Recognize + Ignite = nclb

Of the 8.1 Million plus views*, I admit that I’ve watched the Susan Boyle video nearly ten times and have shown as many people as I can. It just speaks to a lesson we’ve all been taught since early elementary: never judge a book by its cover.

In fact, I had a hard time fighting back tears when I questioned how this wonderful talent could have gone unrecognized or untapped for so long. How many people laughed, snickered, and passed over this soul because of the way she looks and her eccentricity like the crowd seemingly did at the start? Obviously, I don’t know the reason but this moment struck a chord with me.

Today, I spent some time in a classroom with great students and another 30 minutes around our lobby today listening and talking to students. The whole time, I couldn’t help but hope that we continue recognizing the talents in all of our students and igniting their passions, hidden and known, for a lifetime of success.

Because to me, that is the essence of not leaving behind a child, that is the essence of education.

*as of April 15 at 7pm

What is Your Department Discussing and Doing

Cross Posted on Education Week Leader Talk.

While I often discuss systemic change and the need to break free from the complacency that is pockets of innovation, these talks perhaps fail to provide guidance on all levels instead usually focusing on the role of upper adminstration (oy! I dislike the sound of that). Thus, this is the first in a series of posts with secondary department heads/instructional supervisors/team leaders in mind.

Driving Questions

For the past two years, I’ve talked about the need to focus on the essential questions of what does it mean to be well-educated in the 21st Century and what does that mean for teaching and learning. While the discussions and ideas that come from these discussions provide a foundation and vision for schools, these broad items leave much room for interpretation.

In many ways, this is a great thing BUT departments must also engage in specific questions focused on their content:

  1. How do we best approach (content) in the 21st Century?
  2. How does our (content) curriculum align to create learning opportunities for the creating well-educated 21st Century citizens?
  3. How are our (content) instructional methodologies fostering the development of well-educated 21st Century citizens?
  4. What pedagogical shifts should be explored to best align with student learning and achievement in the 21st Century?
  5. What assessment strategies will best address the 21st Century student profile?


In much the same way that the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Apple Classroom of Tomorrow – Today, ISTE’s NETSKnowledge Works, Core Knowledge (a bit of balance), Horizon Report, National and State Standards, MIT New Media Literacies, Connectivism, School 2.0 and many others serve as foundational readings on the district and whole school level discussions, the national content association for teachers offer position statements that can serve to frame the discussion.

Here are the position statements released by some content areas:

National Council of Teachers of English

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

National Science Teachers Association

National Council of Social Studies

National Association for Sport and Physical Education

Begin. Focus. Develop. Act!

While I would argue that these conversations should be at the heart of departments all the time, the reality is that may be easier said than done. But, now is the time to begin: late arrivals, department meetings, team time, etc. But, focus these conversations on teaching and learning. Yes, debates are going to happen. Yes, not everyone will agree. The key is to honor all points as adding to the direction of the department.

However, discussion is not enough unless it leads to the development of an action plan. In fact, I would recommend that the discussion moves towards the creation of a department position statement using the aforementioned questions.  Regardless, strive to move the discussion towards action items not just academic exercises.

Most importantly, act! Don’t just create your action plan, position statement, and binder documents (love those! created those!) for dust gathering purposes. As you create action items, move on them.

Moments in Time well… stink

This isn’t something that can happen overnight nor is there a checklist or template to complete. It is actually time t0 engage and lead your tribe as an instructional leader. Remember, we must guide, listen, push/pull, adopt/adapt, and change. We must value creativity, innovation, play, risks, and disagreements. We must understand chaos, fear, and professionalism. We must see this as a start with no true end but a natural part of what we do – evolve!

Fear and Stupidity

I just finished Seth Godin’s Tribes and while there is a lot to discuss in terms of leadership and change, two ideas stuck with me upon closing the book: fear and stupidity.


For some reason, fear is ingrained in the culture of schools today: teachers, administrators, and students. Students have learned to play the academic game and fear taking academic risks. Teachers see status quo as a state of comfort and fear change. Administrators seek perfection at the expense of movement and fear what they don’t understand and can’t control.

Is it really any wonder why education is in its current state?

