Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Modeling the Five Tech Behaviors We Want from Teachers

Leadership in its most powerful form is leadership by example. If you are a leader of people, you know this. But it is hard work. It is easier to talk about what to do than to actually do it. However, you are reading this because you want to be the best that you can be. So lead out front, modeling the way you want others to follow.

Technology is the future for our students. We know we need our teachers engaging in it. So below are five technology behaviors you need to adopt (if you have not already) if you are to model the skills of a 21st Century leader.

1. Keep reading and stay current.

For years, monthly professional journals were our primary sources. Now we can find experts from all different fields, and they can all come directly to our homes or offices. We already know we have to keep reading to stay current. But now there are technology tools to help us in this endeavor.  First, learn to search online. That's easy. Next, develop a professional learning network (PLN) and watch their posts, follow the links they recommend. They probably posted it because they found it valuable. Finally, learn how to use an RSS feed. Instead of picking up the morning newspaper, click to your RSS reader. News sources and blog posts most relevant to you come directly to you. They find you.

2. Keep searching and find exciting resources.

While you are out there searching, share your information. Post sources the way you see others do in your PLN. You want your teachers bringing exciting thoughts to their classrooms, so you must bring exciting resources to your professional development activities.

3. Communicate and connect with parents and the public.

Share the news. Learn to post directly onto your school's web page. Don't wait for someone else to do it for you. This is the age of instant communication. Learn to create wiki pages to share news, and use blogs and message boards to get your news out.

4. Communicate and connect with peers.

I already mentioned the PLN. It is most powerful when it is online with professionals from around the world. To connect with them, you need social networking tools like Twitter (@DanielLFrazier) and LinkedIn (Daniel Frazier). Learn how to use these tools, and then more importantly, get in the habit of using them regularly.

5. Share and support the profession.

We do work every day because someone laid the foundation for us yesterday, last decade, or generations ago. We have a professional obligation to build upon their foundations and make things better for the next educator. The lessons we learn can be communicated without someone learning them the hard way--maybe the way we did. Share your thoughts, advice, and experiences where others can find them and learn from you.

If you follow these behaviors, you'll be setting an example as a 21st Century leader.

I know I left some things out. (Let's say it was intentional.) Please comment below and offer me your thoughts on what else should be part of this list.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The PC versus Mac Debate Can End

Last month I had the honor of presenting to a number of school board members from across Iowa on the merits and implementation of one-to-one laptop computing in the modern school classroom. This was at the 66th Annual Convention of the Iowa Association of School Boards. I was impressed by all the thoughtful and conscientious citizens who are voluntarily serving their community schools for no pay and often considerable grief.

Much of my session was spent answering questions. I did not want to make a formal presentation, instead striving to make the time as relevant as possible for the participants. The most common questions I heard was, "Should a school purchase PC's or Macintosh computers for its one-to-one computer initiative?"

In response to this question, I emphasized the computer platform is the lesser part of the issue. The greater part is what the school is intending to do with the machines. Simple mathematics suggests that merely purchasing enough computers to have one for every student is the process for becoming a one-to-one school. However, this simple formula is missing the point. The computers need to fit the classroom objectives and methodologies, not the other way around. Deciding on a platform is ultimately influenced by what a school intends to do with the devices.

For our school, we wanted to create student-centered classrooms where the students are instructing themselves and each other. We wanted classrooms where the teachers are more guides to learning with the students the active participants in the class. Therefore, we wanted powerful machines that can access online resources and facilitate project-based learning. We want our students finding resources, comprehending the material, breaking down the information, and reassembling new knowledge. Therefore, we chose computers that could do audio projects, podcasting, and video production, in addition to some of the more standard functions available from most manufacturers.

The next question board members asked was usually this: "Yeah, but what if our teachers want Macintosh computers, yet nine out of ten computers in the business world are PC's?"

In my opinion, PC versus Mac operating systems is no longer much of a debate. The two systems have grown together over the last 20 years to the place where a person takes very little time to retrain for the opposite system. I made the change myself a few years back, and in less than a week, I felt completely comfortable in the new platform. Moreover, as computer operations move to more web-based systems and cloud computing, the type of computer becomes even less of an issue.

Ultimately, the operating system is a very small question. It is no longer worth debating. A much greater consideration is the performance ratings of the different machines and manufacturers. And again, it is more important what a school plans to do with their computers in order to choose a machine that meets its aim.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Business Versus Personal

The Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, posted a blog about the NBA lockout on November 18, 2011, entitled, “Business vs. Personal.” He starts with a few lines from a favorite guy movie, The Godfather:

     Hagen: Your father wouldn't want to hear this, Sonny. This is business not personal.
     Sonny: They shoot my father and it's business, my ass!
     Hagen: Even shooting your father was business not personal, Sonny!
     Sonny: Well then, business is going to have to suffer.

But later he follows a tangent that I thought was relevant to school leadership jobs, and I thought someone else, somewhere, might like to read this:

“Quick tangent: My father served as the superintendent of schools in Easton, Massachusetts, for nearly twenty years. He retired in the summer of 2009, at the age of 62, for a variety of reasons … but mainly this one. He didn’t want to stay too long. When you’re a superintendent, it only takes one renegade school committee member, one unexpected budget cut, one scandal or one tragedy to shift momentum against you. Once it happens, you can’t get it back. Adversaries smell your weakening power the same way zombies smell blood. You start getting undermined or browbeaten into ideas you never wanted to do. By the time you finally resign or get replaced, those final years become part of your legacy, the last thing anyone remembers about you (whether you like it or not). My father never wanted that to happen. He left one year too early instead of one year too late. He has no regrets.”

You can find the rest of the article, if you are interested, on

I think this is a good lesson and a reminder that school leadership is highly political. Now the politicians like to point at schools and state how awful public education is. At the same time, the popularity of schools has never dipped anywhere nearly as low as the most recently public opinion poll on Congress. And although there are people who propose bold changes to the system, we all must realize that public education in the United States is a political entity and subject to the same winds that blow through our political landscape.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Foreign Language in 21st Century Schools

Our globe continues to shrink as modern telecommunications allow mass messages to millions around the world instantaneously. Between the leadership of the United States in technology and its position as a world superpower, English has become the international language. Yet with rapid communications, sensitivity to other nations and cultures from around the world becomes ever more important.

