Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Creating and Sustaining Healthy School Culture

Recently, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Anthony Muhammad (@newfrontier21) speak to a group of about 400 educators from Stanislaus County.  Impressively he asked that everyone keep their electronic devices out during the day because “this was the 21st century.”  Uncharacteristically for me I decided to go low-tech and take pen and paper notes because I didn’t want to be self distracted from the conversation of the day.  Some of what follows is what I would have tweeted had I chose to.

The focus of the day was creating healthy school culture.  He preceded the conversation by setting the stage for change.  He asked the audience to explain to a neighbor why we got into education.  Unsurprisingly, yet still enlightening, was the common thread of ethical and moral reasons people shared.  He further emphasized the moral imperative for education by stating, “We don’t manufacture farm equipment; we don’t harvest crops; we don’t manufacture devices.  We develop lives.  When we don’t do something right we have collateral damage.”

Dr. Muhammad spoke to the “hard facts” involved in creating healthy school culture:

Hard Fact #1 - Human beings are complex
Working with people at a school site involves the skills from at least seven different disciplines such as anthropology, history, and political science.

Hard Fact #2 - You can’t hold people accountable for what you haven't made explicit
Be clear and specific with your expectations and then share those expectations with colleagues.  You will probably have to negotiate the expectations for reasonableness.

Hard Fact #3 - A highly frustrated staff is a highly unproductive staff
Dr. Muhammad explained that frustration is the root of a toxic culture.  Frustration can’t be entirely eliminate, but rather, it must be managed.

Hard Fact #4 - Being correct is no substitute for being effective
Far too often we fight to be right rather than fight to be effective.  He added, “Data is not condemnation, data is information.”  Far too often we ignore the data staring us in the face because we have a need to be correct.

I had some favorite quotes from the day that stand on their own:
“Improvement should be the inherent desire regardless of pressure”
“Change is the gateway to improvement”
“Culture eats structure for breakfast”
Invoking Dr. Martin Luther King, “What is the first thing that has to be done when the lights are turned off; acknowledge that the lights are turned off.”
“It doesn't take a great leader to identify proficiency”
“Support must precede accountability.  Support without accountability ends up as an entitlement.”
“Human beings will improve education”
“Adult drama equals a waste of talent and resources”
“You are hurting the lives of children when you focus on being a drama queen or a drama king.”
“It’s easy to look out a window and identify what is right and wrong; the difficulty is looking in the mirror and doing the same thing.”

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

5 Principal Commitments for the New Year

Google definition

As a new principal, I have plenty to be nervous about for this coming school year.  I learned early on in my musical career that nervous energy is powerful once you harness it and direct the energy in the right way.  Having a clear vision and plan is key to harnessing that energy.  Here are 5 commitments I am making to my school this coming school year.

  1. 900 Lessons - Based on Kim Marshall's article, I am committing to observing/visiting at least 900 different lessons/classrooms this year.  At 180 school days, that will be 5 lessons/classrooms a day.  It is the only way I will learn what is going on in the classrooms at my site and the only way I will observe what students are learning.

  2. 24 rule for new ideas - On my recent flight back from Washington, D.C., I caught Daniel Pink on the Jeff Probst show.   He presented the idea that you should wait 24 seconds before you to criticize any new idea.  Some of the best ideas are quickly shot down because they haven't been thought through. Committing to at least 24 seconds.

  3. PLC - We ask our teachers to collaborate with their colleagues, why shouldn't principals?  I commit to work and collaborate with other principals either through my PLN (twitter, Google+, etc.) or and with my fellow Salida principals regularly.   

  4. Healthy Lifestyle - If you've read here before, you know that I have lost quite a bit of weight over the last two years with still some more to go.  What it did for my life was extraordinary.  I commit to encouraging all kids (and adults if they want to join in) to be physically active for 30 minutes each day. Also part of this will be to encourage healthy eating habits whether it be through portion control or healthy choices.  Thankfully our school and district has an established history with healthy eating.  (UPDATE:  Thanks to John Patterson for the video link)

  5. Principal Practice - Teachers never have enough time to go see their colleagues teach.  Each week I will provide 30 minutes to a teacher to go see their colleagues teach while I dust of my teaching skills and do what I do best; teach music, to their class.  I plan on implementing the same strategies and practices that we will be asking the teachers to implement.  The teacher can go see a colleague or watch me and provide me with feedback.  The goal here is to promote conversations and collaboration about teaching practice.  Credit to my middle school colleague who inspired the idea.
What are you committing to this next year for your school site?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Now I get it! Twitter as a Learning Diversion