But that is just it. As Godin (2008) says, “the levers are here. The proof is here. The power is here. The only thing holding you back is your own fear. Not easy to admit, but essential to understand” (p. 44). And that is just it. We know what needs to happen. We have the research. We have the means. So, why aren’t we?


The why aren’t we is something I continue to struggle with as I read book after book, research report after research report on what needs to happen. If it is so clear and so obvious, I just struggle (and no, it isn’t my “it needs to happen yesterday personality”).

But I think Godin has painted a clear picture for me. Education is just stuck, stuck on stupid:

When the world changes, the rules change. And if you insist on playing today’s games by yesterday’s rules, you’re stuck. Stuck with a stupid strategy. Because the world has changed. Some organizations are stuck. Others move quickly. In a changing world, who’s having more fun? (p. 111)

While fun is great, let me alter this a bit: Some schools are stuck. Others are evolving. In the 21st Century, who is better preparing students for the world of today and tomorrow?

Better yet, which one is your school: stuck in stupid or rooted in innovation?


Godin, Seth. Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. Ottawa: Portfolio Hardcover, 2008.

Image by daveelmore

[Tags] innovation, sethgodin, leadership, change, organizationaltheory [/Tags]

Total Cost of Ownership 2.0

Cross posted at Techlearning

You’ve reached a point where the web 2.0 tools are beginning to reach a systemic level in your school.  More and more teachers are shifting to technoconstructivists and have transformed their classes into student-centered learning communities that no longer function as one-room school houses. The school culture is becoming more collaborative and innovative.  There is great excitement at the possibilities but then the bottom falls out. One by one, the free web 2.0 tools that this entire movement is based upon start to charge and no one accounted for funding because web 2.0 equals free.

Okay, this is quite an exaggeration (on all levels) but free and web 2.0 may be heading down a path where they are no longer synonymous with each other as seen with the recent move by Gcast and the rumors of Twitter. For schools, it is causing us to really consider web 2.0 within the framework of Total Cost of Ownership, a vital part of fiscal management for schools in order to fully assess the full cost of an investment.

Total Cost of Ownership 2.0 Questions

  1. Is the tool valuable enough to student achievement to allocate funds to it?
  2. Is the tool valuable enough to adult learning to allocate funds to it
  3. If the tool is being promoted systemically, can your school secure funding for an annual subscription for the tool?
  4. Have you considered open source alternatives (ex. instead of Ning)?
  5. Depending on the companies contractual commitment to data storage and security, what in-house data storage and transfer plans are in place in case the company closes its doors?
  6. What funds are allocated for professional development given the possibility that a paid tool may mean less resources available online?

By no means is this meant to discourage the use of web 2.0 tools nor do I have any inside knowledge about specific companies and their tools. However, one needs only to look at the current economy combined with the business models driving many of these web 2.0 companies to see the potential for a perfect storm.

Because of that, the responsibility of sustained tech infusion is on those attempting to bring the philosophy and tools of web 2.0 to schools, which means it is time to link Total Cost of Ownership with our advancement of the philosophy and tools of Web 2.0.


For most of my youth, I heard about this annoying characteristic that I possessed: curiosity. When I was younger, it was “Ryan, curiosity killed the cat”. As I got older, it was “Ryan, I’m calling your parents” or “Ryan, go to the office”.

See, there was something about curiosity that didn’t sit well with classroom management plans and structured lesson plans.

I’m not special. This surely happened to many others and sadly happens today in schools around the globe. I was just lucky that I couldn’t focus long enough on their frustrations to change.

Today, this concerns me not only for students but adults, too. It concerns me on an organizational level.

How do schools view curiosity organizationally: a hindrance or an advantage? Do we become annoyed by those that seek new paths, show excitement with challenges, push others to explore, and cause immense chaos?

True leaders foster a culture that values natural curiosity because we understand that by openly embracing genius and curiosity, we’ll finds paths previously unseen and even imagined.

‘curiosity’ from Nic Askew on Vimeo.

Image by drp

[Tags] leadership, curiosity, chaos [/Tags]

National Educational Standards for Administrators Refresh

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is in the midst of refreshing the National Educational Standards for Administrators (NETS*A) in much the same way they did last year with the National Educational Standards for Teachers (NETS*T).

