Digital literacy is more important now than it has ever been. The exponential evolution if the Internet and social media tools have allowed for the quick sharing of knowledge, ideas, images, videos, and opinions. The result has been a double-edged sword. In one respect everyone with a smartphone has instant access to information at any time and from anywhere. I for one love the fact that I can get up to the minute news, sports scores, and weather in the palm of my hand. However, there is a downside that is beginning to plague society. We have seen an influx of misinformation, claims of “fake” news, inaccurate facts, distortion of the truth, broad claims, doctored results, and opinions with not much substance behind them. Now more than ever we must not only teach our kids to be critical consumers of digital content, but we must also model the same.
The education space is not immune to some of the prevalent issues and challenges described above. This is not to say that amazing ideas and strategies aren’t being shared. In fact, I for one benefitted greatly as a principal when I learned about something shared on social media and then either implemented or adapted it in a way that bolstered the transformation efforts at my school. Case in point. As we explored moving towards Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in 2010, I was able to glean powerful insights and evidence of efficacy from the Forsyth County School District in Georgia. The content they shared included policies, procedures, pedagogical techniques, and professional development, but more importantly, tangible improvement results. Motivated and inspired I then began to seek out research and more examples of successful implementation that aligned with our goals while addressing specific challenges.
Going BYOD sounded like a great idea based on what I had either read or saw online. However, not everything I consumed addressed the realities we faced as a school. Some of were too “fluffy” or not practical. It is important when reading a blog post or article to look beyond what in theory sounds good, but in practice might not lead to improvement. Going beyond surface level opinions and ideas is really at the heart of critical consumption. Since many of my queries when out through Twitter at the time that is how I received the majority of the information for consumption. As more and more tools and pathways have emerged to allow educators to share it is incumbent upon all of us to take a more in-depth look so that something isn’t done just for the sake of doing it or because it sounds really good.
“Just because something sounds good on Twitter or looks good on Pinterest doesn’t mean it is an effective practice.”
The quote above has really helped ground my approach to what I consume and then ultimately use to improve professional practice. It also extends well beyond social media to articles, books, keynotes, workshops, and presentations. We must acknowledge that with all of the great ideas and strategies there is an equal amount that just isn’t very good regardless of the hype surrounding them. By not good I mean that there will be difficulties in either implementing at scale or showing, not just talking about, better results. To assist in taking a critical lens to what we see or hear consider the following questions:
Why is this idea or strategy good for my classroom, school, district, organization or professional growth?
How will it positively impact learners beyond just engagement?
Does it align to peer-reviewed research?
Is it realistic given culture, budgetary, demographic, socioeconomic, and facility challenges?
What qualitative and quantitative measures can be used as evidence to validate whether or not it is effective at improving outcomes?
How can it be sustained and scaled?
Sharing will not and should not stop. Becoming a connected educator changed my entire trajectory thanks to what I was and continue to be able to glean from my Personal Learning Network (PLN) in addition an array of other means to get information discussed in this post. It is up to you to be a critical consumer to separate quality from what in theory seems like a great idea, but in practice won’t get the results that learners and educators are seeking. Sounding good just doesn’t cut it when the bold new world demands more from our learners.
“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; Mastering yourself is true power.” - Lao Tzu
Do you know who you are? In one sense most of us respond with a resounding yes. However, deep down many of us, including myself, are always questioning our purpose. By the way, this is indeed ok. Throughout our lives, we are continually discovering and reassessing who we are. Experiences, feedback, and the environment in which we live and work shape this process in a way that ultimately helps us to realize our strengths and weaknesses. Taking all of this into account helps us come to the realization of why we are the way we are. It is at this point that we must continually consider changes that can be made to better ourselves and those around us.
Herein lies my point. How open to change are we really? The key, in my opinion, comes down to knowing thyself. So why is this so important? Take this view from Annalisa Coliva:
Presumably, it means to know, first and foremost, one’s character and it is crucial because only by understanding one’s character can one be aware of one’s limitations and avoid likening oneself to the gods. But, more simply, it is only by knowing one’s character that one can try and improve from a moral point of view, or make the right decisions in one’s life.