The Ameri-centric view of the world in the schools of the United States remains mired in our old model that high schools offer four years of a single foreign language--or maybe two or three languages. At the same time, the students in our schools are making online friends around the world. Social networks allow students to connect world-wide while video chatting lets our internationally-savvy students meet face-to-face. The future could have U.S. students employed in any number of countries involved in international commerce.

Oblivious to these changes, states continue to require schools to offer one foreign language in high school, and colleges follow along by requiring a minimum of two years of a single high school foreign language for college admission.

Schools for the 21st Century need quality online instruction in foreign languages. Instead of a single foreign language high schools should offer a menu of languages, e.g., Spanish, French, German, Russian, Japanese, Arabic, and Mandarin. The completely automated coursework needs to become interactive and supported by native speakers available online. Rather than a teacher in a classroom, schools should provide a high-tech language lab, preferably (but not necessarily) staffed by a certified teacher. Classes and student progress should be regularly monitored by an adult, but students should be allowed to progress at their own pace and potentially complete more coursework than is currently possible with our existing paradigm. With the technology available to today's students this can be a reality now. We need to make our schools as relevant as students are finding in their social networks online.

So what will happen to all the foreign language teachers currently employed in America's high school? Let us all move them into the elementary where brain research tells us children are acquiring their language skills. A child who learns a language from a native speaker by third grade will have a lifetime ability to speak that language without an accent. We need to rethink and change the delivery of foreign language in America's schools.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

1:1 Laptops are not about Increased Test Scores

"If we implement one-to-one computing, will our standardized test scores go up?" said many school board members when their respective schools were considering a laptop initiative for their students.

Unfortunately, the data is inconclusive. There are some studies that show gains, but some of these studies are minor or narrow. Meanwhile some other studies show no difference. The brightest hope for increased standardized test achievement is in student writing skills. Unfortunately, many writing assessments are subjective. And most national tests do not truly assess writing; it simply does not fit the bubble sheet answer format.

Our school is now in its second year of using one-to-one laptops in grades 4 through 12. I am convinced that laptops can grow standardized test scores. However, I do not believe this is the proper use for them. There are a number of quality software programs that provide students with extra practice that could increase their assessment scores. If a school was to use their laptops for intensive basic skills practice on a daily basis, I am of the opinion that test scores will improve significantly.

But there is a larger question: is this really the best use of expensive laptop computers? Can't the same aim be met if we simply immerse our students in reams of worksheets?

One-to-one laptops are about 21st Century Learning. We use them to promote research and critical thinking to increase higher order thinking skills among our students. We are trying to get our students collaborating with classmates and with students around the world. We want our students using creativity to solve problems. This is education that will prepare our students for the world ahead of them, and this is the way to use a valuable learning tool such as a laptop for each and every student.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

There is Merit to Performance-based Pay for Teachers

Performance-based pay can change teacher performance in a school system. I have direct knowledge of a school that implemented a pay-for-performance system, and things changed.

Here's just one example: a teacher was disappointed in his pay raise and went into the principal to question it. The principal explained that the teacher was not actively participating in professional development. He was checking papers, inattentive, and largely disengaged whenever he was in attendance at school improvement activities. The teacher asked if he would fair better if he changed that. The principal replied positively, and the next year that teacher was a model participant in school improvement and professional development activities. The system worked.

Unfortunately, the system did not directly benefit student achievement as measured by standardized tests. All teachers are generally doing the best job they know how for their students regardless of their pay. They are not holding anything back until they get a bump in salary. Their duty is too important, and they know it.

However, the system that worked with the teacher mentioned above did not work with all. Another teacher asked why her raise was less than others, and it was explained to her that her habit of starting her teaching duties a full week after the students arrived in August was inhibiting her performance. She did not believe it, and she was sure it was unfair bias beyond her control that was holding her down.

And this leads into a big problem with performance-based pay. It is vulnerable to favoritism, cronyism, and politics. Teachers often perceive that some principals may have favorites on staff. Realistically, principals are humans who are receptive to friendships and kind gestures. There is also a valid danger that someone with political power within the school--maybe a relative on the school board--may receive more favorable reviews and better pay than others.

There is a vital key to ensuring that performance-based pay improves teacher performance in a school system. The pay system must be tied closely and specifically to the evaluation system, and the evaluation system must deal with very specific, objective performance standards. The more subjective the criteria, the more the system is open to bias, suspicions of favoritism, and failure.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

1:1 Laptop Learning: Three Fundamental Principles

Laptop learning is about a fundamental change in instructional methodology for the 21st Century. It is about teaching students to be consumers and creators of knowledge as opposed to simply recipients. Schools that give their students this edge will help them to be successful in the 21st Century.

Some school have a vision for technology integration to be a springboard of a new methodology vaulting students ahead. Some of these school have invested money to put a laptop computer one-to-one in the hands of each and every student. For schools that are doing one-to-one computing, experience is showing there are three fundamentals which these one-to-one schools must address.
  1. Student Usage. The success or failure of a one-to-one laptop program is entirely dependent upon how often and how effectively the computers are used in the classroom. If the laptops are not an integral part of instruction, an expensive resource is being squandered. And if the laptops are not being used effectively as 21st Century learning tools, they function no better than textbooks, three-ring binders, and pencils.
  2. Teacher Comfort. Laptops will be used frequently and effectively when teachers are comfortable instructing with them. For many veteran educators, it is an entirely new methodology, unlike anything they have used previously in their careers. Teachers need to accept the machines and find ways to use them with students. They also have to develop a comfort level in accepting that the students may know the computers better than they do. They need to be prepared to let their students take the lead.
  3. Professional Development. Teachers will feel comfortable teaching with laptops to the extent they are trained to instruct in the new methodology. If a school is prepared to invest a large sum of money in hardware and software, they must be prepared to invest not less than 10 to 20 percent of that amount initially into professional development for the teachers. And professional development cannot end with the first year. There needs to be on-going support in subsequent years as well.
Therefore the linchpin in the successful implementation of one-to-one laptop learning is the professional development of the faculty. It is easy to assume that teachers are already using computers, maybe in a laboratory setting, and they have computers they use regularly for planning and preparation. But those skills do not automatically transfer to one-to-one laptop instruction. Teacher development in the new methodology is key.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Leaders Need Support Too

I remember the first administrative team meeting I led as a school superintendent. The meeting went well. I was getting to know the principals, and we were developing a good relationship. We discussed several issues and developed a sense of direction for several pertinent issues. When that morning meeting adjourned, the principals decided they would go to lunch together on their first day back together as a team.

