Technology Addiction, It’s Not Just For Kids

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We saw another round of alarming headlines last week decreeing the downfall of our current crop of teenagers due to their addiction to mobile technology. These headlines were prompted by a new report from Common Sense Media about technology addiction and teenagers.  The report,  Technology Addiction: Concern, Controversy and Finding Balance, was all over the news with countless headlines like Smartphone Addiction Rampant and Half of All Teenagers Are Addicted to Their Smartphones. While the headlines are accurate, they do not tell the entire story.
These negative headlines are great if they are click-bait intended to get adults reading beyond the bad news and raise awareness about how we can constructively deal with concerns about technology-use and teens. Unfortunately, the general theme coming from the media reports over the past few years has been to sound alarms and not to focus on a more modern perspective and all of the possibilities that go along with it. Thankfully, Common Sense Media provides a balanced approach to this conversation in the report.
However, schools also need to step forward and be part of the movement to let families know that all screen time is not created equal. As school leaders strive to add more instructional technology resources to their classrooms, they also must ensure that parents are kept in the loop about what their students are doing with digital devices to support their learning. We must be clear that our goal is to choose the best instructional resources that fit the needs of the learner at a given moment. Sometimes the right choice may be a digital resource and sometimes it will not. More importantly, we need to talk about when and why certain digital resources are appropriate. We also need to encourage adults to do the same thing regarding the choices they make surrounding the use of technology for their children and themselves.

Despite the fact that it did not make the headlines, a quick look below at some of the research from the Common Sense Media study shows that the problems surrounding the constructive use of technology are just as significant for parents as they are for students. Then again, these stories are being written by adults. I wonder if the headlines would be different if thet were written in a student publication…
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The bottom line is the following statement from the report:

“Embracing a balanced approach to media and technology, and supporting adult role-modeling, is recommended to prevent problematic media use.”

For school leaders, this starts with us. Let’s foster open and honest conversations about the struggles everyone in our school community is having keeping technology in its proper place.  Let’s share strategies that are working for families who are finding success staying connected to the world both digitally and in-person. It is clear that there is a role for us in this conversation if we are willing to take it.  So let’s look at the conclusion of the report and commit to discussing the following two recommendations as a starting point:
  • Talk About It –  Connect with your kids and support learning by talking about what they’re seeing, reading, and playing. Encourage kids to question and consider media messages to better understand the role media plays in their own lives. 
  • Walk the Walk –  Lead by example by putting your own devices away while driving, at mealtimes, and during family time. Parent role-modeling shows kids the behavior and values you want in your home. Kids will be more open and willing participants when the house rules apply to you, too.

An Interview With George Couros About The Innovator’s Mindset

This post originally appeared on my EdWeek Blog

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One of the hottest new education books is The Innovator’s Mindset by my friend George Couros a Division Principal of Teaching and Learning with Parkland School Division, located in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada, as well as a highly sought after innovative teaching, learning, and leadership consultant. I caught up with George recently and had the chance to ask him some questions about his first book. Check out the interview below and grab this must-read for you and others in your school community!

What was your motivation in writing The Innovator’s Mindset?
“Innovation” in education is in danger of becoming a buzzword because we use it without really thinking what it means and what it can look like in our schools today. The other trend that I have seen lately is that “innovation” is just used to replace the world “technology, and it can be so much more than that.  Ultimately what the word really means in education is about creating new and better ways of learning, which is something educators should all get behind.  I wanted this to be more than an “education” book though, but really something that made connections through telling stories, because that is what helps people move forward. If I can help more educators see themselves as “innovators”, and help them embrace this mindset, our students will not only have better opportunities in learning, but we as educators will find opportunities for ourselves that are more rewarding. This book is meant to empower people to embrace change and the opportunities that are in front of us.

Who do you see as the primary audience for the book?
What I am hoping is that this book really reaches leaders, but when I use that term, I am not reserving it for administrators, but any educator that sees the need for creating something new and better for our students.  It is meant to not only help see change as something we embrace and model ourselves, but help create the foundation where change is more likely to happen with others.  I try to weave in and out between ideas for leadership and things that can happen in the classroom because I truly believe that every educator has the potential to be a leader and make a difference on a larger scale, no matter their title.

Why do you think it is important for educators to focus on Innovation?
If you look at organizations around the world, if they do not innovate they die.  Blockbuster actually had the opportunity to buy Netflix but there thinking was that they were good with their current business model, and obviously ended up losing an opportunity to become a truly global organization.  Yet many people believe that “innovation” is for someone else, not our own organizations.  If school stays the same while the rest of the world changes, people are going to either find or create something better for our kids.  My parents saw education and school as a way to something better, because it was vastly different than what they experienced, so I want to continue to make sure that we support this idea and develop not only our students as innovators, but also our educators. We cannot expect our students to become innovative, if we do not create the opportunities for them to do this within the context of school.

