Friday, December 28, 2012

Varied Visions of 21st Century Learning

I recently listened to a vendor talk about the role of video in the classrooms of the future.

He described a classroom where the teacher is at the front of the room before students but also captured on video and broadcast to classrooms miles away where the teacher's lecture would be heard by many students beyond the traditional classroom. The video system would allow students to watch and listen, but also to interrupt to ask questions or comment.

The vendor said, "Imagine, a teacher reading Dr. Seuss to students hundreds of miles away!"

First, I want to say that foremost I applaud people and organizations who try to envision classrooms of the future.

However, finding a new vision can be difficult. With no obvious alternatives, we all tend to default to visions of classrooms past. I have been there too. Eager to transform education for the 21st Century using the advantages of modern technology, I planned and even took part in training teachers on how to move their worksheets and quizzes to online web applications. Teachers could continue to instruct their classrooms with traditional methodologies but use technology tools for drills and assessments.

Of course my error is obvious. Education does not have an issue with finding a variety of ways of drilling or testing our kids. The quality of the classroom experience is determined entirely by the quality of the instruction in the classroom.

To improve our classrooms for the 21st Century, we need to change our focus from one where the teacher is the star of each classroom. The more actively engaged students are, the more they learn. This is where technology becomes the fulcrum that makes the difference. Students can use modern technologies to research, to break their learning into parts, and to reassemble it into new knowledge. Our students need to be working together in cooperative situations using project-based learning and evaluated by authentic assessments of the work they have done.

When technology is engaged in a manner where it makes a difference in actual instruction, we will see that it offers the leverage we need to make positive change in education.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Educators Must Embrace Change to Fight Obsolescence

My grandfather Arthur was born in 1889. Descending from a long line of blacksmiths, he became a blacksmith too. One of his first jobs as a young man was working as a blacksmith for the Texas Rangers. He became very adept and expert in his vocation and became a farrier too, a blacksmith who watches the gait of the horse then trims the hooves and fashions the shoes to improve the horse's walking and running. An orthopedist for horses, essentially. He was indispensable to the local farmers who relied on horses.

But agriculture evolved and farms were worked with tractors. My grandfather's shop transitioned from smithing to mechanics. He learned how the engines worked on early tractors and automobiles. It was a huge change from working with live animals to working with machines, but it was the nature of his business at the time. And he became indispensable for his mechanical skills.

During my grandfather's lifetime, schools remained largely unchanged. The only option for a student was to attend the local school within whose district he or she resided or drop out of school altogether.

But education is changing rapidly. Online learning is revolutionary. The options for our students are no longer the neighboring districts or the local parochial school. The competition is across the state, across the nation, and around the world. It is estimated that by 2019, half of high school courses will be online.

My grandfather could have ignored or fought the transition to mechanized farming. What would have happened to him if he had? But he adapted and remained successful.

Teachers cannot afford to fight technology and online learning. Those who do could go the way of the blacksmithing profession.

If we have teachers that can be replaced by computers, then we should, and quickly. Fortunately, the teachers I know will always have the capability to be far more valuable than the instruction that can be offered strictly through a machine. What we need our classrooms and courses that are so engaging that they remain relevant and become invaluable. The key is that we all must embrace the change, adapt to the new nature of today's education, and make ourselves indispensable for the educational services we can provide.

With our technology, we are within a year or two of developing a supercomputer that can exceed the computational powers of the human brain. But no computer will ever exceed the power of the human soul.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Finding a New Vision for 21st Century Learning

Educators need to recognize that education is changing . . . schools are changing. We need to find a new model of education for the 21st Century.

There was a time when schools served the students of their school district. District lines were drawn, and students were required to attend the school within their district. Schools set their expectations, and students had little choice but to meet the expectations of the school. In those days, if schools had competition, it was probably the local parochial school. The other option was for students to simply drop out, and many did.

Then in the 1980’s, schools opened their boundaries due to open enrollment. Competition was suddenly the neighboring districts. Schools had to be as good or better than their neighbors to prosper or even survive.

But here in the  21st  Century the game has changed again and dramatically. With online learning, our competition is state-wide, it’s nation-wide, it’s world-wide. And to look at the evidence, a person cannot say these online schools are not offering quality. They are. But they are also doing something more. They are custom tailoring the education programs to each individual student. They are using a business model and providing exceptional service to their customers.

To compete in the 21st Century, schools will need to emulate, and even surpass, this model.

The best schools now are challenging their students with active learning where the students are the center of the classroom. The teacher is no longer the holder of knowledge. Facts today are but a click away. Students today need to become independent learners and critical thinkers. The classroom must then be a place where students research, find their own answers, work together to solve problems, create new knowledge, and teach each other. The role of the teacher is then changed to a facilitator of learning, i.e. a guide, a problem presenter, a questioner, a librarian, and a collaborator.

The best schools are also utilizing technology tools to facilitate this higher order thinking and learning. And please understand that we should not buy technology because it is cool, or because other schools are investing in it. We need to use it because it is necessary to fully implement our vision of  21st  Century learning.

If you are not yet there, this is the year we all need to find our vision.

The above was part of my address to faculty and staff as part of our back-to-school workshop.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What Superintendents Can Learn From Twitter

Below is an article in the August 1, 2012 issue of School Administrator magazine that I wrote in partnership with my colleague superintendents Pam Moran, David Britten, and Joshua Starr.