I was not invited.They left me alone. It hit me at that moment that my role had distinctly changed. I was clearly no longer part of that peer group. And maybe I would even be the subject of conversation during their lunch together.

Now I do not think for a minute that they intentionally meant to ignore me. I later became good friends with the members of that team. They are good people. I truly believe it did not even cross anyone's mind that to ignore me might be perceived as a slight by some.

But that is O.K. too. That group needed to work together and support each other. They needed to draw upon the talents of each other. A lunch together was a good building block for their camaraderie. The support they would provide for each other was different than the support I could offer as their immediate supervisor.

The question is "Who makes up that support structure for the school superintendent?" The chief executive of the school has no peer within the organization, yet he/she needs as much support as the building principals. It is lonely at the top.

A superintendent must develop a peer support group as well as a professional learning network. I recommend the work of Harvard professor Lee Teitel who urges superintendents to create their own peer support groups. There are numerous commonalities in the challenges we face on a day-to-day basis, regardless of the size of the school system. A chief needs a source of ideas for addressing challenging issues. Moreover, everyone needs positive feedback, at least once in a while. Leaders need to provide optimism for their charges, but often we need help finding that optimism for ourselves. Peers need to stand by their colleagues with positive support as well as advice. We are human, and we need the human touch.

So although you may have risen to your chief executive office largely because of your strong self-reliance, do not think you can do this alone. We all need help. If you do not need it today, you may someday. And maybe someone needs your help and support right now.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

1-to-1 Laptop Learning and Quid Pro Quo

A strange element of our human nature is that we tend to feel that something that has no cost to us must therefore have no value. The legal term quid pro quo means “something for something.” It is the way contracts are usually executed with one party giving something in exchange for what they get.

As our school was considering how we would implement one-to-one laptop learning in our secondary school, our vendor advised us of their previous experience. They cautioned that the districts that asked the least of their students resulted in having the greatest number of student abuses. Those schools that provide laptops to their students at no cost often have big problems with students vandalizing or abusing the school property. They advised us to ask for something from every student.

This was a troubling suggestion. We have a higher rate of poverty than some other area schools. Many of our parents do not have extra petty cash available for another school fee. But we believed the advice we were given--that some students would not value something that was given to them at no cost.

We decided to charge a $25 technology fee for all students who wish to take their computers home each night. The fee is optional and can be waived if a student agrees to return his/her computer to the office after each day of classes. The fee is used to cover the normal wear and tear that happens when teens use school property.

To avoid putting an extra fee on our disadvantaged households, we also allowed for some students to perform school service in lieu of paying our technology fee. Students are allowed to come in before the school year starts and help clean the building or do groundskeeping for four hours in exchange for their laptops. This enables them to avoid the $25 fee, take their laptops home each night, and yet still provide something in exchange for what they are receiving.

We have not had a lot of service volunteers, but the few students who have opted for the school service waiver have been diligent workers who earnestly did their time. As a result, we have experienced very few problems with student vandalism, damage, or abuse. We cannot prove the exchange made the difference, but we believe it is working.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Everyone Knows Who the Boss Is

I heard a horror story from a friend. She was telling her boss when she was planning her vacation and when she would need time off. Her boss expressed concerns about having enough people on staff at any given time--a legitimate concern. However, she also expressed her equally legitimate concern about when her greater family would need her, and he replied, “You will take your vacation when I say because I am the boss!”

Yikes! I have been an administrator for 20 years, and I have served 15 years as a superintendent of schools--the chief executive officer for the board of directors for a public school district. In all that time, I have never had to remind a single staff member that I had executive authority over them. I always felt it was crystal clear to them without any reminders from me.

It must have been a very insecure person indeed to feel so inferior that he had to point out to one of his charges, “Look at me! I am somebody important! And I can tell you what to do!”

The point is this: employees know who the boss is. They know what it means. They generally respect the person in that position, and they often defer to their boss’ ideas.

So as an administrator, you need the feedback of your subordinates and staff to be your most effective. Do you cultivate this? Do you encourage the input of employees? A good boss not only asks for opinions but also compliments dissenting ideas.

When you are attending a team meeting, do you jump into the conversation right away? Do you try to steer the meeting? Or do you hang back and let people bring forth their thoughts before you weigh in? The boss’ opinion can be a sledgehammer at the table. Make sure you use it judiciously.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

1-to-1 Laptops: 10 Lessons Learned

After a successful first year as a one-to-one laptop learning school for grades 4 through 12, we re-assessed what we had done well and the lessons we had learned before re-issuing our laptops to students for another year. Below are ten of the many lessons we learned in this new field of educational endeavor.

1. Screens are fragile. The laptop screens are more fragile than we realized. We had few problems, but the rigors of student life did result in some screen casualties. We simply continue to stress to students the incidents that have caused problems and how they can be avoided.

2. Maintain student care accountability. We had a soft rule that if a student damaged a computer, we would only re-issue a computer after any fine was paid. But it was our first year. Some damage was covered under warranty, and some was not. We were unsure what should result in a fine. In our zeal to get laptops back into the hands of the students, we were sometimes issuing fines after-the-fact. This resulted in a backlog of fines that we had to collect the following fall before re-issuing the laptops for another school year.

To do a better job, this year we intend to provide students with a loaner laptop for use only at school. When the fine is paid, the student may take the loaner home. If something later appears to be under warranty, we can always reimburse students for the fine.

3. The classroom arrangement changes. Teachers need to be more mobile. With laptops in the classroom, the guide on the side is more important than the sage on the stage. Teachers need to move around the classrooms to monitor what students are doing on their laptops. This means the teacher cannot just stand in front of the blackboard, and the arrangement of the desks may need to change to accommodate the movement.

