This post was inspired by a recent #PTchat, the weekly parent chat on Twitter every Wednesday at 9pm est. That particular chat helped me gather a lot of ideas, including events that occur over the summer to events during the first week of the school year. I was in awe of some of the amazing things schools and classrooms are doing to engage families and build community support. Many of my thoughts were about things I could try as a school leader, something I aspire to be one day. After the chat, I tried to narrow my focus to what impact I could make on FCE (Family-Community Engagement) from my classroom.
My school hosts an orientation night every year a couple days before school starts. During this particular orientation I set up a table with two papers to hand out to parents. One was a flyer of FAQs and instructions for signing up to my text message based service: Celly. It looks as if all of my teammates will also attempt to use the service this year, though we haven’t actually got off the ground with it yet. Nonetheless, I handed out that form as all of my families entered the school. The second paper I gave out was a 5 item survey for parents including an email address, phone number, and permission to take pictures/videos and post them on my webpage, Twitter, Edmodo, or the school webpage. During the session of orientation for 8th grade students and parents, I was provided time to display the Celly registration and invite families to sign up right then using their cell phones. It was important that I was given time to do this as it provided a more quality “face to face” interaction for me to walk everyone through the sign up procedures. It’s also important for me to leverage this time because our orientation nights are typically well attended. However, after orientation, it’s extremely difficult to get anyone to come back to the school for an event aimed at FCE.
Getting families connected to me and my classroom via a quick text message provides tremendous potential for me (as it does for any school as well). In the past, more traditional modes of communication have proven too unsuccessful or broken to really initiate quality FCE. This year, I made an effort to maximize my message to parents using Celly. The message I’ve attempted to convey is not unique. ”I think you are a vital part of your child’s education. I want you to be invested in what’s going on in my classroom and I need your help for your child to succeed.” During #PTchat, it was very clear that everyone involved is attempting to convey that message using a variety of efforts. So during the first week of school I hammered my students and parents with communication including pictures of what I was doing in class and links to activities I created for the first week of school. I even sent a message one morning asking for suggestions on airplane-themed music I could play as my students entered my room each period. I wanted my message to be sent loud and clear and according to responses, the message has been received.
There is so much room for improvement in FCE at my school. I wanted this post to reflect some of the efforts that I’ve put forth this year to increase FCE at the classroom level. What can you share about how your class or your school engages families and communities? What are your goals? How will you know if those goals are met?
I just finished reading Kevin Carroll’s Rules of the Red Rubber Ball and it made such a tremendous impact on me that I had to write about it. See, I believe I only recently discovered my red rubber ball. In short, a person’s red rubber ball is their passion. It’s the thing you do when no one is around, or when you have free time. It’s the interest that liberates you to do amazing things you had only dreamed of before.
Kevin’s book took me from laughter to tears and back again. I am still thinking about his book over 24 hours since I completed it. I had never thought of my red rubber ball in such a way until reading the book. I didn’t necessarily discover my red rubber ball at an early age. In fact, as a young boy, my passions were very much like Kevin’s as I played nearly every sport available to me. I remember putting on a snowsuit and gloves to go outside and shoot baskets on the hoop in my driveway. It was as if nothing could keep me from playing with my red rubber ball; key word being playing. Once you discover your red rubber ball, it becomes difficult for one to distinguish the difference between work and play.
My red rubber ball is my passion. It is the item that consumes my free time. When I go to work every morning, I’m pursuing my red rubber ball. I don’t say that lightly as I am extremely thankful that my life’s circumstances, and not the least, my Savior, have put me in a position where I get to pursue my red rubber ball every day I walk into my school. Since connecting to other educators who share my passion, my red rubber ball has appeared. I have an intense desire to become the best educator I can possibly become. I have certainly been met with obstacles and set backs. Others have attempted to let their negativity bring me down. Pursuing my red rubber ball has not been easy. My wall and my fortress that protects me and my ball is my professional learning network. At the risk of climbing out on a thin limb here, I would imagine that most of my PLN share the same passion that I do. It’s not that we’re a fanatic or one to be shunned by the rest of our colleagues. It’s not that we look down on others who’s red rubber ball bounces in a different direction. We just find ourselves pursuing this unique passion with any time we can set apart from our busy lives. I encourage you to find your red rubber ball and pursue it relentlessly and see where it takes you. For me, it has opened up doors I never dreamed of before. I hope it continues to open more. I do invest a lot of time, energy, passion, and fight into my red rubber ball. However, I’d bet that you invest those same things into something. And if not, then consider discovering your red rubber ball. Be creative about how you pursue it. Technology has opened up many creative ways for me to pursue my passion while still being a husband and a dad. Last but not least, surround yourselves at every opportunity with others who will support and possibly share in your pursuit.
