Empathy – We Still Have a Way to Go

 

We are coming up to ‘Bell Let’s Talk‘ on January 31st. This is a day to have an open dialogue on mental health issues in Canada. That’s a very good thing.

Twitter is not always the best forum for discussions on important topics like mental health. I have already seen people ‘like’ tweets about the importance of reaching out if you are someone in distress.

It is so easy to ‘like’. It is much harder to sit there and be present with someone who is really struggling. As someone who has suffered from mental illness in the past, I know people need more than a retweet.

I am happy that this topic is reaching beyond the shadows and getting some publicity. I am seeing people like Chris Nihmey and Laurie Azzi who are doing really important work on social media getting out the message that people need to talk. This is essential and I think their work could actually save lives.

What we need is more people entering this dialogue in a really meaningful way. I remember what it was like to be a struggling educator with serious mental health concerns. I did reach out to people when I was suffering from debilitating anxiety. In all cases, at work at least, my efforts to reach out were rebuffed.

In one case that I have written about before, I told a superintendent that undue stress was a trigger for anxiety. Incredibly, my honest admission was ignored.

Very fortunately for me when I reached out at home, I was understood and loved. That has made all the difference.

I learned a lot from my own mental health struggles and I am better for what I went through. I do however struggle with those in places of authority who are still unable to be empathetic when it comes to the people who work for them.

I have never called out the superintendent that was so insensitive to my own admissions and I won’t do it now. I only hope that they have learned something in the past few years. I hope they have learned a certain degree of empathy.

I am adding a Twitter Moment to this post. It is part of an incredible conversation on Twitter on the need for empathy amongst educators for educators. There are some pretty stark posts included here. I really hope that by writing these tweets, people have found some healing and understanding.

Good that there is a day of awareness. We still have a lot of growing to do.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The IWitness Challenge: Make the World Stronger than Hate

I don’t usually post from one blog to another, but today is the exception. This is such a good learning opportunity for students and educators I just had to put my Discovery Education post on this blog. If you are an educator, I really encourage you to examine this creative opportunity.

Educators have a powerful opportunity to educate and inspire students to make change now.

The 2018 IWitness Video Challenge, created by USC Shoah Foundation and in partnership with Discovery Education, provides an actionable way to promote equality, challenge bias, discuss tolerance, and engage students in a service-learning project that inspires action.

I Witness Viseo Challenge

The people in charge of developing partnerships for Discovery education are to be applauded. At a time where hate and divisiveness are part of our daily dialogue, Discovery Education is showing true leadership by encouraging the opposite – hope. They are doing this in the best way possible, by putting out a challenge to young people, the ones who will create a better world sometime soon.

This is not a partnership I know anything about.  All the more reason to write about it here and learn with all of you.

The USC Shoah Foundation is an incredible organization and they offer a wonderful teaching tool for students and educators. The Foundation is linked to the Institute for Visual History and Education which is dedicated to making audio-visual interviews with survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides. It is the perfect partner for Discovery Education.

The contest calls for community action in a similar way to the newly launched STEM Connectseries. Discovery Education is again showing their unique ability to go beyond their own walls to reach out and link the classroom with the outside world.

In this contest, students will listen to testimonies of survivors and witnesses of genocide and become inspired to counter hate. They will complete research-based and standards-aligned activities, culminating in a community action project. To compete in the Video Challenge, students will document their work in a video essay, which will share their message with the world.

I Witness Video Challenge

When I see things like this I truly wish I was back in the classroom!

There is more being written recently about banning cell phones from classrooms and the addictive effects of social media. I can see how this will go, with more calls from people who really don’t understand social media for its banning in schools.

Incredible contests and partnerships like this really need to be promoted so that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Social media using curated resources like Discovery Education can empower and transform our students and then, hopefully, transform a society that is suffering from way too much distrust and negativity.

Prizes for students reach as high as $5000 scholarships and participating schools are eligible for grants up to $2500.

It is really easy to sign up for the video challenge. The steps are outlined here. As always with Discovery Education partnership projects, there is an excellent teacher’s guide that you can see and download here.

I hope you can sign up your class for this unique challenge. We need more hope and we need to push back and create beautiful things!

 

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

 

 

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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!