Sunday, December 29, 2013

Pillars of Digital Leadership Series: Opportunity

This post is the seventh and last in a series that outlines the foundational elements of my new book, Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times.  It is set to be published by Corwin Press on January 14, 2014.  Currently there is a pre-publication discount of 15% for any orders before this date.  Over the past couple of weeks I have introduced what I have come to identify as the Pillars of Digital Leadership, a conceptual framework for leaders to begin thinking about changes to professional practice.  My book will focus on each of these elements as part of a change process. It will illustrate them in action through the work of practitioners and provide implementation strategies. To view the entire series click HERE.

Pillar #7 - Opportunity

The interconnectedness of the Pillars of Digital Leadership leads to continuous improvements in school culture and professional practice. As leaders begin to craft a strategy that incorporates social media and digital tools, the shifts and changes in behavior inherent in each of the six previously discussed pillars begin to take shape. Transparency through the use of social media breeds attention to programs, initiatives, and leadership style. Good news travels fast, and social media transmit the news to numerous stakeholders who are embedded in these spaces. This attention eventually leads to numerous opportunities in the form of strategic partnerships, authentic learning experiences for students, professional development, school and professional recognition, and educational technology.  

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Chapter 11 will introduce readers to Robert Dillon and the work that he has done to forge strategic partnerships with an array of stakeholders to provide learning opportunities for his students. This chapter will also provide numerous examples of how I have leveraged social media to discover opportunities for the New Milford High School community as well as myself professionally.  The possibilities are endless as digital leaders become more connected, engage in conversations about professional practice, and share the innovative work taking place in their buildings. 

As leaders adopt and embrace the Pillars of Digital Leadership, numerous opportunities will arise in an array of areas that positively impact school culture and professional practice. By leveraging social media, leaders can share school and professional successes, build strategic partnerships, present work to a wide array of audiences, and discover authentic learning experiences for students and staff alike. All of this can be done in a relatively cost-effective fashion while improving all facets of education. These opportunities will build a greater sense of community pride in the innovative work being done in education. Once understood and embraced, the Pillars of Digital Leadership will continue to work in concert with each other to bring opportunities now and in the future.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Pillars of Digital Leadership Series: Rethinking Learning Spaces and Environments

This post is the sixth in a series that will outline the foundational elements of my new book, Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times.  It is set to be published by Corwin Press on January 14, 2014.  Currently there is a pre-publication discount of 15% for any orders before this date.  Over the next couple of weeks I will introduce what I have come to identify as the Pillars of Digital Leadership, a conceptual framework for leaders to begin thinking about changes to professional practice.  My book will focus on each of these elements as part of a change process. It will illustrate them in action through the work of practitioners and provide implementation strategies. To view the entire series click HERE.

Pillar #6 - Rethinking Learning Spaces and Environments

Digital leadership looks at societal trends as inspirational elements and potential catalysts for change in the structure of the schools themselves as well as the designs of programs. It is a call to action challenging leaders to critically reflect on the learning spaces and environments that embody a school. Do they meet the needs to learners today? Do they foster and inspire creativity, provide flexible opportunities to learn, and address unique and specific interests? Are they reminiscent of what students will expect in today’s world? I will be the first one to admit that the learning environments and spaces at New Milford High School looked nothing like this prior to 2009.  Our goal now is to try our best to create a physical space and overall environment that offers flexibility, choice, and tools that our learners will experience upon graduation.  With the pedagogical shifts outlined in the last post in this series our success will be determined by the transformation of learning spaces and environments that support these instructional changes.


Digital leadership drives school leaders to look past traditional constructs and incorporate trends embraced by Fortune 500 companies to transform learning spaces and environments. When energy and time are spent in this area, school will not only authentically engage students, but also better prepare them for success in today’s dynamic society. The end result will be opening the door to learning while creating global scholars. Chapter 10 of my book provides leaders with a look into how Principal Dwight CARTER spearheaded such change to create Clark Hall, a model for how schools should function and be structured in the Digital Age.  Dwight provides invaluable insight on the journey and processes involved to create an environment that students and teachers alike want to be a part of. Schools today need to focus on creating environments and spaces that:

  • provide an open, bright, and flexible space for learning
  • provide student choice
  • integrate technology to engage students
  • are flexible with time to focus on learning
  • provide students with the opportunities to express their natural creativity
  • utilize teachers as facilitators
  • promote interdisciplinary and interconnected projects
  • make learning fun

Digital leaders develop a vision and strategic plan to create schools that engage and drive learning.  Thanks to social media and the real-time Internet we all have access to design elements and ideas to transform schools into institutions where students use real-world tools to do real-world work.  This is were the foundation was laid for the evolving Makerspace at NMHS.  In addition to the successes that Dwight has had in this area the rest of the chapter will look at how schools can create their own Academies as well as create pathways to individualize and personalize learning for all students.  How have you worked to redesign learning spaces and environments at in your respective district or school?

If you have any specific questions in regards to the Academies @ NMHS, IOCS, or our Makerspace (hyperlinks in the above paragraph) feel free to reach out to me.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Be Present

There is no better way to get the pulse of a school as a leader than to be in classrooms.  I have never considered myself one to be tied to a desk and/or office, but the managerial aspects of the position and ridiculous amounts of paperwork catch up to you at some point.  This year educators in NJ, like many other states across the nation, are still adjusting to new mandates related to teacher evaluation and tenure changes.  Here we call it Achieve NJ.  The toll that all of these new directives - from SGO’s, to SGP’s to PDP’s - has taken on administrators and teachers has been quite dramatic.  In my case, none more than the never-ending time sap dedicated to paperwork and meetings.  This is our new reality.