The recent draft (.pdf) being review offers the following key strands:

  1. Visionary Leadership. Inspire and lead development and implementation of a shared vision for comprehensive integration of technology to promote excellence and support transformation throughout the organization.
  2. Digital Age Learning Culture. Create and sustain a dynamic, digital-age learning culture that provides a rigorous, relevant education for all students.
  3. Excellence in Professional Practice. Promote an environment of professional learning and innovation that empowers educators to enhance student learning through the infusion of contemporary technologies and digital resources.
  4. Systemic Transformation. Provide leadership and management to continuously improve the organization through the effective use of information and technology resources.
  5. Digital Citizenship. Model and facilitate understanding of social, ethical and legal issues and responsibilities related to an evolving digital culture.

All five offer much to the idea of a 21st Century leader and I’m excited to see Systemic Transformation as its own strand — too often, our satisfaction with pockets of innovation or our lack of focus on the next level (teacher thinking department, department thinking school, building admin thinking district, etc) holds us back from meaningful change.

Whether you are a teacher or administrator, your feedback on these standards will help to shape what I hope will guide professional development and expectations for school leaders.

I do hope more schools will begin to utilize these standards with students, teachers, and administrators. In fact, I wonder how many schools know of these standards and have incorporated these in the classroom, in teacher evaluation, and in administrator reviews.

[Tags] ISTE, NETSA, administration [/Tags]

This Talk About What Conferences Are/Need to Be

Jeff Utecht and David Warlick are talking a bit on their blogs today about the whole notion of conferences. While I really like Jeff’s idea that his learning needs to be social and David’s idea of growing knowledge not just sharing, it seems we too often come at these from our personal pespectives, ones that have MANY conferences under our belts and quite a foundation thanks in part to a powerful network.

So, while I still say just go fishing to many of these discussion, I couldn’t help jump in here a bit with two points to ponder:

1.  Maybe some of us need to take a Trip down Memory Lane

Do you remember your first time attending a major conference? I do! It was NCTE in 2000 and I was simply blown away: the speakers, the sessions, the tote bags, the give aways, the vendors, and the star struck feeling when I saw the rock stars of English Education! Although I attended many conferences from that point, I didn’t feel the same level of excitement until the Effective Schools Conference in 2003 when again my mind was bent in ways I hadn’t experienced. Again, more conferences from that point with much the same until the T^3 Conference in 2006 where math and science teachers broke me down. You get the picture, right?

For some of us, attending conferences is a part of our weekly routine. We are always attending so of course we are reaching for something more especially when they are the same surface level type conferences. However, what if you, those that are longing for something more, attended TED? Would the same excitement return? Something tells me it would.

2. Everyday is a Conference when you Network Effectively

This next line isn’t meant to be arrogant but a simple reality: ed tech conferences offer some but not a lot to me in terms of formal learning: sessions, workshops, panels, etc. I’m willing to bet the same holds true for most in my digital network. Why?  The great minds and ideas that lead these conferences are being shared daily, being enhanced daily, and being rethought daily within the network I roam. Thus, the ideas that are being shared at the conferences are already actively explored as a community to a great degree before the conference happens making the actual conference seem surface level.

What does this mean for those of us in this regard? Let me throw out three ideas: 1. challenge conferences to create learning opportunities for all but remember the minority is not who they are striving to reach 2. Go Fishing 3.  and the one I’m most serious about, LISTEN! I can’t tell you how much I learned at the last conference when I stopped the formal learning, stopped talking to those I knew, and started talking to teachers and administrators that weren’t part of my network.

Maybe it is Just Me

I plan on attending as many national conferences of specific subjects as possible this year in hopes of bending and stretching me so that I can better serve all content areas in my school. It seems to me that I will be 100% engage in the conference because these are outside of my comfort zone. However, I’m sure there will be a percentage that have attended a number of these and find themselves wishing for something more or making it more of a social trip.

All of this speaks to the goofy echo chamber and maybe, just maybe, speaking as the loud minority.  How many people attend conferences and love the whole experience? How many find these to be excellent learning opportunities? I would say it is a large percent because they don’t have the luxury of frequent conferences and they haven’t leveraged a digital network on a sustained level.

