Supporting Healthy Social Media Habits

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This past Saturday at our third annual Parent University, I was fortunate to lead a short session on how parents can help support their kids in the development of healthy social media habits.  During the session, I shared some of the ways I have monitored my 12-year old daughter’s use of her newly acquired iPhone and her subsequent use of various apps and social media tools.

In regards to the monitoring of apps on my daughter’s phone, I love the way Family sharing on iTunes allows parents to approve the addition of apps to their child’s phone. This allows me to have a conversation with my daughter before allowing her to add new apps and ask the following:

  • Why do you want that app?
  • What will you use it for?
  • Will that app make your life easier in some way?
  • How much time do you think you will spend on that app each day?

One example of an app that we decided did not need to be added was Lipsi. When I got the request to add Lipsi, I immediately asked my daughter why she needed it. She informed me that it was an app that many of her friends had that allowed them to comment on Instagram posts.  I have to admit I was confused here because my daughter has a private Instagram account and she is only allowed to follow friends from school and pre-approved celebrities. Therefore, I am not sure why another app would be needed to comment.

Common Sense Media is a great resource for parents

In order to shed some light on this, I turned to Common Sense Media which is a goldmine of information on apps, websites, movies and books.  All you have to do is enter the title of the media source that you want more information on in the search bar and Common Sense Media will provide a review and rating. In the case of Lipsi, here is what I found:

“Buggy, anonymous app invites misuse, bullying.”

In addition, Lipsi is recommended for ages 18-plus.  Also, why would someone need an app that posts anonymous messages on Instagram? I told my daughter that if she had something to say about a friend’s post on Instagram that it should be public and the same should go for her friends commenting on her posts. There are enough stories about teens bullying one another on Instagram out there without this type of app.

Keeping a handle on screen-time is something we all need to do

Finally, we spent some time talking about the need for all of us to be mindful of the time we spend on screens.  While this is a neverending topic for me, one thing that opened my eyes was the Infomagical Bootcamp put out by the Note to Self podcast back in 2016.  One of the things I have done since my Infomagical experience is turn off all of my notifications on my phone and organized all of my apps. I encourage anyone interested in improving the balance in their lives in regards to technology-use to give the Infomagical Bootcamp a shot.

At the very least, you should check out your app usage on your iPhone or iPad and look at how much time you spend on particular apps daily and weekly.  There are also ways to do this for android users.   The latest iOS updates for Apple also include options for parents to set app and screen-time limits for their children.

It’s a new world for parents who grew up without the rapidly-increasing list interconnected tools and resources that are available.  It is important that we have an ongoing dialogue within our communities in order to ensure a healthy balance for ourselves and our kids.

Here’s a Google Doc with everything I discussed in my Parent University 2018 session.



Most Schools Are Not Set Up For This

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One of the bloggers who always gets me thinking is Harold Jarche. His insights into the ways that organizations and individuals need to function in order to ensure continuous learning are important for educators to consider since our ultimate goal is to prepare students for the “real world.”

His most recent post shared the following quote:

“Connections drive innovation. We need input from people with a diversity of viewpoints to help generate innovative new ideas. If our circle of connections grow too small, or if everyone in it starts thinking the same way, we’ll stop generating new ideas —Tim Kastelle (2010)

How can those of us who work in schools be sure that we are developing the skills in our students that are necessary for them to develop a diverse network that allows them to generate new viewpoints and ideas?  Don’t we first have to develop learning communities where educators are encouraged to establish the connections necessary to drive innovation in their schools and classrooms?


Two Great Social Media Resources for Parents

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Instagram has put together a great resource for parents who would like to learn more about its ultra-popular app and also keep up with what their kids are up to with this social media tool.  Know How To Talk With Your Teen About Instagram: A Parent’s Guide is available both as a PDF and in a web-based form

The guide does a great job highlighting how parents can support their students in the following areas: 

  • Managing Privacy
  • Managing Interactions
  • Managing Time

A second great resource is a new Common Sense Media Report titled Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences.