4. Watch the power cords. Kids were terrific in caring for their laptops, but they were more cavalier when it came to caring for the power cords of the laptops. They are used to power cords and sometimes just grab the wire to pull the plug from its socket. Laptop power cords are not necessarily as durable as the cord for a lamp, and they are significantly more expensive. We continue to emphasize this to our students.

5. Teachers need not do technology every day. Some teachers, in their eagerness to be the most tech-savvy they can be, tried to make every lesson a laptop lesson. Simply put, not all lessons lend themselves to technology. Did you ever have a teacher who could absolutely captivate you with his/her story telling, and wouldn’t you like your kids to hear those same stories? Some of the best teaching can still be traditional teaching, and teachers should not overload themselves with their own high technology expectations for themselves.

6. Remove the clings. Our students were fantastic about caring for the appearance of their laptops and not using stickers, tape, or other adhesives on the laptop covers. Many took pride in their machines and purchased non-adhesive stickers (clings) to decorate their laptops. At the end of the year, we told students they could leave their stickers in place because they would each be re-issued the exact same machine in the fall. However, over the summer, some machines needed warranty work, and some pricey stickers were lost. This piqued some parents and kids. So at the end of the year, remove the clings.

7. Let the students lead. Many conscientious teachers feel they need to be the experts in the classroom. However, with this young tech generation going through the schools, teachers may never know the computers as well as the students. Teachers need to sometimes have the courage to say to the students, “Show me how this works.”

8. Watch the web usage. Although we had rules against students playing on-line games and watching silly kitten videos irrelevant to class, we were in no position to be the web police and constantly monitor what students were doing with their laptops during free time. This crimped our band width, and we had to work to make our access its most efficient. We did appeal to the kids to try to avoid during the day the videos that really gobbled up our band width.

9. Create tiers of access. Not all students are as responsible as others. In some cases, a student may violate a rule. In other cases, a parent may indicate that the student is distracted at home and unable to do school work. We created several tiers of access for the students. Our most responsible students have the fewest restrictions on their computers. It is a rewards system.

10. Emphasize professional development for teachers. We knew from what we researched up front that our whole one-to-one initiative hinged on professional development for teachers. We invested heavily in it, but we learned that the need does not really diminish over time. Ideas change. Web sites are added. Software changes. We learn. And we need to keep teaching our teachers how to get better.

O.K. Actually there are eleven lessons. The 11th we only learned after school got started this second year.

11. The new kids need to catch up. When we planned for our second year of one-to-one laptop instruction, we proceeded from the false assumption that kids are already tech-savvy and can catch on quickly. We created a boot camp for our new teachers. We learned we need a boot camp for the kids new to our school as well to help them get up to speed with the expectations of instructors.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bosses Need to Use E-mail Carefully and Appropriately

I had a boss once who felt his number one job responsibility was to point out to every employee every time the person was any less than perfect. To be as efficient as possible in his crusade to point out our flaws, he would use all means at his disposal, i.e., private conferences, team meetings, telephone calls, voice mails, and e-mails.

There are so many things wrong with this picture, but let’s focus on just one aspect. Personnel evaluation should be about the improvement in performance of the employee. This can best be accomplished through a dialogue--an exchange of views between the supervisor and employee. Some forms of communication lend themselves to this better than others.

Modern technology makes communication easy, but this does not mean this ease is appropriate for personnel performance coaching. Teachers learning how to control student behavior are taught that they need to understand why a student violates a rule. A student may leave his/her desk or speak in class without permission, but sudden illness or a perceived emergency situation may make a breach of the rules entirely appropriate.

Certainly e-mail messages have a Reply button, but that does not mean a supervisor is getting a fair exchange of ideas after the corrective message is sent. In this context and format, a reply is likely to come across as contradiction rather than explanation. Few employees will risk such a venture, especially with an irate boss.

I need to emphasize that the communication from the boss to his or her charges should be predominantly positive feedback. At least 80 percent should be positive, supportive, and complimentary. We tend to get that which we reward, so we need to recognize what individual members of our team are doing well. Then we need to come across very strongly with the positive messages of our appreciation.

However, when mistakes are made and correction is necessary, it should be face to face with an honest and open exchange of viewpoints intended to improve overall performance and that of the organization.

If you have an example of a time a boss misused e-mail, please add it in the comments below.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

144 School Execs on Twitter

Inspired by colleague David Britten (Twitter handle: @colonelb) who recently put together a list of school superintendents who use Twitter to connect professionally with the education world, I decided to add to it, including some central office and Department of Education personnel. He cited how a growing number of professionals are using this resource for their personal development. Together we are all creating a powerful network.

Below is my list of 144 school district executives who are  currently using Twitter to keep abreast of education and technology trends in the rapidly changing 21st Century. Anyone is welcome to subscribe to my curated list of these execs at @DanielLFrazier/supts .

If you are a school exec and are willing to be included in the list below, please comment on this posting. I would appreciate your contribution. We are all just trying to get better to do the best we can to serve our students.

Below is my collection (listed alphabetically by Twitter handle):