Can a message of only 140 characters really affect change in the world? Twitter is doing just that one message at a time.

Twitter is the world’s second most popular social network with 140 million users. Members send microblogs or “tweets” of a maximum of 140 characters. Twitter forwards 340 million of these tweets every day. Educators around the world are using Twitter for conversations on significant educational issues. Joining the confabulation, a growing number of school superintendents are realizing the power of Twitter as a tool within the profession.

Twitter is helping superintendents overcome the isolation of the office. David Britten (@colonelb) of Godfrey-Lee Public Schools in Michigan said he found it lonely at the top. “Along came Twitter and although I didn’t really know how to use it effectively at first, when I began meeting other superintendents like Pam Moran (@pammoran), Dave Doty (@canyonsdave), and John Carver (@johnccarver),” said Britten, “I quickly realized the value of connecting on a nearly real-time basis with my professional peers.”

Pam Moran, superintendent of Albermarle County, Virginia, connected with Britten over Twitter and has participated in collaborative project work with him for two years. “Our work together often begins with a tweeted question or a shared resource,” said Moran. “As a result of our twitter professional learning network (PLN), Dave and I first connected about his district’s BYOD (bring-your-own-device) implementation. It wasn’t long before I had a commitment from @colonelb to Skype into our back-to-school leadership team meeting.”

For Britten, Twitter fits his philosophy of transparent leadership by providing him with a vehicle to communicate on the move to staff, students, parents, and his Board of Education. He links Twitter to the district’s web page, his personal blogs, and the district Facebook page, which her personally manages. “One of the immediate benefits of real-time communications is the growing level of trust between my administration and the professional staff,” said Britten.

Joshua Starr (@mcpssuper), superintendent of the 147,000 student district of Montgomery County Maryland, uses Twitter to promote best teaching practices. “If I am visiting a school and see a powerful lesson or an effective teaching strategy, I can take a picture and send out a Tweet,” said Starr. “It takes 30 seconds and not only let’s people know I’m visiting schools, but gives them a glimpse into my educational philosophy and what I value in teaching and learning.”

The depth of Twitter increases as users follow “hashtags,” key words beginning with the pound symbol (#). This makes them easy to search and connect. An on-going dialogue is taking place daily at #suptchat.

Lists also make Twitter more usable. “I follow @DanielLFrazier/supts and it’s a key list for me,” said Moran. “I can click in anytime and find any of several hundred other superintendents in the stream. Some days, I may lurk in watching what my peers post because I just need the reflective space. On other days, I will retweet and add to the conversation, bringing in other people to the conversation.”

Beginning users are cautioned to take it slowly but be persistent. The cacophony of messages can drive people away shortly after they start. Taken as a whole, the messages make little sense at first. But users watch and learn. It takes time to acquire an understanding of the power of the tool.

“Even if a superintendent is not actively tweeting, they should be monitoring Twitter,” said Starr. “There is an important conversation happening about education right now, and much of it is happening on Twitter. By following the right people, you can quickly understand what is going on in the world of education, know what you need to read or, at least, ask your staff to get up to speed.”

Moran describes Twitter as, “a tool for learning, re-energizing, engaging, and searching collaboratively with people from all walks of life and background experience. Twitter helps superintendents sow their seeds of curiosity and reap the benefits of exploring beyond the boundaries of our districts.”

Here’s to meeting you online! Find me @DanielLFrazier.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Where to Go with 1-to-1 Laptop Learning

"It is not about the machines; it is about teaching and learning." I have heard this so often when discussing one-to-one laptop learning, I wonder if it bears repeating. I hope this fact is becoming common knowledge.

Sioux Central School District in Sioux Rapids, Iowa, just completed its second year as a one-to-one laptop learning school for grades 3 through 12. The school has enjoyed great success in grades 6 through 12, so that it upgraded laptops and infrastructure this year for grades 4 and 5 and added laptops to grade 3 as well. With the year ended, I use this blog post to reflect on where we should be heading for the future of our school and its students.

There is another prolific statement I hear when discussing technology for the classroom. When someone asks the questions, "Laptops or tablets?" or "PC or Mac?" I hear the reply, "Well it all depends on what you plan to do with the technology." Although it is an accurate response, it is also a little smug. It leaves unexplained what schools should be doing with the technology

Simply put, our aim should be high-order thinking skills. We want our students to be creators of knowledge, not simply consumers. Using Benjamin Bloom's taxonomy, we want our students involved in project-based learning where they are evaluating their sources. We also want them re-teaching, so they are breaking down the information and reassembling it into a new whole.

I get very excited about what is happening in our classrooms when I visit and I see students highly engaged in non-traditional instruction. They are using their laptops, but they are relating personally to each other. They are working in groups, arguing what is relevant and how they should present their findings back to the rest of the class. Now that is a worthy goal for any classroom.

One-to-one laptops are allowing students to learn and retain at higher levels. The difference 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.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Public Documents versus Personal Privacy: A Balancing Act

There was a time when school officials, i.e., faculty, staff, and administrators, could easily keep their private correspondence separate from their public communication. Sunshine laws across the nation opened up to public access the documents of governmental institutions. Still an individual could consciously prepare documents for public access while keeping their personal lives and correspondence private.