In a world where people are seemingly always trying to figure out what makes others tick it might be prudent to reflect on the very nature of why we do what we do (or what we don’t). Understanding our own drive and resistance to change goes a long way in helping others to embrace new and different ideas with the goal of improving practice. Your ability to define who you are and how you will make decisions can help catapult you to a level of professional practice that will continually be grounded by your sense purpose. It is your prior experiences, roles, and the people that influence your work that will help to develop enough awareness to determine and define what truly matters. Having a greater purpose than oneself becomes a catalyst for initiating needed change.
Let the past inform your present. We can learn a great deal by taking a critical lens to past mistakes and failures. These can teach us to make better choices now and in the future.
Dig deep to unearth your core values. Knowing what you stand for and why you believe in certain things will provide fantastic insight as to why you make the decisions you do.
Seek out, listen to, and gain perspective from the works of other educators, leaders, and authors. Hang out with people you know have developed a strong sense of self-awareness.
Don’t’ discount your fears. These manifest themselves in many ways and ultimately dictate your actions, which in turn impact everyone with whom you come in contact. By tackling your fears head on you will be more prone to make empowered choices.
Have an open mind when it comes to change as it is a constant. Over time you will accumulate an array of experiences, which will color your perspective. Move beyond your comfort zone, take calculated risks, and expand your outlook.
Developing a better understanding of yourself is a never-ending journey, which will help you to better understand your strengths, weaknesses, fears, and aspirations. If you want to help others either overcome or address these areas, then it makes perfect sense to do so ourselves. Only then will the stage be set to initiating meaningful change that sticks.
I was honored to have been interviewed for Educational Leadership, ASCD's flagship magazine, on the power of Twitter as part of a Personal Learning Network (PLN). You can read the article HERE. Since only snippets of my responses were embedded into the piece I wanted to share the specific questions that were asked and my thoughts on each. As you will see, the true power of connected learning is what you glean from the people you engage with.
When and why did you decide to get involved on Twitter? Did you have any initial challenges or reservations about it—and if so, how did you overcome those to develop a robust network and community?
I got on Twitter in 2009, which was an accomplishment in itself as I had previously convinced myself that I would never use social media as I didn’t have the time nor saw any value in it. Thus, the biggest challenge I had to overcome was a fixed mindset regarding how I could use a tool like this to improve my capacity as an educational leader. My “ah ha” moment came in March of 2009 after having read a newspaper article about Twitter in the Staten Island Advance. This article switched the light bulb on as I finally saw value in how a tool like Twitter could help me become a better leader. The connection was to communicate. You won’t find an effective leader who is not an effective communicator. Once I made an initial connection to supporting and enhancing professional practice I later learned how social media tools could be used to improve other areas of leadership. As my focus shifted from communication to learning that is when I saw unlimited potential. We don’t know what we don’t know. The humbling moments that the social media world provided became the primary driver in my pursuit to embrace digital leadership and work collaboratively with my staff to improve the learning culture at my school.
How long does it take to develop a strong network on Twitter or other digital platforms? Does it help to focus in on one platform--like Twitter or FB--or do you need to build a diverse network with blogs, social media, podcasts?
The time it takes to develop a strong network on Twitter, or any social media platform is dependent on the quality of the content you share and create as well as the time you put in. I have found that educators are keen for more insight on practical ideas aligned to research and evidence of actual improvement. The more you can show, as opposed to telling, how innovative practices are improving learning outcomes leads to the development of a robust and respected network in my opinion. My rule of thumb is to start small by mastering one platform first and embed it consistently into professional practice. Whether for learning, communications, telling your story, or developing a brand presence, consistency is essential. Once you are comfortable with the use of one tool, the next step is to diversify your digital portfolio. This will open you up to even more information, ideas, opinions, connected educators, feedback, resources, and discussion. The bottom line, however, is to use the platform that best meets your needs and goals. It’s not about how many social media tools you use, but how well you use them to further your thinking and learning to continually grow as an educator while better serving your community in the process.
Newbies are often advised to follow certain hashtags or prominent people as a way to ‘do’ Twitter, but sometimes that’s akin to walking into a crowded party and not having any idea who to start talking to or where the food is. How does one go about building a network, really?
Hashtags are an excellent way to begin to build your network as you can spread ideas and strategies to an established group. Amplification through hashtags combined with engagement plants the seeds that can lead to a vibrant network. The key is to share original work aligned to the specific hashtag. People want to know what leads to results and ultimate success. The more practical the ideas, the quicker your network will form. Other elements that go into network building are honesty, transparency, actively participating in discussions, and the right balance of sharing your work with that of others. The real strength of any network is not how many people follow you, but the quality of the people you follow and connect with.