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One of the mandates in particular has resulted in an increase in observations of tenured staff members. This is probably the one area of directed and mandated change that I have come to appreciate.  Why might you ask? It has resulted in my administrative team and I being in classrooms more often and regularly. Now, the beginning of the year was extremely rough as over six of the seven hours that my students were in school were spent conducting pre-conferences, observations, write-ups, and post-conferences.  After only a few months, the four of us that comprise the NMHS Administrative team have conducted co-observations, developed a common language and look fors, and have mastered the McREL tool that we use to observe staff.  Working together we are not only getting into more classrooms, but we have also developed a streamlined process using shared documents in Google Drive.  

The journey thus far has not been easy, but there now is a silver lining.  Once we became comfortable with the new mandates and how each impacted our professional practice we were able to lay out a vision for a renewed focus on the work we do that truly matters.  The only way to accomplish this was to become even more present by developing protocols to ensure we are in classrooms each day.  Even with the seemingly endless burden imposed by state mandates, we developed a walk-through procedure in order to not only know what is going on in our building, but to also better engage teachers and students in learning conversations.  

Our walks over the past two weeks have reaffirmed our belief in the innovative work taking place here at New Milford High School.  More importantly, they have been a catalyst for positive dialogue on what we can do as a school community to improve and celebrate our collective accomplishments. These rich conversations were just not taking place due to the pressure-filled environment that has been created as a result of education reform in this state.  Post-conferences have focused on how one can “prove” that he/she is meeting the criteria contained in a standards-based rubric, especially with uploaded artifacts.  On the other hand, our walks have reinvigorated our belief in public education and the amazing authentic and meaningful work teachers and students do each day.  Here is just a snippet of what I have seen or experienced in the past week:

  • An English teacher having every student in her Film Studies class share their presentation with me on Google Drive minutes after I attended a class.
  • Engineering students showing off the bridge they had just collaboratively created.
  • A pedagogically sound BYOD lesson in English where an equitable environment was created using both student and school-owned technology.
  • A History teacher having students use Socrative on Chromebooks.
  • Document Based Questions (DBQ’s) being administered in a history class.
  • Digital photography students working on editing the photos they just took on a recent trip to Rockefeller Center, Times Square, and Bryant Park in NYC.
  • A Math teacher using Poll Everywhere in AP Statistics to check for understanding.
  • A math teacher diligently working with students as they participated in a cooperative learning activity.
  • Students in our new Makerspace constantly tinkering, hacking, inventing, and creating.
  • Numerous teachers assessing learning in both summative and formative formats.
Picture from recent walk: BYOD and equity (student + school owned tech)

I think you get the point. Being present in our classrooms and other learning areas of our buildings cannot be overstated.  Even in the face of relentless pressures and mandates that don’t make much sense, it is our duty to be instructional leaders, cheerleaders, guides, mentors, and change agents.  This can only happen if we know what is going on in our schools, connect with both teachers and students alike, and provide positive as well as constructive feedback on what we see. Most importantly however is the mere fact that our presence will reaffirm what we do in the most important profession.  The work that I am seeing from my staff and students serves as an inspiration.  When I go into classrooms I am eagerly anticipating what I will see next.  Don’t succumb to the myriad of excuses that education reform provides each of us today not to be in classrooms.  Be present! 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Pillars of Digital Leadership Series: Student Engagement and Learning

This post is the fifth in a series that will outline the foundational elements of my new book, Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times.  It is set to be published by Corwin Press on January 14, 2014.  Currently there is a pre-publication discount of 15% for any orders before this date.  Over the next couple of weeks I will introduce what I have come to identify as the Pillars of Digital Leadership, a conceptual framework for leaders to begin thinking about changes to professional practice.  My book will focus on each of these elements as part of a change process. It will illustrate them in action through the work of practitioners and provide implementation strategies. To view the entire series click HERE.

Pillar #5: Student Engagement and Learning

Many of us firmly believe in technology’s potential to transform the teaching and learning cultures of schools. Whether it is used to enhance lessons, assess learning, engage students, or unleash creativity, technology has a defined role in a variety of school functions.  Many schools and leaders still treat education as an effort to prepare students for a world that no longer exists, one in which technology is viewed as either a frill, distraction, or a non-factor in improving student achievement. For many students, school does not reflect real life. This results in various levels of disengagement during the teaching and learning process. Ask yourself this, would you want to be a student in the classrooms of our colleagues? The question then becomes, how do we move those schools that are the most irrelevant in terms of meeting the diverse learning needs of their students to begin the transformation process? This is pivotal if we are to truly begin to reform education in a way that is meaningful to our students.  It all begins with leadership, whether at the district, building, or classroom level.

NMHS students using Chromebooks and Socrative

Our students want to be creative, collaborate, utilize technology for learning, connect with their peers in other countries, understand the messages that media convey, and solve real-world problems. Schools and systems of education that do not embrace digital learning and place a high emphasis on standardization will always fail to resonate with our students. It only makes sense to harness the power of technology as a catalyst for authentic engagement and application of concepts among our learners. If schools allow students to use the digital-age tools that they are using on a routine basis outside their walls, chances are they will find more relevancy and meaning in what they are learning.

Digital leadership is a mindset and a call to transform a school’s culture into one that unleashes the creativity of students so they can create artifacts of learning that demonstrate conceptual mastery. It is about providing learners with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to succeed in college, careers, and jobs that have not even been created yet.  This is accomplished by allowing students to use real-world tools to apply what they have learned and construct new knowledge. By focusing on how specific technologies can be used to engage students, digital leaders are establishing a foundation for learning that will lead to eventual increases in student achievement. This becomes a reality when school cultures are transformed to meet and anticipate the needs of learners in the Digital Age. Chapter 9 showcases the work of Patrick Larkin and teachers at New Milford High School who have become change agents in this area. It provides leaders with the foundational elements to successfully implement digital learning across the curriculum.