1.         anelsoneagle                             Allan G. Nelson
2.         ATorris                                    Andrew Torris
3.         bcampbell74                             Brian Campbell
4.         bdavisHPS                               Brian Davis
5.         benpettyiowa                            Ben Petty
6.         betavt                                       ned kirsch
7.         bltg                                           Becky Gallagher
8.         Bob_Pritchard                          Bob Pritchard
9.         BobMiller146                           Bob Miller
10.       bradfordgs                                Bradford G. Saron
11.       Brianjblake                               Brian Blake
12.       CadottSchools                          Joe Zydowsky
13.       camalcom                                 Cheryll Malcom
14.       cbrownwgcsd                           Christopher Brown
15.       cdsmeaton                                Christopher Smeaton
16.       Central_Supt                            Dan Peterson
18.       chadratliff                                 Chad Ratliff
19.       chrkennedy                               Chris Kennedy
20.       cjmurra                                     Cass Murra
21.       clindhol                                     Chris Lindholm
22.       CMolumby                               Cathy Molumby
23.       colonelb                                   David Britten
24.       D62supt                                   D62Superintendent
25.       dachelpo                                  Don Achelpohl
26.       dakeys01                                 Dan Keyser
27.       Dan_Cox                                 Dan_Cox
28.       danaginna                                 Dana Cole-Levesque
29.       DanielLFrazier                          Dr Daniel L Frazier
30.       danitrimble                                Danielle Trimble
31.       davidstegall                               David Stegall
32.       daviseidahl                                Davis Eidahl
33.       dbark13                                   Dave Barker
34.       DCPSTransformEd                  Tom Shelton
35.       deborahgist                               Deborah A. Gist
36.       demonogue                               Dana Monogue
37.       DenMozer                                Dennis Mozer
38.       dktrimble14                              Dani Trimble
39.       docwfs                                     Walter Schartner
40.       DrBradBuck                             Brad Buck
41.       DrChrisAnderson                     Chris Anderson
42.       DrCWJ                                    Dr. Christie Johnson
43.       drdsupt                                     Jeff Danielsen
44.       Drfredmaharry                          Fred Maharry
45.       DrMelSmith                              Melody Moss Smith
46.       drpaultedesco                           Dr. Paul Tedesco
47.       DrPeteMarcelo                         Dr Pete Marcelo
48.       drpoling                                    Dr. Poling 
49.       dsheppard40                            Doug Sheppard
50.       DSingl                                      Demian Singleton
51.       Eckles3                                    Edie Eckles
52.       edklamfoth                               Ed Klamfoth
53.       edubrew                                   Thomas Brewster
54.       Edwin_Shoemate                      Edwin Shoemate
55.       ericconti                                   Eric Conti
56.       ewilliams65                               Eric Williams
57.       fcdar                                        Darwin Lehmann
58.       fritcherb                                    Bill Fritcher
59.       GeorgeWelsh13                       George Welsh
60.       geschr                                      Rory S. Gesch
61.       gormang                                   Greg Gorman
62.       GreggSidSP                             Gregg Cruickshank
63.       HansenMark                            Mark Hansen
64.       haseibert                                   H. Alan Seibert
65.       herz6kids                                  Jeff Herzberg
66.       howellwright                             Dr. Howell Wright
67.       ijoelson                                     iner joelson
68.       jasonellingson                           Jason Ellingson
69.       jasonglassIA                             Jason E. Glass
70.       jaynicholsfnesu                          Jay Nichols
71.       JeffDicks                                  Jeff Dicks
72.       JereVyverberg                          Jere Vyverberg
73.       Jhnrbbns                                   John Robbins
74.       jjonessd08                                Jeff Jones
75.       jmweidner                                jmweidner
76.       joecrozier57                             Joe Crozier
77.       joedrake                                   joedrake
78.       JoeGothard                              Joe Gothard
79.       johnccarver                              John C. Carver
80.       johnjust                                    John Just
81.       jonsheldahl                               Jon Sheldahl
82.       JRonneberg                              Jeff Ronneberg
83.       KarlMKurt                               Karl Kurt
84.       kenslin                                      Kathy Enslin
85.       kevenelder                                Keven Elder
86.       kimberlymoritz                          Kimberly Moritz
87.       kycommissioner                        Terry Holliday
88.       Laures6                                    Brad
89.       LCsupt                                     Tom Hinrichs
90.       lectricjacket                              Thomas Sperling
91.       lyleschwartz                              Lyle Schwartz
92.       m_rhee                                     Michelle Rhee
93.       m4flynn                                    Mark Flynn
94.       malloy_john                              John Malloy
95.       mannyhwdsb                            Manny Figueiredo
96.       MarkMNW                             Mark L Egli
97.       MarkWhite55                           Mark White
98.       marthabruckner                        Martha Bruckner
99.       MaureenBedford                      Maureen LaCroix
100.     michaelvallely                            Michael Vallely Ph.D
101.     mikelubelfeld                            Michael Lubelfeld
102.     mleichliter                                 Mike Leichliter
103.     MMilesHSD2                           Mike Miles
104.     mp_k_suptmark                       Mark Schneider
105.     nathanmarting                           Nathan Marting
106.     ndcardinal                                 Jeff Fastnacht
107.     NNDSBSO                             Patrick Bocking
108.     NorthCedar                              John O. Dayton
109.     OskySupt                                 Russell Reiter
110.     pammoran                                pammoran
111.     patman28580                           Patrick Miller
112.     paulgausman                             Paul Gausman
113.     PellaHawk                                Mark Wittmer
114.     principalspage                           principalspage
115.     Rayg36                                    Greg Ray
116.     REarleywine                             Rod Earleywine
117.     RitaOlson                                 Rita Olson
118.     rjcordes                                    Rob Cordes
119.     RobertHollister                         Robert Hollister
120.     RSJeffery                                 R. Scott Jeffery
121.     sai_iowa                                   SAI - Iowa
122.     sammiller29                              Sam Miller
123.     saraheemery                             Sarah Emery
124.     sbenwell1                                 Scott Benwell
125.     ScottParks                               ScottParks
126.     scusdsupt                                 SCUSD Superintendent
127.     sfmurley                                    stephen murley
128.     ShannonJHolmes                      Shannon Holmes
129.     SOMSDsuper                          Brian Osborne
130.     Staudt1                                    Linda Staudt
131.     STCSupt                                  Kerri Nelson
132.     studentscount                            karen Nelson
133.     SuperScot                                Scot Graden
134.     suptflanagan                              Mike Flanagan
135.     suptsmith                                  David Smith
136.     TDOttawa                                Tom D'Amico
137.     tebotweets                                David Tebo
138.     timquinn5                                  Timothy Quinn
139.     tjschutte                                    Theron Schutte
140.     Tony_Bennett                           Dr. Tony Bennett
141.     TrishFitzGibbon                        Trish FitzGibbon
142.     VSSupt                                    Mary Hainstock
143.     william_decker                         William Decker
144.     wpsasstsupt                              Jerry Hopkins

Added 09-06-11
NoreneBunt      Norene Bunt
sgrayJCSD        Steve Gray
JHSTL              Jere Hochman
LeydenASCI    Mikkel Storaasli
scottlepke         Scott Lepke
DrDaveWilk     David J. Wilkerson
mrsliv               Mary Jo Livingstone
MPS_Super      Dr. Brian G. Ricca
acrozier22         Andy Crozier
bradjermeland   Brad Jermeland
reddellp             Penny Reddell
swtvsupt7          Chris Hoover
harrier007          Dr. P. D-Sweeney
danfrench           Dan French
HTSSupt           Alex Anemone

Sunday, April 24, 2011

21st Century Leaders Walk their Talk

I saw the following comment on a blog this past week: "I watch principals or superintendents who tweet or blog a lot, and often I wonder what they could be doing in their building instead of that."