What’s the most valuable information, advice, or a lesson you’ve gotten from someone in your digital network? How did you use it to improve your practice?
I learned a long time ago to keep my message on point and aligned with my professional work. In my former role as a practicing school leader, this meant only sharing what my teachers and kids were doing during school hours. This not only protected me but ultimately helped to promote all of our successful practices while building my staff and students up in the process. In this sense, it has to be about “we” and not “me.” Over time I learned that education had to change. “Don’t prepare students for something. Prepare them for anything!” – This is one of the biggest lessons I have learned from my time in the space. In the ASCD book, Learning Transformed that I co-authored with Tom Murray we provide a great deal of context on this.
What three common mistakes do you see educators make when they try to develop a professional network or community on Twitter?
Too self-promotional where it becomes humblebragging.
Tagging loads of people in your tweets for the primary purpose of getting him/or her to share your tweet.
Not responding to questions or comments that are directed to you.
On average, how much time do you spend each day on Twitter? Do you have any personal rules for unplugging?
Well, this depends on the day. My thinking is this – we all can allocate at least 15 minutes a day to learn and get better. Why not make the time to do this on a platform like Twitter where we can personalize the experience? Balance is key. As such I do not have any personal rules for unplugging. I limit my use dramatically when I with my family so that I am present. That is the best advice I can give.
Related to the last: How do you stay focused when you’re on Twitter—and not get sucked down a rabbit hole of distraction (oh! Those cat memes!)? Establish some personal norms and stick with them. Self-efficacy is the only way not to get distracted. I look at it this way. My time is valuable, and there must be a professional-life balance. Thus, my use on platforms like Twitter are all aligned to how I can become more effective at what I now do – helping educators, schools, districts, and organizations transform teaching, learning, and leadership. Even though my activity can come in many forms, the focus remains the same. If I want cat memes and such I will move over to my personal Facebook or Instagram account.
Do you think social media platforms are a give-and-take relationship? To receive good content, do you also have to create it? And if so, how?
To get anything valuable out of life, it requires to give and take. You don’t have to create good content to obtain anything from the relationship necessarily. Case in point. One can lurk on social media and acquire proven strategies that have been successfully implemented in schools that have led to better learner outcomes. The acquired content can then be used as a catalyst for growth and improvement in his or her context. If you are willing to take the ideas that others are openly giving you and using them to move your professional goals forward, then a positive relationship exists. Creating content is not a means to an end if you don’t want it to be. It is the vetting of and then using, the material that others produce that leads to evidence of improvement that creates relationships in connected spaces. When, and if, you are comfortable building your content go for it, but never think that you have to to get something from the platform.
What do you get out of Twitter (or other online connections) that you haven’t been able to get from a personal colleague? Timely, practical, and specific feedback when and where I need it. The convenience of having a 24/7 support network that spans the globe is quite empowering. I often get the best feedback and advice on how to improve. Another benefit is the ability to pull from a vast collection of educators who have a diversity of strengths and unique talents.
One worry/complaint from people who are trying to build a network online is that there’s too much content. How do you sort through “the noise” to find the things and people who are most valuable to you?
The noise can be controlled by being selective about who you connect with. The beauty of social media is that it is all about YOU! Unfollow those who clog up your streams with information or posts that don’t align with your professional goals. You can also use a tool like TweetDeck to manage your connections and hashtags in specific columns. By doing this, you essentially are applying your filter to your feed.
When it is all said and done the true power of Twitter, or any other social media tool for that matter, is the people with whom you connect and engage with to learn. The best ideas and strategies in education come from those who are successfully implementing them and getting results.
The digital age allows you to create an infinite amount of rooms to engage with the brightest minds across an array of experiences in education and other fields. By building a network that works for you the short and long-term impact on your professional practice can be priceless.
Get up and write! Well, this isn’t the saying that I abide by, but making the time to reflect and hammer away at the keyboard is something that I still consistently commit to doing. There are many reasons I continue to blog regularly, but the biggest is trying to add a practical lens to many of the ideas we either see or hear about on social media. During the past year, I attempted to connect more research to either further validate my thoughts or illustrate how educators were implementing proven strategies with an innovative angle into practice. An increase in the amount of job-embedded coaching work I did in schools over an extended period of time also influenced my thinking. There is nothing better in my opinion than to see either growth or success in schools where real challenges were overcome.
