Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Professional, Personal, and Private Sides of Social Media

This week I had the honor of working with my colleague, Julie Cremin, to facilitate our school's in-house summer EdTech conference. It is meant to help inspire teachers at our school to set new goals for engagement and tech integration in their classrooms.

My intro to the PLN session.
The thing is, although teachers know technology has the potential to change the way students learn, many do not know that it can change the way they develop as professional educators. Our teachers spend much of their time putting their students first, so Julie and I felt strongly that part of teacher EdTech training should be about the educators. After all, the students would benefit from their teachers' growth in the end, right?

Near the end of our 3 day conference, the final session I facilitated was about the power of building a PLN (Professional Learning Network) through social media. First I defined PLN for the teachers who joined the conversation.

The group of people a learner interacts with, formally or informally, and derives knowledge from in online or in-person environments.

Click here to see the guide.
Then I gave them some key resources I've been able to create with members of my PLN. These included The Guide to Social Media for Educators I co-authored with Larry Magid, and a podcast called The Connected Educator with Dr. Will. You see, this was not going to be a "how-to" session. It was going to be a "why" session. Many educators are intimidated by social media because of the tough language in their school's acceptable use policy or because of the news stories of online harassment. My mission was to show them the professional and personal benefits of engaging on social media, while giving them the knowledge they need to protect themselves.


Resource Curation & Sharing with Google+

Glenn Blakney is a middle school math teacher at our school. If you ever have the pleasure of talking with him about why he believes in the power of math, he will likely bring you to his Google+ page and start clicking on the many resources he has posted there. You'll get to watch videos, complete experiments, and read fascinating articles. When Glenn talks about math, it's clear he is the person you want teaching your child. When you look at Glenn's Google+ page, you will wonder where these amazing resources were when you were a student. Glenn is thriving from the resource gathering and sharing part of the PLN, and his students are the beneficiaries. All of this shown through during his contribution to our session.

Twitter Chats and Lesson Ideas

Alexandra Horelik and I have a funny history. We've been connected as history teachers for several years on Twitter. I even sought her out for advice as I implemented a new teaching strategy - the #EdCafe - I knew she had experience with last year. Thanks to her advice and resources, my students were able to successfully implement it in our class recently. This past week we found ourselves face to face for the first time. As luck would have it, our new jobs brought us to the same school! Alexandra shared her favorite ways to use social media: Twitter chats, like #sschat and #sstlap, along with discussions of lesson plan ideas and strategies on a more personal basis.


That Real Personal Connection

Tammy Neil
Then it happens. You meet your professional soulmate. Tammy Neil  math teacher/library media specialist/computer applications and game design extraordinaire/teacher of the year (yup - she deserves every letter of that title) is my soulmate. We have little in common on paper. We're from states with starkly different cultures and economies. We've taught content areas that are considered quite different. We aren't the same age or religion. And yet, Tammy and I have so much in common when it comes to our pedagogy, our love for connecting with others, and our beliefs about what is best for our students.

Tammy was kind enough to make time on her third day of school to be a part of our PLN session via Google Hangout. She and I talked to my new colleagues about how we first connected in a Twitter chat, started talking more on Voxer, and met at a conference in Orlando, Florida shortly before she drove me to my first edcamp experience in Tampa. Since then, we've met again once at ISTE in Philadelphia and continue to talk quite often on Voxer. She is one of my newest and truest friends. We've met one another's students (via Google Hangout), written to and about each other on our blogs, and supported the other though times of both celebration and struggle. I'm fortunate enough to have forged a relationship with Tammy that is an exemplar for how valuable social media connections can be for educators and for their students. Sharing that first-hand experience with Tammy was a privilege.


Remembering AUPs

Remember to keep your district's Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) in mind while allowing yourself to grow through your own PLN. Formalities are no fun, but they are important. Even as I was showing my new colleagues how far a PLN can take them, I was explaining our school policies when it comes to online interaction with students, parents, and members of our school community. Teachers should feel empowered by the connections that social media can make possible. They also must recognize that school AUPs, which can limit those connections, are written to protect all members of the community. With that in mind, some AUPs have been in effect for 5 years or more and need updating. When that revision happens, it is important for administrators, teachers, parents, and students to be a part of the process.

