Sunday, September 27, 2009

POV's "The Principal"

This blog is usually about technology, but this post is about good public education. Technology is my usual "soapbox," but back it up a little and it is good public education. Public education is a great equalizing force in America. It allows all students to learn, pull themselves up and do better, which public education has done for generations. An educated public is necessary for a democracy to survive. We need adults who think for themselves, not someone who is always fed information and follows along. When you hear or read a news story, do you question it? Do you ask (in your head) the unasked questions? Can you read opposing view points and decide for yourself? These skills are important for determining your own path in life; for keeping our democracy strong.

What is good public education? Where does it begin? How do we replicate it? It begins with good principals, good leadership, and good teaching. If you missed seeing it, check out the PBS website and search for POV or "The Principal." We are so lucky that we have so many of these characteristics in our county and schools. One thing I have been hearing locally for several years is "data driven" decisions. We are certainly doing that. Walk-throughs by principals, assistant-principals, & curriculum coordinators; K-2 assessments; and of course, the EOG's (end of grade tests for grades 3-5). All of these are tools to see that we are on task as professionals doing the best we can for our students. But the main ingredient at the base is emotional -- do you have "heart?" Do you love children and do you have patience to teach them social behaviors, manners, kindness, using words rather than fists, pushing, etc. Can you give a child a pat on the back, give a hug; do you believe that he/she can succeed? Do you believe that all children can learn and be successful? Some say teaching is a "calling" like being a minister or priest.  Could be, but it does take that special extra caring ingredient, that if you don't have, you are only helping others to process information, not grow into caring, responsible human beings.

Watching these two principals in this documentary deal with the many problems of public schools (remember, we accept everyone, no entrance exams), and surviving, improving, making tough decisions, all come to play, but having the heart to stay strong, give help where needed, and be willing to change strategies, actions, make new plans for success and just work very hard--this is what I identify with and fortunately, see at my school. Our staff cares and has a community of learning and giving to students. Parents and community support our school. Teachers work on committees and stay after-school hours to communicate and plan for changes and improvements. Each day is an opportunity to do better than the day before. Each day is a fresh start for students to learn and show good behavior. Teachers volunteer their hours to have after-school clubs or activities to extend and expand learning. (We've had Math Club, Computer Club, Junior Master Gardeners, Quest Atlantis.) Some teachers do stay and tutor after-school for pay, but we all have the good-will and success of our students at heart.

Education is one entity that I have a problem with using the "business" model. Students are not widgets and are all different. Students need an individual approach. Students need cooperation, love, patience, and continued, constant support from the teachers and school community to succeed. All of this is directed by the principal. Without a good principal who is willing to give his/her heart and much of his/her life to the job, making those tough decisions, and trying to continually improve and help the staff to continually improve, you have mediocrity. We can do better than mediocre. This documentary shows two principals who do have these characteristics and demonstrate success in their schools. Watch it online if you missed it.  It shows what is "right" about good public schools.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Twitter Professionally

Emory, from our school system tech dept, wrote about Twitter and using it professionally. He was "spot on." I, too, get good ideas, suggestions, partners from videoconferencing folks and ed tech folks every day. It's utterly amazing to find connections around the globe on twitter. The distinction being, using it as a professional tool.

I've tried to explain to others (my husband and family) that it is so helpful, professionally. My first reaction to "what are you doing in 140 characters or less?" was "who cares." I joined and didn't tweet much. When I began looking at people whose blogs I read and looking at who they were following on Twitter and who was following them, I realized that this is a current, fluid, collective network of people - experts. Like going to an ed tech conference, but it was free. The network of users allows us to "pick the brains" of many talented people on a daily basis. This is not Facebook. I'm not trying to put myself "out there," but to locate relevant, timely, information and hints that help me work with my school staff and students. The only "social networks" I'm on by name are all work/professionally related. MUSE (Internet 2), and several ning groups.

Of course, I occasionally do tweet about personal things. My dogs, especially good day or happy occasion, but this too has some interesting results. Upon returning from our vacation, tweeted about the NC outer banks. Next thing I had a couple of tweets from folks who live there, rent homes there and located a great house for a trip on my birthday. Also tweeted while driving home from NY to NC about my son's wedding and honeymoon in Italy. Within 10 minutes, I had a tweet from a fellow in Italy with houses to rent and train schedules. Hmmm, now that would be another great trip.

There are over 7000 ning groups for Twitter. Many in education. Twitting is allowing me, professionally, to stay involved in and up-to-date with instructional technology and videoconferencing. It is also allowing me to make positive contacts with many people I will never meet or see in person, but can learn from, an open, free, extended network, like grad school. Yes, this technology application is worth applause.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Looking for Ways Technology Can Connect Students

In our state we study our state in 4th and 8th grades. For 3 years we had a wonderful connection with a school in the mountains. That teacher retired and we have been working on finding other connections for the past two years. We'll still continue to look for interactive videoconference partners, but now will change our question or search to looking for other ways to connect with these classes so our students can learn and share together.

Of course, these same sources would work for searches for global connections of all types.
  • try Skype in Schools to locate someone in the U.S. or other countries (back out on the address -- take the Directory off)
  • try twitter - search for country names -- you'd be surprised how fast you may get an answer! -- twitted once about my son's wedding and honeymoon in Italy and within 10 minutes had a fellow from Italy twitting me with train stations, prices, and places to stay
  • new list for Technology Facilitators in NC posted a forum request there
  • NC ITS login - has lists of school served by NCVIP
  • ning groups - several - Videoconferencing, Global Education Collaborative, Classroom 2.0, Tools for the Classroom
  • then there are the blogs, too
  • Twitter for Teachers
  • listservs & websites - several of these websites have a listserv bringing you the new information daily - TWICE or Capspace, CILC
    I plan to continue my search for partners, whether we use videoconferences, wiki's, blogs, or skype. Students connecting directly to students is a powerful way to learn.
  • Saturday, September 5, 2009

    Support Education

    I guess I'm surprised that people have concerns over the President of the United States addressing students. Being an educator, I encourage anyone supporting students to do their best; supporting studying, making goals, reaching for the stars. I can't imagine adults not wanting their children to be encouraged to improve and work hard. Seems like a no brainer. My first reaction was, "Wow, the President is taking the time to speak directly to students -- that's great!" Students need role models. They need adults that they can look up to. Of course, parents are number one in this position, but not all students have parents, one or two.

    Just read the Einstein quote of the day--maybe it fits here: "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds..." Is this just out of control politics? I'm not sure, but I hope that rational thinking prevails and adults choose to act like adults and applaud all encouragement of students doing their best and trying to improve their own education, taking ownership and responsibility for their learning and thinking. No matter who I voted for in the past election, I would support the President or any speaker who encouraged students to learn, think, set goals, and improve their world.