In my opinion, you don’t have to be a great writer to blog. Begin with a focus on your work and that of others you spend your days with as a starting point. Remember, the act of blogging is first and foremost you and the impact that it has on your growth and development. Another outcome is the impact that it has on readers near and far. Never discount how your ideas and experiences might positively influence the work of others. Back to the whole writing thing. If you ever doubt your ability fall back on a proofreader (thanks mom) on Grammarly as I do.
Change isn’t coming. It’s already on our doorstep. You can’t run or hide from it. The revolution, or evolution depending on your respective lens, of our world, will transform everything as we know it. We must adapt, but more importantly, prepare our learners for a bold new world that is unpredictable. Welcome to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres marked by emerging technology breakthroughs in a number of fields, including robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, the Internet of Things, 3D printing, and fully autonomous vehicles. Education remains the key to the future. Don’t prepare students for something. Prepare them for anything!
The key to future-proofing school and learning is to empower all kids to think regardless of label or zip code. By using the Rigor Relevance Framework as a guide, we can begin by asking learners better questions with the goal being that they start to formulate questions on their own. With and without technology, it is crucial to create a thinking culture. Scaffolding questions enhance learning and aids in the mastery of concepts by systematically building on knowledge and relevance. The ultimate goal is to develop competent thinkers and doers who can not only use knowledge in new ways but also construct their own.
Research has shown that movement in the form of brain breaks, recess, and physical education positively impacts learning. Don’t look at kids moving in class as a break or poor use of instructional time. Schools need to do more to ensure that movement is being integrated into all classes. The brain needs regular stimulation to properly function and this can come in the form of exercise or movement. Based on what is now known about the brain, this has been shown to be an effective cognitive strategy to improve memory and retrieval, strengthen learning, and enhance motivation among all learners. As research has shown, movement is an essential component of learning. If the goal is to help kids be better learners, then we have to be better at getting them up and moving in school.
Feedback is essential to improvement and growth. There is nothing more vital to our professional roles than a good discussion around evidence-based practice that paints a picture not only of what we are doing well but areas where we can either become much better or outright improve. However, for it to be effective, it must be delivered positively, timely, practical and specific, consistent, and delivered using the right medium.
There is no perfection in education; thus there is always room for improvement. To get to where we want, and our learners need us to be, a routine audit of pedagogical practice is necessary. In this post, I identify five areas to look at when implementing any digital tool or innovative idea to determine whether or not improvements to pedagogy are changing. These include the level of questioning, authentic and/or interdisciplinary contexts, rigorous performance tasks, innovative assessment, and improved feedback. A question or two as a means to help self-assess where you are and if improvements can be made follows each of these areas.
Thanks to everyone who has made the time to visit my blog, read posts, and provide comments. Here’s to a fantastic 2019!
The best job on the planet is that of a parent. I can’t begin to explain how awesome it has been over the years watching my kids grow up and being actively engaged in their lives. Sure, there are some lows along the way, but the highs are what bring so much joy and purpose into our own lives. If you are a parent, you know exactly what I am talking about. I had always envisioned the types of activities my kids would participate in with sports being one of them. However, I never thought that parenthood would bestow the official role of “cheer dad” upon me in the case of my daughter, but I am so glad that it did.
For starters, I never realized the sheer athleticism that is needed to excel in competitive cheerleading. My daughter does all of these elaborate flips and stunts, often referred to as tumbling in the cheerleading world, that leave me in a state of awe every time I watch her. I know for a fact that if I attempted any of these moves, I would severely hurt myself. Equally as impressive are the team aspects of cheer. In a short period, she progressed numerous levels regarding the specific skills she could perform thanks to the dedication on her part and some phenomenal coaches. The coordination, agility, and strength that it takes to perform difficult routines that combine stunts, flips and dance are incredible. Loud and annoying music aside, competitive cheerleading has to be one of the most difficult and demanding sports out there.