My wife @Mrs_JulOldfield and I just made it back from EdcampILE at Hilliard Bradley High School in Ohio. The Edcamp was hosted by Craig Vroom @Vroom6 and Jacki Prati @Jacki_Prati. In an effort to keep this short, I want to say I first connected with Craig at EdcampCbus on March 1, 2014 at Lincoln Gahanna High School. Since then Craig has made a tremendous impact on me as an educator and a leader. He’s given of his time to take my phone calls and accept my requests to Hangout during a course I was teaching. I’ve had the opportunity to connect with Jacki and many others from Hilliard City Schools during Twitter chats their district holds. I’ve seen the evidence first hand that Jacki and Craig are effective leaders that model innovation and cultivate growth within their buildings.
My experience at EdcampILE was not unlike experiences many other Edcampers have shared. First, there is absolutely no hierarchy at Edcamp. What I mean is you won’t see administrators or district level officers looking over shoulders during sessions or walking around in what appears to be “observation mode.” Everyone attends Edcamp to learn and to contribute. Edcamp breaks down any barriers to progression that hierarchy often presents. Second, Edcamp is supportive. Rarely, if ever, do educators get the opportunity to surround themselves with other like minded educators attending for the same reason: to learn and to share. Edcamps are free and often there is no reward for attending.
I can’t say enough about how encouraging it was for me to get some face to face time with a group of educators that have inspired and supported me along my journey of growth and development. Since I first met many of the group represented by today’s Edcamp:
- I’ve hosted an Edcamp at my school, which has lead to the development of a 2nd Edcamp in WV coming in September
- Continued to help cultivate a community of West Virginia educators through our state-wide Twitter chat #WVedchat
- Facilitated two week-long courses in Digital Leadership aimed at inspiring educators to take control of their own growth & development, and spark a desire to improve parent engagement at their schools through 21st Century means of communication
The opportunity to absorb some face to face time with so many educators who have made their mark on my life was priceless. My takeaway from today’s Edcamp was a renewed commitment to impact other educators in ways that Columbus area educators like John Riley @MrRileyJo, Melissa Eddington @Melsa777, Kimberly Halley @halleykimberly, Scott Jones @escott818, Jacki Prati, Craig Vroom and many others have impacted me.
This is another reflection written by a teacher that took my digital leadership graduate course last week. Rebecca is a 10th grade English teacher at Tyler Consolidated High School in West Virginia. She put into words exactly what I hoped my participants would receive from the pillar of digital leadership titled “professional growth and development.” Rebecca also offers some other insightful comments related to digital leadership.
Digital Learning: People, Not Devices
by Becca Childers, 10th Grade English Educator
When I first signed up for a digital learning class, I assumed that the course would be limited to the use of technology in the classroom, much like any other technology training that I have been encouraged to attend. For example, a class expounding upon the benefits of actually knowing how to use the SMART board that’s been in your room for a few years now or how to turn on and operate your provided iPad was what I expected, and I might add, dreaded. However, instead of walking out of this course with a renewed sense of how to use these tools, I have left with something more valuable: a sense of community with my fellow teachers and opportunities to make connections, not just with other teachers but also with the students, the parents, and the community as a whole.