Is this more of a mindset for upper grades or is this something that we need to do K-12?
This meant for any level of educator.  I share stories from kindergarten to high school, of educators who are really trying to challenge the traditional notion of school and develop something better.  What my hope is in this book is that we move from “pockets” of innovation, to a “culture” of innovation.  These stories should not be the “outliers” but become the norm, and if we don’t see this as a whole system emphasis, we will spend more time trying to catch up as opposed to moving forward.  Innovation has no age barrier, and as discussed in the book, it is about a way of thinking more than anything, that can be a part of what we do at all levels.

As a school and district leader, how would you recommend that educators use this book to engage their schools and communities in a constructive dialogue regarding change?
One of the things that I wanted to do is model innovation even in writing the book.  Often authors will provide some type of guide, but I wanted it to be a living and breathing opportunity for not only others to discuss this at their school, but to also be a part of the conversation as the author.  By using things like the hashtag #innovatorsmindsetand also creating a list of resources for each chapter on my blog to continue discussion, as well as a Facebook page for the book, I am hoping that I can learn alongside readers.  There is also questions at the end of each chapter that is meant to spark conversation and push the idea of innovation in teaching, learning, and leadership within each school.  I did not want to write a book that told people how to become an innovative school, because that is the exact opposite of the idea.  It is meant to push conversations forward, while also providing ideas and inspiration for schools to become places where creativity flourishes.  This will only happen if this book becomes the start to a conversation, not the end of it.

What was your biggest takeaway from writing this book?
One of the things that I talk about in the book is the ideas of “networks” being crucial to innovation, and as I was writing it, I realized how much I have learned from connecting with others and blogging about my learning over the last six years.  Stories can truly become the fuel for innovation, and my thinking has been pushed by so many across the world that share their experiences with others.  I know that this is not a book I could have written six years ago and that because my thinking was isolated, honestly, because I chose it to be that way.  One of my favourite quotes is from Linus Pauling who says, “the best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas”, and this book would not have been possible without the connections to so many amazing educators to which I am truly grateful.

#EdShare: Raising the Bar for National Sharing

This post originally appeared on my Education Week Blog

It’s Connected Educator month, and I want to issue a challenge to my fellow educators:
Share a Win or Fail with our national PLC this month, and use the #EdShare hashtag.

Let’s break that down:

1. “Our National PLC
When I hear educators talk about Professional Learning Communities, they are often talking about local or regional groups… even building-level groups. Why is it that we all share our most essential insights with the teacher down the hall, or the district down the road, but we don’t always move to connect beyond the county line?  It’s time to think about Connectedness as a national-level activity.

Let’s push ourselves to finding the pioneering districts and thought leaders far from our home states. This month, I challenge you to find an inspiring school or district at least 1,000 miles away. Read about their work. Connect with their leaders on LinkedIn and Twitter. Or better yet, in a Google hangout. And let’s help those leaders find us… by sharing our best insights in places like Twitter chats and online communities with peers from across the country.

Where can you find the national PLC? The Graphite website has reviews of tools from across the country. Key Twitter chats like #satchat, #cpchat, and #edtechbridge draw education leaders from every state. In addition, there are Edmodo, ISTE, and LinkedIn groups connect educators from around the country. These are perfect places to take your next #edshares. If you are going to share, share big.

2. “A Win or Fail”
When something works, share it! Loud and proud. Share excellent classroom practices. Share how your school team overcame a challenge. Share a district success that others can emulate. If you find a fabulous product, tell us. Share your rubrics. Share your exemplars. Take photos and videos, and post them with pride. Share your victories with enough detail that others can flatter you through imitation!

But please don’t forget that your Fails are important to share, too. Ted Williams didn’t bat 1.000,  or .500 for that mattter. I know my district is not close to batting 1.000 and I bet your team isn’t either. We pilot products that don’t work as expected. Projects fail to soar because we don’t lay the right foundations. We find tools that teachers love, then find that students or administrators don’t share those feelings.  

We can save each other so much time if we shared the “What Not To Do” stories as often as we shared the “What Went Well” stories? It takes a lot of trust to share our low points with new people. So, this Connected Educator month, I promise you this:

If you share your Fails, you will gain more trust because of your transparency, not less. In addition, you will find that there are educators around the country who will tell you how they found success in similar initiatives/implementations. I hope you’ll do the same!