Documents by definition have always been printed on paper. Then, whoosh, modern communication technologies rushed in, and a document is now just a doc and may never exist in any other than an electronic format. Still the law of the land applies. A school employee creating a doc on a school computer or tablet device--whether of a professional or personal nature--could have it opened up to public inspection under a public records request.
E-mail messages are also considered public documents. They are quick and informal, so people can sometimes get careless with what is stated in an e-mail. But educators should remember that every e-mail arrives with a Forward button; it can be forwarded anywhere after it is sent. School e-mail should be restricted to school purposes. Personal party invitations (particularly if the party may involve alcohol) are probably best sent to and from personal e-mail accounts.

One other danger with e-mail being so quick and easy: it can potentially be used to circumvent an open meetings law. Public decisions need to be made in public meetings, not over a few e-mails.

Personal Notes
Now personal notes should remain personal, shouldn't they? Ah, but here is where things get tricky. The hard drives of school computers remain school property. The computing device was issued to the educator to conduct school business, so anything, including letters, notes, and photographs, could be potentially opened to public scrutiny.

Web Browsers
The web browsers of individual employees are also subject to potential public inspection. The public could ask to review the web browser history of an individual. It also can potentially ask for the browser bookmarks an employee has set.

The Trash
Finally, the mundane topic of the trash bin on the computer is important to mention. The fact is that nothing in this digital age ever truly goes away. You can delete your e-mail, but it still remains on a server somewhere. You can erase your hard drive, but probably your files are backed up elsewhere. Or your files can be retrieved with computer forensic techniques. And social media, i.e., postings on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, are beyond your control the moment you hit the enter key.

The Balance
School employees are not automatons for the digital age. They have personal lives. Human interaction and personal relationships remain at the heart of the education profession. Messages should and will recognize the uniqueness of the individuals to whom they were sent. No one has a problem with a personal shopping list being written on a school computer. No one minds that you browsed a vacation destination during your break (as long as it's not some hedonistic, clothing-optional haven). But school employees should try to keep their personal documents on their own personal devices and should send and receive their personal e-mail messages through a third party, e.g. Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, or Gmail.

It is not 1984 (the book by Orwell, not the year); Big Brother is not watching you. However, each and every public employee, using public funds, is charged with the responsible use of those public resources in their trust. This is good. We all pay taxes and expect our tax dollars to be used appropriately and responsibly.

If you have some other legal advice or personal insight on this subject, I would enjoy hearing back from you.

And now, if we could only get our state and federal legislators to be as open and forthcoming as they expect public employees to be!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Indispensable Tool for Teaching Writing: Google Docs

English language arts teachers may be the hardest working teachers in America's secondary schools. This is a bold and generalized statement, but it reflects the countless hours that writing teachers spend from their personal and family time on evenings and weekends checking stacks of lengthy term papers in addition to reading ahead in the literature, preparing for upcoming lessons, and coaching speech or sports and directing the school play. I was an English teacher once, but I could not take the hours and the workload, so I retired from teaching English to become an administrator.

Nonetheless, I am almost tempted to return to an English classroom now that new technology tools are making writing instruction so much more powerful and productive. My favorite is Google Documents. Every English and language arts teacher needs the high-tech devices to be able to utilize Google Docs in class.

Writing is a process; however, teachers historically treat it as a product. We assign a writing topic at the beginning of the week. Sometimes we may ask students to submit outlines or note cards along the way. We may discuss in class how the compositions are progressing. But then the final products are submitted on Friday for summary judgment by the teacher. And the teacher judges the product of each student's labor.

Google Docs allows instructors to teach writing as a process. A teacher can set up a Google document for each student in his or her class. Then the teacher has access to the document. The teacher can review it periodically and coach the student through the writing process.

A teacher could follow along and check students as they work through daily writing process assignments like the ones below.

  • Monday:          Students will brainstorm possible topics and create word webs.
  • Tuesday:          Students will write thesis statements and rough outlines.
  • Wednesday:     Students will revise their rough outlines into sentence outlines.
  • Thursday:         Students will re-write their sentence outlines into paragraphs.
  • Friday:             Students will add concluding paragraphs and polish final drafts of their essays.

Instead of disposing of each step in the process or handing in each to the teacher as a separate assignment, the steps could all remain in the single composition with new material added at the beginning of the doc each day.

By providing time in class daily to work on the writing process, the teacher can review the writing assignments in class, offer suggestions on word usage and syntax, and coach the students on their writing.

Moreover, if the writing assignments are monitored along the way, students will be less able to cheat. It will be harder for students to simply cut and paste an assignment belonging to someone else because teachers will be watching the writing progress. Also, students will be more likely to be on track by the end of the week. It will be hard to claim the dog ate the homework when the teacher knows what was done prior to the due date.

Finally, this is not just for English teachers. Reading and writing instruction is the responsibility of every teacher in the school system. I have heard too many teachers say something like, "I am a history teacher. I am only interested in how the students describe history in their papers. It is not my job to correct spelling, grammar, or word usage." This is a flaw in our system that we have compartmentalized subject areas. It is the job of every teacher to tie all the curricular areas together.