A few of the key findings from this report are as follows:

  • Only a very few teens say that using social media has a negative effect on how they feel about themselves; many more say it has a positive effect.
  • Social media has a heightened role— both positive and negative—in the lives of more vulnerable teens.
  • Social media is an important avenue of creative expression for many teens.

As both a parent and an educator, I encourage others to take a little bit of time to read through these two resources.  The Common Sense Media report on teen social media use is extremely valuable because the feedback comes directly from teens. Instead of speculating on the habits and the impact of these habits on our students, we have valuable insights directly from the source. The graphic below is just one example.cs_socialmediasociallife_infographic

#WeeklyWebFinds – July 31, 2018

Fake videos of real people — and how to spot them

Supasorn Suwajanakorn’s TED Talk looks at how technology is making it easier to create fake videos of real people. If you don’t have time to watch the whole video, fast forward to the 4:10 mark and see a glimpse of what this could look like.  Suwajanakorn, a Google engineer, also described the work he is doing to create a counter-measure to allow people to see if a video is authentic. He is working on a “reality defender” plug-in that could be installed on websites to spot fake videos.

Prioritizing Teacher Self-Care – Edutopia

This post on Edutopia looks at an elementary school in Nashville where teachers have set up a system to ensure that their colleagues have a social-emotional support network in place when they need to step away from the classroom for a moment. One of the teachers summed it up as follows:

“You sometimes just need to ask for help, and it’s okay, and it’s really accepted here, and it’s promoted. No one’s alone, we’re a ship and we run together, and there’s someone always that has your back.”

Technology as a Distraction – Dean Shareski

This is an important read from Dean Shareski about the dilemma that we are dealing with whether we are an educator or a parent. The bottom line is that this issue is not only impacting students, but it is also having a negative impact on many adults.  He sums up the dilemma facing our students as follows:

“…consider the average teen trying to sleep at night. Their choice is a world of information, entertainment and connection vs the back of their eyelids or time thinking quietly. That’s not a fair choice. That’s a choice many people struggle with including myself.”

As we talk more and more about Social Emotional Learning and mindfulness in our schools, Dean encourages adults to help teenagers answer the following questions:

  • “How to be alone?”
  • “What does it mean to be disconnected?”
  • “How can we better appreciate the simple joys of life?”
  • “How do we develop habits of mind and body when the dopamine effects of these devices are so compelling?”
  • “What does contentment look like?”

#WeeklyWebFinds – July 21, 2018

So after last week’s #ThreeforThursday post, I have already altered my goal and will go with a more flexible #WeeklyWebFinds post to highlight articles and other related topics of interest. Anyway, here are three more things that got me thinking last week…

Empowering Kids In An Anxious World – from NPR

This brief article from NPR highlights the thoughts of authors of two new parenting books.  Both cite the lack of free play for children as a major reason for the dramatic rise in anxiety and depression among kids over the last few decades.  The two books are The Good News About Bad Behavior by Katherine Lewis and The Self-Driven Child by William Stixrud and Ned Johnson.  Lewis sums up the problem as follows:

“to build self-control, we need to stop controlling children.”

Flexible Classrooms: Research Is Scarce, But Promising – from Edutopia

This article looks at a study of over 150 classrooms from the United Kingdom that shos that flexible seating options for students CAN have a positive impact on academic performance.  The author notes the difficulty of studying this topic due to the number of variables that are in play (i.e. lighting, acoustics, air quality, etc.).  The takeaway at the end of the article seems straightforward, but it is something that is definitely not enough of a focal point for many schools.

“Flexibility, combined with characteristics like acoustics and air quality, has a real impact on student achievement. If used properly, flexible classrooms produce better academic outcomes among primary school children than more traditional, static classroom designs.”


