Freeing the Minds of School Administrators

OK, today I admit I am entering the world of fantasy posts, but I am still going to give this a try.

We have seen lots of Twitter traffic and great blog posts in the last two weeks about how educators are stifled in what they can write on social media by school boards who do not want to read dissenting opinions from their employees.

The best posts are coming from Andrew Campbell. This post is great

So, we know what the problem is – the overarching authority of school board bureaucrats and senior admin to stifle all thoughtful opinion but their own. But is there a solution?

Only if you live in the world of fantasy!

I think this is really an issue of governance. Education in Ontario is really controlled by a small number of senior administrators who are in no way overseen by anyone else in the province. Yes, there are lots of ministry directives, but there is no oversight on the overbearing behavior of board admin.

I write board admin because I don’t mean school administrators – principals and vice-principals.

These are the people who have trained for years to become administrators and put everything on the line every day to keep things going in their schools. It is a tough job and there is little or no support for the hard work that they do. There is also little protection given to them in they run into conflict with parents and even worse, board officials.

Many believe that they are agents of their school board first and that the decisions made by the board, decisions they have no say in, must be supported without question.

This is the incredible thing. School administrators are seldom asked for their opinion about how things should be done at a district level. These decisions are made by superintendents and program coordinators who have little connection to the schools they oversee.

School administrators need to have a voice. They need to be consulted in a meaningful way and they need to know that if they speak out they will be protected by a higher authority than their own school board.

If this were to happen we might actually read some interesting and useful comments on how schools can become more effective. Right now, the best we can expect from a school administrator on Twitter is cheerleading – the useless tweets that are designed to make the school look good without conveying any useful information.

So, again firmly in fantasy land, this is my solution. Free up school administrators from the heavy drag of district officials. Let them speak on the record so we can hear from a very effective group of front-line workers who may actually have some ideas on how to bring about effective change to our schools.

This shouldn’t be a fantasy.

 

 

Social Media and Educators – When Will We Grow Up?

Doug Peterson has written a number of great posts over the past few days based on a wide-ranging Twitter conversation we had on the weekend.

Doug has summarized the conversation really well in the following posts:

Yeah, it can happen – Oct 11
The right to tweet – Oct 10
The “P” in PLN – Oct 9

This is a hard conversation to summarize as it went on for three days and had participation from at least ten different participants. The conversation is collected here in case you want to see it.

I also tried to summarize things in this blog post: Twitter, Educators, and Dissent – October 8

As the conversation evolved, we got closer to talking about free speech, social media and working for an institution. I don’t think anything was resolved, but it was very interesting and more than a little sad to read what people had to say.

To me, it shows that our ideas on social media are still evolving. It indicates that institutions have an incredible fear of social media and see it still as a threat. It also reminds me of the incredible power of institutions to suppress the actions of its members even if these actions are not clearly critical of the institution.

To be honest, it is amazing that we had any sort of conversation as some of the participants are still working for districts and these individuals clearly took a risk by getting involved. I totally understand why others decided to stay clear.

I wrote one comment on Doug’s post and I think this would be a good conversation to have openly on voicED Radio.

In preparing to write the comment, I took a look at an old disciplinary letter that I received. It had a chilling effect. It brought back all the old, bad emotions that swirled around during the last year and a half of employment for that district. Truly, writing about this stuff is more difficult than what I have written in the past about my mental health journey.

Still, this needs to be written about. Institutions should not be allowed to operate with impunity, nor should they be motivated by fear or the desire to sanction employees who challenge their way of thinking.

I hope these posts, discussions, and comments can open this conversation a little bit. It is way past time that we matured in our views regarding social media.

Here is my comment:

Hi Doug. Thanks for your posts over the past few days. Very interesting discussion. Reading the comments and your post again I think it is important to point out that disciplinary action is not a black and white thing. I think we are all looking for the smoking gun – the obvious tweet that is clearly over the line. It is not as simple as that and not everything can be resolved through a face to face conversation either.
When it comes to a violation of board policy leading to disciplinary action, it is the school board that defines what is appropriate and what is not. They are the ones holding all the cards and they determine what is appropriate. They issue the letter and add in that any further ‘violation’ will lead to further action including suspension without pay.
These are extremely effective actions because they do not need to define what a violation really is.
When you don’t have to clearly define the policy or the violation almost anything can be considered a violation. This effectively shuts down the person who receives the letter.
School Boards are well within their rights to do this and in Ontario at least, nothing can be done about this, especially if you are an administrator.
You do not have to say or tweet something critical of the board, you just have to do something they disagree with. None of this is obvious and none of this falls within the easily defined lines you mention above.
What is the result of all this? Basically, silence.