I encourage all teachers to use these tech tools. They have the potential for turning around our criticized educational institutions. Now let us get the technology devices into the hands of our teachers so they can use these tools to teach students.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Living Life for the Fewest Regrets

Each spring, one of the things I look forward to is speaking to our graduating class. Below are my brief remarks for this year.
Greetings and welcome to the 19th annual commencement ceremony of the Sioux Central Community School District. 

You have passed through the doorways of Sioux Central school—for a couple of you for just a few months—and for some of you for up to 14 years. You have had your challenges along the way. But you have had your fun as well, and you have been supported by a caring faculty, staff, and administration that truly wanted each and every one of you to succeed. 

In addition, you had the love of family and friends, some of whom are here today to watch you complete your journey. They have come this far with you, they want to be here with you to watch you enjoy your final rewards. 

But in a few short minutes, you will turn your tassels, toss your caps, and walk out through our doors for the last time, some of you for the very last time. As you step through the door as high school graduates, an hour glass just for you will be turned over somewhere. The tiny grains of sand will slowly and inexorably begin to trickle from the upper glass chamber to the lower chamber. 

As you look at the hour glass in your minds eye, you will see today so many grains of sand in the upper chamber that it appears it may never run out. You will all be tempted to ignore most of the grains as they fall because there are so many. 

But some time today, or some time soon, I want you to talk about this metaphor with some of these people who are here to see you graduate today. You need to spend some time talking with some of these people whose faces are lined by experience and whose hair is lightened by wisdom. They know more about this hour glass today than you possibly could. 

Visitors and honored guests, I ask you to seek out your graduates to discuss this with them. There are so many distractions when a person graduates, but they need to hear from you. 

You see, graduates, the sand in this hour glass will never speed up or slow down. The sand keeps moving at the same pace. But your perception of the sand will change. It will seem to move faster every year. And every year that passes, you will realize more and more how little sand was really in that upper chamber at the beginning. 

And every grain of sand that drops represents an opportunity, . . . 
  • an opportunity to move forward, 
  • or one to step back, 
  • an opportunity to accomplish something, 
  • a time to build a relationship, 
  • a chance to contribute, 
  • a moment to love and be loved. 

The experienced and wise people I mentioned know this to be true: as we look back on the grains of sand that have passed through the hour glass—and you will remember each and every one—you only truly regret the missed opportunities: 
  • You will never regret building a relationship.
  • You will never regret the money you gave to charity.
  • You will never regret the book you took the time to read.
  • You will never regret the times you stayed sober.
  • You will never regret the money you saved.
  • You will never regret expressing gratitude.
  • You will never regret the loyalty you showed to others.
  • You will never regret the times you have loved and the times you have shown your love. 

One of my favorite poems is by the American poet John Greenleaf Whittier. One of his poems concludes with this simple couplet: 

     “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, 
     The saddest are these: 'It might have been!'” 

For each of us, when the sands in the hourglass run low, the happiest of us will be those who have the fewest regrets. 

Sioux Central Graduates of the Class of 2012, the whole world lies before you today. Go out and make your lives extraordinary.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Every Educator Needs Two Blogs

My title suggests every teacher and administrator should maintain two blog sites on a regular basis. I know that's just not feasible for many. Perhaps when they were young, they were punished when they were naughty by having to write an essay. Now writing is a burden. That is all right. We all have our burdens to bear.

But for those educators who can and should write on a regular basis, I suggest it is time for them to embrace the social media known as the blog. The word Blog is a portmanteau for "web log". There are a number of free and high quality web sites that allow users to post blogs of all sorts on the internet. People around the world are discovering the benefits of reading blogs and the rewards of creating their own blogs.
I suggest educators should maintain and regularly update two separate blog sites--one directly connected with their professional duties and one for reflecting and sharing on professional practice.

The School Blog
In this day and age, a standard of competence for the profession is current and quality communication. The School Blog, as I call it, should be for the purposes of information. Write what is going on in your professional role. Keep your parents, students, and colleagues up-to-date. Jot anything from a sentence or two up to a few brief paragraphs on the latest and greatest news from your classroom or office.

I sometimes read school blogs where the writer felt compelled to write a lengthy treatise on educational philosophy. Not too many people want to read such an essay. The public wants relevant and late-breaking information, and they like brevity. So write a brief post on the students' science project for next week. Talk about how to help with homework. Post a simple, brief sentence for each of a few students who have distinguished themselves in class. This will make people want to return to your blog. They will learn what is truly going on.

The Professional Blog
The professional blog is the educator's chance to write and reflect on his or her professional practice. It can be a journal for the teacher or administrator to log weekly pursuits. Or it can be more topical. The blog can be an opportunity to think about our philosophy of education and how we bring it to action. By writing things down, we can think about our professional practice.

But this blog is for more than just the individual blogger. All of us in education are teachers at heart. We have colleagues who need information and ideas. They may even need mentoring and guidance. Let others benefit from your experience. Allow them the insight to see how you have met challenges, made mistakes, and ultimately succeeded. This is valuable. Share with others what you have learned.

Still some educators are skeptical. When I am sometimes asked where I find the time to blog, I reply that it is simply a new and essential part of the job. After all, there was a time when the job of a school administrator required research in the library and in periodicals and extensive postal correspondence with colleagues in order to make informed decisions. Now the information is more readily accessible and the correspondence is nearly instantaneous. That time from the old days can be re-channeled into new efforts today.