It is crucial that sound pedagogical techniques and best practices are emphasized in order to effectively integrate technology to enhance teaching and learning. One of the most important questions a leader needs to answer is how the students are using technology to apply learning and demonstrate conceptual mastery. Students must always be at the center of this process. All too often technology is infused into the learning environment where the teacher is still employing a direct approach to instruction. Are you leading change in this area or abiding by the status quo?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

World Of Difference

In my opinion one of the most important roles in any school is that of Media Specialist. Over the years I have longed to create a position that would serve a multi-faceted role of librarian, media specialist, and educational technologist. The challenge for me though was that Shannon Miller's, Joyce Valenza's, and Gwyneth Jones's don't grow on trees.  This mere challenge did not deter me in my search in the least bit as I had my eyes set on one such individual that fit this mold perfectly.  That person was Laura Fleming, who in her own right has been blazing a trail in the transmedia world for the past couple of years.  Once I knew I had this position available the courting process began.  

Luckily for me, but more importantly my students and staff, Laura jumped on the opportunity to become a part of the transformation that has been occurring at New Milford High School the past couple of years. Upon hiring Laura I challenged her right off the bat to embrace her new role as an innovative change agent in a space that is extremely outdated and to collaborate with staff in order to push their boundaries to authentically engage students.  Our vision for her was to provide meaningful learning opportunities for our students while supporting teachers in the process of effective technology and media literacy integration. I told her to only come to me with solutions to problems and not excuses as to why something could not be done or implemented.  

I write this post extremely proud that Laura has run with the autonomy she has been granted and has joined a cadre of NMHS educators and students who are constantly redefining what education should look like in the digital age.  She has become a pillar of sustainable change.  Here are a few highlights from her short tenure thus far:

  • Created a digital badge platform to recognize informal learning being undertaken by NMHS staff.  Check out this great article from the School Library Journal on this project. Currently she is now working on a similar program for students here. 
  • Collaborated with Mrs. Westbrook in the English Department on the school's first virtual film festival.  Students filmed documentaries based on the New York Times One in 8 Million film project.  The film festival took place both in person and on Twitter.  Student films were tweeted to #knightatthemoviesfall and as the films were viewed, students tweeted film reviews.   Students were taught how to effectively tweet a film review and were encouraged to be smart, be positive, and to focus on content and technique.  View the Storify here, which includes all films and tweets related to this festival.  
  • Facilitated a #mysteryskpe with a school in Georgia.  Numerous NMHS teachers participated in this educational game. The aim of the game was to guess the location of the other classroom by asking each other questions. This involved using online maps and doing some research.  The purpose of this Skype was to expose teachers to a wonderful educational tool that they can use with their classes.  
  • Collaborated with business teacher Mrs. Vicari and her students on developing apps for their small businesses using iBuildApp.  Students were introduced to the concept of mCommerce and how it can be used to leverage the marketing and promotion of their products in this digital age. 
  • Collaborated with special education teacher Mrs. Mackey and her students in beta-testing a new writing platform called Paperlet.  Paperlet is an online participatory publishing platform that takes the existing traditional writing process a decisive step further by bringing the readers into the creative process too.  Writers and readers come together in a uniquely combined effort. Writers gather feedback on their writing from readers and are then able to refine their stories based on this feedback.  Paperlet guides students through the process of expanding their writing into this new media form.  
  • Created a Makerspace in the media center. Check out this nice article by the Center of Digital Education on the space that Laura has created.
  • Collaborated with English teachers Mrs. Groff and Mrs. Westbrook on a research project related to CNN Everyday Heroes.  Students researched heroes, curated their research using Pinterest and cited their sources using the online citation maker, EasyBib
  • Worked with the IT department to develop a procedure to sign out Chromebooks for any student to use throughout the school day as part of our BYOD initiative. 
Laura Fleming is having a substantial impact on the culture here at NMHS.  In September she created a new blog called Worlds of Learning.  It is safe to say that she is making a World of Difference here at NMHS. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Pillars of Digital Leadership Series: Professional Growth

This post is the fourth in a series that will outline the foundational elements of my new book, Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times.  It is set to be published by Corwin Press on January 14, 2014.  Currently there is a pre-publication discount of 15% for any orders before this date.  Over the next couple of weeks I will introduce what I have come to identify as the Pillars of Digital Leadership, a conceptual framework for leaders to begin thinking about changes to professional practice.  My book will focus on each of these elements as part of a change process. It will illustrate them in action through the work of practitioners and provide implementation strategies. To view the entire series click HERE.

Pillar #4: Professional Growth

Opportunities to grow professionally are pivotal to leaders in the digital age. However, the mounting pressure from ridiculous mandates as a result of the current education reform movement and massive budget cuts across the country, have made it a challenge to learn through traditional pathways. Without funding, many districts no longer allow leaders to travel to national/state conferences or even attend local workshops.  It is a shame that the growth of leaders, and all educators for that matter, is a trivial concern to districts and so called reformers, unless it is solely related to the Common Core, PARCC, SGO’s (in NJ at least), or a teacher/principal evaluation tool.  These are not the meaningful, rich, and relevant learning opportunities that leaders of today’s schools deserve or yearn for.

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The ever-increasing mandates at the state level impacting evaluation and curricular alignment to the Common Core have taken their toll as well.  To put it bluntly, leaders feel that they either do not have, or cannot find, the time to attend professional learning opportunities due to this tsunami of work that comes at the sacrifice of meaningful growth and development.  The pressure from education reform mandates is so intense that many leaders don’t even think twice about missing a day of school to learn as he/she is always thinking about the observations that could get done or the piles of paperwork that will be waiting upon their return.  Leaders should never feel that their learning and growth comes at the expense of mandates and directives that are not in line with a vision for preparing students to succeed in a digital world.

