meet face-to-face with one of your PLN?  Has one of your PLN taken on a new position and have you checked-in with them to see how it is going?

Plant Something New.   Once the soil is tilled, it ready for seeds or new plants.   Watching a seed break through the earth or a freshly placed plant take root and spread are simple yet inspiring to anyone who embraces the spread of spring.  For me, I found CPRE Knowledge Hub and have firmly planted it within my learning network.   It is in a nascent stage, but like a seed or a yet-to-bloom, I can see the amazing color and life it will bring to my PLN and practice.  But like any newly planted seed or sapling, it will need watering, sunlight and tending– much like any PLN relationship.  What are some new avenues or outlets you could explore?  What are some new connections that would bring new life and the brightness of spring to your on-line connections?  How will you tend to new PLN connections you make?

Spring is upon us and summer is right around the corner!  How are you accomplishing some spring cleaning in terms of your learning networks?

Mayans, Mystics and Mavens: What I Learned About On-Line Presence

When I was a teacher during the early onset of the availability of the Internet in schools, I took a traditional project and attempted to add a digital component. Students in my 9th grade American Cultures Class at Nazareth High School were required to complete a research project comparing the Aztec, Inca and Mayan cultures. Beyond the ability to present information and develop a comparative essay, students were required to exercise research skills and discern the quality of resources. Being a developing teacher and what  I thought was creative at the time, I designed research “credit cards” that students needed to complete for each online resource they found. Through the process, students were required to identify who created the website from which information was garnered, when the website was created, and how the information compared to traditional print resources. I distinctly remember the jubilation expressed when  students found a flashy website that included what appeared to be deep and accurate depictions of the Mayan culture. I also recall how perplexed the students were  when they discovered  the website was created by a self-proclaimed Mayan mystic. “You can’t trust a psychic,” they proclaimed, “I guess I will have to research further.”

I recalled this experience as I read two important posts this past week by Randy Ziegenfuss and Glenn Robbins. Having just completed my dissertation concerning how school district superintendents use Twitter to lead, learn and leverage within their systems, I am intrigued by how individuals over the past ten years have used social media to connect, learn and share resources. What Randy and Glenn’s posts made me consider is this: How many of those who are engaged in social media are mystics, and how many are true mavens? Mystics are those who create on-line personas in which they retweet, replicate, or simply repurpose research or information that they add to social media streams for their own purposes. The goal appears to position themselves, get the next book deal, or generate more followers who heighten their social influence, but not explore or reveal their own practice within schools or classrooms. They may have influence, but how deep and accurate is it? Mavens, in my experience, are those who are thoughtful about what they share on social media. The posts, tweets, and blogs they share are grounded in reflection upon their own practice and actions exercised within classrooms, schools and districts. Just like when I was a school and a district leader, there is a distinct difference between talking about what should occur and doing the heavy lift of ensuring it happens within schools and classrooms. The latter is much more influential and important.

As I reflect upon my own practices on social media, I will be more critical about what I share, why I share it, and what I consume. Unbeknowst to them, but those 9th grade students 15 years ago taught me a thing or two as I was trying to teach them. I would rather be a maven with a messy, albeit proven record, than a mystic with an impressive looking, yet unsubstantiated, body of work.  Are you a mystic or a maven?

My Take on a Leader Who Learns

George Couros‘ post There Should Be More Than One “Lead Learner” prompted me to reflect upon what it means to me to be a learner and leader within new contexts.  I no longer serve in a formal leadership capacity in a school or district. Believe it or not, I have been missing the craziness that is back to school!  Although my current role supporting teacher and administrator professional development in school districts across the US puts me in direct contact with educational leaders on a daily basis, I find myself asking, “how am I going to continue to grow as a leader?  How am I going to continue to learn?”  These questions become magnified  as I hit my last strides working on my dissertation in the Mid-Career Doctoral Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

George’s post provided me a new perspective within the context of these questions.  I have always considered myself a leader who learns, one who uses learning as an opportunity to show strength, vulnerability, curiosity, and resolve in any situation.  Whether mentoring someone who was growing into a leadership position, re-framing a challenge toward a solution, or interacting with people whose experiences lift me up, I have focused on the learning that is situated in the experience.  When I face personal or professional challenges, even those that leave scars, I remind myself that any situation, good or bad, is not for naught if something is learned.  So if I am not in a formal leadership position and experiencing all the associated successes and challenges, how do I continue to be a leader who learns?

