Fact vs. Fiction

Please check out this post at The Pulse by Pete Reilly–The Facts About Online Sex Abuse and Schools. Mr. Reilly effectively dispells the hype in the media and effectively shows the truth about online abuse. Unfortunately, there are too many people in leadership positions both in schools and in government that hear the very few cases of abuse and make decisions based on those stories sensationalized in the media.

That’s why Mr. Reilly’s story hits home. Please read it. It’s relevant to the discussion taking place in G-Town right now and strongly supports our case going before the School Board this Wednesday night. Again, Chris Lehmann’s words echo in my head,

 “The fear of what could go wrong can’t stop me from doing what’s right.”

Chris–that may seriously be the quote of the century for me. I’m living by it. Thank you.

Educating Trumps Blocking

We’ve been blocking Google from our school computers because of the image search portion of the engine. This has made teachers insane because they can’t search for anything without being screen-doored. One of our elementary teachers couldn’t even search for a picture of a dove to supplement a reading activity today. Our students don’t even try to look for anything while at school if they’ve got access to a computer at home. One of our seniors, Nick, reported at the technology committee meeting that students who only used the school computers produced substandard projects for English class because their search for advertisements was so limited.

Enter the alternative to blocking everything—education. Stop filtering everything, teach kids how and where they can go on-line while in school, and give consequences to the 2% who make a mistake. Our students are supervised at all times in school, so add software that allows the study hall teaching assistant to monitor all computers from his desktop. Talk to teachers and students about appropriate use. Remind parents in the district newsletter about our acceptable use policy and explain our philosophy about educating our students rather than prohibiting them.

I think they call this common sense. Wise use of our computer investment. Using our resources to educate our young people. Preparing a response through consequences for those few students who get past the filtering of salacious content. Talk about our plan.

And yes indeed folks, that’s just what our technology committee, including Superintendent Rinaldi, decided to do today.  Teachers and students of G-Town prepare to get back out there, investigate, discover and LEARN.

Thank goodness I work in G-Town where learning comes first, where students are respected, trusted, and held accountable. Thank goodness we’re not fashioning little lockers outside of our school where students must leave their connections locked up. I’d rather we help them make good connections right inside our door.

It Never Hurts to Ask

Our district technology committee met today after school to talk about how to spend the rest of this year’s money and to work on next year’s plan. In the course of the discussion, I was able to advocate for additional computer lab space. Our teacher on the committee, Sharon H., helped support the request.

Currently in our 9-12 building, we have one MacLab and one lab on a cart that few seem to like. As much as I’ve encouraged our teachers to move forward with technology, I also know that they jockey for this one lab and struggle with issues including speed and screen doors.  Ideally, we would add an additional lab for teachers to use with their classes and one that’s open all day for students to use from study halls. We managed to formulate a plan to add significant numbers of computers to our library, where we have plenty of space and a need to more toward Library 2.0. Our technology coordinator, Doug Pine, just makes it happen.

In the future, I’d love to create an additional lab in what’s currently our Senior Lounge. Love the idea of an area for our Seniors only as we’ve created it, but have to admit I’d trade it in a heartbeat for an additional computer lab. There was excellent support from the committee, including our superintendent.

What if I’d just assumed it was asking too much? Once again, my belief that it never hurts to ask is confirmed.  It’s my job to listen to the teachers and students in our building and then evaluate how we can make it better.  I’m glad that our superintendent and the committee listened to a  reasonable argument for an expenditure that can significantly impact student learning.

It’s certainly prudent to never accept what “is” without questioning “but how can it be better?” Good thing that’s my strong suit.

Free, Equal Access to Excellence in Public Education

I’m not sure how I missed it, but I’m very glad I caught Will Richardson’s post from early November. Will writes a letter to his two children about a future college education and in it he says,

For most of your young lives, you’ve heard your mom and I occasionally talk about your futures by saying that someday you’ll travel off to college and get this thing called a degree that will show everyone that you are an expert in something and that will lead you to getting a good job that will make you happy and make you able to raise a family of your own someday. At least, that’s what your mom and I have in our heads when we talk about it. But, and I haven’t told your mom this yet, I’ve changed my mind. I want you to know that you don’t have to go to college if you don’t want to, and that there are other avenues to achieving that future that may be more instructive, more meaningful, and more relevant than getting a degree.

One of the reasons I love to read Will’s posts, is that he is constantly and deliberately challenging my thinking about education and about learning. That’s very good for me and works well, because I truly want to have the best school we can have for all kids.  A huge part of that means I have to think about how we do business now and consider how it’s working and how it’s not. Also, how can we do it better?

The comments that ensued in response to Will’s post are interesting. Dean Shareski comments,

I keep telling everyone that in 3 years many of our students will choose not to attend high school. They’ll instead find a way to “play school”, get their diploma and pursue other interests. My question lately to teachers/administrators is “What will your school offer students that will make the choose to come?”
What you are describing to your kids is they have a choice about how they’ll learn. As Karl said previously, they won’t have to wait till college to make this decision.