Fortunately digital leaders are not at the mercy of budget cuts or taking professional days to learn and get better.  They still can, but now have the ability to save time and money by harnessing the power of social media to learn anytime, anywhere, and from anyone they choose.  They are able to follow their specific learning passions by connecting with like-minded individuals. A connected learning model is empowering and ultimately creates a human-generated search engine for the most practical ideas and strategies being implemented in schools today.

Using the work of Lyn Hilt as a model, Chapter 8 will provide leaders with the knowledge and tools to create their own Personal Learning Network (PLN).   A PLN provides leaders with resources, knowledge, feedback, advice, support, friendships, and is a catalyst for self-directed learning.  The ability and ease to now engage in conversations with like-minded practitioners and world-renowned experts provides a meaningful and differentiated model for growth to improve professional practice.  For me, I love being able to ask a question on Twitter and then return hours later with an array of responses from all over the world. I also love being able to filter content based on my interests from a variety of information sources to one convenient location.

Digital leaders seize the opportunity to grow and learn like never before through a connected model of leadership.  To begin this journey check out some of these wonderful blogs that I highly recommend every educator read and follow:

Another great way to start is to join the Leadership 3.0 community at edWeb for free. Now more than ever leaders need to take control of their learning.  How have you gone about creating your own PLN? What advice would you give to those leaders who are looking to begin this process?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Making to Learn

The following post was written by Laura Fleming who is the Media Specialist at my school.  It is also cross-posted at her blog Worlds of Learning.  Here Laura describes our philosophy and journey to create a Makerspace for our students. 

Setting up a Makerspace has been a priority of mine from the moment I started here at New Milford High School, and it’s already well on its way to being achieved. Having a school principal who provides the perfect mix of encouragement and autonomy has, of course, been a great help, but it has also been very much a team effort: the school’s tech team and custodians have been very supportive and cooperative, along with a diverse variety of students interested in ‘making’ experiences.

Makerbot (3D printer) that just arrived to NMHS

At the heart of the vision for my Makerspace is to develop the space and to provide resources and opportunities that will aid in promoting web literacy. These components encompass Mozilla's Web Literacy Standard.  The standard is make up of three key elements:  exploring, building and connecting and focuses on reading, writing and participating on the web.   

As it is shaping up so far, all students will have access to a Makerspace where they can collaborate on STEM-related concepts and ideas through lunchtime activities, independent study, and classroom collaborations.  The themes of my Makerspace include:

  • Robotics
  • Stop-Motion Animation
  • 3D Printing/Design
  • Hacking/Remixing the Web/Coding/COMPUTER PROGRAMMING
  • Molecular Gastronomy
  • Wearable Tech
  • Electricity/Papertronics
  • Polymers
  • Engineering Inventions

My intention is that instruction for students across the themes will make use of open-source options wherever possible. A good example will be Mozilla Webmaker, a suite of open-source tools dedicated to teaching digital skills and web literacy, as well as Scratch, which offers open-source programming for kids.

Visitors to both our physical and virtual Makerspaces are greeted with the following message:
"What is Worlds of Making @ NMHS? Well, that is up to you, the maker. This space, both physical and virtual, is a place for you to collaborate, hack, invent, share, create, make and do. You have been given the tools you need to get started, but where it goes is up to you. The world is your platform. The aim of our virtual space will be a place to guide students, to showcase their creations and to provide them with a virtual sandbox in which they can play and create." 
Our Makerspace will be stocked with:

NMHS students tinering with Legos

Our physical space will be an attempt to create an environment that encourages creativity and ideas in designing and constructing a wide variety of 3-D artifacts.

For example, we have provided computers designated for students specifically to disassemble and investigate.  We are building a Little Bits Bar in which students will have the opportunity to participate in using modular electronics to invent their own creations.  We will have a lego table in which students can bring STEM concepts to life. Our working computers are transparent so students can see their innards, perhaps gain an understanding of how the major components fit together, and begin to examine how they work.  Everything is hands-on and nothing is off-limits (within the obvious bounds of safety).  

Our Makerspace is about creating a genuine and committed culture of innovation at New Milford High School, encouraging tinkering, play and open-ended exploration for all students.

Student drawing on new SMART Board E70

And this is only the start – the concept will grow and grow, with new ideas being brought into the space over time.  Keep an eye on our Makerspace site at and also on Twitter for updates. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Pillars of Digital Leadership Series - Branding

This post is the third in a series that will outline the foundational elements of my new book, Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times.  It is set to be published by Corwin Press on January 14, 2014.  Currently there is a pre-publication discount of 15% for any orders before this date.  Over the next couple of weeks I will introduce what I have come to identify as the Pillars of Digital Leadership, a conceptual framework for leaders to begin thinking about changes to professional practice.  My book will focus on each of these elements as part of a change process. It will illustrate them in action through the work of practitioners and provide implementation strategies. To view the entire series click HERE.

For this post I decided to turn to Trish Rubin, my education branding expert whose work and insight I highlight in Chapter 7 of my book.  Below are her thoughts on the importance of branding in education.  She has coined the term BrandEd as a means to impart the importance of leaders to establish a positive brand presence.  This specific chapter of the book will look at the role of social media in this process. 

Pillar #3 - Branding

Today's school digital leaders get excited about bringing business tools into their school organization. What I call being a BrandED leader is one foundational way to enrich school management in a digital age. Branding is a tool that has been part of strategic business plans for years. Brand attracts attention and influences audiences. A school brand needs to be positive and crafted to convey purpose. Bringing the process of BrandED thinking into the school's plan transforms and energizes.

