Thursday, October 20, 2016

Blog Guilt

One of the great tortures of having a blog is neglecting it.  It wouldn't take a reader more than a quick scroll to see how badly mine has been neglected.  This evening, I sat down to write and spent no less than an hour redesigning the visuals of my blog.  I went so far as to go into Adobe Illustrator to create an original picture...for a blog...where I never write...and no one reads.  It is amazing the lengths we will go to not write, and I, for one, have made peace with my aggressive laziness.  

Yet, here I am, and since I have made the design changes, I feel the need to put some words down as well.  The theme of the evening is focus and refocus.  My difficulty with this blog has been a lack of willingness to focus on sharing my ideas and thoughts.  Do I have them?  Oh, my.  Hundreds of times a day.  I have hand-written notebooks filled with thoughts and observations.  I have lacked the FOCUS to put them on paper...or desire.  Which brings me to REFOCUS.  My original focus for this blog (back those many years ago) was to show off my wicked educational technology skills to those on the interwebs who might somehow be impressed.  Well, three kids, two jobs, and a doctorate later...I'm more interested in writing about the things that I enjoy reading. 

So, this is your audience for this blog is now me and my learning.  It you happen to find it interesting, then pull up a chair.  If not, then I am sure there are one or two other bloggers out there you might enjoy.

So, what am I interested in?  Right now, I am into the varied ways people learn.  I am into how we can spin narratives in many different ways, and how EVERYTHING in our current world is about telling a story.  I am into my kids and the crazy stupid things they do.  I am into Marvel movies and Star Wars anything.  I am into coding, and banging my head against the wall to figure out how we can do more to transition our kids into higher level languages.

However, this is just today, and I have full blown Adult ADHD and a brain that won't stop.  Here's hoping I can send those waves to this space more than once a year.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Technology Tips for Parents

If you have a teenager in your life, there is an excellent chance they are using technology to access social media and online resources.  A recent Pew Research Report found that 95% of teens are “online.”  Having a connected device at home for learning can be a great benefit.  However, with this power comes great responsibility, and it is important for parents to do their part to ensure kids make good choices online.  
  • Play a role in your student’s online life.  If your student has a Facebook, Myspace, or Twitter page, then so should you.  Ask them to “friend you.”  Just as you are involved in shaping your child in the real world, you also need to help them form their digital image.  
  • Keep track of your child’s internet and cell phone (texting) history.  Many parents believe this is a violation of privacy, but kids are more likely to text or post things inappropriate if they don’t believe an adult will find out.  All major phone carriers provide a way for parents to monitor their kid’s devices.  Just make sure to be honest with your student before you hand them the phone for the first time so they know they won’t be surprised if/when the time comes for a conversation about their use.
  • Have frequent conversations with your student about the dangers of talking with strangers online.  Cyber/sexual predators are better at their craft today than at any other point in history.  They are using the internet to collaborate, share tips, and pictures/videos of victims.  In many cases, a cyber predator will attain a single inappropriate picture of a victim by acting as a peer online.  The predator will then threaten to reveal the picture to the victim’s parents, friends, or school mates if they don’t do exactly what they request. 
  • When it comes to cyberbullying, share possible strategies instead of just advice.  Cyberbullying is defined as willful and repeated harm inflicted through the medium of electronic text.  If your student is getting bullied online, they are more likely to tell an online friend that they are being bullied.  As a parent you should:  know your child’s online friends, expect no information, watch for mood changes (difficult with teenagers), not step in and do something without your child’s permission, make a plan for what to do if/when bullying happens, and use the school as your ally.
  • Teach your student to be skeptical of internet information.  Most internet sites tend to look the same - professional and informative.  Kids need to question the facts on internet sites and not take them as factual.  Anyone online can pose as a doctor and give dangerous advice.  Encourage your students to research on sites with a .org or .edu, and check the validity of information by checking facts on multiple sites.
  • Help your student make healthy decisions regarding screen time.  The US Department of Health and Human Services released a report recommending no more than two hours of screen time for kids aged 12-15.  Too much time in front of computers, television, and phones can result in issues with weight, anxiety, and mood.  Make a plan with your student about times when devices are not to be used (dinner, bedtime, etc.) and make sure you model these choices as well.  

Monday, January 26, 2015

Pushing Trains, Sailing Boats

As a Director of eLearning, I am in the business of partnering with school leadership teams to launch and move initiatives involving curriculum, assessment, and instruction. Before beginning work with any district, I always share that, “I’m not here to drive the train. I’m just here to help push and make sure we stay on the right track.” In recent months I have come to question the whole “train” analogy or concept of “staying on the right track.” Don’t get me wrong - the idea of a clear track to move forward upon is a wonderful idea, and I understand why we are drawn to the concept. However, within this analogy, the team’s responsibility is to build up steam, get enough people pushing, and keep feeding the engine until everyone reaches their destination. As is often the case, the reality of a “track” is far different when it comes to actual practice. We can certainly get the train moving, but the path is never as clear and straight as we originally hoped it would be.

For this reason, I was quite taken with a quote I saw from the Reverend Barbara Brown Taylor a few months ago:
"We want life to be a train, but it is a sailboat.  Every day you check the winds, currents, and resources you have and keep moving."

For me, this analogy represents the multitude of variables educators deal with within schools. We can make extensive plans, but we never know when the next current, wave, or storm may arrive. There are those precious and rare days when the wind blows us in the perfect direction, and many other days when we are dead in the water. In other words, as educators, we are often at the mercy of external forces outside of our control.

Given this reality, how are educators expected to proceed?  When the only certainty is that there will be uncertainty (and lots of it), why even bother to make a plan? The answer is clear: a well-drawn map with clear methods of measuring progress will get you closer to your destination than simply “going with the flow.” Many schools are content to just keep the “boat afloat,” and, as a former administrator, I will admit that I spent many days doing nothing but “bailing water.” However, creating a good plan with clear methods of measuring progress towards your destination before you leave the dock can allow leaders to make those small rudder shifts necessary to keep the bow pointing in the right direction - even on the busiest of days.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that a great plan makes course adjustments a less important part of the process. (After all, the only thing better than a ship with watertight compartments, is not hitting the iceberg in the first place.) What I am saying is that, like guiding a sailboat, school initiatives can be an overall enjoyable experience for all - just have a plan and the tools ready to find your way in case your “three-hour-tour” turns into a whole lot more.