10 Reasons Why we should start showing Middle Schoolers how to use Social Media – By Jennifer Casa-Todd

This is Jen’s response to an article in Psychology Today talking about why middle school students should not be using Social Media.  While I understand the concerns around middle schoolers and social media, I am in Jen’s camp here and feel that we have an opportunity to help middle schoolers understand the opportunities available to them if they learn how to use social media tools constructively.  Jen also cites a 2016 piece from Common Sense Media that highlights the pitfalls of teens using social media tools without any guidance.  Her closing statement says it all for me.

“I’m not sure why we feel it is an all or nothing situation. We need to recognize that the world is different than it was even 10 years ago, and balance our fears with opportunities to help our kids not just survive but thrive and be leaders in online spaces!”



4 Shifts Protocol Helps Redesign Lessons for Deeper Learning

School leaders spend a lot of time talking about how to make learning more relevant and engaging for students.  Many of these discussions evolve into multi-year efforts to implement project-based or inquiry-based learning.  While any amount of time spent assuring access to deeper learning opportunities for all students is time well spent, the path to implementation can be both bumpy and lengthy.  At last week’s Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Executive Institute, Scott McLeod shared a great protocol that provides immediate immersion into the questions that we need to be asking about student learning.

McLeod’s Four Shifts Protocol, which he designed with Julie Graber, is a great discussion tool to immediately get people looking at how lessons and/or units can be improved in each of the following areas:

  • Higher-level thinking
  • Authentic work
  • Student agency and personalization
  • Technology Infusion

In addition, McLeod included videos and lesson plans from teachers at various grade levels during his introduction to the protocol (see page three here).  This would work well for school leaders beginning similar discussions with teachers because the focus would be on looking at someone else’s classroom and lessons before having them critique their own.

In getting started with the protocol McLeod recommended just picking a few bullets from one of the four areas to focus on at a time. For example, we looked at a video from a Geometry class and the lesson plan and then answered looked at the first four bullets under Authentic work (from page 3 of the protocol):

  • Real or Fake. Is student work authentic and reflective of that done by experts outside of school?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Authentic Role. Are students asked to take on an authentic societal role as part of their learning?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Domain Practices. Are students utilizing authentic, discipline-specific, practices and processes?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Domain Technologies. Are students utilizing authentic, discipline-specific tools and technologies?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat

During the first part of the protocol, we discussed in small groups whether we thought the answers to the questions were yes, no, or somewhat.  While that led to some interesting discussions, it was the second part of the protocol that was the most interesting.  This entailed each group going back and reframing the questions we had looked at and considering what we could do to make the work more authentic. For example, how could we make the student work more reflective of that which is done by experts outside the school? or What could we do to add more authentic, discipline-specific practices and processes?

Anyway, we spent about an hour going through the four areas of the protocol in the fashion described above. It seems like a great process to get teachers looking at ways to create more engaging lessons for students.




6 Big Questions for Superintendents from Scott McLeod

Day two of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Executive Institute featured Scott McLeod as the keynote speaker. Scott is an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Colorado Denver and he is recognized as one of the top experts in the world on school technology leadership issues. His long list of accomplishments also includes the co-creation of the wildly popular video series, Did You Know? (Shift Happens), which has over 16 million views. He is also is the co-creator of the 4 Shifts Protocol for lesson/unit redesign (which I will share more in a separate post).

Scott’s keynote was framed around 6 key questions that school leaders need to grapple with in order to ensure that what happens within schools is evolving fast enough to adequately prepare students for the rapidly-changing landscape outside of schools.  The 6 questions are as follows:

Are our graduates really literate? 

McLeod noted that Massachusetts students are among the best in the world when it comes to taking standardized tests. However, there are a number of critical skills that cannot be measured by the likes of tests like NAEP or MCAS.  The slide below was one that was shared to highlight this point.  What it means to be literate in 2018 has changed a great deal over the last few decades, but the key point here is that we are still using the same outdated measures that look at a narrow set of literacies.

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Are we taking advantage of new powerful forms of learning?

