Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Weekend Unplugged from Technology and from Being an Educator

Those who have known me, know I have been an avid reader of Buddhist writings for the past five years. I've even tapped into some of that wisdom here on the blog from time to time. I say that not to promote that way of thought. Tonight, I thought I would just take a moment and let everyone know that I am "unplugging" this weekend. Beginning tomorrow afternoon sometime, I am passing into the mountains of North Carolina, away from cell towers and WiFi, to participate in three days of Mindfulness training and meditation. It should be a time for me, with the guidance of a teacher, explore my mind and techniques for becoming focused and aware. When I scheduled this session back in February, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity for me to reflect and recharge before our school year begins next week. It is my time to not just physically unplug from technology, but also unplug from my role as an administrator too.

Please understand, I am certainly not evangelizing or promoting my beliefs here. In fact, in true Buddhist fashion, I think we all have to explore that area and settle it for ourselves. I do share the fact that I am unplugging for a couple of days, simply because I have heard people say we all should do that once in a while. I honestly can't recall the last time I was away from Twitter, blogging, and other social media for three days. I also can't recall the last time I thought of myself as someone other than a school administrator or educator. This weekend I will do both, and I would be lying if I said was not a bit apprehensive and excited about the experience.

When I started this post, I had all these ideas of posting goals, objectives, things I wanted to explore this weekend, but I think doing that kind of misses the point. I need to unplug from those things too. I need to just be and let go of any and all expectations too. Perhaps I should have just posted, "I'm unplugged." See you next week. 

I think sometimes we all need to step away from technology and our educator roles and get back in touch with who we are away from those things.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"Digital-Divide" Is Not an Excuse to Avoid Implementing a BYOD Policy at Your School

Recently, I found myself entangled with several people in a Twitter debate about whether BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies actually perpetuate or aggravate the digital divide our students currently experience. During the conversation, I could sense the frustration teachers feel when they stand before classrooms where large number of students barely have a home to go to in the evenings, much less their own technological devices to bring and use within school. Our economic mess has truly put a large number of our students in situations where they experience major disadvantages. Having a BYOD policy would seem to perpetuate the divide between the tech-haves and tech-have-nots. Still, I can't help but support any measures that give our students access. I do not buy into the argument of "no access for anyone until everyone can have it." Instead, I think we must do what Marc Prensky argues which is to find ways to "Bridge and eliminate this digital divide" and provide digital access to our students. As Prensky suggests, we are going to have to accept that there is always going to be some inequality, but there are things we should be doing as educators to mediate the impact of the digital divide, and trying to keep the playing field level by refusing anyone access until all have it is not the ethical thing to do.

As educators we must be concerned with our "students wanting or needing access to a minimal level of digital technology and not being able to get it." "We can make it our business to see that every student has 'enough' access rather than 'equal' access to digital technology." In addition, we can make sure our students are engaged in using this technology in stimulating, collaborative, and authentic, globally challenging ways. BYOD policies are a way for educators to give students that adequate access to technology to engage in 21st century learning, and do so, often with much less cost than 1:1 programs. To refuse instituting BYOD policies because not all students will be able to "bring their own devices" is, in my opinion, a dereliction of my duty as a 21st century administrator because I should be seeking every means possible to provide 21st century learning opportunities for all students. I would love to have a 1:1 program that puts devices into the hands of everyone of my students, and I will keep advocating for those days. But our current reality is that we must take advantage of our limited resources to make the most of digital opportunities for all students and that means providing BYOD access.

Still, we do need to be concerned about the effects of the digital divide under our BYOD policy. Here are some ways we might minimize the digital divide effects under BYOD policies:
  • Make sure the technology we currently have in our buildings is actually being used by the students. For example, if we have iPads, are these devices in the hands of the students as they engage in real-world problem-solving or is the teacher using the device to project to a video or a multimedia presentation? Our schools have technology, but often teachers and administrators use the technology and students watch.
  • Find ways to maximize how students share existing technology. Place students in deliberate groups so that every student can engage in activities that ask them to join in using that technology. Give each student in these groups tasks that need to be accomplished by using shared technological devices.
  • Find ways to increase access time. Keep computer labs open after school. If funding and staff allow, open the labs far beyond the length of the school day or on weekends.
  • Make sure all students know where additional areas of access are. Communicate to parents other places like public libraries where technology access is available. Our school is located within a town that has chosen to provide free wireless access in the downtown area. Making sure students and parents know were additional access is available is important.
  • Do everything  we can to advocate and get technology for those who don't have access. As a principal, my duty is to be an advocate for the education of all the students in my school. This does not mean using that there will always be unequal access to technology as an excuse for me to give up trying to push for better access to all. As a 21st century educational leader, equity is always the greatest of concerns and I need to pushing for equity too.
I am sure there are other ways 21st century school leaders can work to minimize the effects of the digital divide while engaging in the implementation of Bring Your Own Device measures. As we move further and further into the 21st century, we have a duty to provide our students with the level of technology access they need to be 21st century learners and that means finding ways to implement policies like BYOD that enhance learning for all of our students.

Friday, July 13, 2012

ScribeFire: Easy to Use Blog Editor for Educators

ScribeFire is a simple-to-use blog editor that you can use right within your Chrome, FoxFire or Opera Web browser. So far my testing shows that it works more smoothly than other editors I have used, even Windows Live Writer. Often, when I've used Windows Live Writer, I've lost format selections and media inserts when I posted to the web. ScribeFire has some features that make it much easier to user for administrators who want to wade into blogging. For the educator looking for a way to edit blog posts, ScribeFire is a simple, free blog editor.