One more thing:
Blogging offers the opportunity for an audience and interaction. So what do you think? Are there other reasons to blog? Are there other types of blogs I have missed? Feel free to add your ideas for me, . . . and maybe someone else to find.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Will the Postal Service Survive? Will Public Schools?

Many in our national are predicting the demise of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), an institution that has served its people since the birth of our nation. Some say it is electronic media that is heralding the end of snail mail. Certainly that is a factor. However, as the internet has boomed so has online purchasing and home delivery. At the same time when the USPS is struggling, private industry is stepping in and prospering. Private carriers are quickly and efficiently delivering the goods and providing service superior to the USPS and at a competitive price.

What led to this decline in the USPS was not simply the advent of e-mail. It was hubris. The USPS felt that no one could compete with them. They were established in every town across our nation and supported by our federal government. With this hubris, this arrogant pride, came an apathy for service. Envelopes not addressed to USPS standards are returned in order to teach the sender a lesson. "Service with a smile" is an ironic joke quipped by customers at the windows. Meanwhile, the USPS leadership flagrantly throws multi-million dollar extravagant parties for its leadership at the expense of its patrons. This hubris is the greatest threat to the future of the USPS.
So what is the greatest threat to America's public schools? The same hubris. It is this hubris that is being exploited in the latest expose, "The War on Kids."

Schools have been slow to respond to the needs of its customers. At the same time, competition is springing up, and it is flourishing. After two decades of charter schools, no evidence shows charter schools offer any better education than public schools. Yet they are more successful in many situations. The research shows that charter school parents are happier with their charter schools than they are with public schools. And in our competitive economy, happy customers are the true measure of who will survive.

But public schools are not as far down the long pier as the USPS. We have time to respond, and we have a loyal public that truly wants us to succeed. We need to break the paradigm that schools have something that kids need, and they have to play by our rules or miss out. We need to meet the needs of our customers, facilitate the type of learning environments where kids are drawn, and work to satisfy our parents. Let our schools be a place where education is tailored to the individual, where school work captivates the students, where teaching meets the days and hours of service our public would like, and where parents are shown the value of what we are doing for their children.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Education Where One Size Fits All

In ancient Greek mythology, Procrustes was a brute who ran an inn along a traveled road. He had a single bed for weary travelers, and Procrustes boasted how his special bed would perfectly fit every guest. After the sojourner bedded down for the evening, Procrustes would bind the guest to the bed. If the guest was shorter than the bed, he was stretched to fit. And if he was too long, his limbs were amputated and trimmed down to size.

Eventually, Procrustes met his superior in Theseus who fitted Procrustes to his own bed. But being a mythological character, Procrustes did not die. Instead he lingered in hiding for his chance to use his talents again. And after many centuries, he found work drafting educational policy for the government.  Verberans a mortuis equum.

There is little point in me further exposing and condemning those myopic policies that have been publicly ridiculed for over a decade except that nothing seems to change. Moreover, I support testing and accountability. I simply find arbitrary labels of failing to be pointless, especially when they are irrespective of the demographics and socio-economic condition of the school district and its inhabitants. Additionally, I grow weary of the expectation that schools must focus on ensuring all students achieve at a single unrealistic level which ignores high achievers and steals time away from the arts. Finally, I deny as inaccurate and unjust the criticism that schools are not working to stop bullying in the hallways and are instead making all our kids fat solely because of the school lunches we serve in our cafeteria.

I have no call to action with this blog post. I simply needed to vent. I will have something more positive and purposeful next time. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Student Trips and the Inherent Lessons

As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently led a group of eighth and ninth graders on a trip to Washington, D.C. I have done this several times over many years. I think it is an extremely valuable experience for students to learn about our nation's history and government so that they will one day be better prepared to assume an active role in our republic.

Tragically, the behavior of students touring our nation's capital appears to be deteriorating. Long-time veteran guides and tour coordinators report increasing incidents of poor student behavior on these trips. Once, a rare occurrence, guards at the Tomb of the Unknowns must stop their solemn ceremony for the changing of the guards and sometimes must expel young people from the area as the students refuse to pay proper respect and conduct themselves with appropriate decorum.

Although these student tours frequently take place independent from the schools, I urge teacher leaders, administrators, and school boards to get involved. Decide how you want such tours to be conducted. Select the instructors whom you know will teach and accept only appropriate behavior. Trips of this nature should not be vacations. If so, take them to an amusement park. Make trips to our capital and other important venues a time to build citizenship for our government and reverence for our history.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

10 Reasons for Education Professionals to Use Twitter

Can a message of only 140 characters really affect change in the world? Twitter is doing just that one message at a time.

Last week I met with a small group of teachers and administrators to show them some of the merits of using Twitter as an education professional. I have already read many blogs about the virtue of educators using Twitter, so my message is nothing new. It is simply my perspective that I share with anyone who would like to catch up on the meeting of last week.

Here’s what I told the group:

1. Twitter has quality content. Forget the trivial stories about what some celebrity had for lunch. A dynamic group of dedicated professionals are using Twitter to share resources to improve our profession. Follow those people.

2. Twitter is easy to use. The many messages look like a lot of noise at first. You have to be patient and acquire a taste for the application to find order in the chaos. After that, it is simply a matter of making time to read some messages and pass your own along.