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A school leader can create a more connected community by leading the charge to develop a school brand. Private school and college leaders have used brand thinking for years to message their faithful communities. They know the value of a clearly communicated school brand and have benefited from the support of a well-defined brand in political and economic ways. Bringing this thinking into your role as a leader isn't just about style, it's about substance. A strong Brand identity leads to better communication and influence, and in our digital world, influence can be gained at the stroke of a keyboard. Lead your stakeholders to purposefully create a deep identity for your school that uniquely defines the character of the institution.

It’s a do it yourself world, and you can do this without a Madison Avenue advertising firm. Building a school brand is a serious element of school business.  In our noisy digital world, clearly communicated identity is the key to the positioning of your school’s consistent positive presence.  A brand benefits a school's profile and even its purse! Lead your school to BrandED success by identifying the “ROO” (Return on Objective) that brand brings.  Lay out a short plan involving all stakeholders to build the unique school identity. Start by defining your own personal brand as you lead the process. Be open about the shift to brand thinking. Explain why you are investing in educational brand.

Schools must clearly communicate a consistent brand message to their stakeholders to reach standards.  This can be done using myriad communication channels, in real time and online. Your school brand may even come down to one word. Making a Brand facilitation plan is your first ROO target as a BrandED leader. Reputation management of any product or service is key to keeping faith with a loyal audience and brand is about trust and reputation.  Build a BrandED identity, and then set the next ROO: share that identity in a busy information age. Successful BrandED schools are proactive, despite the pressure of the daily digital scrutiny of their audiences. A strong brand grounds communication in what matters most to the school. Positioning a school for success starts with a leader's confident steps toward a BrandEd plan.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Why Do You Blog? A Student's Perspective

The following is a guest post by New Milford High School sophomore Sarah Almeda. After learning about her Chemistry blog titled Avogadro Salad I asked her to share some insight on the importance of blogging from a student's perspective. I was so blown away by what she wrote below that I went against my long standing personal policy of not following my students on Twitter. Please take a minute to read Sarah's post below, share a comment with her, and check her out on Twitter. This is one amazing student!

...Um, because Ms. Smith made me?  

Lol, jk. (That’s, “laughing out loud, just kidding” in teenspeak, that fictional language adults seem scared of...?)

I’m Sarah Almeda, a sophomore at New Milford High School. Somehow, I can have twitter conversations with my teachers and my principal. Somehow, they led to Mr. Sheninger giving me the opportunity to write a guest post on the importance of student blogging. I’m a blogger at heart, as I have been since 4th grade. That’s probably why I was actually excited when my chemistry teacher, Ms. Smith, opened the year by telling us that part of our assessment in the course  would be the regular maintenance of a blog.  This included posts twice a week that connect chemistry to our world.

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Now, I’ve posted almost daily to a personal blog for years and I’m grateful for the decision. I’m told I’m a very good writer. I’m not trying to boast; my writing visibly improved when I started blogging and I can tell you why.  Teens turn to the internet for validation, myself included. Why? When I post to my blog, I don’t write to impress a teacher. My audience is the World Wide Web, which is literally worldwide. I attract viewers from all around the globe. When a post gets attention, some views, likes, comments, or even subscriptions, I look at the post and think, Wow; I had some valid ideas that a complete stranger could relate with. What did they like? How do I turn these visitors into regular readers? When a post gets no attention, I then think, What would be more interesting? What will lead viewers to my blog? How do I get a response? 

Rather than having a teacher hammer the importance of good writing into my head, I get to feel it in a very real world situation with immediate feedback. I don’t just learn about writing, either. Yesterday, my friends were genuinely interested to hear me talk about how one day our phones may literally be coated with nanodiamonds. I learned that from an article I blogged about. Now I’m always learning a great deal about topics that I decide are interesting to blog about, like the chemistry behind a bad hair day. Not to mention that my chemistry blog is a blessing for someone whose homework always seems to disappear rather inopportunely. I can put an assignment on my blog in the “Homework" category, protect it from copycat classmates, and email the password to Ms. Smith so she can view it whenever she needs to.  Not convinced yet? I learned HTML coding when finding ways to better format blog posts, and it’s become a very useful skill. 

A personal blog’s also the perfect place to vent my feelings. After articulating my emotions to an Internet audience, I realize I’m better understanding myself.  In an Internet world where that wretched teenspeak is the preferred language on nearly all social media platforms (bc my insta captions/ tumblr posts r like so articulate lol jk idec) blogging is a practice that expands learning way beyond the walls of the classroom. It encourages self-improvement and dedication in a way that I don’t believe can be taught as well as it can be experienced. And it's addictively fun!

So, pull a Ms. Smith move! Teach kids to blog! Start one yourself! Trust me, you’ll find the time, you’ll find the passion, you’ll find out a lot about the world, and you might even find out more about yourself.  And watch out for me! You can find my chemistry blog by clicking HERE, and I’m even building my own website with the awesome tools I learned in business class at NMHS.

-Sarah “Shmarah” Almeda

Please take a moment and leave a comment for Sarah. Not only is she a talented blogger, but an artist as well (see her self portrait below). She, like many of her NMHS classmates, fully take advantage of everything that NMHS has to offer to advance their learning and follow their passions.

Image credit: Sarah Almeda

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Pillars of Digital Leadership Series: Public Relations

This post is the second in a series that will outline the foundational elements of my new book, Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times.  It is set to be published by Corwin Press on January 14, 2014.  Currently there is a pre-publication discount of 15% for any orders before this date.  Over the next couple of weeks I will introduce what I have come to identify as the Pillars of Digital Leadership, a conceptual framework for leaders to begin thinking about changes to professional practice.  My book will focus on each of these elements as part of a change process. It will illustrate them in action through the work of practitioners and provide implementation strategies. To view the entire series click HERE.

