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.