Monday, April 30, 2012

First Blog Post from My Galaxy Tab

Today, I purchased the Galaxy Tab 7.7 with 4G capability on which I am writing  this post. So far I am highly pleased with the device. The graphics are amazing. Using the apps are fairly easy for me as well since I've been using a Droid phone and my Kindle Fire for the past few months. The camera takes quality photos and video as well. I purchased the small docking keyboard to go with the device and it works extremely well. My favorite feature of all is the device's size and weight. It is amazingly compact and is easily held in one hand. Overall, my experience has been positive. I will post more as I explore using the device.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

How to Engage in Using Social Media as a School Leader

Many school leaders and policy makers still express a high level of skepticism regarding social media’s potential as an educational tool. This is evident by administrative efforts across the country to block and ban the technology rather than engage it instructionally. As authors Ronald Williamson and J. Howard Johnston write in their book The School Leader’s Guide to Social Media:
“Given the explosive growth of social media, and its tremendous potential to change the way we communicate, learn, and teach, many educators argue that we have a moral and ethical obligation to teach our students how to use this technology effectively, ethically, and for the greater good. As one of our colleagues put it, ‘To ignore this technology is to deprive kids of the chance to see how adults use it for productive and responsible purposes. It’s not going away, so if we don’t do the job, it will be left to hucksters and others who see the technology as a way to exploit people rather than help them grow.’ That’s a tall order for school leaders, and a tremendous responsibility for the schools.”
Just as Williamson and Johnston suggest, the time has come for school leaders to stop trying to find ways to block and ban social media and embrace it as both an educational tool and a fact of life. It is time to overcome the fear of all the bad things that might happen, roll up our sleeves and begin the work that will give the technology it’s rightful place in our schools. The problem of getting started though, is often seated in a lack of knowledge and understanding of social media and its potential in education. That’s where Ronald Willamson and J. Howard Johnston’s book, The School Leader’s Guide to Social Media can help.

In this book, Williamson and Johnston provide a crash course on what social media technology is and how school leaders can step up and lead in tapping into its true potential as a educational tool. Loaded with tons of practical tips to help in the successful implementation of social media in teaching and learning, The School Leader’s Guide to Social Media is a comprehensive guide to using social media in education.

For example, Williamson and Johnston begin their argument for social media by providing school leaders with this list of top 10 reasons they should focus on social media:
  • It’s here to stay and it’s only getting bigger.
  • Kids are using it to talk about you and your school.
  • It’s the way kids communicate.
  • It’s a new workplace and higher education communication standard.
  • Mobile devices put a computer in nearly everyone’s hands.
  • It has huge potential for school leadership.
  • It’s a great way to engage kids in instruction.
  • Communication is instantaneous and widespread.
  • It’s beyond the control of the school, but it can be used well in school.
  • Schools can model and and help kids learn responsible use of social media.
In addition to providing a clear rationale for social media’s place in the school, Williamson and Johnston also provide a description of social media, its educational potential, an overview of the potential pitfalls of social media, and clear ideas to proactively address these pitfalls through solid acceptable use policies. In later chapters, the authors review the most commonly used social media tools and provide many, many ideas on how to engage the technology as a learning tool for both students and teaching professionals. They also give specific suggestions on how school leaders can engage in the use of these same tools in their administrative roles. The School Leader’s Guide to Social Media is an excellent resource for the school leader who has not yet bought into its potential as an educational tool, but needs more than a how-to-set-up-a-twitter-account approach. It is a book about the integration and engagement of social media. It is a book that definitely will end up with some pages dog-eared for future reference.

For me personally, the only negative with The School Leaders Guide to Social Media is that there is currently no eBook version for my Kindle yet. However, the publisher does offer a DRM Free version of the book at the Eye on Education Publisher's Website.

The School Leader's Guide to Social Media

Monday, April 23, 2012

NC Senate Leader Releases His Plan for Education Reform

North Carolina Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger released his education reform plan today. The plan is called the Excellent Public Schools Act. Based on a quick read-through of the legislation and from Senator Berger's Web Site, here are the reforms outlined in that plan:

  • Ending social promotion for 3rd graders who can't demonstrate they can read based on state adopted reading tests.
  • Add "intensive reading instruction" for students struggling to read.
  • Grade schools as A, B, C, D, or F based on test scores.
  • Add a North Carolina Teacher Corps program, modeled after Teach for America, that would allow recent college graduates and mid-career professionals teach in low-performing schools.
  • Pay teachers based on merit as determined by test scores?
  • End teacher tenure and have teacher sign a contract for employment each year.
  • Provide funding for the instructional days that the General Assembly added last year but did not fund.
  • Allow state employees to volunteer in a public literacy program for up to five hours per month.

Here's some links for more information on this education reform plan.

I will comment more on this reform package after I have had time to look through the legislation.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

3 Practices for 21st Century School Leaders

In an interview with James Bellanca, education scholar Linda Darling-Hammond clearly delineates 3 practices  administrators must engage in to bring our schools into the 21st century. (The interview can be found in the book 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn.)
"School leaders in the next decades need to engage in three practices that we haven't always seen as part of school administration. First is constructing time for teachers to work together on the development of curriculum and assessments. Second is designing and implementing comprehensive professional development programs. This includes formation of professional learning communities, providing coaching and mentoring for teachers who have been identified as needing additional assistance, and encouraging peer support teams that address the special needs of struggling students. Third is helping teachers find another profession if they are unable to improve after having received purposeful support."
These 21st century educational leadership practices are clear. If we as school leaders are going to recreate our schools to "meet the intellectual demands of the 21st century" then we must be willing to engage in these 3 practices.

