Friday, January 27, 2012

Learning Real-World Civics: White House Contacts One of Our Students

One of the best ways to teach students to become engaged as a citizen of our country, is to have them try to communicate with those in political office. One of our students did just that. A few months back, a student at our school wrote a letter to the Obama Administration, and in that letter she invited the President to visit our school. This week, she and my school secretary were surprised when we received a phone call from the White House. But allow me to let that student tell what happened:

When President Obama visited our state, the Catawba County Democratic Party Chair said that she would deliver some letters from those of us that wanted to write them. I jumped at the opportunity to have contact with the President of the United States of America. I got my letter in on time. Basically, I told President Obama that he has my support and my family’s support and that the Young Democrats of Catawba County are here for him. After signing my name to the letter, I had another thought. So, I wrote on the back: “P.S. You should visit my school.”

A few weeks later, I received a manila envelope in the mail with the return address of The White House. Inside this mysterious envelope was a letter from Michael McSwain, the Associate Director for Scheduling Correspondence from the Office of Scheduling and Advance, explaining that President Obama has a very busy schedule and cannot come to my school at this time. It said that he values each and every invitation he receives to see the country first hand, but it was with sincere regret that “the President is unable to visit your school at this time.” Also in the manila envelope was a picture of the President, the First Lady, and their two children. It just so happens to be autographed by none other than Barrack and Michelle Obama. Even if it is the electronic autograph, it is the thought that counts.

I hadn’t given it much thought recently until English class on January 25, 2012. Mrs. - - - -,  our school secretary, came into my class out of breath saying something about there being a phone call for me. It was who was on the line that had everyone in shock. It was the White House. More specifically, the President’s scheduling coordinator. He told me that President Obama read my letter and appreciated it. He also told me that it was with sincere regret that he could not visit in the near future. While I was a little disappointed that he would not be coming, I was overcome with joy that the President of the United States of America READ my letter. Not only did he read it, he APPRECIATED it. It is things like these that make the world seem less large. It is things like these that make people feel less small.

All this talk about teaching our students to be 21st century citizens means getting them to engage and understand our government. While our student did not receive a phone call from the President himself,  it is things like these that make our students believe they are heard and valued by those who lead our country. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Kindle Cloud Reader Adds Highlighting and Note Taking

Kindle Cloud Reader just got better with 2 added features that make it as functional as a Kindle or as the Kindle iPad or PC App. Back in December, I listed the Kindle Cloud Reader as one of My 11 Favorite Chrome Browser Apps and Extensions. In that post, I indicated that there were 3 things I wished the Kindle Cloud Reader would give me the ability to do: 1) highlight text, 2) enter reading notes, and 3) access my newstand items.

Users of Chrome's Kindle Cloud Reader app can now:

  • Access their Kindle books from their cloud library.
  • Highlight text in those books.
  • Enter notes about the text.
  • Add bookmarks
  • Customize reading experience by adjusting things like the font and margin size and the backlighting of text.

Kindle Cloud Reader's Highlighting and Note Taking Features

Kindle Cloud Reader is a functional Chrome app that every serious Kindle user must have. To download the app, visit the Chrome Web Store.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lessons from Our One-Year Experiment with BYOT

Schools can successfully implement the practice of allowing students to use their own technological devices on school networks. Early next month, our school will mark the one-year anniversary of our implementation of a policy that allows our students to use their own laptops, tablets, iPods, and smartphones on our school WiFi. Last February, I posted "Lessons in Providing Students Wireless Access in Our School Building." In that post I described what we learned early in that implementation after three weeks.

Now, after almost a year's implementation, I would still stand by those lessons we learned early in the implementation process. Now, a year later, here's my revised list of suggestions for those considering a BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) initiative.

1. Educate your parents on the kind of access you're providing students. During the course of the past year, several times I've had to explain to parents that our school is still providing students with filtered access. Though they are using their own devices, our filter is set up to provide some level of protection. This meant a great deal for those parents who were afraid that students could access anything while at school. When you implement a BYOT initiative, it's important that parents understand what you mean by WiFi access and what actions will be taken should students access unacceptable content.

2. Educate students on responsible use of their WiFi access. Ethics and responsible use of technology should be part of what we teach students anyway. But as you implement a BYOT initiative, teaching ethical use of technology, even with their own devices becomes an integrated part of what the school does. Any new BYOT initiative should include an ongoing focus of ethical use of WiFi access and technology in general.

