Writer’s Block

In my younger years, I fancied myself a bit of a tortured poet.  The more heartbroken I was about a girl with whom I was enamored, the better the verbiage I penned on the page.  The happier I was, the less I was able to compose with any kind of frequency or quality. 

I mentioned to a friend yesterday that I was dismayed that I hadn’t blogged in almost a month. Yes, I started a few pieces, but nothing to a posting fruition.   Funny part about that fact that many who know me are aware of is that most everything I post is a one draft composition.   While this one draft approach is 100% opposed to how I taught 8th graders to write, I stand by my process as sharing some pure thoughts.  Which makes this post all the more liberating. 

What is the point of all this expository disclaiming to start a post?

The answer is simple.  I am happy. I am loving my new environs, my new colleagues, my new challenges, my new friends.  Most importantly, I love the experience my children are having at my school.

While I am incredibly busy, I love the challenge.

So what were the posts that I started? One was about being both daddy and admin at school, a dual role I love but to which I am attentive, especially for the teachers who teach my children ( I support them in an unwavering way as I would like my colleagues to support me when I teach their children). In it, I talk about how I arrange a signal code with my kids to share our family affection in away that does not disrupt class or make classmates feel like my relationship and advocacy for them is different because I am a daddy. A tug on the ear, a simple wink, or even a wiggle of the nose.  My kids know I am talking to them, while rest think I am being a little silly.  This secret code seems to work.  

The other post was a bit hypocritical. It was started about a week ago and inspired by Jon Harper.  It was about stopping, reflecting,  taking the time, and committing to sharing.  Quite frankly, I failed in this one.  I didn’t finish the blog, and while I take time to reflect, relax and recharge, I hadn’t done so in a sharing way for almost a month.

It is not the end of the world that I have been late in posting a blog for a month. I spent my time learning, sharing, nurturing, growing and commuting.  Except for that last piece, I think I am fine with taking the tardy. 

The Intangibles Of Digital Leadership

I have always been a believer that the only requisite quality of a leader is that people follow.   As I thought this morning specifically about digital leadership, my reflection compelled me to include a few other intangibles: humility, empathy, bedside manner, courage, and resourcefulness.  

All of us have been novice with new tools at one point or another. While there are savants among us who naturally ascend to masterful savvy in moments, those are undoubtedly outliers in the digital world.   Further, those outliers are rarely digital leaders as they struggle to grasp the importance of humility in the process of leading others for whom the process is far more challenging.  The ability to show humility through an empathetic process is integral to strong digital leadership.  Being able to connect with someone in a way that drums up discomfort from previous struggles and manifests authentic humility ultimately nurtures the essential relationship between the digital leader and those he/she leads. 

Further, the necessary patience and often a disarming self-deprecating sense of humor go a long way in helping our subjects find Maslowian comfort in developing both skill and comfort with digital tools.

Many a brilliant mind has been unsuccessful in a field due to an inability to connect with others due to a poor bedside manner.  The aforementioned humility and empathy, combined with the ability to communicate and connect, represent the intangible quality of bedside manner. 

From the connected relationship developed by these intangibles, a digital leader must display an unwavering courage in moving forward in pursuit of best practices that will serve his/her people’s process.  Once again, archetypal humility and resilience endear a leader to his/her people when courage leads to moments that require iterations.  I would be remiss and completely “Un-jeff” if I didn’t reiterate the importance of having and modeling a Dweckian growth mindset in the process.

Finally, resourcefulness is of utmost importance in digital leadership.  The ability to show verve, persistence,  creativity and once again a resilient humility in learning a new digital process represents the highest of skill sets for a digital leader. 

The digital experience is so personal and individual. While we often think of leadership as rallying a group in a direction, the digital leader does so by attending to each individual’s needs along the way. Much like the excellent teacher does. Certainly not a coincidence that the best digital leaders are likewise iconic teachers.

As with all leadership, knowing your people, knowing your stuff, and knowing yourself are integral.   The ability to combine these qualities in our daily engagement with our people, and make mindful decisions with how to support the growth of our people doesn’t require doctoral level mastery of digital skills, but it does require these intangibles.  

Who’s the Boss

I remember talking to my longtime Division Head, Bob McGrath, about the nature of administrative leadership long before I even thought about moving from teaching and coaching into administration.   I learned so much from him in those conversations,  and more from watching how he led. 

One thing he told me that has stuck with me, and quite frankly has become the focus of my approach with teachers is that my role is to work as hard as I can for teachers, so that they can be their best for our students.  

Last year, a new teacher introduced me to her boyfriend as her boss “I work for him”, she said.   At that moment, my response was genuinely “no, I work for you”.

I love and embrace this part of my role. It is exactly like when I felt like I worked for my students.  Each day, I endeavor to support my teachers in their pursuit of the best experiences possible for our students. 