Pillar #2 - Public Relations

If you don’t tell your story someone else will.  More often than not, when someone else tells your story, nine out of ten times, it is one that you don’t want told.  This is the reality for virtually every school leader.  In the past I feared and dreaded the roll of public relations as the typical situation played out time and time again.  No matter how much progress we made, or success we experienced, it was always that one negative story that would dominate the media coverage and sway public opinion.  I can vividly remember each news situation that completely blew things out of proportion and greatly distracted from the meaningful and significant work that was occurring on a daily basis.  

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There is a fundamental problem with the mainstream media when it comes to public relations.  That problem is that they are a business.  In order to generate business they must create and promote stories that capture the attentions of their intended audience.  Make no mistake about it, the media wants and needs to make money.  When it comes to education the most controversial and negative stories are the ones that attract viewers and in turn generate revenue.  I don't know about you, but I grew quite resentful of the media in the past as they would be so quick to call my office to comment on a negative situation, but would not give me the time of day when I had a positive story for them to cover.  Sound familiar?

Thankfully this all changed in late 2009 as I discovered the power and value of using social media as a public relations tool.  I began to generate our own news related to New Milford High School and quickly learned of the many tools available that could be used at anytime from anywhere to tell our story.  In essence, I became the storyteller-in-chief.  As a result of the innovative work my students and teachers were engaged in, I discovered that there was an abundance of newsworthy content that my stakeholders craved.  Instead of reaching out to the media to cover these stories, we in essence became the media using mainstream tools such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube.  As social media has evolved so too has our public relations strategy as we are now integrating Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr to tell our story.  

The end result is that the media now comes to us and/or follows our social media channels to capture our story. Since taking control of our public relations at NMHS in 2009, the NYC, CBS, and NBC affiliates as well as USA Today, USA Weekend, Education Week, and Scholastic Administrator have all reported on positive news stories.  I have literally lost count of additional media coverage, as it has become the norm.  It has also led to the establishment of professional relationships with reporters who want to tell accurate and positive stories about innovative schools.  

Chapter 6 in my book takes a detailed look at how digital leaders leverage available social media tools to enhance public relations. It places an emphasis on the work of John Carver and how he has become a public relations juggernaut for two different districts in Iowa. It also breaks down the strategies and tools that I use on behalf of my school to tell our story. Community and transparency are the bedrocks of public relations in the digital age.  This fact makes social media a natural fit.

How are you using social media for public relations?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

BYOD and the Paperless Classroom

At New Milford High School teachers are adapting their professional practice as we continue to evolve into a Bring Your Own Device school where student-owned technology integrated effectively.  NMHS teachers are also beginning to to integrate social media tools that are blocked and banned in the majority of schools across the country.  Ms. Smith’s science class has gone paperless. Students complete assignments whether it’s homework, class work, projects and tests all online using various websites, such as, Edmodo, Tumblr and Instagram on their BYOD devices. They also use their smart phones, iPads, iPods and digital cameras to take notes or to capture information. All pictures, notes and assignments are posted on the websites, e-mailed or placed on their private homework blogs. This has led to more student engagement, accountability and participation in the classroom, peer reviews and instant feedback to the students on how they are progressing. 

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In Chemistry, Marine Biology and Bioethics Studies, every week each student makes two reflective and analytical posts on their blogs (Tumblr, Wordpress, Blogger, Pinterest or Weebly) exploring what has been happening globally or locally, either on TV or the Internet, and then making connections to what they have been learning in class. They are taking charge of what they want to learn about and are interested in science. Some examples of their blogs can be found at the following links: 

Students also used Instagram as a communication tool (like texting) as a way to give feedback, make comments and to reflect on what they have been learning. This works extremely well in Bioethical Studies, where some students may be reluctant and shy to express their opinions. One topic had 143 comments in the forty-eight minute period. Using Instagram allowed everyone to have a voice and be heard. They have also used Instagram/Webstagram to send short video when Ms. Smith has been absent to show they have been engaged, completing their work, and staying on task. Make sure you follow Ms. Smith on Twitter.

What tools and techniques are you using to go paperless in your classroom and/or school?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pillars of Digital Leadership Series – Communication

This post is the first in a series that will outline the foundational elements of my new book, Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times.  It is set to be published by Corwin Press on January 14, 2014.  Currently there is a pre-publication discount of 15% for any orders before this date.  Over the next couple of weeks I will introduce what I have come to identify as the Pillars of Digital Leadership, a conceptual framework for leaders to begin thinking about changes to professional practice.  My book will focus on each of these elements as part of a change process. It will illustrate them in action through the work of practitioners and provide implementation strategies. 

Pillar #1 - Communication

If you were to look at the many characteristics that great leaders share, effective communication would be at the top of the list.  Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. were great leaders who could transfer a message like no other.  Each was able to achieve success in part due to his ability to effectively communicate.  You would be hard pressed to identify an effective leader who was a poor communicator.  Communication serves to provide information, convey our vision, lay out the elements of a strategic plan, promote values, motivate stakeholders, and quell perceptions that are not accurate.  It is an art that combines inter and intra-personal skills with mediums to amplify an intended message. The art of communication has not changed, but the tools that we have at our disposal to deliver our message has.