Let me be clear, I am not a willing tweep. I am an advocate of teaching positive social media skills in the classroom, but my personal life is stalked by a love/hate relationship with my only social media outlet, Facebook. Twitter, in my mind, has always been just another relationship that I do not want; nonetheless, I have been converted, not because of Twitter’s most attractive attributes, confusing hashtags and the inability to block grungy skater-boy followers, but because of the amazing community of educators that have formed their own learning community that is available almost every day of the week. I am now connected with educators all over the country, and my support is no longer dependent upon whether or not the educators in my school are willing or have time to collaborate. I have a sounding board. I have tweeps.
Technology has evolved, in my mind, from simply a tool for teaching to a tool for personal growth and learning, but even more earthshattering is the possibility for building relationships between the school and the community or, more specifically, positive relationships. Every school has a reputation, but often, that reputation is built not upon what the school system and teachers have intentionally communicated with the community. It is not built upon what is actually happening in the classrooms but assumptions. That needs to change. We need to “build our brand”. One way to do that would be to open up the lines of communication through social media, such as Twitter or Facebook, but first, we must banish the idea that social media is not worth the trouble. The possibility for negative use should not cause us to throw it out entirely. Indeed, this is all the more reason to show the community and students a positive avenue of utilizing social media. Let’s not shy away from it. Let’s change it.
Isn’t that what education is meant to do? To change the world, to change perspectives for the better is the reason why education exists. To pass on knowledge, yes, but also to open minds and to instruct as to how things like social media are meant to be used. Social media is a way to connect, to build positive relationships, and to open avenues of communication for building a better community. Technology in education is not just about creating 21st Century projects or learning to use tools to survive the ever-changing professional world; technology is about the people behind it.
I just finished teaching a week long course titled Digital Leadership to 14 teachers. I can’t describe how encouraging a week it was for me. I have read Eric Sheninger’s book of the same title. A course modeled exactly from the book would be beneficial for any educator, but especially administrators. I had zero administrators in my course. At the end of the week, the results my participants were sharing with me completely blew me away. I have asked permission to share a few reflections that they wrote on Friday. This is part 1. I really appreciate this reflection because it sounds like something I would have wrote just a short time ago. Even more touching for me, is that the author of this reflection, Mona Busiek, teaches next door to me at Blennerhassett Middle School.
One of the best things I’ve taken from this class is a professional “connectivity,” a cushion of teaching support I didn’t have before. I have been diligent about creating a wealth of material resources for myself, and I thought I had a good support system at school. However, my colleagues are, for the most part, a network of people I enjoying being with; we are not necessarily like-minded. PLCs have provided me with a positive, encouraging, motivating group of people who remind me of why I’m in the field and help me continue to press on toward my ultimate goal: being the best teacher I can be for my students.
What is the big picture? What do we want to ultimately achieve? How can I improve the learning environment? Do I need to redesign my classroom? What do my students need? How can I get to know them better? How can I help them to take responsibility for their own learning? Do I need to change the way I grade? Are there more engaging ways to teach? What changes can I make? What have always done that doesn’t make sense to keep on doing? What first “do-able” step can I take toward change? Where do I need to release control? How can I empower my students?–These are just a few of the questions I have been considering this week. (Actually, they have kept me awake at night!)
Not only have I been re-considering my students’ learning environment, but I’ve been considering how well we are working together as a staff. What steps can we make to strengthen our team? Our school? How can I improve peer-to-peer teaching? How can we connect better at school? What am I willing to give up myself in order to do what works better for our team?
Mid-week, I thought my brain might explode. Today, however, after a week of sharing with people face to face and online, I feel more relaxed. I am less afraid of failure because I’ve received multiple messages to try new things and accept failure as part of my journey. Always very near are my own personal cheerleaders, offering thoughts, keeping me balanced, and sharing practical advice that keeps me focused on the students–my inspiration and reason for pressing on.
8th Grade Reading
Blennerhassett Middle School
I just want to outline some thoughts I’ve had recently about the impact schools have on students when they neglect the power of social media as a communication tool, a digital citizenship tool, and a lifelong learning tool. First, there’s no denying the power of social media to communicate with stakeholders. Schools across the country have skyrocketed communication by leveraging social media to communicate details from sporting events, academic successes, to homework assignments. Their investments in tools like Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram have resulted in a powerful brand. Building a brand comes from sharing your story. It’s well quoted in circles of connected educators that if schools aren’t investing in sharing their story, the community is likely developing a story that schools don’t want. See Eric Sheninger’s blog post about this topic.