Twitter, Educators and Dissent

So, this is my third rewrite of this post. You wouldn’t think this would be so difficult, but this is a complex subject with many points of view.

There is no question that Twitter is a vital tool for personalized PD amongst teachers. How they see Twitter is varied and nuanced.

 

 

In my first draft, I was pretty cynical about the apparent lack of critical commentary on our current education system on Twitter. When I turned to members of my own PLN, I found that the conversation turned towards the real difficulty educators face when attempting to adopt a critical stance regarding the system.

To me, this is a really interesting point. Social media has given educators a wonderful platform for sharing ideas and for expressing opinion. Unfortunately, supervisors have also learned that social media is a great way to monitor dissenting opinion. Those who criticise the system can be sanctioned. All you have to do is monitor their Twitter feed.

This is not where I expected to go with this post, but I have to pause and take note of what people wrote today. Many of the writers mentioned that they had been called into their administrator’s office because of something they had written on social media. I certainly have.

I think this shows a fundamental abuse of social media. Professionals should be allowed to express themselves without fear of punishment. We are losing out on a critical debate by shutting down the very people we need to hear from.

This is a shame because the education system needs critics. While teaching is a very creative endeavor, education administration is not. Senior administrators are valued best when they are successful at protecting a narrow set of beliefs that never really challenges their own positions of privilege and authority.

 

There is no question that the education system needs to be excellent. It needs positive supporters and intelligent critics to achieve real excellence. We are missing out.

Without constructive criticism, Twitter devolves into a senseless cheerleading platform, a thoughtless flag waving standard for the politically correct.

Andrew Campbell has written an excellent article on this whole topic. Here is a quote:

A teacher explained to me that they’d been called into a meeting with supervisory staff and asked to defend a tweet they’d made about a board policy, which was taken out of context. Teachers have taken down tweets after meetings with supervisory officers who didn’t like what they were posting, and they’re strongly encouraged to ensure that their tweets reflect favourably on the school or the school board.
How School Leaders Are Changing EduTwitter - Andrew Campbell

I had lots to write about educator’s ability to write thoughtful content on Twitter. It’s not all about dissent.

I started with this:

This to me content creation is where the best contributions on Twitter reside. Stephen Hurley had a good thought on this:

I like Twitter (more than other social media) because it helps me “test” ideas. And tested ideas become stronger, or altered.
Stephen Hurley

 

Most of my active PLN is made up of content creators – Stephen Hurley, Donna Miller Fry, Derek Rhodenizer, Julie Boulton, Carol Salva, Sarah Ann Lalonde and a great many more fall into this category – I learn from this group constantly as they put out questions and share ideas on a daily basis.

Now at this point, I was drying up, so I put a question out to my PLN. The response was astounding and I have created a Storify of the two-day conversation. I really suggest you take a look at this – pretty amazing stuff!

What does Twitter do for educators? Content creation? Constructive feedback? Displaying work? Ideas?

Thanks so much to my PLN, you wrote the bulk of this article. There is a whole lot more to write about educator and Twitter, but for today let’s focus on the current state of debate on the state of education and maybe how we can free educators up to express their really important opinions.

New School Year? Why Not Start a School Blog?

I always loved the excitement that comes with this time of year. Getting ready for a new school year always presented new possibilities and projects. In the past few years, I really enjoyed setting up a new year of blogs – one for staff and one for the school community.

What I have found over the past few years is that as a school leader, one must do a very good job at telling the school’s story using every form of social media that works.

In my last school, I found that blogging weekly to the school community worked very well. I started using a school blog when I started at St. Anthony School. Communication here was a big challenge, especially in a community where English was not the first language at home for many families.

I chose to blog because it was the only format that could be translated into different languages using the handy translation tool. I also felt that the days of the paper newsletter were over and that the community had to move to a more flexible form of communication.