Ironically, I have found that the better we as an admin team do our jobs, the less it looks like we are doing anything.  It is our collective, daily aspiration to maintain a nurturing climate of positive, growth-minded, student-centered-ness. When that happens seamlessly, it seems almost serendipitous.  At those moments, I sit back and enjoy the climate.  

So yesterday I got an email from a Kindergarten teacher asking me about Evernote. I was so excited to share that I am not experienced,  but look forward to learning together with her and supporting her in her process to create something great for her students. 

When I got into the building, another  teacher asked “did you mean it when you said to ask for any help- we need you to help move some bookshelves”.  I was genuinely excited to drop what I was doing to help them get ready for the kids.  

At the end of the day, I work for the teachers so that they can do their great work with the students.   When we do this in conjunction with actively working with parents, the full 360○ support of the student and teacher experience manifests tremendous spirit, community, learning,  and growth. 

Passionate Choices

I taught English,  Language Arts, Reading to 7th- 12th graders for almost 20 years.   What I loved most was literature study and teaching writing about literature.  I always encouraged my students to be intellectual risk takers, to propose and defend whatever idea struck them when reading a piece of lit.  In fact, I always emphasized to my students that my evaluation would never be based on whether I agreed with my students or not, but rather how well the argument was phrased, presented, supported, and defended. 

In the course of my evolution as a teacher, I also learned that kids can always smell a fake and that teachers who were teaching something they didn’t feel passionately about, were not connecting with their students.

I decided a few years back when I had the opportunity (albeit a burden at the time ) to teach all 130 8th graders, to only teach my favorite titles.  Further, I decided to offer 2-4 titles for each unit so kids could choose their own title. 

I was thrilled with the excitement that came from my students not only because they had a choice, but also because I could share my passion for the titles with them.

When I moved into admin roles, I extended this practice to my guidance and support of my teachers.  My message was simple: pick titles, topics, concepts that  get you excited, that percolate your passion, that will create a climate and culture of learning in the classroom. 

I had questions like:

What about covering XYZ?

Don’t worry if the experience is great

What about the level of the text?

Don’t worry, the depth and engagement are more important. 

Basically, my message has since been that sharing content with passion will pull students in as the passion is contagious.   Engagement, depth, the ensuing rapport and making memorable moments in the classroom are the most important endeavors. 

When a teacher asks a curricular question about this or that, I always respond with a simple question:

What will get you excited in the classroom? What content do you love?

Ultimately, it is about creating rich, meaningful, infectious experiences for our students where we share our passion for learning via content that excites us enroute to helping students find content that excites them and ignited their passion for learning.

Dangerous Tools in the Classroom

So here at #Edcamp Fayetteville, I was prepping to share some ideas about Padlet with some fellow edcampers when the organizers here were adjusting their firewall settings to accommodate my use of YouTube and Twitter.   I was thinking about the blocking of these tools- a practice more common than not.  When I think about how powerful these tools have been in my processes as a learner and as an educator, I couldn’t help think, like many of my colleagues, that we are missing the boat on how we handle the “dangers” of these and other technology tools.

In a session today, Things that Suck, the topic of cell phones in the classroom was hotly debated.  The fear of the danger of students having cell phones, social media access, etc. has paralyzed many educators.

I couldn’t help but think of what it was like when the technological advancement in education led to the implementation of the use of the sharpened lead pencil to replace the chalk and slate method that was trusted, tried, and true for many years.  What horror, what fear, what paralysis as the dangerous possibilities this advancement must have evoked from educators.   My goodness, students could use them as weapons, they might jab, stab, sword fight with these tools that, really, it was highly debatable how much better would they make education.

Well I am sure there have been many an incident with pencils.  I have seen some myself.  But for the most part, students are very responsible about how they use them.

Why?

Because we taught them how to be responsible, we held them accountable for being so, and corrected them when they weren’t.  Are there instances where there are still incident? Sure.  Are there incidents that are tricky because the teacher doesn’t see the occurrence? Yep.  But they are very few, and very far between.

I suspect that before too long, the same will hold true with the use of cell phones, Twitter, Youtube, and whatever else is coming down the pike.

The message is that banning, sheltering, hiding, blocking, firewalling etc won’t work, and quite frankly we are wasting time and money trying to do so.   Let’s put the time and resources into getting the kids ready to use these tools to benefit their learning and growth in positive ways,  hold them accountable for their use, and correct them when they stray.

When I was in my sessions today, I saw many IPads, smart phones, and educators using pens & pencils to take notes.  Not one was using the chalk and slate.  Happy to report- there were no stabbings with pencils.

