Sunday, October 28, 2012

Web 2.0 - Do not fear the synthesizers

If our students are to be successful in the 21st century, we, as educators, must model what it means to think critically in the 21st century. This starts with modeling synthesizing information, a modern day form of "separating the wheat from the chaff." 

Recently, I was able to catch up with a fellow colleague who is also an assistant principal in another school in the same school district where I have the privilege to serve. My colleague asked me questions about twitter and a few other social networking mediums. I was excited to share my views and opinions on some tools of technology I believe are very valuable and the potential I see that these tools can assist in the learning process. I was asked what the advantage was of twitter specifically, and my answer was simple: Learning. A more elaborate response would be that I see the enormous amount of learning that can stem from the over abundance of information streaming from tweets from the followers one chooses to follow. The sky is the limit. Twitter can be one's source of news, information, data, stats, records, current events, past events, social events, intellectual discussions, questions, answers to questions, social conversations, and so much more. The power of twitter is not new and I do not pretend to think that twitter is the "end all, be all" of social networking. It will eventually be replaced by another more valuable tool, I am sure. What I want to point out is the reaction of my colleague. Like so many others out there, there is a fear of these tools. My colleague turned to me after I shared the enormous potential of receiving information in a constant stream from a tool like twitter and said, "oh my goodness, that is too much! I cannot do something like that. That is just way too much information. I like things simple. I think it is just too complex." 

I could not disagree more. You see, ones who have embraced the power of Web 2.0 tools of technology and social networking tools are not trying to collect ALL information. These users have come to understand the power of synthesizing information. There is no question that I cannot take in all of the information that I currently have coming to me through Web 2.0 tools such as Google Alerts, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, blogs, etc. However, what I have come to embrace is the power to synthesize. Digital literate citizens in today's 21st century understand the information that IS and IS NOT needed. That is what it means to synthesize. This is a skill that our students need today and it is imperative that we, as educators, model this for all of our students. 

In a more formal sense: What does this look like? What does it mean to synthesize? In order to capture this idea... I have borrowed from the West Virginia Department of Education:

Synthesizing Information

Synthesizing information is closely connected to determining importance. As Ellin Keene and Susan Zimmermann say in Mosaic of Thought, "Synthesis is about organizing the different pieces to create a mosaic, a meaning, a beauty greater than the sum of each shiny piece." A synthesis occurs as a reader summarizes what has happened and gives it personal meaning.

What do you think? Is this a skill that needs to be taught and modeled by educators today now that we have Web 2.0 tools such as social networking and stream of information like twitter, etc. ???

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pneumonia, Leadership, Oxygen masks, and a Mea Culpa

I recently was diagnosed with pneumonia. I must give the plea of "mea Culpa" here. You see, in the world of leadership, it is clear if one does not take care of oneself, then one cannot take care of others. The late Stephen Covey eloquently described this as intrapersonal leadership. This is the idea that in order to lead others, one must be willing to lead himself or herself.  I must confess, I have set out to take care of others so much so that I have neglected my own body. After consecutive weeks of 60+ hours of work as a school leader, time set aside to work on a doctoral dissertation, time set aside to be a dad and a husband, I have had very little time to take of myself. I really have no excuses here. I know what I need to do but, I must confess that I have an addiction to please others and stretch myself too thin in the process. I even know practical strategies such as what Dave Crenshaw, time management guru, has discovered that most time over 40 hours a week spent at work is actually "unproductive" time. Because I know some of these strategies and some of this knowledge already... Hence my "mea Culpa."

What has happened is the exact opposite of what I intended. Instead of taking care of others, I am now sidelined and forced to take care of myself with the doctor's orders to rest and not work. You see, I believe we all make this mistake at one time or another. We set out to take care of others and what happens in turn (if we do not care for our own wellbeing) is that we CANNOT EVEN TAKE CARE OF ANYONE ELSE until we are well. Again, Stephen Covey has shed light onto this conundrum. It is worth taking a closer look. If you consider yourself a leader or an influencer, you must shoot for a win/win. You must win with your own health so you can continue to stay in the game and help others instead of being sidelined to rest and recover due to illness. Where did I found myself after the neglect of my own personal well being? I found myself not helping others at work because I was sidelined.... A lose. I found myself not being my best for my wife and my child because I had to medicate and rest... A lose for my family in some regard.

Ultimately, I was trying too hard to place the oxygen mask on the face of others in order to be the hero and helper.  The neglect of leading myself started to affect me in terms of "suffocation" in the form of illness as a result of neglect for my own body. As I reflect, I need to plan on taking care my own health and well being: spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and physically if I am going to truly take care of others, truly going to lead, to influence.

What do you think? What do you need to change in order to more effectively lead and influence others?

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Uber-focus on Data: Good or Bad?

After attending my state's first day of our annual School Leadership conference, I came away pounded with one word: DATA. In fact, during day one of this three-day conference where school leaders from all 96 counties across the state gathered, I tweeted the following:

"By far, the overwhelming focus at 's conf. is and - closing gaps b/t stud. pops. "

My state department of Education obliged with a response of their own:

"TN Dept of Education@TNedu2h  That's what it's all about! Proven strategies that help educators reach the hard-to-reach groups. It can be done. "

Now, here are a few further observations of mine:

I am glad the State Department of Education replied back to me on twitter. I am excited we have a twitter account, for starters! The State department should be commended.

I also need to point out that I am not against data, data talks, data walls, and/or data summaries, reports, etc. (a major focus of the three sessions on day one of the conference). However, I do have a few issues with the over-emphasis on data. You see, if the data we are looking at is from an irrelevant source, then I am against it. And, yes... you guessed it, I believe our current source of data is way off-base.

For example, here is the data source I think is off-base: (the SOLE focus of the conference I attended)

1. Standardized test scores which are one snapshot of an individual. I believe these assessments do not reveal critical/higher order thinking. The scores/data from these assessments do not reveal a student's character, creativity, or determination.

On the contrary, here are four data sources I believe are worthwhile:

1) Graduation Rates as these data point toward the human trait to "win" and persist through challenges. After all, Sigmund Freud once said, "man's innate need to survive has transitioned into his need to win."
2. The use and implementation of technology as it is the tool our students need to master in order to be effective workers. Data should be collected on technology integration and the mastery of these tools.
3. Student engagement through surveys suggested through the likes of Philip Schlechty.
4. Career inventories which solicit student voice and their own desires for what each student wants to make of himself or herself. Assessments such as the Kuder Career Inventory which accompanies the ACT's Explore Test is one such tool.
5. Student behaviors, Creativity/Innovation, and Literacy are three more data sources I believe are much more important when compared to standardized tests.

What are your thoughts? Are standardized tests the only source of data we should look at or do believe there are much better sources out there to gauge student learning today?