3. #EdShare – A New Hashtag for Connected Educators
#EdShare is for educators to share wins and fails with peers. If you tweet about a great tool or a poor one, use #edshare. If you blog about a success story that I should emulate, use #edshare. If someone should connect with you about your work, tell us why, and use #edshare. This Connected Educator month, let’s up our #edshare game. I’ll be sharing often, and I hope you will, too.

Three for Thursday (Volume 2)

This post originally appeared on my EdWeek Blog

Previously, I posted Three for Thursday (Volume 1), a weekly series that will highlight three web-based resources that are popular with educators.  Before I share this week’s edition, I want to draw your attention to some thoughts on organizing all of these resources which I posted yesterday.  Finally, I will organize all of these Three for Thursday resources in my Diigo bookmarks by tagging them ThreeforThursday.
Here are this week’s three shares:
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My first resource is George Couros’ great blog, The Principal of Change.  George is  Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning with Parkland School Division in in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada. While I admit George is a good friend, I also admit that his blog is one of a few that I am sure to read daily. Whether you are a classroom teacher or a school or district leader, George will push your thinking on education and what is truly best for students.
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My second share is Common Sense Media’s great Graphite website.  Graphite is a free platform that highlights the latest digital resources for schools. The resources are reviewed by educators who also share insights on how teachers can integrate these tools in their classrooms.  Graphite also contains over 1,000 technology-infused lesson plans developed by educators. Before you leave the Graphite website be sure to also subscribe to the Graphite Blog which publishes daily posts from educators on countless topics surrounding best practices for integrating technology in a meaningful way.
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My final share this week comes from Lisa Monthie, a Technology PD Specialist in Waco, Texas.
“I subscribe to this site and receive a weekly email, Lisa shared. “The ideas and featured sites are resources I share and use almost immediately!”  
Thanks for the share Lisa! I hope that other educators will share their favorite resources for future Three for Thursday posts! Please add your favorite digital resources here

A Few Ways To Get Started Curating Digital Content

This post originally appeared on my Edweek Blog

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In my last post, I asked people to share digital resources that they find useful so that I can pass them along for others to try. However, the one discussion that needs to take place before anyone starts to compile their toolbox of digital resources surrounds the curation of these tools.  Where are the best places for me to find these resources and where will I archive them so that I can access them when I want them?

My two main avenues for finding new digital tools is by reading blogs and following lists and hashtags on Twitter.  I follow blogs by using Feedly,  a free resource where you can subscribe to blogs and also organize them based on content.  For instance, I am able to follow all of the blogs and websites across our district and check daily for updates from the schools and classrooms throughout Burlington Public Schools.  Here is a quick overview on how to use Feedly.
My other key resource for finding useful blogs, websites, and articles online is by following hashtags on Twitter.  Whatever your role may be in education, there is a Twitter hashtag out there where other professionals are conversing and sharing resources.  Some of my favorite hashtags are #cpchat (for connected principals/administrators), #edchatma (for educators in Massachusetts), and #bpschat (our Burlington Public Schools hashtag).  If you have not done so already, you should establish a hashtag for your school or district where you can share important resources with your school community.  Take a moment to check out this list of hashtags from Jerry Blumengarten.

Now that I have discussed a couple of the ways that I find resources, it is time for the most important part of this discussion. Where can you tag and save all of these great resources for easy access when you need them.  For me the number of web-based resources that I have saved is currently over 9,000. Fortunately, I have these all saved on Diigo where I can hunt down saved items based on how I tagged them.  One of the great things about Diigo is that it will recommend tags based on the topic covered. For more on how to use Diigo, check out this post.

There are certainly a number of other ways to deal with the curation of resources. If you have a workflow that you like, I would love to hear about it.  The most important point here is that we need to be having these discussions within our schools and not take for granted that staff and students have a curation plan. With the overwhelming number of resources out there, many people without a curation plan will choose to avoid the search for new information and tools.

A Quick Letter to Ed-Tech Salespeople

One of my bigger frustrations is getting form letter emails from companies trying to sell our school district something, particularly something that falls under the category of educational technology. As we head into another school year, I thought I would offer a bit of advice to vendors out there who would like to work with our school district. Excuse me for the form letter, but I know that it is your preferred method of communication. 
Dear Educational Technology Salesperson:
Please stop sending post-conference form letters via email to me that tell me that you enjoyed meeting me at a conference. The fact of the matter is that I tend to avoid the exhibit hall and you probably did not meet me at the conference you referenced. I find this type of correspondence disingenuous and am not likely to work with someone who would send it.