I recently mentioned Twitter as part of my Technology Hoard.  I said,
I will admit I have not figured out a way to use twitter on a day to day basis, yet.  When I am at a conference, it is indispensable.  I check it somewhat regularly and post my Nike+ running to it.  I see lots of potential, I just need to dwell on it more and find the place for it in my life.
Since I wrote that, I have been making a conscious effort to try and make it a part of my daily routine.  I participated in #caedchat this past Sunday and quickly was overwhelmed by the amount of tweets going on regarding paperless schools.  It took every ounce of concentration to keep up with the conversation let alone attempt to participate.  My main contribution was,
To be honest I was quite disappointed at the initial response (seemed like none).  Later that night I had 4 or 5 people favorite it and follow me.  My disappointment lessened and my interest was peaked.

Fast forward to today.  I had some conversations about my district's recent Chromebook purchases and subsequent pictures posted by me showing the goods.  Later in the morning, I posted the following to try and figure out how to manage something like #caedchat,

I almost gave up on Twitter it for the day, and then saw this gem from the wonderfully talented Diane Main,
I let her know how cool I thought her Vizify was and she responded back!  She made another tweet and I learned more about The Hardy-Weinberg Principle then I ever even knew existed (let alone THAT it existed).

I was about to go home and checked my feed one last time before shutting down the computer and saw some chatter about "some report" called the Horizon Report (Do yourself a favor and read this report, it is AWESOME).  I stuck around and over the next hour the Twitter epiphany hit me!  The  moderators did a great job involving everyone that seemed to be monitoring #NMCk12.  I felt good about staying up with the conversation and contributing in a meaningful way.  The end result was a diversion that ended up being a great learning experience on many levels!

Now I get it. Participate meaningfully and the meaningful interactions will come.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Confessions of a Technology Hoarder

I am a technology hoarder.  Not only do I hoard the physical stuff, but I also hoard the services, software, and tools of technology.  I imagine I am not alone in this 'affliction.'  In this summer of inventorying my life (health goals, "principalness"), technology services, software, and tools are my next target.

Hoarding 101
Hoarding is a serious condition and I mean no
disrespect with this article or the use of the picture

We have a finite amount of time and some things need to be taken off the plate in order to put other things on the plate.  I recognize that it is OK to let things go that aren't working for you or are working against you.  I also recognize that you can't do everything.

Here is the system I used to organize my technology hoard.  As they often do on the TV show, I have categorized items into virtual boxes to help me decide what to do with something with the qualifying criteria listed below.

Throw Away
Love it
Use it everyday
Time saver
So-so on it
Inconsistent/Occasional use
Not sure I need it
Time neutral
Don’t like it
Never use it
No use for me
Time waster


Lastpass - One of my favorite tools for security that I use everyday and would be dead in the water with out it.  All of my passwords for my technology hoard are unique and look similar to this; lZF*oK9bhpgy6klc.  I just remember my very long and "memorable to me" password and the rest is automatic.  It ends up being an inventory list of everything I use or have used on the web.  It is also a great place to securely store important documents such as SSN, birth certificates, and credit card numbers to name a few. 

Evernote - I hate paper and scan everything into Evernote to help me avoid it.  I read Jamie Todd Rubin's excellent blog about going paperless.  I also keep all of my personal notes, thoughts, and plans here.  Easily searchable across all of my devices.

Google - Google is a big entity and owns alot of internet property.  You need a seperate Google virtual hoard box to go through all of the products it offers.  My Keeps are Google+, Drive (Docs side of things), and Gmail.  Everything else is probably Sell/Dontate at this point.

Cloud Storage - As with the Google category, this one is deserving of its own virtual hoard box.  I have accounts with iCloudDropBox, Skydrive, Drive, and Box.  Far too many to keep straight and I have recently consolidated all my files on the Box account.  The primary reason I went with Box was storage; I have 50GB of storage for free on the Box account.  I have also started using Flickr again to store and share photos primarily because of the 1TB of storage for free.

UPDATE:  I wrote most of this on Sunday the 7th, however I just read Jamie Todd Rubin's outstanding post yesterday about his Paperless Cloud and will rethink my Box usage and may rethink Google Drive again.  I also use iTunes Match which has been fantastic for my music library.