That is when George’s words “The title does not necessarily make the role, only how you do it” struck a chord with me.  Although I may no longer have an official title within a school setting, I do have many titles: Dad, Husband, Son, Friend, Mentor, Colleague, Co-Worker, Boss.  Within each of those titles, I have just as much opportunity to be someone who learns.  As George states sometimes people in a school setting need a principal to be a decision-maker, there are times when in all of the aforementioned roles I need to make tough decisions.  Some popular.  Some not so popular.  However, if I continue to focus on the idea of being a perpetual learner I will continue to grow as a leader.  I see it with my sons– I love being a Dad who learns.  There are times I need to have those conversations or make the call that Dad’s don’t like to do; however, if I model for my children that I am always learning through life they may just gain some insight into what leadership means.  And I often show them that they are teaching me.

So as I continue to navigate all my formal and informal roles in life, I will consider myself as a leader who learns… and a Dad who learns…and a husband who learns….  Thanks, George, for reminding me that we all need to be that type of “lead learner.”

Pedagogy, Technology and Passion

During a recent #currichat on Twitter (Wednesday’s at 8:00 pm EST), the topic  was use of digital texts.  When the question, “How do we move an entire staff toward digital adoption?” was posed, I replied that we need to “Start with pedagogy, not the tool.”  Jess Reid Sliweski (@MSReidReads) responded affirmatively with this graphic:

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I have seen this before, but now that I work even closer with school and district leaders and teachers across the county in support of the digital transformation of classrooms and practices, it struck a different chord. I believe the intersection of pedagogy, technology and passion is where so many educators get tripped up. It sounds easy, inspiring, catchy—but how do we encourage it? How do we create the environments to make it happen?

Upon reflection, I thought about my own experiences as a teacher during the “early days” of technology integration (if we can even call it that). It was 1990-something (sounds like I am cueing up an episode of The Goldbergs) and I was a second-year middle school teacher. Each teacher received an Apple computer, with little to no professional development. After helping several colleagues with turning on the computer and navigating the mouse, I began “diving in” by converting all my worksheets (yuck!) and tests into digital documents I could save and organize by unit and transferring my grade book into excel. But it didn’t seem to be enough. There had to be more, even during these early days.

That’s when a project serendipitously landed in my lap. I ran a drama club during the school’s activity period, and the entire school was to be treated to a concert by a local symphony orchestra as part of its music outreach program. The principal asked if the drama club could prepare the entire student body for the symphony’s performance, including Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. The challenge was accepted!

In working with the drama club, we designed a script and story boarded a take on Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure called Meg and Kacie’s Musical Adventure. Meg and Kacie were about as close as you could get to Bill and Ted for 7th Graders, and with the support of the entire drama club, we worked on designing props and costumes, writing scripts, and planning a storyline that included the two girls going back in time in a refrigerator box (painted to look like a telephone booth—remember those?) to meet Prokofiev and other composers to understand the music we would be treated to by the symphony orchestra. We rehearsed, video taped, edited created graphics in the drawing program of ClarisWorks (that we video taped from the monitor with the video camera because we couldn’t figure out how to export the images onto VHS) and managed to pull together an amazing piece that was shown to the entire school over the in-house video system. The day of the performance, the symphony orchestra representatives thanked us for being the best school audience for whom they had ever performed.