This is a very legitimate question. Enviously, I feel the same sour grapes toward school administrators with low golf handicaps. I rationalize that my golf scores prove I am an administrator who spends his time in the building rather than on the links.

But seriously, this is somewhat similar to how I felt a little more than a year ago. Approaching 30 years of service in education, I felt that blogging and social networking were things the younger educators could practice. It did not seem relevant to my work.

Then in February 2010, I attended the National Conference on Education in Phoenix. Looking for ideas for moving my district forward in 21st Century technology, I focused my time on tech sessions. Multiple speakers agreed and reiterated this same point without collaborating: "To lead a high-tech, 21st Century school, a modern school administrator must first be that kind of learner." The best administrators lead by example. If a school exec wants his/her faculty accessing on-line resources and teaching with the latest instructional tools, that leader should be able to demonstrate those competencies we want teachers to utilize.

Twitter and social networking are part of the mix. They now provide a wealth of information and instant professional development to the aware school administrator. As for blogging, I see it as something school leaders who enjoy writing can do to give back to the profession. I occasionally have been asked why we let teachers miss class time to serve as officers in professional organizations or present at conferences. I always reply that it is a professional obligation. If we want the organizations and the conferences for the development of our teachers, then we need to contribute to the profession ourselves. Blogging is one more of those professional contributions.

And by the way, I often see my professional learning network tweeting and posting during evenings and on weekends.

We make time for what we think is important. (And it is important for me to get rid of my slice this spring.)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Price is Right for Education Technology

If you are waiting to see what evolves in technology before implementing a major technology initiative in your school, your wait is over.

Technology has shown that the pace of change accelerates; it does not stabilize. (Maybe it is better stated your wait is futile.)

Likewise, if you are waiting for the price to drop because it is too expensive, you can stop waiting.

The price has already fallen to the point that makes technology initiatives affordable for schools. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the falling cost of a gigabyte of storage as noted by Ivan Smith (Boing Boing by David Isenberg):

YEAR — Price of a Gigabyte
1981 — $300,000
1987 — $50,000
1990 — $10,000
1994 — $1000
1997 — $100
2000 — $10
2004 — $1
2010 — $0.10

So where is the price headed? A goal of industry is for computers to cost . . . wait for it . . . one dollar!

This means computers will be everywhere: carried on our persons, mounted into tools, installed in furniture, and sewn into the fabric of our garments. It will also make computers disposable. Of course we are not talking about computers with full monitors and keyboards (assuming keyboards continue to exist). We are referring to microcomputers with specific and limited functions.

A skeptic may doubt that one dollar computers are achievable. But consider the musical greeting card--the card you open and plays a popular tune or even sings to you. A single such card has as much computer power as existed in the world in the 1950's.

The point is that now is the time to invest in technology. The initial outlay for purchasing will be buoyed over time by the falling costs of subsequent additions and updates. This calls for a short-term expenditure rather than a long-term investment with significant, recurring costs.

Of course times are hard and budgets are stressed to the breaking point in a manner unprecedented in the last 70 years. Our nation's economy is a mess, but over the next few years it will rebuild. Now is the time to use this crisis to begin restructuring. Schools should begin by redesigning student-centered classrooms emphasizing inquiry learning. They should start training teachers in an instructional methodology facilitated by technology. This should lead to integrating technology into instruction. Schools should next pilot laptop learning in select classes, providing students with the research tools to facilitate inquiry learning. Finally schools should lay out a plan for full one-to-one implementation.

Though expensive, education technology is affordable; though futuristic, it is contemporary; though extraneous, it is essential. The time is now.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Six Ways Education Technology Must be More than Just Computers

Quickly, define technology. Do we know what technology is?

Is it computers? Or is it instant, wireless, world-wide communication? Or is it . . . you know, technology?

Well, we think we know it when we see it. But the use of the word technology has not always meant what it seems to today. The Roman Empire conquered their known world due largely to their superior technology. The Allies won the war with the help of their advanced technology. Yet there were no microchips involved.

When we struggle with definitions, we can always turn to Webster's Dictionary. It says technology is "the practice of any or all of the applied sciences that have practical value and/or industrial use."

This broad and vague definition is creating issues in my home state of Iowa as the state looks at how to fund technology in our public schools. A special revenue fund can be used to purchase a single unit of equipment or technology provided the cost is above a certain threshold. Opponents of technology for schools say that technology is equipment--count each device separately as a stand-alone unit. But others argue that a device cannot stand alone in this day and age; a unit of technology is an entire instructional concept with the computers, their connections, network, software, security, etc.

When desktop computers came to the forefront of office work, they increased efficiency and productivity with their word processing and calculating power. They initially operated independently. Now computers are connected around the world. Web 1.0 provided information and interesting sites to view. But Web 2.0 allows for on-line interaction globally. Internet applications and uses continue to explode.

Unfortunately, we are living in a time where some people are clinging to the notion that this technology stuff is a fad like citizen band radios or video arcades--eventually people will tire of it and move on. The detractors also argue that schools have been purchasing computers since the 1980's without making a significant difference in student achievement.

However, it is only now that technology has the power and interconnectedness to change from a sideline curriculum of keyboarding and computer basics to a new pedagogy of its own. Some of us are now trying to reform education using the power of modern technology to advance learning. These people recognize the following:

  1. Education technology is devices certainly, but it is no longer the devices alone. Each device is now just a link on an enormous chain.
  2. Technology is about networks--local, national, and global. And it is all the connective devices: the wires, the wireless, the hubs, the servers, the connections, the bandwidth--all the tools.
  3. Education technology is information access. It is the Library of Congress and the world, the good and the bad, at the fingertips of our students,
  4. Technology is connections and communications. It is not just finding sources. It is finding first-person interactions. It is also idea sharing and collaboration with people everywhere.
  5. Technology in education is information creation and higher order thinking skills, providing students the opportunity to find the information, break it down, then synthesize it into something of their own making.
  6. Finally, technology is human relationships. Some predicted that technology would isolate us and let our interpersonal skills atrophy. Instead, our students are touring the world, meeting other people, learning about other cultures, and learning about relationships.