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As society has evolved, the way in which the world communicates and interacts has as well.  Digital leaders understand that technology provides a variety of pathways to initiate two-way communication with stakeholders.  Traditional means, such as newsletters and email, no longer suffice as cornerstones to a communications strategy.  Digital leaders seize upon the opportunity presented by digital tools (i.e. social media, mobile apps, video conferencing) to meet stakeholders where they are in order to convey a message and elicit feedback on initiatives.  In a world where access to and consummation of real-time information is the norm, digital leaders adapt their strategy to become more effective communicators.  

This is not to say that traditional means are no longer important elements of an effective communications plan.  They are, but digital leaders understand that the rise of mobile devices in particular has dramatically changed the way that stakeholders receive and access information.  The most effective communicators in society today are those that continue to develop and refine traditional means while leveraging digital tools to have a more profound impact. Whether you are a principal, superintendent, or teacher improving how you communicate plays a role in your success as an educator.  

Chapter 5 in my book takes a critical look at how digital leaders communicate. It places an emphasis on the work of Joe Mazza and how he has increased community engagement through a variety of communication strategies involving technology. After reading this chapter any educator regardless of his/her role will have a collection of tools, strategies, and ideas to take his/her communications to the next level.  Digital leaders use technology to engage stakeholders in conversations.  These conversations become the building blocks to create and support meaningful relationships based on the positive messages embedded in our communications.  To put it simply, without effective communication, there’s not effective leadership.

How have you changed your communications strategy in the digital age?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Leading in the Digital Age

I am very excited about my upcoming book titled “Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times” which will be published by Corwin Press. The entire book looks at leadership through the lens of practitioners in the digital age. Effective leadership is extremely important in any system, but it is even more imperative in schools if we are to provide all learners with a world-class education. This education has to be relevant, meaningful, and applicable. At New Milford High School, we have been working for the past four years to transform our culture to one that is primed for student engagement, learning, and achievement. It is my hope that this book will provide a framework for other educators to begin the change process that will ultimately lead to transformation.

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So how would one define digital leadership? I think it is important to first look at the concept of leadership in general. Wikipedia defines leadership as a process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task. Kevin Kruse defines it as a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal. Both of these definitions highlight the importance of social influence. This leads me to ascertain that social media can be an invaluable tool that educators can harness to move schools, learning, and the profession forward. 

Leadership is no different today than it was years ago. The only difference is that style and focus need to change with the times if we are to accomplish the lofty task of preparing students for a dynamic world that is more social and connected as a result of technology. Leading in a way that supports the status quo, standardization, outdated practices, and misconceptions related to technology, not only does a disservice to our students, but also renders our schools and profession as irrelevant. 

Digital leadership takes into account recent changes such as ubiquitous connectivity, open-source technology, mobile devices, and personalization. It represents a dramatic shift from how schools have been run and structured for over a century, as what started out as a personal use of technology has become systemic to every facet of leadership. Digital leadership can thus be defined as establishing direction, influencing others, and initiating sustainable change through the access to information, and establishing relationships in order to anticipate changes pivotal to school success in the future. It requires a dynamic combination of mindset, behaviors, and skills that are employed to change and/or enhance school culture through the assistance of technology.

The basic tenets of leadership are still valuable and needed for our schools to succeed. However, the changing times as well as society’s reliance on technology demand an evolution of leadership practices to create schools that our learners deserve, and need, to succeed in today's world. It all begins with trust. Digital leaders must give up control and trust students and teachers to use real-world tools to unleash creativity and a passion for learning.  The time is now, whether you are a building level or teacher leader, to boldly move schools forward in the digital age. What have you done and/or changed to become a digital leader? Where did you begin? How have things changed since this shift? 

For those looking to begin this journey or take your work to the next level please check out my book that will be out this January. You can pre-order now and it will be available for Kindle about a week after it has been published.  The forward was written by Yong Zhao and the book itself has been endorsed by some of today's most prominent thought-leaders. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Critical Literacy Across the Curriculum

How can an English teacher help to develop critical literacy across the curriculum? What follows is a guest post from NMHS teachers who have been collaborating with English teacher Joanna Westbrook to create authentic literacy tasks in each of their disciplines.  You will hear from a science teacher, a social studies teacher, and an art teacher as each provides her take on how the Common Core and 21st Century learning goals affect what goes on in the classroom. 

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A Biology Teacher’s Thoughts on Critical Literacy by Lynne Torpie

Science teachers can tend to be myopic, focusing on acquiring content detail and teaching the steps of the scientific method instead of fostering the investigative, critical thinking and written communication skills that embody real-world scientific endeavors.  As science teachers for the 21st century, we are tasked with producing, at the bare minimum, citizens who are conversant with the language of science, and who can read, make sense of and make decisions about scientific issues.  Optimally, we inspire our students to pursue a career in which they will be posing relevant questions, and using research and inquiry to answer those questions to contribute to humanity’s general body of knowledge or, through technology and engineering, solve problems. Literacy skills are the foundation upon which these outcomes are built.

But we as science teachers can be daunted by the mandate to incorporate English language skills into the curriculum.  We have neither the training to assess such skills nor the language to develop such assessments.  We are concerned about our students’ weak explanatory writing skills and would like to see those skills improve. But we need help.  While we can develop assessments that approximate authentic science writing tasks, we need help identifying the literacy elements we should be assessing. We need guidance in phrasing a rubric so it is clear to both students and teachers what we are looking for when assessing literacy in science.  Even more importantly, we need to partner with English teachers to provide the scaffolding necessary for our students to write informational text with increasing clarity. 

Presenting Infographics in Science: That’s why I began the year with a conversation with Mrs. Westbrook (one of our 9th grade English teachers) about how the cognitive learning goals in science class connect to the cognitive learning goals in English class. What grew out of that conversation was the Infographic Project. For this project, I had my students collect data then present it graphically using Infographics such as bar graphs, a column graph, a pie chart, or a hierarchy.  In addition, I required students to explain how the data compared to other representative data, draw conclusions, and make specific recommendations based on the data they presented.  