As I reflect upon that project from what seems like another lifetime, Jess’s shared graphic resonates more than ever. The pedagogy was about involving students in solving a challenge (how do we create an engaging presentation for the entire school?), the technology was culling together any tools and resources we had available (including a computer, a video camera and a refrigerator box), and the passion was the energy of students who inspired a teacher to work with them to create a product to be shared broadly. Even though it was the 20th century, we were employing the 4C’s -communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking- that resulted in a student-designed product delivered to an audience for a relevant purpose. It wasn’t about the computer in the room, the ClarisWorks application, or even about the in-house video system that was available. It was about the challenge and the passion.

And that’s what we continually need to ignite for students and teachers in classrooms on the road to digital transformation.

Taking an Amazing Ride

The month of November proved to be filled with amazing rides.  As I reflect upon all that occurred within the space of 30 days, I consider myself lucky to have been a part of two particular events that for me captured the essence of the kick-off of the USDOE Future Ready Pledge as part of President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative.  One dealt with the learning and connectivity of adults, the other with the learning and collaboration of students.

PENN COHORTDuring a session with Dr. Joe Mazza in his digital leadership course as part of the mid-career doctoral program at Penn GSE, my cohort participated in #SATCHATWC on Twitter discussing the establishment of a global PLN.  Over the course of one hour, I witnessed an amazing group of educators connect with others around the globe as the pros and cons of developing a global PLN on social media were shared.   My fellow cohort members are a dedicated, passionate and driven group of individuals who take incredible actions in their various roles as principals, superintendents, teachers, central office administrators, school heads, consultants, and state-level policy makers to support the learning of students, teachers and administrators.  Although for the past year and half, I have spoken to many of them about our experiences and growing knowledge of being connected educators, it was not until that day that I saw the spark of what it truly means to be a connected educator materialize for the entire group.  The conversation within the class itself was as rich as the on-line sharing that occurred during the Twitter chat. My cohort members where genuinely excited and motivated to be putting into practice that which they had garnered from Dr. Mazza:  connecting enhances learning.

PA with DR CHIOn November 20, I had the pleasure of traveling to Johns Hopkins University Hospital to witness a capstone of my career in public education.  A group of students in a fifth grade class in the district in which I work had read an article on Newsela about Dr. Albert Chi and his production of mechanical hands for patients.  The article detailed how Dr. Chi and his team uses three-dimensional printers to manufacture low-cost prosthetics.  Making a connection to their own experiences, the class wrote letters to Dr. Chi asking if he would create a hand for a teacher in their school who had lost her hand in an industrial accident at the age of 18.  Dr. Chi was so impressed by their letters, he not only invited the entire class to visit him at Johns Hopkins, but he made a hand for the teacher and presented it to her on that day.  I was very humbled to be there when she slipped on the device and was able to pick up and hold items, something she had not been able to do in over forty years.  Dr. Chi shared with the students his difficult journey that brought him to be a trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins, and how dedication, hard work and holding fast to your dreams can make a difference not only in one’s own life, but the life of others.  In this case, these 18 students (and teachers, a principal and a superintendent) learned that when students work together and ask big questions, they can dramatically and positively change the situation of another person.

There is a quote from Michael Fullan referenced and posted by many connected educators:  Pedagogy is the driver,  technology is the accelerator.  In terms of the amazing month of November, I can certainly attest to Fullan’s observation.  In the case of my cohort at Penn GSE, I observed their recognition that being a digital leader does not necessarily mean knowing all the technical aspects of the latest technology, but being able to connect beyond the circle of friends and colleagues who meet once a month on campus to a world of other passionate educators ready to virtually teach and learn alongside of them.  As for those elementary students whom I accompanied to Baltimore, I saw how the principles of learning, leading and caring were enhanced by technology.  In both cases, I am thrilled that a pedagogy of connection, collaboration and support was accelerated by technologies to which we as learners and teachers have access.