I love to blog and I had used a staff blog as a way of communicating with staff members for several years. The school blog was an attempt to introduce the great communication tool to parents and the wider community.

One of the wonderful surprises that occurred with the new school blog was the amazing staff participation in the creation of the weekly blog.

an excerpt from the kindergarten entry from one of our school blogs

Generally, almost all teachers contributed something for the upcoming school blog post. As time went on, many added photos from activities that had taken place during the week before.

This was terrific for the parents and I think really encouraged wide readership of the school blog. From a principal’s perspective, this was wonderful as I received a weekly rundown of what each teacher was planning for their students.

The blog was certainly an act of love, and it did take most of my Sunday to put it together. I really believe that it was well worth the time, especially when students asked me to make sure that photos from their class be included in the blog!

I used Edublogs both for the school and staff blogs. For around $8.00 a month, I subscribed to their ‘pro’ service which allowed me to access their excellent help desk. This was money really well spent as my questions on some of the technical fine points of blogging were always answered within hours of my initial query.

So, if you are looking for a good project for the upcoming school year, why not take up blogging for your school or for your classroom. The work you put into it is really worth the effort. You will be opening up your world to the parents you serve.

Good luck, any questions? Please let me know, very happy to help!

Next post – how to put together a staff blog.

The Importance of Being Civil to Others

I read a great post by Andrew Campbell this morning, Why Teaching Digital Citizenship Doesn’t Work.

He writes:

We need to stop teaching Digital Citizenship with long lists of rules and instead reinforce basic Citizenship. Provide students with a set of positively framed principles to apply to all situations, digital and analog. Students don’t need more rules; they just need to apply the ones they’ve already got. The same ones they learned in kindergarten.

While this post was written in 2013, it is just as relevant today. I would go even further, adults also need to learn to follow the rules of civility. Andrew reposted this blog as part of a larger conversation on civility and respect using digital media. Another participant,

Another participant, Rolland Chidiac made this important comment:

Rolland’s tweet makes a great point, but a sad one. People routinely treat people badly and feel that they can get away with it because they are distanced by the phone or digital media.

As educators, we should strive never to do this. We should be holding ourselves to a higher standard and we should be acting as an example to our students.

I am writing this to comment on a really good twitter discussion and because I witnessed an incredible lack of civility displayed by a fellow administrator today.

Following the rules of civility, I will not get into the details, apart from saying this administrator has done an excellent job at making sure I could not return to my former school to do a presentation on a fundraising climb I took part in to Mount Kilimanjaro earlier this year.

Some people just don’t understand what it means to be gracious and civil and I really believe people like this need reconsider why they are in education. In a world dominated by Donald Trump Tweets and bickering, we need to show more grace and compassion when we are dealing with others. Students, parents, and colleagues.

Following the guidelines set out in this morning’s tweets, I would be happy to confront this educator and explain this to them. Unfortunately, nothing would change and that is too bad.

In a world that is growing crueler and less civil, we really need to reflect on this. Our actions have consequences, our actions can really hurt other people – this is something we should never do.

Thanks to my wonderful twitter friends for a great discussion, very timely based on my experiences today.

 

Keep Yourself Informed – Make a Twitter List

the-nation-thenation-twitter

In times like these, you really need to keep yourself informed.  It is one of the responsibilities that come with living in a democracy.

It is not enough to complain about the bizarre situation in the United States.  Even though I am Canadian, it is really important to keep informed.

There are daily reasons to keep informed and alert.
There are daily reasons to keep informed and alert.

One new way I am trying to keep informed is by setting up a special Twitter list on American politics.  My list is growing daily and it includes many of the dominant opposition voices to the current regime in Washington.  I am also including Donald Trump’s account on the list.  His tweets are objectionable, but again, it is important to see what he is putting out.  A Twitter list is like your own specialized information channel.  I use them frequently to focus my feed on specific topics.

I am also using Scoop.it to share the tweets and articles I find important.  Keeping informed is part of our responsibility, sharing what we find is also essential.

Apart from developing my new Twitter list, I am also signing up for more political blogs and collecting them for my daily unroll.me e-mail.  Again, it is really important to channel as much relevant information as possible to keep aware of a political situation that changes daily.