According to Job-Hunt.org social media can have an impact on potential recruiters and new employers. Check out this article by USAToday to get a glimpse of just how complicated this issue can be. By neglecting to invest and model appropriate use of social media, schools are sending the wrong message to students. No longer is social media a private matter. Gone are the days when what we say or do on social media has no affect on our lives. But when schools neglect the opportunities to model and carve out a positive digital footprint, they send the message to students that social media is strictly for private matters. Students are in a dangerous place when they feel a disconnect between what goes on in the social media sphere and what goes on in their public life. Social media has embedded itself into our society in such a way that schools can no longer neglect it. George Couros stated that if schools neglect to model and instruct students about proper use of social media, they are the same as teaching driving lessons without a vehicle.
Digital learners need and deserve digital leaders. Schools can no longer stand by idly while the rest of society adapts and transforms to the impact of social media and technology. In many rural areas, like the one in which I teach, many students have no global perspective because they’ve never been outside of their hometown. Yet in classrooms like Pernille Ripp’s , her students have connected with over 200,000 students on 6 continents since 2010 by effectively leveraging social media tools. Even educators are leveraging the power of social media to connect with other educators and transform their learning by developing personal learning networks.
Consider these points of advice I gathered from my connections with other administrators effectively implementing social media at their schools:
- Connect with administration from a school effectively implementing social media tools. Let them guide and support your decisions during implementation. Don’t skip this.
- Identify educators who are appropriately modeling social media use. Run a mock interview and browse an educators social media pages to identify an effective positive digital footprint. Many educators still hold the mindset that my social media account is for my private life. That mindset must shift to one where social media accounts create a picture of the values and beliefs that person shares in both their professional life and their personal life.
- Agree on the purpose of your social media pages. What will your accounts do? What will they not do?
- How are you going to involve community voice in how social media will be used?
- How are you going to begin engaging parents and students? How will you notify stakeholders of the social media accounts?
- My wife, @mrs_julOldfield, suggests printing business cards with all of your social media accounts and placing them at local businesses and/or handing them out during sporting events just to spread the message to the community.
I’ve been immersed in a personalized learning experience for over a year now. I’ve written a good bit about the opportunities for learning that Twitter presents for educators. Joe Mazza once said Twitter is a 24/7/365 real time professional development tool with access to like-minded professionals. I’ve carved out such an awesome PLN (professional learning network) in just over a year. Todd Nesloney is one of those amazing educators I’ve learned from recently. Todd is principal at Navasota Intermediate, but that’s just one of Todd’s great accomplishments as a young educator. Todd took the initiative to create a summer learning series himself. He engaged educators through social media to join him in this summer learning series quest. Once signed up, you will begin receiving Todd’s weekly emails as part of his summer learning series challenges. Each week presents a new challenge. For example, Todd challenged educators by presenting them with videos like this one from Dave Burgess. Todd created a hashtag on Twitter #summerls so that educators could network and backchannel thoughts and reflections from his learning series. He also hosts a chat using that hashtag. Last count that Todd sent out indicated over 1500 educators had signed up for his summer learning series. What an awesome accomplishment and what an incredible tool!
I just finished teaching a digital leadership course at AFT-WV summer camp for teachers. I decided to incorporate a version of Todd’s learning series for my participants. Most of my participants are new to the world of Twitter and certainly new to opportunities available to take control and personalize your learning as an educator. I took signups through this form and will continue to engage those participants in support as they begin this journey to proactive growth and development through Twitter and other opportunities.