Anyone who observed the recent regime change in Eqypt knows there was a fundamental difference in how the change took place as compared to any other time or place in human history. Communication technologies and social networking created the conduit for an entire nation to informally organize. It was not just about computers. It was about computers, connected with a world-wide network, joined with wireless communication, and these connections accepted and used by people everywhere. It is applied science with a practical value that will continue to change and evolve at a more rapid pace every year. Will schools keep up?

If you think technology is something more than just equipment, feel free to offer me a comment.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Threat to Iowa Technology Initiatives

This is a special blog. It relates to State Auditor David Vaudt and his investigation into schools: whether or not they are spending their current technology funds properly, if new restrictions should be placed on the funds, and if schools should be required to pay back from other funds for tech-related expenses already incurred.

First a little history from my perspective. When technology first began to emerge as a clear and future force in public education, the Iowa Legislature created a special fund in the early 1990's strictly earmarked only for technology acquisition and tech-related uses. With this special funding stream, Iowa schools had few concerns about how to pay for this new classroom component that we knew would be the future of education. Iowa soon became a classroom technology leader. Combined with our fiber-optic classroom network that was providing instant interchange in schools across the state, we became the envy of the nation.

However, at the same time, other funds became tighter in Iowa schools. When our nation's economy was booming in the late 1990's, Iowa schools were being under-funded. Budgets were not permitted to grow. Iowa teacher pay fell further and further behind the national average. Funds were stretched as far as possible to cover the gaps. Then following the tragedy of September 11, 2001, our nation's economy tanked. Iowa's special technology fund for schools was cut. Schools that had already obligated all other funds elsewhere had trouble funding technology. Iowa fell behind in technology as schools limped along by using the Apple IIe's we had purchased in the early 1990's.

Another foresightful tool created by the Iowa Legislature was the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (abbreviated PPEL and pronounced PEP-pul). It created a fund from local property tax to be used for equipment purchases of over $5,000. Educators asked legislators if that minimum threshold could be lowered, and the Iowa Legislature responded positively by dropping the minimum to $1,500 which could be used for either a single piece of technology or "a technology system." Now this "system" language was key because we all recognized the power and the future of networking computers. Wiring might not cost $1,500, but if it was part of a system, that was O.K.

We were fine for a short while, but the price of technology continued to drop. Computers no longer cost more than$1,500 apiece. Schools had a dilemma. They could buy computers as part of a system, but they could not afford to buy a stand-alone computer for a single classroom. Educators again returned to the Legislature, and legislators again were supportive. They lowered the minimum limit again, this time to only $500.

Somehow in this last correction, the key words of using PPEL for "a technology system" was erroneously left out of the language. The rule allows $500 for a single piece of equipment.

Now this is a problem because we educators have continued our past practice and recognize that our technology is most powerful as part of a unified tech system. We have continued to spend these funds quite appropriately in this way.

Now a decade into the 21st Century, schools are beginning to implement what we have known for considerable time is the future of education, i.e. students carrying ubiquitous portable learning devices, currently in the form of laptop computers. A few leading schools are implementing one-to-one laptop learning initiatives. We are lease-purchasing a number of laptops for a fixed-price for each computer over a four-year period. Included in the per-computer price are the network connections, the wiring, the system servers, the operating systems and software that come pre-loaded on the laptops, training for the staff, and the consultants and technicians necessary for installation and implementation.

This month Auditor Vaudt began questioning how schools are spending their PPEL funds. While purchasing their laptops, schools are also acquiring these other devices and services. He questions if schools should continue to be allowed to implement laptops learning initiatives using PPEL funds. He also questions if schools already with laptop initiatives should be required to refund their PPEL funds from their general funds.

Here's the bottom line. Schools are following a past practice that has been acceptable for nearly two decades. School leaders and school boards are operating in full view of the public and with overwhelming support by our parents and patrons. Does it make sense that any school should only be allowed to purchase computers but not the software that makes them run, the infrastructure that allows them to connect, or the training for staff that makes them effective?

This is a serious threat to the future of education in Iowa. Iowa schools are being asked to get by with less funding this year and the next two years. And we should. Times are hard. But now is not the time to place more restrictions on school budgets. Technology is the future of our society and our 21st Century workplace. Technology literacy is a 21st Century skill both by common understanding as well as under Iowa Code. Our laws and our rules should be promoting and propagating the integration of technology into our classrooms, not setting up road blocks.

Whether it is by rule interpretation or legislative action, Iowa schools need to be allowed to use their technology funds for either a single piece of equipment or a "technology system."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Leaders Have to be 21st Century Learners

Do school leaders need technology skills to perform their duties? Absolutely not. Their jobs are about leading and directing students and adults and managing a public organization.

However, do school leaders lack key skills if they are not technologically proficient. Absolutely.

Two Western Illinois University professors, John Closen and Rene Noppe presented at the National Conference on Education in Denver in February 2011. Their data suggests that a gap exists between what most superintendents perceive is needed for themselves in terms of technology skills compared to how this perception is affecting school organizations. The basic skills for a superintendent are generally believed to be
 word processing, powerpoints, spreadsheets, and data bases. A survey of sitting superintendents indicates most believe technology skills are not important to their jobs. Most startling, according to their data, one in five superintendents never use modern technology to communicate with their public.

In contrast, a doctoral dissertation by Nancy Viscuso Hudanch (2002) found “the superintendent’s technological perceptions, practice (personal use) play an integral role in the technology implementation of his/her district.”

School leaders need to recognize that technology is not a fad. It is the future awaiting our students. Moreover, it does not slow down; it accelerates. After a school has come close to catching up (because no one ever truly catches up), the work continues because the change wrought by the advancements continues. School leaders who are not utilizing modern technology, who are not modeling technology skills, and who are not learning about emerging technologies are doing a disservice to their students.