Here's an overview of some of its main features:
  • Publish to multiple blogs at once: This feature allows you to post an blog entry to multiple blogs at once.
  • Edit and update existing posts: It is quite simple to edit and update existing posts using ScribeFire.
  • Schedule posts for the future: If you would like to schedule a post to go out at a later time, ScribeFire allows you to schedule those posts.
  • Categorize your posts using tags: Using tags to categorize your blog posts is easy within ScribeFire.
  • Upload images: This feature works only with images posted on the web.
  • Available for Chrome, FireFox, and Opera users: You can use ScribeFire with all three of these browsers.
ScribeFire Screenshot
To check out or download the ScribeFire Chrome extension, check it out in the Chrome Web Store.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

21st Century School Leader’s Guide to Creative and Innovative Schools

“Innovation? We don’t want no stinking innovation,” would perhaps accurately describe many of our educational institutions, including K-12 public education organizations. We’ve all worked in those schools and districts where rules, policies, processes, and procedures mattered more than the people. These same schools literally fight to preserve “the way we do things” to the point of exterminating any thoughts of doing things differently. Then we wonder why our particular schools or districts fail to be innovative.

According to Ken Segall in Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success, “When process is king, ideas will never be.” Segall’s assertion is that Apple’s success is based on a company culture where creativity is recognized as vital to the organization. While I recognize the limitations of forcing business thinking on a for-purpose organization like public schools, it does not stop me from asking the question, “Why can’t we create schools where people and ideas matter more than rules, policies and procedures?”

According to Segall, the problem most companies face is that “their processes have become so institutionalized, they’re incapable of altering their own behavior---even if the benefits of the change are staring them right in the face.” As a 20-plus year veteran educator, I can't count how many times have I run head-on into policy, procedures, and rules when wanting to try something innovative and new. These “institutionalized ways of doing things” were thrown into my face by well-meaning administrators and colleagues, but the effects were, “You’re out of line to suggest such things, so get with the program."

Over the course of my career, this “institutionalized-barrier to innovation and ideas” has manifested itself many times, and over the course of years, if you're like me, you eventually become tired of fighting the system, so you just do what you're told, how you’re told to do it. You then pass this same institutionalized-thinking to your students with the admonition that we're told to do it this way, so get used to it. In the end, nothing is changed, because the school culture is one where innovation and new ideas are quickly stifled.

But things do not have to be that way. As Ken Segall states:
“You can build an organization that recognizes the needs of creativity. You can become a steward of creative thinking and become its greatest advocate. You can become skilled in recognizing when a process is more likely to kill a good idea than it is to promote it.”
There is hope that 21st century school leaders can foster in their schools and districts the kinds of cultures that value and cultivate creativity and new ideas. Our schools can become the kinds of institutions that make creativity and innovation a priority, which is vital to their survival as 21st century institutions.

What then can we do as school leaders today to perhaps begin to shape our schools and districts into cultures where ideas and innovation really matter more than rules, policies, processes and procedures? Perhaps here's some starting points for answers to that question.
  • Audit your school culture with your entire staff and see where your school or district lies within the continuum of institutionalized creativity and innovation. Use surveys, informal conversations with all stakeholders, and intense self reflection as your tools to find out if “Your school is one where processes and procedures matter more than creativity and new ideas." This is an attempt at honest reflection and data gathering, but keep it simple. It will start the conversation about how your school and district really values creativity and innovation. Schools that have heavily institutionalized barriers to creativity and innovation will find those barriers rather quickly, but they will be harder to modify or dismantle. Those schools that have more subtle blocks to creativity and innovation will have a more difficult time finding those issues, but might have a stronger basis to start with. Simple, honest, self-reflection is the starting point of finding whether your school or district stifles creativity or innovation or whether it values it.
  • Once the institutionalized barriers to innovation and creativity have been identified, look for ways to change, modify, work-around, or remove those barriers. I am not speaking of violating policies or breaking laws. As a school leader in 21st century schools or districts, we must become skilled at dealing effectively with those things within, and without, our organizations that prevent innovative and creative thinking. Sometimes, changing a policy or procedure is as simple as re-writing it. Other times, we may have to fight before school boards, legislatures, and politicians to change those onerous regulations that are major stumbling blocks to innovations. Other times, we can find ways around these barriers that allow for the creativity and innovation we seek without breaking the law or violating policy. School leaders have to have to courage to challenge the status quo, and of course the graciousness to realize when they’ve lost, and determine to fight the battle again on another day. Those barriers preventing teachers from being creative need to be dealt with, and courageous 21st century school leaders do just that.
  • Become the caretaker of innovation and creativity in your school or district. This means keeping an eye out for innovative solutions and ideas. It means recognizing those when they happen and making sure those innovations and creative ideas are carefully cultivated and protected. It means being ever vigilant that creativity and innovation are valued within your school organization and that institutionalized practice does not hinder these things.
It has been pointed out many times that schools and school districts are notoriously resistant to change. Creativity and innovation are often not valued and many schools and school districts actively stifle those things. It is important that 21st century school leaders do not find themselves on the side that protects rules, policies, and procedures at the expense of people and ideas. True 21st century leadership begins when there's a willingness and courage enough to be advocates for innovation and creativity.