I am still amazed at what technology and connectedness allows us to do as educators. The model schools conference is now in session down in Orlando Florida. I’ve never had the opportunity to attend that conference, but I’ve heard and read several good reports from that conference. Thanks to Twitter and the #22ndMSC hashtag, I’ve been able to follow the events at the conference almost as if I was there myself. On Sunday evening June 22, I was able to follow Dr. Daggett’s keynote through Twitter. I caught a glimpse of just how in tune Dr. Daggett’s presentation was with the changes needed by schools today. What an amazing opportunity provided by technology. The backchannel discussion during the keynote was full of thoughtful comments that pushed my thinking about school improvement. I’ve been aware for some time now that the environment students experience inside of school is far different from the one they experience outside of school. Societal changes brought about by technology have created a tremendous disconnect between the way our students learn outside of school and the way they are forced to learn inside of school. Effective leadership and effective school improvement acknowledges this gap. Dr. Daggett’s keynote was full of great information and resources about what, why, and how schools can shift to better engage students in learning for their future. My favorite quote of the night was “how can we educate today’s students for tomorrow’s future with yesterday’s schools?”
I was given the great opportunity to teach a summer course at AFT-WV’s summer camp for teachers. I chose to teach a course on digital leadership. Digital leadership is not just one thing and it’s certainly not just technology. I modeled the course after Eric Sheninger’s book titled Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times. I chose to focus the first two days on the pillars of professional growth & development and communication. I have tried hard to stray from the typical presenter-based format and simply share my resources and engage the participants in conversations aimed at reflecting on our current practices. It didn’t take long for the group to agree that the impact that technology has had on society is tremendous. We acknowledged the pace of change in technology is so rapid that it’s nearly impossible to keep up. This causes tremendous challenges for schools as they try to adjust, adapt, and transform to remain relevant institutions of learning. We began to accept that if educators are relying solely on their school and/or district to provide opportunities for growth and development, it’s simply not enough. Regardless of how effective those opportunities are, the task is simply too tall for any school or district to meet. As a result, students are beginning to get further and further disconnected from the environments that many educators can provide inside their classrooms. It is time for educators to take control of their own learning and arm themselves with consistent give and take of communication, collaboration, acquiring resources, eliciting feedback, and sharing ideas, data, strategies, and information.
In the last two days educators in the course have been exposed to Twitter and how it is an effective tool to build a powerful professional learning network. We also tackled the pillar of communication. We were so fortunate to have 3 principals meet with us via Google Hangout and share how technology has transformed communication at their schools. Donald Gately (donald_gately) is the principal at Jericho Middle School in New York. Donald shared about how effective his video newsletters have been at communicating the awesome things going on in his school building. Donald has been a vital part of my PLN and I value that things he’s been able to share. Craig Vroom (@vroom6) is the principal at Hilliard Weaver Middle School in Ohio. Craig was attending a conference in Cincinnati but literally stepped out of the conference and connected with us via his smartphone in order to share for a few minutes the impact that technology has played on communication, as well as the impact it’s had on his professional growth and development. I’m so grateful of the impact Craig has had on my own practice thus far. What an incredible statement was made by his sacrifice to spend a few minutes joining our class and exposing the participants to such excellent models of digital leadership. Later in the day, Bobby Dodd (bobby__dodd) joined us to share what technology has done for communication at his school. Bobby is the principal at New Lexington High School in Ohio but will be moving to Lincoln Gahanna High School this coming school year. Bobby provided our participants an insight into the impacts he’s made on a community not unlike the ones represented in my course. Many of our participants come from rural communities where broadband access is not afforded to everyone and sometimes computers don’t exist in every home. Bobby shared ways that his school is able to implement effective solutions despite these challenges. I really enjoyed Bobby sharing about how his school partnered with several community businesses to provide free unrestricted wifi at their locations.
I’ll be sharing the resources and presentations created throughout this course. Each of my presentations have been given a URL address that has been accessed by all the participants this week. I’ve encouraged them to save those resources and share them as they see a need. A tremendous community of change agents has been developed in such a small amount of time. I’ll be writing later about the supports we’ve put in place to continue the learning beyond these few days. More about the digital leadership WV summer learning series later
Let me say this first. I am beyond blessed to get to work with tremendous students. Not all teachers get to experience such grace. Now I’m not saying things are easy, especially on the last day.