MR w: DR CHII am looking forward to continuing this amazing ride…

The SAMR Model Parent

IMG_3290For the past two years, I have had the privilege to be associated with a school district that embraces Reuben Puentedura’s SAMR Model to frame conversations about the integration of technology into instruction.  Some of the best learning about how to continue the digital transformation of classrooms occurs when we revisit the model.  At a new teacher induction meeting recently, a colleague reminded us all of the model by showing a student-created video  that clearly captures the intention and effective use of the SAMR model.

As I watched the video and listened to the rich conversation around the examples shared by teachers, I thought about how I could leverage the model as a way to approach the use of technology with my own sons.  Having had multiple conversations with parents and friends about our children using technology and about providing opportunities that are positive and developmentally appropriate, I realized that thinking about and modeling my own use of technology just might help my sons consider the powerful ways they could use technology.  It could also provide an open door for me to have conversations with my sons about leveraging technology.  Conversations and working with my sons on their technology use have led to the following examples:

1) Helping my younger, football-obsessed son set up a spreadsheet to track NFL team wins and losses (Substitution)

2) Creating presentations for family events that included visuals and sounds (Augmentation)

3) Assisting with setting up a Prezi account for my son so he could work with other students to develop a presentation on the solar system (Modification)

Although I am not sure we have reached Redefinition just yet, we are well on our way to thinking about the ways we have leveraged technology to change the way we function as a family.  Recently while away on a trip, I FaceTimed with my son so I could help him with some Algebra.  We could problem solve the issues together, in real time, across the miles.  It was great to think about the fact that we were creating a father-son PLN enhanced by the use of technology.

As you consider your own children’s use of technology, I can report that some of our best time together has been spent as my sons teach me what they are able to do with technology.  Asking them “how did you do that?” even though I already may know the answer, has opened doors to showing them that we can learn together, and technology has certainly provided another avenue.  As I think about continuing the conversation, I am inclined to ask them questions such as:

  • What might be a way you could use technology to organize your school work?
  • What would you like to create that you could share with someone else using technology?
  • What is something you would like to do that would not be possible without technology?

What are some ways you have used technology with your own children that just might classify you as a SAMR Model parent?

The Next Step in the Journey…

Boys on a Walk copyIn 1994, I bought my first Mac: a PoweBook 270 duo dock system.   I should clarify: my father graciously purchased it for me as I was broke and in the middle of student teaching.  I remember feeling nearly invincible while typing away on the keyboard: creating amazing worksheets with embedded images, organizing quizzes and tests, and producing easily searchable lesson plan archives.  I spent hours experimenting and learning  all the features of the system and discovering what I could do with that powerful tool to make me a better teacher.  In the company field within the Mac’s settings I typed: “Quin’s Educational Enterprises,” partly as an homage to my Dad (who had selected the middle name “Quin” for me) and partly because I rarely used it anywhere else. The computer and the name made me feel official, professional, entrepreneurial and lucky.  The journey began…

Now some 20 years later I have decided to recapture some of that same spirit, only this time it will not be nifty worksheets or organized lesson plans emerging from “Quin’s Educational Enterprises.”  Instead, I have been inspired by some incredible educational leaders like Joe Mazza, Tom Murray, Pam Moran, Ross Cooper, Randy Ziegenfuss, Tony Sinanis and the authors of Corwin’s recently released Connected Educators series to build and expand my PLN through a blog.  For several years I have watched these educational leaders help to transform education into a dynamic, connected, and relevant practice that engages educators and students around the globe.  The journey continues…

So welcome to Quin’sEssentials.  Here I will share my thoughts about learning, leading and being a dad in a digital world.  So much has changed since 1994, but one thing has remained a constant for me:  the desire to learn, share, collaborate and be entrepreneurial.   I hope to share resources,  offer inspiration, and most importantly, engage with those who are learning what it means to live in a connected world.  These are my essentials as I take the next step in the journey…