3. Twitter is connecting. Education is about people. We are people serving other people. Twitter adds that human interaction to the resources and information we find online. You can make acquaintances and friends of colleagues you meet in this medium.

4. Twitter is mobile. It is on you computer, but it is web-based so you can access it anywhere. It can also be on your phone. From your phone, you can connect broadly with your network or send direct messages to specific people. At a recent conference, I was able to track down and meet face-to-face several of my online connections using the direct message feature.

5. Twitter is information fast. As I began my Twitter presentation, I sent a message asking some of my followers to greet the group. Within minutes, I had several personal greetings that demonstrated the responsiveness of the system.

6. Twitter creates networks. The people I connect with become my Personal Learning Network. I check the resources they recommend. I ask for their feedback and counsel. I try to help them when I can. We are helping each other to learn and grow within the profession.

7. Twitter has depth. At first, it is about the messages constantly coming and going. But it gains in power as users learn to use and follow lists and hashtags (#) to organize and find information. I recommend using HootSuite or TweetDeck to better access these features.

8. Twitter is important conversations. Education is being subjected to the greatest criticism it has ever experienced. We are all looking for ways to improve. Join the conversation for how we can move our profession forward.

9. Twitter also has recreational uses. Although I am purporting this application to be a professional networking tool, you can use it for news, sports, hobbies, and recreation. Try following a vacation spot or two you would like to visit someday.

My final advice is to take it slowly but be persistent. The cacophony of messages can drive people away shortly after they start. Watch and learn. It takes time to acquire an understanding of the power of the tool. Do not feel you need to think and tweet profound thoughts (if you follow me, you know I don’t). It is all right to take without giving back at first. Later you will understand that . . .

10. Twitter is sharing. When you read a tweet you like, feel free to retweet it. When you find an article online, and you think, “Hey, this is valuable,” share the link with others. When you find an idea that has merit, sum it up in 140 characters and pass it on. It does not have to be an online resource. But if you are learning new things, share the wealth!

Here’s to meeting you online! Find me @DanielLFrazier.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Preparing Future Leaders

I recently wrote a blog post on the importance of training our next generation of political leaders. I suggested there are no standardized tests that measure how effectively we are preparing our students to be prudent and discerning voters and citizens eager to assume the mantle of leadership in any of the multiple layers of our participatory republic. So we need to ask ourselves how do we know our schools are doing what they should to prepare citizens for the democracy that is the United States?

Yes, reading, writing, and the other basics are imperative. The premise of public education was that it would serve as the bulwark of our democracy by preparing a literate electorate. But fundamental to this as well should be preparing our students to understand propaganda. Remember, the two nations with the highest literacy rates of the 1930's were Germany and Japan. Our youth must be educated to be critical thinkers, to recognize the ploys of advertising, and to think about how their own beliefs and consciences are reflected in the alternative that are offered to them.

Next, citizenship preparation is not just a civics class and a couple of history classes. Schools need to be modeling our republic form of government. Student council should be part of every secondary school. It should not be a superficial body where the popular kids are elected to get together and chat about what themes they want for the upcoming school dance. This should be a program that needs the serious attention and support of the school administration. The student council members need to be required to regularly solicit feedback from their constituents. They must involve the student body in serious issues regarding school governance. Finally, the faculty can recognize many students who will one day be leaders in our society. Leadership should be an essential component to every talented and gifted program. Get those students involved. Don't let their leadership training fall by the wayside simply because they cannot win the popular vote . . . today.

Although some of our political leaders today myopically cannot see this important function that schools serve, we must recognized this need and serve our students to provide for the future leadership of us all.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Advanced Citizenship

I recently returned from a three-day, two-night trip to Washington, D.C. where I led a group of eighth and ninth graders from my school. It was actually a five-day trip because it was 22 hours traveling each way by motor coach. I chose a bus for our group to make the trip more affordable for students so that more of them would be able to attend. I was willing to endure two overnights on a bus with a large group of adolescents because I think the trip is that important.

First of all, the primary purpose of our public schools is to prepare a literate citizenry for our democratic process. Thomas Jefferson intended public education to be the bulwark of our democracy. He understood that ignorance is the greatest threat to the perpetuation of our form of government. With rising apathy among our youngest voters, this is growing in importance.

Next, we need our youth to understand our government. The United States has the most complex and sophisticated, yet successful form of government in the world. If our way of life is to endure, our citizens must be educated in how our government works and how they can affect change.

Finally, our republic requires advanced citizenship. It requires the rank and file of our population to step up and take on leadership roles. Obviously we need to train our next generation of state and federal leaders, but our country desperately needs citizens to come forward to lead locally. We need city council members, county commissioners, and school board members. We also need people willing to volunteer for the zoning commission, the park commission, the public library board, and many other leadership positions. At a time when our political leaders seem to be facing increasing criticism and pressure, I perceive people are becoming more reluctant to come forth. We need our next generation to start preparing now for the roles they must assume within our society.

With all the national discourse about student achievement and standardized test scores, let's make sure we do not neglect our most important function as public educators. And this performance can only be measured a generation from now, after these students are voting and leading in our republic. We need to prepare tomorrow's leaders today.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

How I Missed Regular Sixth Grade

I did not take classes in sixth grade. I confess. I never completed a standard sixth grade course of study.