I’m an 8th grade math teacher in a grade 6-8 middle school. For those that may read this that aren’t educators, especially ones of middle schoolers, I hope that I can accurately portray the investment that many of my colleagues and I have made this year. One of the most difficult things for a middle school teacher is to force yourself to give an ear on every occasion that it’s needed. I’m not sure there’s a greater need of middle school students, than a listening ear. I tried to make a commitment to drop what I was doing and look at a student each time they came to talk to me. I failed many times. Often the topic wasn’t of utmost importance, but I tried to listen. At the middle school level, doing this 100% of the time is an arduous task! Why? Because middle school students thirst for someone that will listen. That means you have to be prepared to listen before school, after school, on your planning period, on your way to the bathroom, when you walk by another teacher’s room, when you’re walking outside for kickball, on your way out to your car, during bus duty, during your lunch, and yes, right in the middle of class. To be effective, listening to students must come before you, your family, your colleagues, the work at hand, your grades, your plans, your hunger, and your thirst. The sadness of the last day comes in memories of these conversations. Conversations of:
- moms and dads
- heartache at home
- what someone said on social media the night before
- sporting events: what happened before the game, during the game, after the game
- homework help
- hunting stories
- the pressures of school
As I look at every one of my students, I can recall a conversation with them. Each conversation was an opportunity for me to make an impact on their life. What tremendous responsibility! I’ve found that committing myself to listening stretches my patience and my tolerance; things that can occasionally run thin on this middle school teacher. You get to see so much growth in students as a middle school teacher. All students grow physically, but so many grow in maturity too. Watching my students walk into and out of the auditorium today I was doing really well until this thought entered my mind: I’ve invested more time into these kids than I have my own daughter. I can’t say it enough, I get to build relationships with amazing young people.
During the last 2 days of school, Blennerhassett Middle School organizes a huge school-wide Olympics festival full of competitions ranging from water-balloon slingshot, musical chairs, 3 on 3 basketball, volleyball, quiz bowl, and many others. To my knowledge, the festival is unmatched by any other school. My days are spent running from competition to competition to cheer on my homebase students and fellow competitors. I spend most of the day screaming, fist-pumping, high-fiving or dancing on stage with about 50 middle school students. In between setting up and tearing down the events I’m in charge of, I try and make every last moment count with every student. I don’t eat lunch these two days so I can spend lunch in the cafeteria with my students. The days fly by and I know in just a moment, they’ll be gone. The opportunities to impact the lives of young people are dwindling. After the closing ceremonies and the tribute to our 8th graders, we’ll say our goodbyes, exchange hugs, and watch the students progress into the next chapter.
The last day of school is the hardest for me.
My school allows teachers to complete an end of the year evaluation each year. This is just an effort to allow everyone an opportunity to provide feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the school and offer suggestions for improvement. I’ll be sharing a version of my evaluation that is hopefully a help for others. I have learned so much over the past year from engaging in 24/7/365 professional development on what I want when I want. I’ve learned from some incredible leaders in the field of education that have been carving out a presence on social media for some time. These leaders are constantly sharing the successes and failures from their own schools in an effort to allow others to learn and/or provide feedback. In the past year…
- I’ve attended two Edcamps, co-organizing one myself. Both of these Edcamps have lead to the opportunity to develop connections with innovative educators like Bobby Dodd and Craig Vroom.
- I got the opportunity to meet and listen to Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like A Pirate. He’s been the most incredible educational speaker I’ve been fortunate enough to meet.
- I’ve begun reading Eric Sheninger’s book Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times. Eric is principal at New Milford High School in New Jersey. Just read his page about his typical day and you’ll be amazed.
- I’ve engaged in conversations lead by front-line leaders in public education: Brad Currie, Joe Mazza, Rick Wormeli, Tom Murray, Jimmy Casas, Oliver Shinkten and many others. The biggest reason for my growth as an educator is due to the time I’ve set aside to read tweets, blog posts, and engage in conversations with educators like these. They have opened my eyes to a world I would have never known otherwise.
All of these things have lead to real, sustainable change in my practice as an educator and a leader. I’ve had numerous opportunities crop up as a result of my growth and I’ve been able to make some awesome changes to my practice, all of which were not included in this post. Completing my school survey caused me to reflect on my growth over the past year and I wanted to share it with you.