Unfortunately, if you are reading this, you probably are not someone who needs to hear this message. You are looking for new sources of information and new insights. You are modeling what it means to be a 21st Century Learner. Therefore, your duty must be greater. You must challenge the status quo, set an example for your colleagues, and make your school the kind that others must emulate. That is how we will eventually serve all the students.

You have work to do. And thank you for all you do.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

1-to-1 Laptops are Changing Instruction

What if you were going to see a motion picture in 1931, but your local theater was only showing silent movies because it had not yet figured out how to operate the sound features for the new talking movies? As a customer, would you accept that level of service?

Flash forward eighty years. Students are sitting in a classroom, listening to a lecture, and watching the teacher reveal his notes on an overhead projector. Should these students accept this level of customer service?

One-to-one laptop computing is changing modern classrooms for the better because teachers cannot continue to maintain traditional methodology when their students can do a better job of teaching themselves.

In my last blog I mentioned some research findings that suggest that laptops can improve student achievement. Still the research is spotty. Schools that want to improve standardized test results should not look to one-to-one computing as a solution. However, that does not mean laptop learning is not making a difference in classrooms. Other research is suggesting other benefits, and they include the following:
  • Bridging the digital divide between wealthier students with home computers and poorer students who cannot afford computers (Lemke & Martin, March 2004);
  • Higher student motivation and engagement (Gulek & Demirtas, January 2005);
  • Fewer behavior problems, and increased student attendance (Lemke & Martin, December 2003);
  • Better class participation, and greater homework completion (Silvernail & Lane, February 2004);
  • Computer trouble shooting skills for students (Fairman, 2004);
  • Better parent involvement, interaction, and attendance at school, and greater technology literacy among parents (Lemke & Martin, May 2004); and
  • Increased teacher recruitment, enthusiasm, and retention (Lemke & Martin, May 2004).
I have heard these findings confirmed by colleagues at schools that have implemented one-to-one laptop learning initiatives, and I have seen these borne out in my own school.

Moreover, one-to-one laptops are allowing students to learn and retain at higher levels. The difference laptops are making in learning can be explained using the Learning Pyramid from the National Training Laboratories in Bethel, Maine. The pyramid reveals how content retention is related to the methodology used by the teacher:

Average Retention Rates
  • 5%       Lecture
  • 10%     Reading
  • 20%    Audio-Visual
  • 30%    Demonstration
  • 50%    Group Discussion
  • 75%    Practice by Doing
  • 90%    Teaching Others
Laptop learning changes the classroom dynamic from more traditional passive learning, i.e., lecture, reading, and audio-visuals, to the active learning of practice by doing and teaching others.

And it really does not matter if the teachers fully understand this. The students will demand this, . . . as good customers should.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How 1-to-1 Laptops Can Reform Education, Part I

First of all, any teacher who can be replaced by a machine had darn well better be, . . . and fast.

One-to-one computing in schools is not intended to be a solution. Technology will not reform education. A weak teacher will still be weak, even with powerful teaching tools. Laptop computers in the classroom do not automatically make a teacher better. None of these points have ever been argued as part of the conversation.

Admittedly, research is limited. It has only been within this decade that laptops were both powerful and affordable enough for schools to distribute them system-wide as part of a reform effort. Our best source is the state of Maine. Maine became the first state in the U.S. to issue laptop computers to every student in grades seven and eight. The Maine Learning Technology Initiative began with a vision of former Governor Angus King to prepare Maine’s students for a rapidly changing world. The theory was that a major transformation would happen only when student and teachers worked with technology on a one-to-one basis and that any other ratio would not produce the transformation everyone sought. The program began in September, 2002.

A study of student achievement in Maine conducted by Lemke and Martin in 2003 showed improved test scores in language arts, mathematics, and science. While one study is hardly conclusive, some smaller studies have also shown positive gains. For example, a study at Harvest Park Middle School in Pleasanton, California, showed that students with laptops score 6 to 13 percent higher in language arts and mathematics than peers without laptops (Gulek & Demirtas, January 2005).

Affecting the amount of data is the way instruction with computers is changing. In a more recent study from Maine, students who were taught to use animation and podcasts in the study of science “had a higher level of comprehension, a higher level of retention, and higher levels of engagement” (Berry & Wintle, 2009).

One of the greatest benefits may be in the teaching of writing skills. A recent study showed computer usage improved writing scores approximately 1/3 of a standard deviation. Twice as many students using laptops in the writing program met state proficiency standards (Silvernail, 2009).

This is just the first step: to integrate powerful teaching tools into the classroom. The real benefit lies in how these tools are utilized to change instruction. But that will have to wait for my next blog.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Put Technology in Classrooms but Not at the Expense of Kids

Many school leaders realize the world is changing with technology ubiquitous, and schools need to keep pace by providing learning environments rich with technological tools and on-line resources. But the conversation on the topic is increasingly difficult this year with school budgets under siege. Nearly every state in our union is laboring with how it can provide adequate funding for its schools.

Many recognize the significance of placing mobile research tools in the hands of students in a one-to-one, high-tech classroom environment. However, we struggle for how to do this when our funding is dwindling. In our rush to try to find a solution to these challenges, let us not forget that some of our students are suffering the worst during our nation's economic downturn.

Some schools, unable to raise the funds for one-to-one laptops, are looking at using the students' own cellular telephones in the classrooms. It seems that nearly every student has one, and sometimes those students whom you would least expect have the most sophisticated phones. But we cannot let these initial impressions confound us. Many families are struggling during this time. It is not a given that all students have cell phones and all can afford them. Some students stay very quiet because of their embarrassment that their families cannot afford such gadgets.

I believe firmly in the right of every child in the United States to a free public education. It is no longer free if there are daily user fees attached to devices the students must bring to class. There is a wide range of cell phones: from smart phones, to media phones where students pay data charges, down to track phones where students buy their minutes in advance and pay for every text message. Is it free if a student has to pay on a daily basis to participate in class?

Cell phones should be allowed in school. Our school allowed them early on, and our students have learned to use them appropriately. But cell phones are not the solution to our classroom technology needs.