I think about the changing landscape of education, as Dean does, and I realize we have to really think about re-inventing ourselves. But my passion lies in re-inventing public schools for all children. I can’t possibly support the idea that was threaded through some of the comments Will received that challenged him to consider an alternative to public education for his children now. While I understand and support the families who consider this option, there are far more children who don’t have this option. For whom public school has to be the best option, not their only option.

Let’s please keep this conversation focused on change for all children. For many children in this country, public educators have to be their strongest advocate because they haven’t got anyone else.

I Can’t Drive 55

If by some odd chance you’re reading me and you’re not reading Will Richardson at weblogg-ed, you’re missing the writing that most challenges me to do more, to move faster, to make a bigger difference. In this latest post, Will talks about the change that’s necessary,

We go back and forth in this community about whether teachers who use blogs should blog, or podcast or read RSS feeds. I’ve always hesitated to come down on one side or the other in that debate for a variety of reasons. But it’s become clear to me that the answer has to be yes. If you are an educator, I think you have little choice but to choose option 3 in the Marco Torres mantra: “You can complain, quit or innovate.” I know in many ways it stinks to have to be an educator at a moment in history when things are changing on a glacial scale. But what you signed up for is preparing kids for their futures. You have little choice but to deal.

Why won’t our kids be as well served if we don’t change ourselves? I mean we’re all products of the system, right? We all did ok. Things were changing when we went through school, right? Um, no. Not like this.

I don’t think it stinks to be an educator at this time. I think it’s the most empowering, exciting and energizing place we could possibly be for anyone who wants to make a real difference for kids, to do something important, to change for the better. Will Richardson keeps me from ever becoming complacent and that’s needed for all of us to keep moving forward.

Even if we’re racing, we’ll never go fast enough to keep up with the Web. In this race, some are home watching, some are buying tickets and showing up, and others are on the track. (Yeah, yeah, some don’t even know there’s a race on.) Me? I’d like to be on the track in an AC Cobra, with a 427 side-oiler–that ought to get G-Town there. Honestly though, I’m just moving up from the cheap seats. You’re driving now Will, but you won’t have to stay in the driver’s seat forever, we’ll get there.

Renovate or rebuild?

Do you ever imagine your ideal high school? I do. I spend a lot of time thinking about the future of education and how dramatically learning will shift in the next 10 years. I wonder if public high schools will shift to mirror the learning shift. I wonder if we’ll plan the changes we need in public education quickly enough. I suspect we’ll fall short.

While I’m getting my head around School 2.0, I can’t even begin to grasp how to shift the system I’m currently working in to one so dramatically different. I have this circular conversation with myself where I end up thinking I would need to start from scratch and start a whole new school. Sort of the retail philosophy of finding it easier to tear down an existing store and build a brand new one on the same location, rather than trying to renovate the old one.

Except I love the old store. I really want to renovate it, to transform it into a center for learning that utilizes all of the technologies that are available. I have the big picture. It’s the details I struggle with, like budget and resources, like moving people forward who may be very happy with the current system.

I worry that the enormity of the task will make it too overwhelming to tackle and nothing will happen. Learning is changing every second of every day, with information so readily available that just like on-line shoppers have lessened retail business, on-line learning will lessen our vital spot in the community. If we hope to be the center of learning, if we hope to keep people coming to our “store”, we better make sure we’re the best shop in town. 

You’ve got 30 minutes to explain

I was sitting at my son’s hockey practice today with a terrific gentleman who I’ve known for several years talking about our kids. He’s of a slightly older generation than I am, yet he’s very clear minded about technology and also very practical.

As we were talking about the kids, he said he always leaves the newspaper open to the editorials and asks the kids to read at least that part every day. He feels that’s the most important part of the newspaper. I had been describing blogging to him and realized that this was a great way to get my point across.

My blog is my own editorial page. Only better. When I read the newspaper, I can’t respond to the writers, at least not instantly. This way people can read my post and share their response immediately. I can do the same, accessing information I would never be able to consume in print. At least not in a timely manner. 

I’m planning a presentation to our board of education and I have been struggling with how to succinctly describe the blogging experience. Now I know I can use this example.

Can anyone think of similar explanations that they’ve used? I hope to go with a couple of teachers and students who are giving it a go. I’m planning to show the BOE members what we’re doing, but worry that someone will leave still wondering why. I’m hopeful that hearing from our students and teachers will make it clear, but am conscious of the time constraints. We’ll probably have about 15-30 minutes. Any suggestions, friends?

Teachers giving it a go in G-Town

Two teachers in G-Town are giving blogs a try in the classroom. Crystal is using a classroom blog to post questions for students in her college level computing fundamentals course. I can see her students struggling to move beyond the level of commication they’re accustomed to on IM and myspace. Crystal remains dedicated to the content and is helping her students move over to a new technology, a new way to communicate, and at the same time, learning about her content through a connective tool. Crystal is an innovator, the kind of teacher who hears about a good idea, thinks it through and implements about five minutes later. We need more teachers like her.