My list will continue to grow.  I need to create a really good news channel through Twitter and at the same time, I want to follow and support those out there that are doing their best to stand in opposition to the current American political situation.

You can do your part – follow my list or create your own.

Whatever you do, stay informed!

list-members-clipular

https://twitter.com/mcguirp/lists/american-politics/members

 

Teaching as Resisting: Using Social Media in Difficult Times

“Schools should not, in other words, be responsive, welcoming, or servile in the face of change, but should be bulwarks against it. Schools should be the high point from which to watch the flood.”

Gary Chapman The Not School discussion of Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death

I read Neil Postman’s book Teaching as a Conserving Activity when I was in teacher’s college.  Something stuck with me, although I haven’t read it in over 31 years. To me, there was an important message in this book.  Education needs to stand in resistance to the dominant culture.

I have always seen the educator’s role as that of a subversive.  We need to resist the dominant culture and teach our children to be critical thinkers.

This is more important now than ever.

For most of us, we are living under a truly evil leader for the first time. This happens, it just hasn’t happened to us before.

Donald Trump is not something that we have seen before in an American President. Denying refugees safe haven and painting them all as dangerous subversives is simply wrong and we who teach need to stand in opposition to this type of thinking.

How do we resist?

I would suggest that this is the time to really embrace social media and teach our children how to use it responsibly.  I can no longer stomach those who say that social media is dangerous and has no place in the classroom.  Those who say our students use social media just to keep up with the Kardashians are really missing the point.  The Kardashians are simply the Flintstones of a new generation.

An older generation's version of the Kardashians
An older generation’s version of the Kardashians

Let’s move on.

Social media is the best way for all of us to resist the evil that now exists in our society.  Remember this, most of us have never lived under a Pinochet, a Franco, a Mussolini.  In the days of these and other dictators, there was no light that you could shine on their evil and have it viewed by others.

Our one hope is that the power of social media means we finally have a weapon to deal with ignorance and hate.

In 2007, a group of protesters in Suchitoto, El Salvador were abducted when they were protesting against water privatization. Their capture was caught on film and quickly uploaded to Youtube.  Ten years earlier, these protesters would have disappeared never to be seen again.

Because of social media, there was an international protest against the illegal capture and eventually, the Salvadoran Government was forced to release the protestors.

If you know anything about the slaughter of civilians during the civil war in El Salvador this was an incredible event.  International pressure fuelled by social media certainly saved the lives of these people.

Now, in 2017 we are faced with a government system that has all the earmarks of the oppressive Salvadoran regime of earlier days.  But we have the tools and as educators, we need to use them as a way to stand in opposition to racism and bigotry.

Look what is coming out daily through social media:

Ontario’s minister of health and long-term care says the province will offer to provide life-saving care to children whose surgeries have been cancelled in the United States as a result of recent travel restrictions.

“Given that this is a critical time for these ill children, our ministry and Ontario’s specialized children’s hospitals, which provide best-in-the-world care, feel the responsibility to act quickly,” Eric Hoskins said Friday.

Hoskins said it has come to the government’s attention that some critically ill children are being turned away at the U.S. border solely because of where they were born and that Canada has an obligation to respond.

CBC Ontario to provide life-saving health care to children affected by U.S. travel ban

Today, Uber also bowed to public pressure and distanced itself from the Trump government.

2017-02-03_0936

So, resistance, peaceful and respectful works.  Let’s really be educators and teach our children that this is an important time.  Tell them to use social media in an intelligent way and resist.

 

The Principal’s Role in Digital Transformation- Four Tools You Should Be Using – Blog post # 5

 

 

5209796269

This is a position I have been in before.  A large part of my role as an administrator has been to encourage the development of new teaching techniques based on digital technology and at the same time, work hard at making the learning at school more visible through the use of social media.

The move to digital transformation however does not last.  Generally, the tools that we use especially to communicate with parents are not always picked up by the next person to fill the role of school administrator.

There is a systemic problem here.  Administrators are not trained in the use of technology or social media.  Many are still hesitant to use Facebook or Twitter and fewer still blog to or text their parent communities.

Part of the problem is that many administrators did not teach at a time where the use of digital media was becoming more prevalent in the classroom.  There is also very little time spent on forming administrators as digital leaders in their schools. Many administrators are still deeply suspicious of social media.