Since then, we have some new teachers to Twitter from my new school. A few have told me they are ready for me to introduce them to my PLN, and they might even try out a Twitter chat. Social media is a tool that can be used in different ways by different educators according to their differing needs. The key here is that instructional technologists, like Julie and I, would be wise to remember that educator professional development should go beyond tech-for-the-sake-of student learning. When teachers see how the technology -- social media in this case -- can benefit themselves, we will get more buy-in and the students will be the ultimate beneficiaries.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Four EdTech Teaching Trends

Thanks to the power of EdSurge, these 4 powerful teaching strategies -- made possible by some smart edtech tools -- are no longer a best-kept secret. I've seen some incredible change in student interest, engagement, and student-teacher relationships thanks to these ideas. Click the graphic below to read more!

Ready for the New School Year? Get on Top of These Four Edtech Teaching Trends

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Educator's Guide to Social Media

As educators, we become accustomed to both operating as experts in solitude and collaborating with colleagues. In what is surely among the top collaborations of my career, I had the good fortune to talk and think and laugh and write with Larry Magid, CEO of ConnectSafely and established technology journalist with CBS News, Huffington Post, San Jose Mercury News, and several others. He brought his expertise with the latest in privacy policy and the functional possibilities of the tools. I brought my experience from the classroom and how social media can connect students and teachers with the world outside their classroom like never before possible.

The result is this comprehensive guide:
Click to see the full text pdf of the guide.
Educators can feel confident that the guide covers everything from communication with parents, to posting images and videos, to online harassment, to building a professional network. It is all in this easily-accessible document that is free.

The guide was featured in the Huffington PostBeyond Pencils (the Smarter Schools Project blog), and EdSurge.

It also comes with a website full of links to tools, resources, and articles that can help educators dive even deeper once they are ready.

The final paragraph of the guide really delivers the overall message: Social media is nothing to be afraid of in education. If used thoughtfully by teachers and students, it can open doors for professional growth, better school-home communication, and learning that goes far beyond the classroom walls.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Building Digital Citizenship Beyond an Event

I was honored to be invited to write a guest post for the DigCitSummit group and to work closely with David Ryan Polgar to develop a topic and pull it all together. After working hard to develop a digital citizenship curriculum at my new job, I had some reflections on the (very much ongoing) process and best practices. The result is an article that seeks to emphasize that digital citizenship is a new part of citizenship, and should not been seen as -- or taught as -- a separate category.

You can click here to read. I welcome your comments.

To learn even more about digital citizenship, register for the DigCitSummit October 3 event to hear from national leaders on this important topic.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Why is student data both exciting and daunting?

Student data privacy is an arena of education that is both daunting and exciting. Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University recently published "Student Privacy: The Next Frontier." Professor Urs Gasser and Fellow Paulina Haduong, among others, undoubtedly put incredible research into this project. Their work included reading proposed policy, talking with experts in law, classroom practice, and policy writing, and much more.

Their report led me to start thinking about how the discussion needs to continue. It also needs to be balanced with all parties maintaining an open mind of both the benefits and risks of collecting and analyzing student data.

Why is student data daunting?

In a reality where data breaches are regularly in the news (see Home Depot and Anthem) there is understandable concern from parents and educators about whether the personal information of our children could be compromised. Edtech companies collect and store information about our schools, teachers, and students. School districts have moved from rows of file cabinets to servers of data in order to store student test scores, transcripts, and discipline records. Which is more secure? File cabinets could be destroyed in fires or floods. Servers could be breached by hackers. Here's the thing -- A plane could crash, a natural disaster could destroy homes, the list goes on. We still fly in planes despite this risk. We still purchase homes, the most expensive investment most individuals undertake, despite this risk. Why? We have decided that, based on a risk/benefit analysis, we are willing to enjoy the benefits and take on the risk that one of those unfortunate occurrences will pass us by. The vast majority of plane passengers make it to their destinations safely without much fanfare. The vast majority of homeowners incur typical upkeep and improvement expenses, but do not lose it all in a natural disaster. Perhaps student privacy should be approached from the same mindset. What is the acceptable risk? For each parent/student/educator/school/government entity the answer might be slightly different. The point is that the risk/benefit analysis is where the discussion should start.

Why is student data exciting?

As a classroom teacher, the ability to create and analyze data about my students' understanding and learning has completely changed my teaching practice. Instantaneously, I can collect data from my students using apps like Socrative or Formative and then adjust my lesson to include the interventions students need. For planned assessments I can use ScribeSense to track and share student data with school administrators and parents in order to show student progress. Showing longer-term growth can be accomplished using standardized testing data and student digital portfolios from year to year. If I have a student who is showing a disconnect between class performance and assessment performance 3 weeks into the fall semester, data records from previous school years allow me to gain deeper understanding of that child's learning history and needs. Then I can respond sooner and more effectively. In conjunction with clear home-school communication, this can be a game-changer in the education of a child.

Why is Berkman's emphasis on student voice notable?