Crashplan - Crashplan is a backup utility that allows you to automatically backup your system with unlimited storage.  I currently have over 300GB of files, pictures, and videos backed up in the cloud.  The cost of all of this is $60 a year and I consider this cheap insurance for all of my digital valuables.  The service is fast and reliable.  They also automate backup to an external drive so that you have a local backup of your files if your internet connection goes down.

Others - 7-zipNest, Roku, Pandora, Feedly, iOS (have 7 devices in the house but I don't use a Mac), Lifehacker


Microsoft Office - I love the new Office 2013 (local version, not cloud based).  However I am not sure I want to pay to own a personal copy when I can use Google Docs to accomplish 99% of the things I do with the suite.

TrueCrypt - The best on the fly encryption around.  It is also free.  Not for the faint of heart however.  If you encrypt a drive or a file with this and forget the password, you are toast.  I use it occasionally when I need to send or store something encrypted.

Twitter - I will admit I have not figured out a way to use twitter on a day to day basis, yet.  When I am at a conference, it is indispensable.  I check it somewhat regularly and post my Nike+ running to it.  I see lots of potential, I just need to dwell on it more and find the place for it in my life.

Facebook - Use it primarily to share personal stuff with family and friends.  I have debated whether to prune my friends list down to just those that I have an ongoing friendship and/or relationship with.  At this point, I have just decided to appropriately share items with the right people through lists.

Others - IFTTT, Skype

Throw Away

Instagram - have tried it, but just don't care for it and don't see the point.  My kids are surprised to see the app on my phone.  I haven't used it in probably 2 years.  I go to the default app most of the time and import into Camera+ if I want to do some cool effects on the picture.  This might be the case of me getting too old for the technology.

Pinterest - what I have seen I like.  It also appears to be a good way to share resources with others.  This is a "I can't do everything" throw away.

AppleTV - I test drove AppleTV for our district when we were considering teacher devices and was very impressed with the easy of use and the high integration with iOS devices.  Unfortunately, Apple doesn't seem to want to commit to the device and is slow to update or add content.  The Roku is more open and is a superior device in my opinion (but lacks device integration with iOS).

Prezi - I read and hear all the buzz about Prezi.  I am definitely impressed with the product and don't mean to say anything bad about it.  Unfortunately, I have tried and tried to create a presentation using it and always end up defaulting back to the standards (Powerpoint and/or Google Presentation).
Others - Animoto, World of Warcraft (total time sink and I should, but I won't), Foursquare, MindMeister, Path

Hoard sharing

Do you have anything in your hoard that are Keep, Sell/Donate, or Throw Away that you can share?  Do you have a compelling argument for/against any of the items I have written about?  Post below in the comments. 

Photo - Hoarding for Dummies, Wes Peck

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

910 Chromebooks

My district recently purchased 910 Chromebooks (26 class sets of 35) for students in third through eighth grade at our four schools.  This is a fundamental shift for the district in student use of technology.  Previously, we operated with a computer lab model where students came to the lab and worked on projects.  This shift to portable labs will allow students more contact time with technology and allow teachers to doing things differently.  The Chromebook provides a cost effective way to put more technology in the hands of students and allow them to create and collaborate.

Why Chromebooks?

At the end of the 2012-13 school year, we had a technology showcase to get the input from teachers regarding future purchases.  Technology was grouped into two categories; teacher devices and student devices.  We asked teachers to look at the devices through the lens of a few different guiding questions (you can look at the document here).  We asked the teachers to do a paper out the door ranking of the devices and followed up with a Google Forms survey (copy of survey).  The data was very informative,

(1-5 scale, 1-very little, 5-a lot)
Samsung Tablet
Used by students
Training of teachers
Change from teacher
Excited about this device

One factor was the ability of students to create with the devices.  While iPads are great devices for consuming, they are not ideal for creating.  The final factor was cost.  The Chromebook's cost ($249) combined with the free Google Apps for Education along with centralized management ($30) and free cloud storage make it a very cost effective solution.

We are also very excited about what our students will be able to do when they have the devices in their hands.  Having had a demo unit in our house since May, I can attest that it was the right device.  My middle daughter has adopted it as her computer and uses it extensively to write.  She loves it so much I am going to reimburse the district for the computer and let her have it.

Setup and training

While we have not received the devices yet, I will be researching resources to assist in the setup and will be posting my experience when that occurs.

If you have any thoughts, resources, or experiences to share, please do.  I certainly don't want to reinvent the wheel!

Photo:  Stock photo from Samsung website (here)