Friday, July 30, 2010

Moving Forward

The following post was written jointly by Britt (5th grade teacher) and Jon (6th grade teacher). This post is in response to Scott McLeod’s Leadership Day 2010 challenge. #leadershipday10

What does it mean to move forward?
Last year I opened up a few lunch periods per week to have kids come into the classroom and learn chess.  Every week they would sit across from their opponents, wait for the first move, and get to hear me say, “Think ahead and never, ever make a move without a purpose.”  Today I ask the same of current school administrators.  If my 5th graders make a move and say, “I have a good reason!  It is the same move I made last game,”  but they ignore their opponents, they will lose.  Unfortunately, much of the leadership in education approaches the more complex task of leading a school or district in a similar way.

In order to be a good leader, one has to be a visionary.  To have a vision for the future requires a knowledge of the past, an awareness of the current, and an educated understanding of what’s next.  So what does it mean to move forward?  Once the vision is realized, forward movement is in the direction of that goal and everything else is unacceptable.  So how can educational leadership fulfill their vision of raising tomorrow’s leaders who are prepared to learn and grow in tomorrow’s world?

Be a learner - read blogs!
School leaders must be knowledgeable about what is happening in the world. To effectively prepare students for the future, one must have a firm grasp on what is happening right now. Blogs written by fellow administrators, professors, teachers, and education technology experts are a good place to start learning. Subscribing to these blogs via Google Reader is a first step in learning about how technology is changing the way our students learn. There is always something new to learn and Google Reader collects this information and packages it into easy-to-digest segments that even the busiest administrator can handle. To learn more watch this explanation of Google Reader created by the folks at Common Craft.
Try - use some of these tools.
Leading by example is an effective method in winning over a reluctant staff. To gain credibility with these new tools it is important to know and understand them yourself. Here are a handful of basic tools that will open up a whole new world of learning to your school.
Collaboration with Google Docs
  • Google Docs is similar to Microsoft Office but adds a powerful element of collaboration. When working with Google Docs, files are saved to the internet instead of a local hard drive. This allows for easy file sharing and the ability for multiple users to edit the same document at the same time.
Sharing knowledge with wikis
  • A wiki is a website that can be edited by multiple users and shared with the world. Wikis allow users to work together to share information and ideas. My sixth grade students and I have used this tool to create study guides, publish projects, and form a central resource for what we are learning in the classroom. We use PBworks in my classroom, but there are many options available.
Write about what you’re learning with a blog
  • Student blogging has been a positive experience in my classroom. Students have a renewed passion for writing when they realize their work will be published online. As an administrator it would serve as a powerful encouragement to your staff and students to write about what you are learning. There are many blogging platforms available; I would suggest starting with Blogger or KidBlog.
Communicate with Twitter

Empower - find staff that is willing to try.
Not everyone is going to smile when the administration lays out goals around technology.  If a school staff isn’t entirely ready to adopt major changes around instruction, then start with the few that are ready.  At my school, the principal has provided me with laptops, a projector, and a class set of Ipod Touches.  When I took the job two years ago I had three student computers and an overhead projector.  The leadership at that time told me there was not money for technology.  That administrative team left and the new one had a different mentality.  She is a perfect model for the busy principal who, though she isn’t fluent with technology herself, is willing and able to provide her staff with the tools needed to prepare the students for the future.  
Ask around and find out the best use of meager funds to start bringing in useful technology.  Use teachers who are excited about those tools and let them use them with students.  Have those teachers teach other teachers about integrating technology.  Once the grassroots have sprouted, water the yard with more tools, school accounts on some of the tools listed above, use more electronic communication, and then watch the growth.  Send some teachers to local or regional educational technology conferences and let them share the things they learned with everyone else.  These are a few of the ways I have seen my own school, an elementary school with more than 35 classroom teachers, go from drowning in paper to integrating useful technology and talking about going paperless - in just one year.
The challenge to the modern educational administrator is to become educated about the world their students live in, to nurture connections with others in their field, and then determine their vision for their school.  As with my 5th graders staring at the chess boards, the leaders in schools need to survey the opposition - what will these students face when they move to the next stage of life? - and then make the right move to best prepare those students.  Using the simple tools suggested above, that next move and each one after that will be fresh and visionary.

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