3. Be prepared for technology glitches, even after a year's implementation. Even though most kinks in the system work themselves out over time, there are going to be issues. For example, when we implemented the use of an iPad lab a couple of months ago, IP address assignments by the hardware and software was suddenly an issue. It's vital that school leadership and teachers work through these problems as they occur. Often all that's needed is a software adjustment, but be prepared for the need for additional hardware. As with any technology implementation program, expect problems and be prepared to deal with them.

4. Make sure students understand teachers control the classroom environment. Students need to know up front that when a teacher asks them to close their laptop or put away their iPod, they are to do so. While you want teachers to engage students in the use of technology, there are certainly times when students need to unplug. On the one hand, you want students engaged in technology use, but on the the other, technology-savvy teachers need to be able to guide that use. School leaders need to make it clear to students that teachers determine when use of their devices happens.

As I indicated a year ago, schools have no choice but become 21st century learning environments. A solid implementation of a BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) initiative should not be optional, but standard practice. We have had a year of successful, mostly-trouble-free implementation. Twenty-first school leaders no longer have to ask students to unplug when they walk through the front doors if they effectively implement a BYOT initiative.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

6 Tips for Engaging Readers of Your Educational Blog

Let's face it. One of the reasons we blog is because we want people to read what we have to say. In order to do that, we have to provide readers with engaging content. In my years as a blogger, I have stopped puzzling over why some blog posts get over 5,000 page views and why some are ignored. It has to do with giving your readers engaging content, and author's Andy Beal and Judy Strauss offer solid advice for doing just that in their book Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online.

While Beal and Strauss's advice seems to be specifically geared to businesses seeking to develop an online reputation, it also offers educational bloggers some solid advice on providing engaging content that captures readers' attention. Here's their six tips, liberally modified for the edublogger trying to engage others with blog content.

1. Remember it's about the reader, not you. How many times have you stumbled upon those educational blogs that seem to be more about promoting a person or consultant, instead of providing engaging, useful content for readers? Bloggers, including myself, have egos, and often we want to bluster about ourselves, but the truth is, our readers want content. they want new ideas and fresh content; they don't necessarily want to know our life stories and past successes. Make sure your content is for your readers, not for yourself.

2. Offer something new. All of us who blog regularly are guilty of regurgitating links and what others say and what everyone else is linking to. It's the blogging "echo chamber." But the truth is, those posts that are most successful are the ones that say something new, or offer some fresh insight on an ongoing topic of interest. According to Beal and Strauss, if you want your blog to be a "trendsetter" and one that everyone connects to, you have to offer fresh content or new insight. Educational bloggers that want readers, have to give them something they haven't seen before.

3. Be a passionate poster. Just as Beal and Strauss suggest, "Clearly state your opinion in your area of expertise and do it with gusto." Who wants to read content from bloggers who aren't passionate about their expertise? If you want your readers to be engaged in your content, then you must be passionately engaged yourself.  Share what you think and what you you believe to be true. Don't worry, if someone disagrees, that's what comments are for. Educational bloggers who want to write engaging content, have engage their emotions in what they write.

4. Be yourself, or "Show your personality." To be "radically transparent" as Beal and Strauss suggest, you have to reveal your true nature when you write. Be authentic. Readers love writing that comes from authentic people. Write in "textbookese" and you'll lose readers. As you write as an educational blogger, don't be afraid to show yourself in your writing.

5. Invite participation. In the blogging world, this means writing in a manner that invites your readers to comment. A great deal of content invites no response. In fact, it is written in such a manner that suggests that comments are forbidden, or at minimum unappreciated. As a educational blogger, give your readers content that invites them to share their thoughts and ideas as well.

6. Give your readers lists. The reality of the blogosphere is that readers love lists. (Hence this list.) Web readers don't like paragraphs; they like short scannable lists. As a educational blogger, it you can put your content into a list, you are giving web readers what they want, easily accessible content.

The bottom line is that if your want people to read what you have to say, then you have to provide them with the content they want to read in a format they want to see. One of the challenges I have found as a blogger is to repeatedly provide content that readers might want to see. Ultimately, anyone can provide content, but to provide what Beal and Strauss called "engaging content" means giving readers something they haven't seen before.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Using the New "Send to Kindle" App to Read Any Files on Your Kindle or iPad

Amazon now offers Kindle users still another tool that makes using a Kindle even more functional. They now offer a "Send to Kindle" app that lets users upload any document to their Kindle. This means users no longer have to read those lengthy MS Word and PDF documents from a PC. Users can add functionality by installing this simple application to their PC. 

Once installed, Send to Kindle Shows up like a printer. Simply select it as your printer, and a dialogue box appears and users, like myself, who have multiple Kindles  and an iPad, can choose which device to send the file to. Once uploaded, users can read that document on either of the devices.  