You see, I had Mr. Mein for sixth grade (that's pronounced ME-in, and the names in this post were not changed to protect the innocent). And he did not teach us anything all year. All we did was have fun, play games, hold parties, make wagers, and take adventures.

For example, he was expected to teach us writing and composition. Instead, he would turn it into some kind of competition. One time we were working with partners and creating our winter class play. Other scripts were exceptional, he pointed out. But my script was the one that was most appropriate for playing on stage in front of parents. Yes, I may have worked hard at writing my play, but it was all about the fun.

For another example, the curriculum required him to teach us about other nations such as the nation of Canada. Instead of him teaching us a darn thing. He had us play a game. We held a debate. Students were each asked to pick a province in Canada. Then small groups debated in front of class which province was the best place to live. (According to our sixth grade results, it was Quebec, by the way.) He was also supposed to teach us about Latin America. Instead, we planned a big party, and each culture had to be represented for how and what they celebrate. So we all enjoyed researching a particular nation and sharing with classmates how our findings would fit our class party. But he didn't teach us any of that.

Oh, there was one time he bet us that if we worked hard enough, he would take us on an extra field trip. We won the bet, and our field trip consisted of walking to the edge of my small Iowa hometown, looking at the corn and bean fields across the valley, and being told how important agriculture was to our way of life. It was kind of lame, but we did not care. We were sixth graders, and it was a field trip as far as we were concerned.

But I hardly remember any time all year that he taught us something, in the traditional sense of teaching.

Of course my point is that Mr. Mein was ultimately a talented instructor who had his students work together and teach each other. And he knew how to motivate kids. We had such fun and and were so highly engaged in our self-discovery that we never felt we were in a regular class. My wish for all students is for them to have a Mr. Mein who challenges them to learn for themselves and love what they are doing.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Acknowledgements for the National Recognition

I wish to thank everyone who has congratulated me for my recent recognition. On Saturday, February 18, 2012, eSchool News and its sponsors named me as one of its Tech-savvy Superintendents of the Year. Information regarding the award and its recipients is available on the eSchool News web site.

I accept this award on behalf of the faculty and staff of Sioux Central Community School District. They are an exceptional group of people who are doing an outstanding job of exemplifying the new model for classrooms of the 21st Century. Without the success they have achieved in implementing our one-to-one laptop initiative throughout grades 3 through 12 and the other technology programs we have implemented, I would not have been considered for such an honor.

I would like to say that I am humbled to be considered among this year's group of honorees which include such quality leaders as Bradford Saron of Cashton, Wisconsin; Jerri Kemble of Lost Springs, Kansas; and C.J. Huff of Joplin, Missouri. I am further honored to be added to a list of superintendents which includes such previous winners as Eric Williams (2011) of Yorktown, Virginia; Pam Moran (2010) of Albermarle County, Virginia; and Ken Bird (2003) of District 66 in Omaha.

Finally, I would like to pay tribute to my many colleagues who are equally if not more worthy of this award than I--colleagues such as Superintendent John Carver of Van Meter, Iowa, and Superintendent Jeff Dicks of Newell-Fonda, Iowa. It is because of the work they have done they we too are able to succeed.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Before Becoming a 1-to-1 School: Five Preliminary Steps

The rapidly growing number of 1-to-1 laptop schools calls to question what a laptop learning school is. Very simple mathematics suggests that a school merely needs to purchase enough laptop computers--one for every student--and Presto! suddenly it becomes a 1-to-1 school.

But can a school spend all that money on technology and still miss the mark? I believe it can, and some do. There is a difference between laptop learning schools and schools with laptops. Before your school invests in the hardware to become a 1-to-1 school, take some steps up front.

1. It Starts with the Realization of the Need for Change. Examine the 21st Century skills. Think about the future our students will enter. Discuss what a classroom should look like now. If your system does not recognize a need to change instruction, adding technology is rather pointless. But change begins with having some fierce conversations about the need for change and the school's vision for the future of education.

2. It Takes Vision. The expression a computer is just a tool is overused to the point of becoming a cliche. Unless a school knows how it wants to use the tools, its evolution will be hampered. Schools that are using the laptops most successfully are trying to create student-centered classrooms. They want teachers to take an assisting role as students learn to teach themselves and each other. The vision may be for research using online resources and digital text books. This may call for 1-to-1 tablets. Or the vision could require more powerful technology tools to facilitate project-based learning and knowledge creation.

3. Hit the Road. One of the reasons many technology plans are never realized is that people don't know what they don't know. By the time they understand it, there is something new. The faculty need to get out of the building and see how other schools are using technology to accelerate learning. They need to attend conferences, seminars, and sales demonstrations. After broad exposure to a number of ideas and systems, staff can return to help forge a new direction for their own school.

4. Share the Decision.  A major acquisition of technology should result in a sea change in the pedagogy of the school. Therefore, this decision cannot be made by the administration and school board alone. The teachers who will be implementing this system need to be deeply involved in the decision. The discussion should include the support staff as well. The school needs to unite behind such a significant shift in methodology. This can only be accomplished if there is participation and support from the rank and file.

