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.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Embrace, Don't Ban

Daisy Dyer Duerr and I both have a passion for the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement, especially in schools and districts where 1:1 is not possible. I'm honored to have the chance to co-write with Daisy about the importance of access to mobile devices in school and the transformational learning experiences that are possible.

This Op-Ed was originally published in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

Across the country, parents, administrators, and teachers are discussing how to best leverage mobile technology to benefit students. Today 88 percent of teens have access to a cell phone or smartphone. Naturally, students are bringing their phones to school.
As a result, educators are confronted with the challenge and opportunity of harnessing these pocket-sized devices to make a positive impact on student learning.
The near-ubiquity of mobile computing poses challenges in the classroom. But a recent report suggesting that mobile computing bans increase standardized test scores is misguided (tests are just one measure of learning) and fails to consider the creative strategies that thousands of savvy teachers in K-12 schools and colleges are using to improve student outcomes by integrating mobile computing in the classroom.
Technology will be an everyday part of our students' lives. School-wide bans on mobile phones do our students a disservice by failing to teach them responsible use and limiting their ability to innovate and create in the classroom.
As educators in both rural and suburban districts, we've seen the positive impacts of technology, including mobile devices, firsthand.
In Kerry's district in suburban Massachusetts, the school district is unable to provide each student with a laptop or tablet, making students' mobile phones a necessary tool. Her high school history students use their phones daily, along with a small number of devices supplied by the school.
Their notebooks are "paperless"--and can be accessed on their phones. Students can review their learning while in a dentist's waiting room or at home when the family computer is already monopolized. It also means their notes are in rich color and include high-definition historical images--something that a paper and pen simply can't provide. This level of detail and access would not be possible if their phones were banned in school.
Mobile phones are also a collaboration tool for students. Students can post ideas and media on a digital bulletin board, plan projects on a shared document, and create incredible media evidence, such as movie trailers, to demonstrate what they've learned.
Kerry's students use group messaging and video chats to schedule study groups and share resources. They can quickly check for assignments and grades she's posted on the class website. Without their phones, these collaborative learning experiences would happen less often and would be more difficult to manage.
Daisy leads a rural K-12 school in Arkansas where only 10 percent of homes have high-speed Internet access and 80 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch. In her community, connectivity is as important as power lines. Before Daisy joined the school as principal in 2011, technology use was limited. The school lacked adequate devices, internet access, and training to effectively take advantage of 21st Century learning opportunities. Performance was poor--her school faced ongoing state sanctions due to low scores on literacy and mathematics assessments. Closure and takeover loomed.
But Daisy partnered with all school stakeholders (including students) to form a new vision that included an infusion of technology and new teaching pedagogy.
Daisy found, contrary to popular belief, that most of her low-income students actually had access to mobile devices (more than 75 percent of her seventh-12th-grade students). With proper training, and trusting relationships with adults, the students were able to utilize their mobile devices in a positive way.
As with any initiative, "Bring Your Own Device" programs are not challenge-free; but students are equipped to develop the skillset to deal with these new cyber issues, challenges they are bound to face in after school in college and work. What better place to prepare them for 21st Century challenges than within our schools?
Over the last four years, Daisy's school has gone from a failing school with little to no technology engagement to a top 10 percent school in Arkansas, and just received an "A" grade; the highest given in her state. Between 2010 and 2014, reading proficiency jumped from 59 percent to 79 percent and math proficiency went from 54 percent to 88 percent. All of this was accomplished while students were accessing their devices in the classrooms.
Today, successful technology integration enables her school to level the playing field--providing the same outstanding education to students in her poor, rural school that more affluent students in suburban areas often take for granted.
While the integration of mobile devices in our schools is never perfect, their presence has helped us achieve deeper levels of understanding, access to lesson-enhancing multimedia, and an increase in engagement from our students. The use of mobile devices have given us the chance to not only add an extra dimension to lesson plans, but to also teach valuable life skills that will serve our students well beyond their time in the classroom.
Daisy Dyer Duerr is a former principal in St. Paul, Ark. Kerry Gallagher is a technology integration specialist at St. John's Prep in Danvers, Mass., former history teacher, and regulator contributor to EdSurge. Both are contributors to the Smarter Schools Project.
Editorial on 07/20/2015

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Is Social Media the Key to Communicating Education Leadership?