To me, there are several basic tools that all administrators need to be using.  All of these tools have been around for years and do not require a huge amount of technical expertise to use.

Facebook: Many administrators seem to have grown up at a time where Facebook simply was not trusted by educators.  What they don’t realize is that most of our parents grew up with Facebook and still use it as a way to communicate with friends and family.  Facebook is easily the best tool to let parents into the school to see what is going on every day.  Administrators need to use Facebook to open up their schools to their parents – they deserve to know what is going on.

3-st-anthony-school-clipular

Twitter: Twitter needs to be used as a way to quickly communicate with parents and administrators should also be using it daily to keep up with the most recent trends in education.  We have a responsibility to stay well-informed and that means developing a good list of people in the education field that are then followed on a regular basis.

Remind:  downloadThis may seem like overkill, but parents choose their own way to communicate with their school.  You need to use a variety of tools so that parents can choose how they want to hear from you.  You don’t need to use Remind, but you need some form of text communication with parents.  Remind is very easy to set up and parents are the ones who decide if they want to receive your text messages.  Remind is now set up to allow parents to respond to your texts – all in a way that preserves the privacy of the user.

Blogging – you need to blog!  The day of the tired out monthly newsletter is gone, thank goodness!  Having said that, this does not release the administrator from communicating with parents on a regular basis on what is happening and what is coming up at school.  At my last school we used Edublogs to send a weekly post to parents on what was planned for the upcoming week.  All the teachers contributed to the blog with a rundown of their plans for their class.  The blog was the very best tool we had.  Parents and teachers read it every week to keep up to date with all academic, sports and social news coming from the school.  It was an invaluable tool and one that really should be used by all administrators.

A portion of the school blog - produced every week. You can find the whole blog here http://stanthonyconnects.edublogs.org/
A portion of the school blog – produced every week. You can find the whole blog here http://stanthonyconnects.edublogs.org/

There are many other tools that can be used to engage your parent community and new ones are being created every day.  My main point is that this is part of the administrator’s job in 2017.  I don’t know how we can ask our teachers and our students to become adept at using digital technology when our own principals lage so far behind.

There is hope.  If you are an administrator –  challenge yourself – start learning today!

Making Learning Visible – Connect with parents using social media

These are the notes from a recent webinar that I did.  I wanted to make sure people were able to get the links we discussed during the session.  My first webinar – a very interesting experience!

We started with a prezi that I have used and modified for a few years.  It covers a whole host of communication tools, but every time I ask people what they are most interested in it turns out to be blogging.  Today seemed to be the same.

The importance of blogging with your parent community

I use a variety of blogs for a variety of purposes:

The SAN Script – daily to keep in touch with staff and put out information of interest. http://stanthonycatholic.edublogs.org/

St. Anthony Connects: A weekly blog to the parent community http://stanthonyconnects.edublogs.org/

Both these blogs are Edublogs – http://edublogs.org/ easily my favorite type of blog. It is a WordPress blog with an incredible help desk. I pay around $7.00 a month for each blog and it is money well spent. The assistance from their technical staff is excellent and that is the most important factor for me. There are also lots of great extra features like more templates, special fonts, print friendly button, contact us box and many additional features. When you get a pro subscription you also have at least 50 other blogs you can set up.

Teach Talk – https://paulmcguire1.wordpress.com/ and Principal Musings http://principalmusingsoneducation.blogspot.ca/ that I use to write about various topics in education.

This is from Blogger a great blogging tool to start with

The main importance of blogging is keeping in contact with your community. Better than a monthly newsletter you can put it out as often as you want. Parents can subscribe to the blog or you can send out the link.  With our community, the blog can be translated into several different languages, a really valuable asset in a community with a high immigrant base.

The community blog does things that a monthly newsletter simply cannot do including

  • Schedule for the week
  • Photographs – from the past week
  • Teacher notes – for the upcoming week – a really important feature!!
  • Teacher links to newsletters and blogs
  • Translatable into many other languages
  • You can embed videos for personal messages using apps like Touchcast

Here is a recent Touchcast I put out on the blog as well as our facebook and Twitter Page – just another way to get your message out there!