5. Include the Community.  Ultimately, it is your community that is paying the bill. They are your customers, and a school always need to be responsive to its public. Begin the dialogue in your PTO and advisory groups. Have the conversation with the people at the coffee shop. Involve your business leaders. Your local businesses may be your strongest proponents because they see how technology is changing their workplace (maybe faster than it is changing schools), and they need a technologically literate workforce.

So does this mean we should wait and take our time? Certainly not. With the speed at which our world is changing, we do not have time to wait. But I will address this in a post yet to come.

What other steps are necessary? Please feel free to offer your additional suggestions in the comments below.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Now is the Time for Bold Leadership

America's public schools in the 21st Century have an unclear future. Never before in our nation's history have they been subjected to such scrutiny and ridicule. They are the targets of criticism from across the political spectrum, and their relevance is being questioned.

School leaders are caught in between, supporting their institutions and trying to make improvements. The challenge is to make change within systems where change is challenging.

Although our system is comfortable and remembered fondly by previous generations, bold change leaders are needed. Complaining about the absurdity of high stakes testing, penalties, and competition does not accomplish anything on behalf of our students.

I see some school administrators trying to polish the edges of our old system rather than leading their districts with bold initiatives. Now is the time for action. We need to embrace the concepts of 21st Century learning. We need to train our faculties in best practices and utilize the new research emerging on how the brain learns. We need to bring modern technologies to bear in accomplishing our aims. And we must move the system toward a new horizon.

When we make the necessary changes and improvements, the worth of public schools will be redeemed.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

To Control Technology or Unleash It

Is this technology thing getting out of control such that schools need to start taking more aggressive steps to combat it? Starting Monday (January 30, 2012), Pottstown Middle School in suburban Philadelphia is banning the wearing of fuzzy open-top boots to middle school classes because students have been stashing cell phones in the loose footwear.

Or, is this why some schools are embracing new technologies in the classrooms?

The students know what their world is like now. They also may have a better idea of what their future holds than some schools are willing to recognize or admit. The future includes everyone carrying his or her device. That device is a mobile telephone and electronic wallet with information access and data storage. The students are ready for that future now, and most schools are not.

If schools are going to maintain their relevance in the preparation of our children for their futures, they need to find ways to connect with the kids. This includes embracing electronic technologies which may be uncomfortable to the teachers but are essential to the students.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Good Employee Evaluation is not Formal Evaluation

It may very well be that maybe the best employee evaluations have no formal evaluation procedures at all. Performance improvement should be about relationships and communication rather than documents.

Right now there is a lot of national criticism of the education profession alleging that incompetents are allowed to continue practicing. There is growing public demand for more stringent evaluation procedures for educators, with the thinking that stronger evaluation systems will create stronger employees. So state legislatures are getting into the act and trying to define how evaluations should take place.

Let's face it: if it were possible for quality to be legislated, we would have done it years ago, and we would not be concerned with it now.

The problem with the concept of evaluation as it is defined by code and implemented in practice is that it inherently becomes a negative process. Supervisors must keep score on a secret tally sheet and reveal their findings at a given time when the summative evaluation takes place.

What is missing from this concept is the on-going communication and coaching that should be taking place between the evaluator and his or her charge. In the classrooms, instructors teach and communicate with students on a daily basis so those students will be successful by the conclusion of the class. On the sports field, coaches do not silently watch their athletes only to set an appointment to later review their mistakes. Teaching and coaching are dependent upon open and constant communication.

The key to making this system effective is to develop a climate of trust and open communication where all parties understand that everyone's goal is to make the school as effective and successful as possible for the students. Certainly there can be a place for an annual review. But let the annual performance conference be about setting challenging goals for the growth of each individual and setting up personal learning plans to help the educator achieve those goals.

Let's make evaluation about getting better rather than finding fault.

Image creator: David Castillo Dominici

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Are You an Evangelist for 21st Century Learning?

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results." We are not sure who first said this, but we agree it makes sense.

We are guilty of this in education. Our calendar is based upon the agrarian cycle of the 1700's, and our secondary school structure is based on the industrial model of the 1800's. The students sit in the desks facing and listening to the teacher for nine months. And if they follow this process and all the rules for 13 straight years, the students get a high school diploma. The length of the days remains the same. The length of the year remains the same. Then some reformers decide that taking some time from this process for some more testing or spreading salary dollars around will make the difference.

But now in the year 2012, we stand at the opportunity for a new era to begin. We can retain what has been largely successful over the years and apply the power of modern technology to change what is happening in our classrooms on a daily basis. Students can use technology tools to connect to resources around the world. They can seek out their own knowledge and guide their own discovery. We need only to create the student-centered instructional model and give our students the technology tools to realize this vision for our future, focusing on the 21st Century skills of critical thinking, communication, creativity, and collaboration.

Among my concerns, the readers of this blog will likely be the people I communicate with regularly and who see this vision for a better future. But now we need to take this message main stream. Are you an evangelist for this movement?

Some call my dear friend and colleague John Carver (@johnccarver) an evangelist because he is out front leading the call. We, the people who "get it" and are reading this message, need to get the word out. Make this vision part of our professional discussion when we have meetings. Take the time to attend the seminars and read the resources on the networks. Connect with your colleagues. Bring back what you learn and pass on this concept you believe in.

This is no longer a separate add-on to education. This is the future. Be a part of the change we seek for our children.