Perhaps the most important thing leaders in any area of expertise can do is communicate. They must clearly express certain messages to the people they lead and the people they hope to impact:

  • brand of the organization
  • personal brand of the leader
  • mission and purpose of the organization
  • how the organization will accomplish the mission
This past week I had the privilege of working with some high school student leaders from all across the country as part of the Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence Student Leadership Institute in Walt Disney World. The institute is called Building Our Leaders of Tomorrow (BOLT). From the outset at the evening kickoff event, I told the students we would be communicating their week-long journey of leadership to the world on social media.

Communication is not just something we should be doing in the classroom, at faculty meetings, or at conferences. If education is to move forward in a meaningful way that includes the perspectives of educators, parents, and students then communication must include social media. After all, that is the way our children are communicating every day.

The BOLT Student Leadership Institute is a great example of the power of communication through social media. If you'd like to see a multimedia record of our student leaders' adventures and learning, just look to social media platforms and search #BOLT2015. You can find pictures, videos, blog posts, and student comments:

If scrolling through the images and videos of the student leaders' busy smiling faces isn't proof enough that their experience and energy is worth sharing, then read on.

As we were saying our farewells to the kids and they were saying their farewells to one another, I couldn't help but notice that they were not trading cell phone numbers or email addresses. They were trading usernames for Instagram and Snapchat. If we are going to truly communicate about the future of education, our students must be a part of the conversation. And if we want them to be a part of the conversation, we need to learn, use, and model good citizenship on the social media tools they are already using.

If we fail, educators and students will always be speaking a different language. Without communication there is no leadership. Without leadership, there is no change.

Friday, July 17, 2015

I Want to Teach with Technology! Now What?

When Corwin-Connect associate editor Ariel Price invited me to write for them, I obviously accepted enthusiastically! My first post with Corwin tackles a common situation my school and district technology departments face: How do we work with teachers who are willing to use technology, but don't know where to start?

The article opens with behavioral theory from Everett Rogers called Diffusion of Innovation. The diagram below shows his theory in part. It goes on to use real examples from my experiences as an instructional technology coach.  Please click here if you are interested in reading the post. I'd love to read and respond to your comments as well.

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DiffusionOfInnovation.png.
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

I'm honored to write for Corwin-Connect and look forward to doing so again soon!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Finding Your Swagger #beyouEDU

Dr. Will defined swagger in his opening podcast by saying, "Swagger is about your confidence. It's about what you bring to the table, your essence."

Beautiful, right?

My take on this month's #beyouEDU focus is to encourage educators to reflect on how that swagger can help or hinder the most important people around us: students and colleagues.  Please click the image below to read my post on Dr. Will's blog.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Passion First

This week I'm officially moving into the role of Technology Integration Specialist. Although my former role was middle and high school history teacher, it feels like I've been a tech coach for a while organically, anyway. Since I post about my students' technology enhanced learning experiences and paperless method quite a bit, word got out at my school and on social media.  Most school days I get a question or two from colleagues passing in the hall or via direct message online.

Although I know I have a lot to learn about my new school and the individuals who make up the dedicated faculty there, one thing I'm sure of is that the people will always come before the technology. Getting to know the people and the passion that motivates them to be educators is the first step to for any successful instructional coach, whether focusing on technology integration or not.