Social media apps -Twitter,Facebook,Flickr, Instagram

 

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/StAnthonyOCSB

We have 265 followers following 402 – the Twitter Page is one great tool that we use daily to post photos and updates on what is going on at our school.  We also link our Google Calendar up to Twitter so events get posted twice.

 

Facebook: We have over 100 likes on our Facebook Page and it is a great way to make the school experience more real for parents.  We post videos, pictures announcements and interesting information for parents on the page.  The most important thing to remember for Twitter and Facebook – post interesting material often.  Focusing on the students is one of the best ways to engage your parents.

https://www.facebook.com/St.AnthonySchoolOttawa

Facebook also will give you some really useful statistics on your audience reach.  We reach as many as 120 people with some of our posts!

 

 

Instagram – slide 7  

https://instagram.com/stanthonyocsb/

This is a great way to get the perfect moment to the parents.  Parents can sign up to follow Instagram and the photos will show up right in their inbox.  The photos are also posted directly to Twitter.

  

Challenges of connecting to hard-to-reach parent communities

How do we engage? By making students the center of the story.  We make short videos of sporting events and post them to Twitter and Facebook.  The kids love them so my hope is the students will lead their parents to our sites.  Here is a short one made using iMovie.

Finally, in the dying minutes of the webinar we started to address hard to reach communities.  We had the opportunity to hear Joe Mazza @Joe_Massa a few times this week.  He brought up all sorts of good ideas on how we can engage communities.  I have included a Storify here that encompasses some of the main points in his presentation.

Storify of Tweets: https://storify.com/mcguirp/ocsb-forum-with-joe-mazza

We finished on a great question – how to you ensure the safety of the student?

We address this by obtaining informed consent from the parent. We are careful never to publish the names of students and we do our best not to take pictures of students where parents are uncomfortable with social media.

Here is a sample of a letter we have used – we would love to see other examples of letters schools use.

Technology SAMR Model for Administrators – Part 2: Community Interaction The Edutopia Series

 

I am continuing to comment on this really interesting series by Josh Work on Edutopia.  The posts read like a social media 101 for administrators!  We all should be able to measure our progress in social media using the SAMR model.  Josh is looking at specific areas that we have responsibility for and he relates each area to the SAMR model.

How do you measure up in key areas like staff presentations, community interaction, file management, classroom evaluations and staff input (Technology SAMR Model for Administrators).

The second post focuses on community interaction which to me is a key responsibility for all administrators.

It is no longer acceptable to accept the notion that parents will just naturally show up at your school.  Parents are much more discerning now, they check out your web page, your Facebook Page (do you have one?) and any other social media tools you are using.  It may a while, but your school will establish an online presence that will attract parents to your school.  I really believe that this is a key factor now that parents consider when choosing a school.

I have read lots of posts from administrators who work hard to make the learning visible to all parents in the community.  My model is Eric Sheninger, the author of Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times.  There is so much to recommend in this book – I think all administrators need to read this book if they want to stay relevant in a time of rapid change.  One thing I have learned from Sheninger and other authors is that we need to make learning visible to our parent community.  We need to use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr and any other tool that allows parents to see what is happening daily in the school.

Using these tools has an interesting impact on students, teachers and parents.  Everyone talks about the learning that goes on in the school.  Parents in our community really like Remind 101 and Facebook, the kids love Instagram.  Our role as administrators is to publish using a variety of tools so that our community can access more information on what is happening every day.

I like how Josh Work has applied the SAMR model to community outreach.  I really think we all need to be way past the substitution stage at this point.  Writing a conventional newsletter then e-mailing it out is simply not good enough.  In Canada, with the Federal CASL legislation, it is now actually illegal to send out unsolicited e-mails.

I love his idea about using QR Codes and especially Aurasma to highlight student work.  These are two communication tools that I will have to try in September!

My September plan at my new school will also include setting up a new Edublog for the parent community along with another for staff.  I will continue to use Facebook and Twitter along with a brand new Google Site as our school web site – thanks to our school board – AMAZING!  I will also continue to use Flickr to store all our school photos and of course Instagram to send daily photos to the school community.  I will not produce a monthly newsletter – this is simply not worth the time when there are so many just in time communication tools available.

As an administrator, what communication tools will you be using this year?  Where would you put yourself on the SAMR model?  Where do you want to be by the end of the year?

Looking forward to Part III.