Steven is using blogs in his English 12 class to post assignments on the “mother blog” to which students respond in posts on their own blogs. This has been interesting as students tackle content while linking to websites and then responding in writing. The writing remains the part of the task that many dislike. I’m anxious to see what happens when Steve moves over to allowing students to post on their blogs about content that’s exciting to them. He is one of our most creative educators so I’m sure his students will produce some terrific content. I’m looking forward to the day when students start to receive comments to their posts.

And as both teachers and the students they touch move forward, they routinely handle the “techie” stuff that comes up, no big deal. I’m glad they’re in G-Town, moving us forward.

Who’s going to own the responsibility of technology integration?

After a long weekend, I thought I would sign on tonight and just read through everything on my Bloglines. No time to write, just read what everyone else is thinking about as school begins. And of course there was a Will Richardson post on Weblogg-ed.com that got me thinking and then responding.

Will writes about technology integration, “I agree that there is a de facto irrelevance (whether we say we see the need for technology or not) if the people in leadership positions aren’t walking the walk and using technology as a part of their practice. I think of Tim Lauer and Tim Tyson who lead by example, and how rare that is when it comes to technology in schools. But is that only going to be solved when new, younger, technology facile leaders emerge?”

As one of those school leaders, I’m trying to walk the walk. I’m learning as I go and trying to stay relevant and in tune with everything new. I’m frustrated by spam,time constraints on my own ability to manage blogging, and by my inexperience with a lot of the techie “stuff”. I can’t even get the stinking link tool that Will showed me to work so that I can link his name to his site. But I’m trying, I’m out there, and I’m working at it.

This is much the same way as when I tried new strategies and worked at my teaching, experimenting with new ideas to determine if they engaged my students and helped them to own content. My “leaders” didn’t necessarily model it, they didn’t try it first, they may not have even heard about it. What did they do? My principals and superintendent supported me in my efforts. They trusted me to work hard, to have the best interest of my students at heart, to do my best and to get good results. They provided me with professional growth opportunities, listened to my ideas, and told me to “go for it“.

That’s the role of principals as leaders in technology integration too. If teachers want to try something, if they learn of a new idea, if they want to blog with their students, whatever, they darn sure better not sit around and wait for a leader to model it. That’s a cop out. If teachers have good ideas and work hard and have the best interest of their students at heart, their principals will most likely support them. Teachers need to step up and take the initiative and own the responsibility of technology integration.

It’s much easier for teachers to get support for a good idea from a principal than for a principal to move a building of teachers. Guess what else? Other teachers will be much more likely to follow the lead of the best teachers than to follow the directive of a principal. Teachers need to lead by example and principals need to support good ideas, get out of the way, and watch them work. And yeah, we need to keep learning and growing and leading too. It takes both to make it work. But hey, I’ve never been very good at waiting around for anyone else to take the responsibility for my growth. That’s my responsibility. 

Let’s just ignore the whole technology gig.

So I stopped in at one of Will Richardson’s sessions with teachers this morning and I was trying to imagine what those who were quiet were thinking. I imagine some were thinking there’s no way I’m ever going to use this in the classroom, it’s too much work without enough benefit. I imagine others were thinking this is really cool and wondering how to apply it to the teaching of Math. And some were probably wondering what’s for lunch. 

This led me to think about what I might say to teachers about giving it a go. The issue of teacher liability was being discussed and I heard a very cautious warning issued from one of the teachers. And believe it or not, this led me to think about sex. 

Now that I have your attention, and lest you think I’ve decided to vary from the usual content on this site, let me explain. I have a 14-year-old son who went through Project Know a year or two ago. So as any mom may do, I tried to talk to him about what he was learning and I got NOTHING in response. I finally said, “Look, I don’t want you learning about sex from Jacob and Cleo and Damen (his buddies). If you have questions, I want you to ask me, so I can give you good information that you can rely on AND we can talk about the implications.” 

That’s the same conversation we need to have with students about using the web appropriately and we’re NOT doing it. We’re ignoring or we’re just ignorant. And they’re out there creating and linking and talking on My Space. It’s our role as educators to give kids good information they can rely on and to talk about the implications. We have an opportunity to enter into discussions with our students about the practical applications of the web, blogging, and social connections with an educational purpose, wikis, and podcasts. We can also talk to them about the different types of writing, including a more appropriate and professional writing than the one they use on IM or My Space or texting. 

Or we can just ignore it and let them go their own way. I choose to become engaged in the conversations. But hey, lots of parents ignore the sex conversations too. Do you have any students engaging in sexual activity that you think might not be the best way to go? Ignoring it doesn’t help them decipher and make good decisions. Let’s step up, be courageous, and teach our students. Maybe we’ll actually engage them in our content at the same time.