Second, stop sending emails asking what we are doing in our district regarding educational technology and what our needs are. A quick Google search will lead you to some information about what we are up to in our district and it would also allow you to recraft impersonal correspondence which is such a turnoff. I know you are trying to ease your burden and craft a message that can be sent to as many school leaders as possible, but do you really get a high response rate to these?

The bottom line for me here is that we look to bring resources into our schools that add value for students and teachers. By sending a form letter to me, you have already wasted my time and shown that you are not going to go the extra mile to build a rapport with me, my staff, or my students. You may not know this yet, but the most important aspect in learning environments is the quality of the relationships that are built. When individuals feel respected and valued, the outcomes tend to be much more positive.

At the end of the day, it is not about your product. It is really about the level of access that we will have to you and your colleagues should we decide to partner with you to support our learning community. Will you be there for us when we need you to help us? While I know you can’t play favorites, will we be your most valued customer? Can you at least try to make us feel that way?

You need to put the practice of sending everyone the same message on your “stop-doing list.” Otherwise, you will not be hearing back from me.

Best of luck in the 2015-2016 school year! I hope it is successful for both of us.


Danah Boyd’s Research Is Mandatory Reading For School Leaders

A couple of posts back I discussed the importance of school and district leaders taking an active role in facilitating discussions around the topic of students and digital devices.  The reason for this is that the endless number of articles that have been written citing the dangers of device usage can create fear for parents who are playing catch up with the idea of ubiquitous technology.  The two most common topics for these anxiety-provoking articles are the dangers students of connecting with strangers online and students being exposed to too much screen time during the day.
Fortunately, there are experts who have been dealing with this topic extensively who can give us concrete research on how much of this worry is misguided. In my estimation, the most valuable resource for school leaders involved in these discussions in their communities is Danah Boyd and her study surrounding the online activities and behavior of students. Boyd, who has been looking at this topic for over a decade published a brief article in the New York Times last week titled Blame Society, Not The Screen TimeBoyd puts the extensive use of technology in our society into proper perspective with the following statement:

“Even though multiple generations have grown up glued to the flickering light of TV, we still can’t let go of the belief that the next generation of technology is going to doom our kids. We blame technology, rather than work, to understand why children engage with screens in the first place.”

One of Boyd’s major points in regards to causation of the need for students to lose themselves in the digital world is the fact that they are over-scheduled and have little time to decompress due to their hectic lives. We’re raising our students in captivity and they turn to technology to socialize, learn and decompress,” Boyd noted. “Why are we blaming the screens?”

If people want to discuss how and why teens do what they do online and have a clear understanding of this activity, they must start by reading It’s Complicated, a book written by Boyd after seven years of research which included interviews of over 150 teenagers.  It is misleading to toss out personal opinions and paint an ominous picture about on-line activity based on a few observations of teenagers or a few headlines.  A look at Boyd’s work helps paint a much clearer picture of what our students are doing and why they are doing it.   A faculty or community read of the book may also foster conversations between students and adults and help others realize a point that Boyd shared in her preface to It’s Complicated“I recognized that teens’ voices rarely shaped the public discourse surrounding their networked lives.”

We who consider ourselves educational leaders who value student voice have the power to help our students be understood on this critical topic. 

My ISTE 2015 Takeaways

The annual International Society for Technology in Education Conference (ISTE) never ceases to overwhelm me, yet it is something I always look forward to attending again.  The reason for this is really pretty simple, the passion and energy of the more than 14,000 annual attendees is renewing for me.  After the ups and downs of a typical school year coupled with the disheartening national dialogue surrounding education reform, having an opportunity to connect and share with teachers from around the world always reinforces the fact that we can make a difference for the students we serve.
As I continue to synthesize all of the sessions and conversations I was fortunate to be a part of I want to thank all of the educators who made the trip to Philadelphia this year. Despite the fact that this conference and the organization that sponsors it is recognized for “Technology in Education,” the real takeaway for me is always about the people. From the opening Town Hall panel on Sunday to the closing keynote by Josh Stumpenhorst on Wednesday afternoon, the message I continued to hear was about the very human endeavor of of building relationships in our schools and classrooms.
Here are two quotes from ISTE 2015 that I will continue to dwell on this summer along with an accompanying question as I focus on preparing for the 2015-2016 school year:
“Relationships are still the foundation of great schools. All the tech in the world means nothing without that focus.”  – George Couros
What can we do to keep the focus on building relationships in our school communities?
“The silver bullet in education is you (teachers)! You are what students need in classroom.” Josh Stumpenhorst
How can school leaders empower teachers to create the learning environments our students need?