  • As 21st century school leaders, we must advocate and work hard to reconstruct our time and school day so that our teachers can collaborate on curriculum development and assessments. The kinds of learning our students need today require the development of learning activities that are authentic. The kinds of teaching that needs to occur needs to move away from teacher-centered to student-centered learning. We must look at our allocation of time and quit making excuses for keeping the same old school schedules that prevent this collaboration. We need to be willing to advocate for school-day restructuring that gives teachers the time they need to work collaboratively on curriculum development, assessment development, and planning. As 21st century school leaders we need to stop holding the 8-3:30 school day as sacred and unchangeable and make teacher collaboration time happen.
  • As 21st century school leaders we need work to design and implement professional development programs that address the needs of our schools. In times of budget cuts, we, as school leaders have sat idly by while our lawmakers have destroyed our professional development budgets. Some of us have been guilty of seeing professional development as expendable. It isn't. We need to move into a full-blown advocacy role that says professional development is necessary. It isn't some add-on. Being a  professional development leader  means taking the lead in forming authentic professional learning communities. It means providing coaching and assistance for those teachers who have identified needs. It means leading authentic discussions about those students who aren't making it. Twenty-first century school leaders are committed to professionally developing the teachers in their schools.
  • Finally, we, as 21st century school leaders need to accept the responsibility and the courage to do as Hammond suggests, which is helping teachers find another profession if after all of the support we've provided fails. Even good teachers want us to take care of those who just don't have it, but they want us to do it with dignity and fairness. School leaders need to be skilled in knowing when this needs to happen, and have the courage to do so.
These three practices can have direct impact on teaching and learning in our schools, but they do require a willingness and courage to move beyond excuses. We must not forget that our students and our teachers depend upon us being 21st century leaders, and that means engaging in practices like these three.

Monday, April 9, 2012

MetroTwit: Twitter Client to Replace TweetDeck

I personally haven't been pleased with TweetDeck since Twitter took over its development. Initially, it repeatedly crashed. Then, recently, it was taken down due to a rather large security hole. Finally, I have had serious issues with it not updating my tweets. It basically would sit idle on my desktop and not update for long periods of time.

I've tried several alternatives. Those include Hootsuite, Seesmic, and even Yoono. Between crashes, lack of real-time Tweet updates, and quirky features, none of these seem to be an effective replacement.

MetroTwit Interface

Then I stumbled upon the Australian Twitter client called MetroTwit. I have been using it for some time, and it hasn't crashed, and it has provided some of the same features that I once admired in TweetDeck.

MetroTwit is available in a free version that includes advertisements (You can decide which stream displays these) and support for only one account. It is also available with a paid version that includes multi-account support and no advertisements for less than 20 dollars. So far, MetroTwit has been able to deliver for me what the new TweetDeck fails to do. Download and try MetroTwit here. It might be a reliable alternative to TweetDeck.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

3 Lessons From the Dalai Lama on Being a Teacher

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama writes in the book In My Own Words: An Introduction to My Teachings and Philosophy:
“As children grow older and enter school, their need for support must be met by their teachers. If a teacher not only imparts academic education, but also assumes responsibility for preparing students for life, his or her pupils will feel trust and respect, and what has been taught will leave an indelible impression on their minds. On the other hand, that which is taught by a teacher who does not show true concern for his or her students’ overall well-being will not be retained for long.”
Educators teach students not subjects and not grade levels. That statement has obviously been repeated so much that it is now a bit of a cliché, yet it is still profoundly true. Even the words of the Dalai Lama seem to advocate for teachers of students in the words above. As His Holiness points out, there is no teaching, hence no learning without compassion. It is literally impossible to teach students and not care deeply about their welfare and support. As instructional leaders, here's three lessons for teaching from the Dalai Lama.
  • Teachers have a responsibility to support the children they teach. There is no escaping this responsibility. Those who want to teach the young must care for them. To support our students means we care about more than just their ability to get high test scores. It means providing them the emotional support they are sometimes not getting at home. It means being there for them emotionally, when no one else can. Unfortunately, that is not something objectively measured through value-added statistics and multiple choice tests. How can compassion be reduced to some rating scale?
  • Teachers have a responsibility to not only teach the academics, but also prepare students for life. If we really want our teaching to have a long-term impact on the lives of our students, we must assume the responsibility of providing them with the preparation they need for life. By default, a willingness to prepare those we teach for life signifies compassion for who our students are and where they’re going. Preparation for life should be more than test scores. It should be more than success measured by money and financial status. It should be more than success measured by educational attainment. Preparing students for life means we equip them to become compassionate citizens of the 21st century.
  • Teachers who teach without compassion are ineffective. Forget value-added measures and teacher evaluation systems. Without compassion, none of those things matter. If you want to see an effective teacher, look at the level of concern they have for their students. If you want to see an ineffective teacher, look for a teacher who sees students as test scores and an opportunity to earn a bonus. That’s the whole problem with merit pay. It appeals to greed and “what’s in it for me” not necessarily what’s good for the children. Compassion should be the teacher's primary motivation, not greed.
The greatest lesson from the Dalai Lama's teaching is that those who would be the greatest and most successful teachers are those who have compassion in their hearts not themselves.