My wife and I try to support our daughter the best we can as she loves this sport with a passion. One day when I was traveling, my wife purchased a contraption called an air track. It is a tumbling mat that simulates a bouncing floor similar to what the girls cheer on at the gym and competitions. We have it in a shed outside where my daughter and her friends can set it up and practice anytime they want. Here is where the learning aspect comes into play. Routinely my daughter will set up her iPhone on the fence to record herself as she tumbles away. She then watches the video to self-critique her form and reflect on what can be done to improve. The best part is that she is doing this all on her own thanks to intrinsic motivation. On many occasions, she will then take the video clips to her coach for feedback.
As impressed as I am with my daughter on her use of video in support of learning and mastering cheer skills, I am equally impressed with her coach. During private lessons, he will use his iPad to video and then review my daughter’s technique and what she has to do to improve. At the end of the lesson, he will then come up to me and go through various video clips showing where she started during the session and where she eventually ended up focusing on growth. He does the same during team practice. Video, captured either through a smartphone or tablet, has become an essential coaching tool to assist the girls with learning their routine.
The above story lays out how video can effectively be utilized to support learning. Various research studies have revealed how video can serve as a highly effective learning tool (Allen & Smith, 2012; Kay, 2012; Lloyd & Robertson, 2012; Rackaway, 2012; Hsin & Cigas, 2013). Cynthia Brame from Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching looked at these and many other studies as they worked to outline the following elements to consider to ensure effective implementation.
Non-cognitive factors that impact engagement
Features that promote active learning
For more details on the three elements listed above, please check out the entire article. I want to focus on number three, as the goal of video shouldn’t just be consumption and knowledge acquisition, but transfer and application through active learning. Cynthia Brame shares this:
"To help students get the most out of an educational video, it’s essential to provide tools to help them process the information and to monitor their understanding. There are multiple ways to do this effectively such as guiding questions, using interactive features that give students control, and integrating questions into the video. The critical thing to keep in mind is that watching a video can be a passive experience, much as reading can be. To make the most of video, we need to help students do the processing and self-evaluation that will lead to the learning we want to see."
I couldn’t agree more with the synopsis above, which is also supported by a comprehensive research review conducted by the University of Queensland. Just showing a video in class doesn’t cut it and is dismissive of the potential it can have as an educational tool. For video to really impact learning and outcomes, active use should be the goal. What is even more important is how learners are empowered to use their own devices to capture video as a means to showcase what they have learned (see an example here from one of my former students), reflect, and set actionable goals for growth. When aligned with knowledge taxonomy ask yourself how video is being used by kids to apply, analyze, evaluate, and create.
In the case of my daughter, I can say without a doubt that she uses it to support her learning and growth in cheer. Imagine then the possibilities for learners in our classrooms.
Perfection is something many people chase after. Educators are no different, but more on this later. In sports, there are only defined scenarios when perfection can be achieved. A pitcher can deliver a perfect game if he or she gives up no hits or walks and the fielders commit no errors. In bowling, a 300-game consisting of all strikes is also a sign of perfection. Outside of sports, it becomes even harder to meet stringent criteria to achieve this. For those of us that are married, we all strive to provide our spouse with a “perfect” diamond. The closest you can get to this designation is a “D” color, which is often referred to as a flawless and has no visible imperfections at 10X magnification. As great as our intentions might be this can prove to way out of our budgets.
For the most part, perfection is a fallacy. It is based more on set opinions and perception as opposed to established criteria such as the examples I provided at the beginning of this post. The fact of the matter is in the context of education there is no perfect lesson, teacher, administrator, school, program, curriculum, district, or organization. If we constantly chase or strive for perfection, then more often than not disappointment will follow. This is not to say that we shouldn’t attempt to be our best for those who we serve, most notably our learners. However, trying to accomplish the impossible day in and day out is not only unrealistic but also not a wise use of time and resources.
You can be good or great, but both of these distinctions are really in the eye of the beholder. A mindset shift is in order that requires us all to reevaluate how we approach professional practice. It is as simple as it is effective. Chase growth, not perfection. By consistently reflecting on where we are steps can be made to grow in an effort to get to where we want, and our learners need us to be. Chasing growth is attainable and leads to daily rewards that are more intrinsically motivated than extrinsic. The fact of the matter is that there is and always be room for improvement no matter your role in education or how well your school achieves.
Don’t put immense pressure on yourself to be perfect. You don't have to be. Instead, we should continuously strive to be the best iteration of ourselves.