There are any number of reasons to install this app if you are a Kindle user. You can upload journal articles, school improvement plans, and entire PDF reports. Where were these kinds of tools when I was in college?

To download the Send to Kindle app, check out The Send to Kindle Web Site.  Chrome users might want to download the Send to Kindle Extension for their browser too, which I wrote about here last month.

Send to Kindle App Interface

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Advice for the New Administrator & Educator Using Social Media

During a conversation today, I was asked, "What advice would you give to the new administrator just beginning to use social media in his or her new role?" Becoming an administrator is a challenge in itself, which means there are enough issues to deal with without making mistakes using social media. Added to these challenges is the fact that most often new principals or assistant principals are left either with no mentor, or the mentor they have probably doesn't know a great deal about technology in general much less social media. This means the novice administrator is often left to her own devices when it comes to engaging stakeholders in social media.

As an administrator and experimenter with social media for most of the last six years, I have learned a few things about it, mostly by trial and error but also from others. Right now, I would place these five suggestions at the top of the list for new administrators and educators engaging in social media use in their new roles.

1. Think before you post. There is a bit of common sense in this suggestion, but with all the news stories about educators getting into trouble because of some careless posting on a blog or on Twitter, it is certainly worthwhile to repeat and emphasize it. Crafting a social media message for your school or district should be a deliberate process. Careful thought should be put into Twitter statements or Facebook posts. Reading the post from the perspective of your reader or the community is vital. That Twitter message might only have 140 characters, but a lot of damage can result from those characters if worded improperly.

2. Know the limitations of social media. Social media is an excellent way to engage stakeholders, but it isn't always the best way. It is vital that you take time to think about the message and whether the message you want to deliver is suited for your school's Facebook page or a Twitter post. Some announcements still might need to be made through your school's automatic phone messaging system or through a meeting with your parents. Social media is a relatively easy way to deliver a message, but it can leave a lot of room for interpretation, and there are times when all that interpretation is not wanted.

3. Be aware that you may still have to use a blended approach to communication that involves using social media and other media too. It has been my experience that not all parents are plugged in yet. This means I have to make sure stakeholders that aren't using social media, get the message too. Also, it might mean we also have to provide training for parents and community members too so that they can get plugged in and receive the benefits of being connected through social media.

4. Make sure the message fits the medium. This is an old time adage about communication in general, but in some ways, social media is much more powerful, and that means that not everything that needs to be said needs to be done through Twitter or Facebook. Delivering bad news or serious news is probably best left to the older media such as phone messaging systems or even a more formal press release. Be careful of trying to communicate sarcasm or humor. These don't often translate well in social media.Administrators and educators would do well to be very careful with making sure media and message are the best match.. After all, as Erik Qualman, author of the book Digital Leadership writes: "Keep in mind there's no hiding from anything in the new digital world. Your best course of action is to assume whatever you post will eventually be seen by millions." Post only those things you wouldn't mind your mother seeing.

5. Set up school-based and personal-professional social media accounts separately. If you are going to be communicating with others as your own agent, then you need a separate account. Any accounts set up with the name of your school implies that your are speaking as an agent of the school. Whether it is a Twitter account or a blog, if you give it the appearance that you are speaking in your role as principal or teacher, then any posting that you do may be perceived as posts from an agent of the school or district. By having separate accounts, there is no implied relationship. Still, even with separate accounts, it is important to think and post prudently.

Being an administrator is a challenging job and using social media effectively can mitigate some of those challenges. That means engaging in social media in effective ways. New administrators and educators can take advantage of the power of social media by keeping these suggestions in mind.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Top 10 Tips for Using Social Media for Administrators & Other Educators

According to Andy Beal and Judy Strauss, authors of Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online, “Shifting from traditional to social media requires new skills, new tools, and an understanding of social media platforms.” Any school leader bringing an archaic understanding and knowledge of old media to social media is in danger of looking foolish and perhaps in danger of getting himself in major trouble with stakeholders.

For school leaders looking for information about social media, business and industry have several organizations providing this valuable information. The Digital Influence Group, a social media marketing expert group, provides a “Top 10 List for Using Social Media” obviously directed toward business and industry. (See their list here.) Obviously, business needs are different from the needs of schools, but there is still much that can learned from their experiences with social media. For that reason, I have taken the liberty of revising and updating  this Top 10 List for Using Social Media” so that it might better reflect the things school leaders need to consider as they struggle with this 21st century media.