Click HERE for description of the assignment. 

Common Core Standards Addressed: WHST.9-10.6; WHST.9-10.8; WHST.9-10.9

A Social Studies Teacher’s Thoughts Critical Literacy by Colleen Tambuscio

Learning about history offers meaningful and authentic opportunities for students to express their knowledge of the subject matter through writing and discourse.  History teachers can benefit from working collaboratively with an English teacher by working together to develop activities that engage students in analyzing and synthesizing content  -- then applying those skills to authentic writing opportunities.  

This semester, I was presented with a group of students actively engaged in the content and who have expressed, through their development of quality work products, a deeper interest in the subject matter. I decided to approach Mrs. Westbrook with an advanced text on the subject of Nazi ideology for students in an elective course on the Holocaust and Genocide.  The text includes the principles of Nazi Ideology that I teach to the students in two classroom lessons. My goal was to engage the students in the chapters that deal with non-Jewish victims, to broaden their historical framework on the subject matter, and to allow students to understand the many layers that encompass Nazi ideology.  

Curating an Exhibit in History: To accomplish this goal, Mrs. Westbrook helped me develop the BECOME A CURATOR task with the idea that groups of students will create an exhibit focused on one particular victim group from the Holocaust. For example:

  • Enemies of the Regime: political opponents, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals 
  • Territorial Threats: Polish and Soviet civilians and Polish Prisoners of War
  • Racial Enemies: Germans with mental and physical disabilities, African Germans and the Roma-Sinti)

Since students often experience history through museum learning, either within the walls of a museum or through online exhibitions, this provides an authentic method of engaging students in learning.  To begin,  I asked students to utilize a specific chapter in Nazi Ideology and the Holocaust by The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to research their assigned cluster of non-Jewish victims of Nazi oppression.  The requirements for the exhibition included the following:

  1. Develop an escalating timeline of events that demonstrate the step by step process by which the particular sub group was marginalized.
  2. Gather and display 4 pieces of propaganda which best illustrated the Nazi ideological principles that placed this group in this category.
  3. Gather 2 documents which demonstrate the systematic nature of the Nazi strategy that marginalized this group of people.
  4. Gather 4 archival photographs to provide documented proof of the specific abuse towards the victim group.
  5. Drawing on previous lessons on Nazi ideology, identify and explain the particular ideology used against the group. (i.e. survival depends upon racial purity, survival depends upon seizure of territory or survival depends on nullifying or eliminating anti-social groups who undermine society and government)
  6. Utilizing the archives of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum through online access of the collections, students will cite in MLA format their sources.
  7. Exhibitions will be presented to students in English classes studying NIGHT utilizing a gallery walk approach.
Click HERE for a description of the assignment. 

Common Core Standards Addressed: RH.9-10.3; WHST.9-10.2; WHST.9-10.4; WHST.9-10.5; WHST.9-10.8.

An Art Teacher’s Thoughts on Critical Literacy by Lisette Morel

Writing/Literacy skills in art is crucial if we as educators want to empower our students with the 21st century skills needed to engage and question the world they live in rather than merely occupy a seat on the sidelines in life. As a working artist, I recognize how writing is utilized to convey and make connections for my audience. And like all artists, I use my artist statements to clarify and to provide insight into my work. These statements provide the viewer an inside view into the artistic process and the artist’s thinking.

In the art classroom reading, writing and art making should be happening simultaneously. It is important for my students to acquire background information on artists and to learn the art making process. But it is even more important that they gain expertise in describing, evaluating, and engaging in critical discourse about art. I am not concerned with the regurgitation of art history dates and names and meaningless artist information onto paper.  No one needs another report on an artist. What I am more interested in is that my students learn during the creating process. It is important for my students to understand why artists choose certain themes, why they choose certain art processes, why imagery and ideas change, and what connections to world history are apparent. But like my science and social studies colleagues, I too need guidance to develop literacy components that encourage my students to build on their visual imagery and insight. 
Writing Artist Statements 

Mrs. Westbrook and I have been collaborating to create writing components that support what my students are learning in Art.  One such assignment is the creation of Artist Statements to accompany their finished pieces for exhibition. We used exemplar texts from our MOMA fieldtrip as students worked to create statements that mirrored the professional standards of the art world. This assignment gave them experience in articulating their process and in writing clear statements that describe their own intended effect.  We then created a rubric that balanced the literacy demands of the Common Core with the content I wanted to see in their finished pieces. 

Click HERE for description of the assignment. 

Common Core Standards Addressed:WHST.9-10.2; WHST.9-10.4; WHST.9-10.9

Real Literacy/Real Content by Joanna Westbrook

English teachers are the lynchpin for the common core in our buildings – the new standards combine the critical literacy and thinking skills we have been addressing in our instruction for years and challenge us to find new ways for our kids to interact with and learn content. As English teachers, we all know writing in the content area can no longer be centered on tired, recycled 5 paragraph essays our students write year after year – the idea of making the content classes into extensions of the English class just does not have traction.  

We as English teachers have to work harder for our colleagues and for students than merely suggesting the same old essay about a scientist for science class, the repetitive research report about a hero for social studies, or the Van Gogh PowerPoint for art class.  What we bring to the table when we collaborate with our content colleagues has to be rich and has to push kids to interact with text and present their ideas using the authentic discourse of each discipline. This work is hard and requires us to really listen to our colleagues as they describe the type of reading and writing that will move kids forward within their discipline.  In the three tasks we built, you see real content coupled with real literacy in ways that apportion reading/writing throughout the curriculum and that broaden our students’ literacy preparation