The quote from Mitch Resnick above discusses the importance of students producing content rather than just being consumers of content.  Scott cited stories of students who have created amazing products due to their expertise in utilizing technological resources:

There are countless examples in our schools of students being given the opportunity to create rather than just consume. Hopefully, there are examples in your school of students doing similar work. The challenge here from Scott McLeod was to make sure that students doing this type of creative work are not outliers and that all of our students have these opportunities.

Are our students really college and carer ready?

If we are preparing students for college and career in the same manner that we always have then the answer is no. The graphic below clearly outlines the dramatic rise in non-routine analytical and non-routine interpersonal tasks over the last few decades compared to the routine manual and cognitive skills needed for employability in the late 20th Century.

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Are our students really engaged in their learning?

The numbers below from a Gallup Survey in 2016 speak for themselves. How different are things in the classrooms in your school? Are students in your classrooms engaging in authentic tasks that connect concepts they are learning with real-world experiences outside of school.

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Are we changing fast enough?

While the obvious answer here seems to be a resounding no, the most important factor is that your school community has at least acknowledged the need for a change.  Are we still partaking in outdated practices that make our focus more on compliance than instilling the agency in student learning that will lead to greater collaboration and creativity?

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Are we paying enough attention to equity concerns?

There are many levels to this conversation and the slide below just references a very small part in its reference to the way black students and students receiving free lunch utilized computers compared to their white peers.  The first part of this issue involves ensuring access for ALL students. We may be talking about technology, but there are so many other concerns (i.e. experienced teachers, modern classrooms, technological infrastructure and tools).

As Scott noted, the big question here is whether or not ALL students are getting the opportunity to think, make, create and contribute?

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#ThreeforThursday – #SummerReads

It’s summer and I am trying…again to utilize this space more often. So for attempt #1, I will endeavor to share three worthwhile things each Thursday.  My hope is that this will lead me to write something more than once a week. Hey, this is actually my second post today, but I am keeping in mind how many exercise routines I have failed to follow through one due to starting out at an unsustainable pace.

So for this week, I am going to share the first three books I have read this summer:

  1. Being the Change by Sara K. Ahmed – I am not sure if there is a bigger challenge in schools right now than teaching our students how to have conversations about race, gender, politics, religion, and sexuality. These are the topics that we, the educators in schools, tend to steer clear of when they come up. Fortunately, Ahmed has shared with us some clear plans to get over the hurdle and create learning environments where we can start to have these conversations. The moral imperative of this topic is summed up perfectly by Ahmed as follows:  “we cannot progress as a society if we rely on television images, single stories, and sensationalized headlines over getting proximate to the personal experiences and individual truths of human beings who don’t look like us.”  This is a book you are going to want to share with every educator you know.Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 12.08.37 PM
  2. The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida – This book was written by a 13-year old autistic boy from Japan who learned how to spell out words from an alphabet grid in order to better communicate with those around him. The result of this ability led to this amazing book where he shares his insights into some of the questions we all have about what goes on inside the autistic mind. Higashida’s book is literally a list of the FAQ’s that people have about individuals with autism. Questions like What causes panic attacks and meltdowns? Why do you make a huge fuss over tiny mistakes? and Why do you move your arms and legs about in that awkward way? are all answered here by Higashida. This is truly a unique book due to the firsthand perspective that only this author can offer.Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 12.09.38 PM.png
  3. Different Schools for a Different World – by Scott McLeod and Dean Shareski – My disclaimer here is that I haven’t actually started this one yet, but I have no doubt that it will offer concrete examples of how school leaders and educators can start and/or continue to make the shifts needed to change schools and classrooms to better prepare students for the world.  McLeod and Shareski have been advocates of the need for schools to alter outdated methods for more than a decade and I can’t think of two better resources to help educators on this path!Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 12.11.50 PM

Four Steps for Better Decision-Making

The Keynote speaker on day 1 here at the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Executive Institute (follow on Twitter #MASSUPTEI18) was Dan Heath. You have probably heard of Dan and his brother Chip and their four best-selling books (Made to Stick, Switch, Decisive, and The Power of Moments).  Their most recent book, The Power of Moments, is a great summer read for educators.  Whether you are an administrator or a classroom teacher, finding ways to “create experiences that have an extraordinary impact” is a constant goal. The book contains a number of examples from teachers and administrators who have found success altering routines and have created “elevated” experiences for learners.