Fortunately, I was able to attend ISTE last week with a few of my new colleagues. While grabbing a bite to eat in the airport with a couple of them, they generously filled me in on some of the school's traditions. They raved about how well they were treated by administration and how they felt the students were honored and cared for by all adults on campus.  It warmed my heart to hear and see the affinity they have for their school.  Without this culture of trust, no instructional initiative would be successful -- even one that includes the fun bells and whistles of technology.

Image source.
As the conversation turned to how I might fit into this school culture, they asked about some of my experience integrating technology. I had sample of student work that I showed them quickly, but this is when I started asking them questions about themselves. One of the educators seated at the table is a veteran chemistry teacher. Beyond my own chemistry classes in high school, I have little expertise on the topic. I asked him why he teaches chemistry, what he loves about it, and why he feels it's what he's meant to do. He talked about how it touches on parts of many other content areas -- math, theory, hands-on work, scientific history, and more. He believes that a student who does well in the study of chemistry demonstrates a more well rounded view of academics in general. As I heard him talk my heart literally started beating faster. It is a thrill to hear an educator talk about his love for his work.

I told him how good it felt to hear him talk about his passion and he smiled back at me. This is where all solid professional relationships start: they start with a question. That question is WHY. The passion should be revealed from there. Technology is not the answer.  Tech integration should only enhance the teacher and student experience, deepen the passion. Passion comes first.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How Edtech Entrepreneurs Should Talk to Teachers

Edtech entreprenuers, teachers, and administrators all need one another. Sometimes, however, we are not speaking the same language even though we are all trying to be a part of the same conversation.  After attending both an EdSurge Summit and ISTE within the past three weeks, I've had the chance to meet with many enthusiastic programmers and designers. Some are doing a better job than others at connecting with their allies on the ground -- the teachers. The ones that are doing it well are using these tactics during those precious few minutes they have a chance to interact with an educator.

1. Have a quick 2 sentence passion statement ready.

The good news is that if an educator has made her way to your booth, she is already interested in what you have to offer. Start by clearly defining your mission and how your product accomplishes it. Do it in 2 sentences. No more. At this stage, all you want is for the teacher to have a clear understanding of the pain points you are trying to target.

A camera couldn't possibly capture the enormity of the
expo at ISTE in Philadelphia this week.
This shot of the entrance will have to suffice. 

2. Find out what drives teachers.

Educators love people. They become educators because they love working with children.  They go to conferences because they love to talk with other educators about what works. They will like the tools you have created as long as the tool fosters those relationships. Beyond that, each teacher has a passion for his content and the age group that he works with every day. Ask him about that content and why he loves it. Ask him about why he loves his students.  The better you know the teacher as a person, the more personalized and effective your approach can be.

3. Let them play and watch what happens.

As you show the educator how your product can transform teaching and learning, make sure the educator is the one interacting with the tool. Her fingers will be moving on the tablet screen, the track pad, or pushing the keyboard buttons. You can be a guide, but let her experience the tool. She will become comfortable with your product and you will learn how she naturally navigates through it. Her comfort will create a higher likelihood of actual adoption when she goes back to school.

4. When they give suggestions, listen.

Often these suggestions come in the form of questions. Here are some examples of questions I've asked entrepreneurs:

  • Can I embed a video that students will stream directly on the platform?
  • Will parents be able to view their child's work within the tool?
  • Can students respond to comments I leave on their work so that we can continue the conversation?
These questions give you insight into how teachers interact with their students and therefore how your tool can be improved to facilitate those interactions. If a teacher asks about or suggests adding a feature, don't shoot it down. Listen to the reasons behind his suggestion and consider his perspective as you move forward with your product.

What about the role of administrators in the discussion?

Don't worry.  I certainly haven't forgotten the important role of administrators. Once teachers have had a chance to try the tool and hear your passion, they will know whether it is a good fit.  This is when the conversation with administrators can get down to numbers. I do realize that often the conversation starts and ends with administrators, but teachers need to be involved as well.  If they aren't, the tool will not be adopted as successfully. These guiding questions will help everyone come out happy in the end.