12 of the 22 pages of the Berkman report are comprised of first-hand student accounts, experiences, concerns, and reflections on data and privacy. Too often, when policy about education is written and enacted, students are not included in the conversation. The reality is that those in the adolescent-teen generation are experts in their own right in this arena. While they may not fully understand all implications of their interactions and shares online, they are active participants. More often than not, they are unwilling to give up the benefits of these online connections even if they learn about the risks. Shouldn't they be an equal voice with all others in the discussion that will eventually determine policy around their behavior? Even if schools are forced to crack down by legal decisions, our students will be actively sharing and communicating online on their own devices during and outside of school hours.

So how do we find a balance of risks and benefits? By writing this post I do not claim to cover or even understand all of the implications of student data privacy.  I have much to learn and there are no easy answers but, as Berkman seems to implicitly encourage, the discussion should continue with all voices included.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Finding Your Hustle #beyouEDU

Dr. Will seems to come up with monthly themes that force me to reflect on why I am an educator and how my daily actions can really help our teachers and children. This could mean I'm making an impact on a school, regional, or national scale. The point is not about size, but rather how deeply the impact is felt. Tonight I published an honest reflection on my excitement and fear surrounding my recent career change.

Please click the image above or click here to read the full post. I'm sure my story will continue to unfold, but the point is that if we all hustle all of our stories will unfold together. The beneficiaries will be our students.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Life Lessons Learned from Co-Writing

Writers develop their own style and voice over time. We also tend to find a niche for our work in certain topic genres. There is no way I would ever claim to be at the peak of any profession, especially writing. There is always room for improvement and I have a long way to go. Editors have provided feedback that has helped me think about my content, voice, structure, and style. I couldn’t be more grateful for their help. I’ve recently discovered there is another way for writers to develop. In the past two months I have had the privilege of co-writing for publication. In both instances, my co-authors had much to teach me.
The first was an article about the benefits of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in schools with award-winning former principal Daisy Dyer Duerr. Daisy taught me that we should not shy away from sharing success in the name of humility. You see, culture among educators is mixed when it comes to celebrating great achievements. Teachers start their careers with a love for children and determination to create experiences that will open doors for their students. This means that the greatness of our students is always our focus. Some educators shy away from congratulating each other or sharing their own achievements because of this admirable core value.
Daisy is relentless, and it is her strength. When she began her work as principal in rural Arkansas, she wasn’t willing to allow any barriers to stop her teachers and students from having access to everything they deserved. This means they needed to have access to the best in education technology (edtech). In a place where wifi in homes is rare, but smartphones are not, she saw an opening. Daisy use social media to tell everyone on the Internet about the children in her community. She wrote as many grants as she could. The winners at the end of Daisy’s effort were her students. Her school went from failing to being recognized as one of the top achievers in the state. Daisy is unabashed about sharing her school’s success. Does this mean she is a self-promoter? Maybe. But her story is inspiring others and making the news. Other low-income communities nationwide will be inspired by her perseverance to initiate their own relentless efforts. The beneficiaries will be their students.
My time co-writing with Daisy taught me that when you have a story worth sharing, don’t think of it as self-promotion. Think of it as a servant leadership. Knowing the difference between the two is an important part of any writer’s voice.
The second co-author experience was with Larry Magid, CBS technology journalist and CEO of ConnectSafely. Larry and I had the privilege of writing while sitting on his patio in Palo Alto. Our work will be published in An Educators’ Guide to Social Media. We weren’t just collaborating on an online document. We were talking out our ideas, word choice, and sharing our experiences as professionals and people. Larry taught me something most of us already know at some level: Everyone we encounter professionally has a personal story that runs much deeper than we could find by Googling them. I’m not going to tell Larry’s life story in this post, and I’m sure he only gave me a glimpse. The point is that a weekend of intensive writing helped me gain even more perspective into my profession. I learned that I have a lot to learn and a lot to contribute all at the same time.

While writing has helped me start to develop my voice and my niche in the edtech community -- heavy emphasis on “start” -- co-writing has helped me develop a sense of purpose and identity at a level previously unimagined.

If you aren’t yet a blogger, start writing. Write about your successes, struggles, and about how you are improving yourself as a professional and a person. You might think that no one could possibly be interested in your story. That’s what I thought. In fact, people are hungry to learn with and about one another. Be a part of the conversation. Write and post. Going a step further and co-writing can make that conversation go deeper.

If you are already a blogger, rather than merely consulting and quoting your colleagues, I encourage you to make a go at truly co-writing something for publication. You will learn something about your field, yourself, and the world.