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Getting back to yesterday’s keynote, Dan shared a 4-step process for better decision-making.

  1. Widen options – Heath cited a couple of studies that showed that both individuals and organizations often limit their decision-making to an either/or scenario where there are only two options. He noted that adding just one additional option increased the chances of success significantly. (One expert he cited was Paul Nutt from Ohio State)
  2. Reality Test Your Assumptions – This one is also known as confirmation bias. When we believe something to be true, often times we only look for research that supports our point of view.  He encouraged school leaders to check with colleagues who have had similar experiences before making a final decision on something significant. We really don’t do this enough.
  3. Attain Some Distance – “Trusting your gut” is not the best option sometimes according to Heath. Sometimes we need to take some time and ask ourselves some of the following questions to break out of the complacent or comfortable path we might be on.
    • What would our successors do?
    • What would our successors wish we had done?
  4. Prepare to be wrong – Heath noted that getting a decision wrong is not as important as the process by which you got to the decision. If people are happy with the process that you utilized to get to a decision, then they are usually accepting of the outcome even if it is lousy.

While this four-steps seem like common sense, I am again reminded of Voltaire’s quote “Common sense is not so common.”

On to Day two of #MASSUPTEI18!



Decisions, Decisions: It’s College Decision Time


With the May 1 deadline looming for many families ( and mine) in regards to making the initial deposit at the school that their senior will attend, I find myself revisiting a couple of opinions I have read on the subject of choosing a college. The most recent is a piece by William Stixrud, titled  It’s Time to Tell Your Kids It Doesn’t Matter Where They Go To College, that appeared in Time back in March.  My key take away from Stixrud’s piece is the following:

“Children are much more energized when they envision a future that is in line with their own values than when they dutifully do whatever they believe they have to do to live up to their parents’ or teachers’ or college admissions boards’ expectations. We don’t inspire our kids through fear. We inspire them by helping them to focus on getting better at something, rather than being the best, and by encouraging them to immerse themselves in something they love.”

The point here is that immersion into an area of study can be accomplished at many universities and not just the most well-known or expensive schools.  Stixrud also cites Pew Research that reinforces the point that an elite private university will not ensure higher income or job satisfaction.

Stixrud’s article is in line with many of the points made by Frank Bruni in his book Where You Go Is Not Who’ll You BeI wrote about this book a few years back when my oldest child was going through the college application process.  My biggest takeaways from the Bruni’s book are the following excerpts:

“You’re going to get into a college that’s more than able to provide a superb education to anyone who insists on one and who takes firm charge of his or her time there.”

“It’s not where you went to school. It’s how hard you work.”

As the clock ticks on towards the imminent decision for my child, I am going to rework the following letter from Bruni’s book. It sums up my feelings perfectly and the pride I feel for what my daughter has accomplished thus far. It is so much easier to have perspective some 30-plus years after making this type of decision.  The journey is just beginning for her…

Dear Matt,

On the night before you receive your first college response, we wanted to let you know that we could not be any prouder of you than we are today. Whether or not you get accepted does not determine how proud we are of everything you have accomplished and the wonderful person you have become. That will not change based on what admissions officers decide about your future. We will celebrate with joy wherever you get accepted—and the happier you are with those responses, the happier we will be. But your worth as a person, a student and our son is not diminished or influenced in the least by what these colleges have decided.

 If it does not go your way, you’ll take a different route to get where you want. There is not a single college in this country that would not be lucky to have you, and you are capable of succeeding at any of them. We love you as deep as the ocean, as high as the sky, all the way around the world and back again—and to wherever you are headed.

Mom and Dad