Top 10 List for Using Social Media for School Leaders & Other Educators

1. Educate your entire school community and all stakeholders about what social media is, what its benefits are, and provide them ideas on how to best use it. Many of the problems and misuse of social media result from both a lack of understanding of its power, and the features inherent in it that make it a way to engage 21st century audiences. School leaders need to first learn all they can about social media. This means attending professional training, reading relevant books and articles, and engaging in conversations with experts. While it is impossible to learn everything about social media due to its continually evolving nature, school leaders who set policy and direct a school community's use of the 21st century media need to know all they can. Once they have that knowledge base, they are responsible for seeing that their educational community is educated on its nature, its potential, its hazards, and its power. This means taking an active role in educating all stakeholders on how to use social media appropriately and effectively.

2. Establish policies and procedures that guide individuals in your school or district in the use of social media, and provide a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities with using social media. School leaders need to enlist teachers, parents, students, and community members in the establishment of policy and procedures to guide social media use for the educational establishment. However, this is not an effort to control content and usage of social media, but merely to set guidelines and policy that direct staff members and students on how to engage in its use for the school or district. For example, policy needs to make it clear when posting to social media is as an agent of the school or district. That same policy needs to delineate who speaks for the school or district in social media communities. It should also define roles and responsibilities of those engaging in social media use. It is important to establish these policies and procedures, not as a means to try to control content, but to protect the school, district, and its stakeholders.

3. Set clear goals for how your school or district is going to use social media. The question of how the district is going to use social media is important. What is the school going to use social media for?Which types of social media tools is the school or district to use? All these questions focus on what the district plans to do with social media. It's time for 21st century school leaders to move beyond bragging about having a social media presence and actually engage in its use to benefit school or district. Having a Twitter account or Facebook account for your school simply isn't enough anymore. It's now time to move to the question of "So what?" which is a 21st century question.

4. When school leaders and other educators participate in blogging, social networks, and online communities, it is important to be transparent. As school leaders move to full engagement with stakeholders using social media, being transparent is important. This means engaging in open, sincere, and honest dialogue with stakeholders through the media. It is a movement from using social media as just another way to make announcements and news updates, to actually engaging in conversations with constituents. To do that effectively though, school leaders and staff need to be authentic and seek to genuinely establish relationships with their communities. By doing this school leaders actually are engaging in social media in the manner in which it is designed.

5. Constantly evaluate the school or district's use of social media. This simply means examining regularly whether social media is being used in the manner desired, and whether the school or district is obtaining its goals and a positive reputation from social media engagement. This process for schools and school districts has to be ongoing.

6. When engaging in the use of social media use plain language, be sincere and candid.  Effective social media engagement is on a conversational level. Engaging others means speaking to them about the things they care about, using language all can understand. Posts to social media aren't dictates from on high. They are efforts to engage constituents in discussions of what they care about.

7. Provide valuable content and information to engage and educate your stakeholders and community.  Social media is an opportunity to provide stakeholders with information and content that is valuable and by doing so, schools and school districts enhance their own online reputations. Providing parents, for example, information about an opportunity for students to participate in a national study program is valuable information. Again, this means going beyond "just having a social media presence" to effectively using it to communicate and engage the school community.

8. Welcome feedback whether it is positive or negative and respond to it quickly. Social media is an opportunity for schools and school districts to allow for feedback on how they're doing. This can be rather tricky, but allowing your constituent groups the opportunity to speak about the issues that bother them is important. It is equally important for school leaders to respond to that feedback in a timely and appropriate but honest manner.

9. School leaders who want to promote their schools or districts need to participate in other online communities. It is vital that school leaders engage in the wider conversation about education and all the related issues. It is the 21st century school leader who sees participation in larger communities like Twitter's weekly #edchat or discussion boards like those sponsored by national and international educational organizations. School leaders need to engage the global community about their school or school districts too, which means using social media to engage in global conversations.

10. Use rich media (such as animation, video, audio) and humor to engage stakeholders. Using just text announcements posted to Twitter or to Facebook misses the real potential social media has to promote a school or district to the wider world. Schools can post moving videos or photos to a Facebook account. A school district can establish a YouTube account to showcase visually what is happening in the schools rather than just with announcements posted on its home page. Social media is much more than text and school leaders need to take advantage of the strengths of other media in their efforts to engage their communities.

It is truly the 21st century school leader who brings a twenty-first century understanding and knowledge to using social media instead of using it simply as a 20th century media to post textual announcements and news. Social media is so much more than a 21st century version of an intercom system. It is a tool that allows for engagement not passive consumption. Perhaps these ten tips will be a starting point that school leaders and educators can use to engage social media as it was intended.