Twitter Research

During Alan November’s presentation at ISTE this month, he shared a really important strategy for teaching students to use Twitter as a professional networking and learning tool.  He indicated that while following the top people, organizations, schools etc in a particular field was a good idea, researching who those people/groups follow represents a potentially higher-level exposure.

I couldn’t help think in that moment that there  may be no better Peer-Reviewed Research database in the world than Twitter.  I went back to my own account and looked at the list of people I follow.  Essentially, they are the people who are at the top of the education field, highly respected authorities in a variety of areas, and most important, easily accessible to me (and anyone for that matter).

I have written and spoken many times about how teaching research has changed.  I always taught my students that regardless of era, tool, process, or objective, the research process starts with three steps:

1) Navigation

2) Determination

3) Validation

 

Navigation is about finding our way around.  When I was in school, navigation was about getting to the library, and finding my way around the stacks,  using the card-catalog, then the computers to find my sources.  Sometimes they were micro-fiche (remember those), other times in books; but the navigation process didn’t end there.

Once I had a source, I had to navigate the pages to find what I needed. This step incorporate a the second step: determination.

While one must certainly be determined as an integral intangible for successful research, this use of the word refers to determining a) what parts are use-able and b) how to use them.

Finally, validation refers to the validity or credibility of the source. Was it produced by an expert, published in peer reviewed literature, or created by someone with lots of alphabet soup after her name.

In ancient times, the first two steps could be laborious. But we were almost always rest – assured that the third step was a given.

Digital research has often been considered “easier” than prehistoric methods. I disagree in some ways.

While I can do a Google search and hit a button that returns 1 million hits in .307 seconds, there is actually more navigation involved that finding three books from the card catalog.

While we can better target for determination of use, the validation step in significantly more complex and ambiguous.

Which is where twitter comes in. I know I am idealizing here, and that at the current moment there does not exist the field specific variety and depth that Google scholar and traditional methods boast, but I can go on twitter, navigate with #hashtags, determine in 140 characters, and evaluate validity according to the sharer of information.

My PLN is a peer reviewed network of the top educators in the world. When they share, I am rest assured that the information has enough validity to consider credible.

When Alan November referred students interested in business to the PLN that the HBR follows, he was likewise navigating the students towards a valid, credible source who produces sources that are easily navigable, determinable, and credible.

Catharsis #ISTE2014

Here at ISTE, the best sessions I have attended have had one thing in common- they all had a powerful cathartic effect on me which ultimately, in the process of cleansing me, also enriched me with energy, knowledge, and the warmth of connection.

The best moments have been centered around the magical story-telling of George Couros, Alan November, Angela Maiers, Refranz Davis and others who touched us with tales of humor, sorrow, resilience, courage, adventure, and triumph while maintaining such a transparent humility in doing so- despite their celebrity rock star status amongst their world-wide peers.

George Couros had me with the warm-up dancing videos- he connected with me, and likely most everyone in the room, through these videos. I am pretty sure that he didn’t need to study neuroscience to understand that music is a powerful connection tool. Whether it is the connection between people, or one that I make as I hear a song that sparks memories of parts of my life when I first listened to that song. Or maybe the connection I make when I lean to the person next to me to ask “That’s Jamiroquoi, right?” and we talk- connected by music.

Isn’t that where the magic happens in the classroom? In the connection between the student and the teachers, amongst all the students- even if the classroom in this case was a huge auditorium with hundreds of people in it.  I felt like George was talking to me because everything he said was relevant to me.  I know many of my peers felt the same way.

Angela talking about her passion for inspiring all of to embrace mattering- not just for kids to know they matter, but for all of us. Refranz talking about Braedon and in only 5 ignited minutes, setting ISTE on its ear and setting a high standard for everyone who followed her.

And what a better way to fill my bucket at 8:30 on the final day than with Alan November embedding really powerful teaching tools in a session that went by way too fast- even thought he was on stage, I felt as if we were sitting in the cafe laughing and learning together.

All of these passionate educators artistically navigated our journey through so many emotions providing such a refreshing catharsis as we unwaveringly followed them and fearlessly felt the emotions necessary to really experience the moment in those rooms.

How many times did we laugh so hard we wanted to cry, and then feel so strongly that we held back the tears? How many times did the end of the session come and we were not ready to say good-bye not necessarily to the person up front, but to how that person was making us feel (insert Maya Angelou quote here…)?

Since Friday, we have been going non-stop here at ISTE.  If not for the emotional energy that these people have given us, we never would have made it. Not only have we made it, but we are cleansed, enriched, and growing stronger.

Kristen Swanson so beautifully and accurately wrote today that the main learning components of these events are 50% connections, 40% conversations, and 10% content.

For me and for all learners, if the connection isn’t there, the other 50% won’t happen.

Many thanks to everyone who connected in the name of making a contribution through education.