Morning Fishing Group Image by Tonto & TLL

Marzano's Sweet Spot

Dr. Marzano’s 2009 CUE Keynote, “What do we know about the effects of technology on student achievement”, spends a considerable amount of time breaking down the research on IWB and student achievement. While he is sure to point out that all research is equivocal especially in education where no one can account for all the factors impacting the classroom, IWB do enhance student achievement (Marzano).

However, these findings only remain when the The SWEET SPOT is reached with an experience teacher

  1. who has two years experience with the tech
  2. who spends 75% of class time using the tech
  3. who has attended enough professional development (PD) to feel confident in using the tech (Marzano).

I would hypothesize this Sweet Spot is true for almost any technology and this raise some interesting questions

New Teachers and Technology

How much “new” technology should be introduced to new teachers? Now, I don’t want to read too much into Marzano’s thoughts but….  As Marzano states,  “tech can be a bit of a distraction when we forget about good instruction and the focus becomes the technology” and this is where we need to reflect on the amount of technology introduced to new teachers. By no means do I believe new teachers should not merge their growth in methodology with the use of technology, I simply am pondering how much is too much.

The teachers I’ve seen use technology the best have a great understanding of pedagogy both in theory and practice. It is the rare new teacher that enters with that background, so the question remains to what degree do we bring technology to our new teachers. Thus, I think we should ponder deeply Marzano’s following statement: “Weaker teachers require PD in effective teaching and proper use of technology” with proper use being on content not the bells and whistles.

Today We are Doing Technology

Are we working with teachers on the flash in the pan use of technology or changing/enhancing their instructional practices? In other words, if teachers need to spend 75% of class time immersed in the technology like IWB for it to make a difference, how are we working with teachers to sustain this beyond just a moment in time, the moment where we get to “do technology”. Yes, there is room for the projects and the “cool” uses of technology but I always try to remember the bigger picture, which is helping teachers to recognize how they can shift their practices.

Are we working with teachers over an extended period of time or just get you started professional development? As Marzano states, the more experience teachers have with the technology the better chance it has in increasing student achievement. If it takes two years with the technology to reach the sweet spot, professional development goes way beyond the introductory sessions dominating too much PD. It takes intensive, on-going learning and support.

Not only that, it takes ubiquitous access to technology if it is going to make a difference in student achievement. We must reach a point where we are putting technology into the hands of the teachers and students every day, all day. Learning shouldn’t be tethered to a certain spot in the building or a certain checkout schedule. Isn’t it time we start thinking about technology in the classroom NOT in labs or other designated “tech” spots in the building?

Ye Olde Professional Development

Marazano’s final point for the Sweet Spot is that the teacher has participated in enough professional development to feel comfortable with the technology. How are we designing our professional development programs to move teachers towards comfort levels? With new technologies and tools popping up daily, it is easy to get tied to breadth not depth but we can’t forget that “you can’t just give technology to teachers and expect it to automatically enhance student achievement” (Marzano). If the Sweet Spot is accurate and applies to many technologies, we are doing little for student achievement when we approach educational technology in this way.

The more I ponder technology in schools, the more I come back to leadership, powerful professional learning, culture of innovation, and access. It is time we as leaders model, empower, foster, and provide if we really believe in technology as education not technology in education.

[Tags] marzano, cue09, professionaldevelopment, newteachers, iwb [/Tags]

Earth Hour 2009: Flipping the Switch

On March 28th at 8:30 pm I am Flipping the Switch as part of a global community united for a global concern:

December 2009 world leaders meet in Copenhagen to agree on a post-Kyoto policy for tackling climate change. One billion people voting with their light switch during Earth Hour will create a powerful mandate for our leaders to take strong and decisive action on climate change in Copenhagen.

I hope those that are reading this will take this opportunity with family and friends to unite around a common challenge.

Be sure to visit Earth Hour to see a wealth of resources, connections, and networks.

[Tags] earthhour, globalawareness, globalcommunity, voteearth [/Tags]

Think Before You Tweet

It seems we in secondary education focus so much on students and their digital footprint when maybe we should put equal weight into educating our adult population about their digital footprint.

A case in point is Twitter and the amount of adults publicly stating “I hate my job”.

Think before you tweet! Just a thought for the day -
Thanks to Chris Anderson, @TEDchris, for the tweet about this.