Saturday, May 24, 2014

Students Become Community Members

Schools are communities unto themselves. Of course most schools are a key part of a larger community and represent the families in the surrounding area. But schools have their own culture, environment, and day to day activity to create a uniquely different community. So in essence our students are community members of our schools. The question is are we fostering an environment where our students are active community members who take pride in their school? I see a lot of parallels here.

I live in a small community in the Sierras of Central California. The town has a rich history involving the Mono Indians, the logging industry, the forest service, and much more. Since the mill was closed in the 1990's, the town has suffered economically. We have been forced to change our direction and seek a new path and identity. This has challenged many individuals to put more time in keeping the town clean, safe, economically headed in the right direction, and inviting to other community members. From the tribe, to the artists, to the business owners, to the teachers, to the real estate agents, to the families, everyone has had to do their part to keep the town going in the right direction. However, in most cases, we are still very far behind in that effort. It feels overwhelming sometimes to picture how much work it will continue to take to keep our town on track. However, there is truly only one ingredient that is needed more than anything else. That is participation and action. We need people who care and people who have skills that they can bring to the table. We have a lot of people that can and do participate. But we need more and we need more variety.

So what does this have to do with education? Essentially, we are preparing students to be community members. We are preparing students who care about their school, are active in clubs, sports, activities, and in the classroom. We are preparing students who think critically to solve problems and students who are creative and skilled in the art of promoting and marketing. We are teaching students who work hard not because of an external reward, but to make a difference for others.

So many towns and schools have people who are not involved. Time is always a concern. But if we encourage and recruit our students to be active and involved, they will do the same in our community. They will live a life of purpose and a life that impacts the lives of others. Our future depends on schools producing these types of citizens. Whether it be a big city, a small town, a farming community, or a state, we need people who care. That starts in families and schools. You cannot force someone to care but someone who has been on a team, in an orchestra, part of an art show, or led a major project in the classroom, is going to know what it takes to make a community successful.

I have faith that my town will continue to grow and recover. I believe we will produce students with innovative minds and caring hearts to build our community back to what it was and beyond that. I have to believe that. That is why I work in education. Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Technology is a Big Factor...But it is Not the Only One

If you have children in school or you work in education, you have had this conversation before. Some will say that technology is a major distraction and takes away from learning. Some will tell you that their school is getting iPads next year so the class will be learning more than ever. Some schools are buying technology just for testing and some schools are holding off till the bitter end to make the jump to technology integration. The reality is that if we want to make our students successful in the world they live in rather than the world we lived in, we have to teach them how to work on a day to day basis with technology. However, to successfully do this, a mind shift is in order.

Don't cut them off from the world they live in.
I feel foolish talking about technology this way. It is kind of redundant right? I mean, technology is all around us and to speak of it as if it is some secret is silly, right? Well in many schools, this is still the case. Students are still accessing technology in a small lab and are told to keep their smart phones at home. Following that logic, we should just give teenagers licenses after they pass their written exams. Rather than allowing them time behind the wheel or testing them on how well they actually drive, we could just hand them over the keys after answer multiple choice questions correctly. Wouldn't that be ridiculous? I feel that many teachers and schools are doing this today.

Technology is not a distraction. Distractions are distractions.
To say that technology is a distraction is interesting to me. First of all, when I have access to every resource imaginable and every networking capability known to man at the touch of my fingers, I will be a little distracted when I am forced to read a static textbook that is probably behind the latest research the minute it is printed. Technology can be a distraction. Just like doodling, day dreaming, spit wads, and making signs across the room to your buddy. That is the reason why we have a teacher in the classroom.

Let them use their powers for good.
News flash....students are going to be online and using technology regardless of what we do. They will be engaging in social networking, research topics of interest, and finding entertainment. Because that is what they do. We have to teach them to use their power for good. If we ignore it, they ignore us. We must make them successful in balancing play and work and by giving them the tools to use technology in a productive way.

Teachers have to teach.
Great teachers are great. If you give a great teacher a kazoo, they can teach a unit on the French Revolution. Maybe not, but you get the point. If you give a teacher technology and they are not bound and determined to challenge their students and design engaging lessons to maximize their potential, students will be distracted. A great teacher will take these amazing tools and motivate, articulate, model, and execute a successful learning environment for their students. Technology alone is not transformation. Teachers have to teach and they have to shift the way they teach to truly implement a successful technology environment.

You can't make the shift halfway.
 If teachers are going to lecture continuously. If they are going to ask their students to fill out digital worksheets, they might as well not even have technology. We have to think bigger. We have to ask our students to create, collaborate, communicate, and think critically. We have to prepare them for a working environment with deadlines that require creativity and detail. We have to facilitate their exploration and inspire them to ask the big questions.

Technology alone will not make our students successful. But great teaching and technology will make our students unstoppable. Isn't that what we want? I think it is time to stop debating over what we want and start allowing ourselves to implement what the students need. A mind shift is needed. Leading is Teaching.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Power of Storytelling

Storytelling has been an invaluable element of the human experience since the dawn of mankind. Every culture places a high value on telling stories whether it be for entertainment, education, teaching values, or to protect those who would listen from repeating mistakes of the past. All of us can remember at least in some small way how story telling has played a role in our upbringing.

In the classroom, the art of storytelling has been misinterpreted in many classes for many years. Somehow, storytelling has turned into lecture, vocabulary, and textbooks. Developing the skills for storytelling has turned into students reading bullet points on a PowerPoint. Students are not asked to "work a room," be entertaining, make profound statements while also backing them up, or simply teaching their classmates about a subject that they know little about. Instead, teachers and students participate in a monotonous exchange of talk and take notes. New flash...this is not storytelling!

So why is storytelling important? You would be hard pressed to find many jobs where you are not required to communicate effectively. In most jobs, you are asked to either sell something or convince someone what the value of your product or your work is. These are the skills developed in storytelling. You have a message, you develop a interesting package in which to deliver it, you tell your story in a way that is compelling and believable, and you are confident in doing this. If our students can develop these skills, they will be competitive in the job market.

This is not reserved for students that are outgoing or funny. There are many ways, shapes and forms to excel in storytelling. Give students choice in how they deliver. This could take shape in the form of writing, media, art, and more. If they nurture these skills, they will blossom in this area down the road. We need to teach them how to deliver and sell the message they are putting forward. Thinking of how many areas in your life where that skill is a must.

So what does lecture become? Lecture turns into teachers using storytelling to model what it looks like for students. Every great teacher you have had was a master at this. Make your stories interesting. Make the idea of being a great storyteller compelling. Put passion into your delivery. Because whatever you model, is what you are going to receive in return. Teach students that they don't need a lot of text on a slide when they present. Teach them the skill of presence and delivery. If you you read bullet points on a regular basis, don't be surprised when they do the same thing.

Our students will be better in interviews, in business deals, as parents, and as life long learners if we teach them the value of storytelling. There is a reason why it has been an important part of human history. Great teachers are great storytellers, who teach their students to become great storytellers as well. Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Students Leading Innovation: How Social Media Empowers our Youth

It never fails. Every time I bring up Social Media use in schools in front of a big group, there are naysayers in the crowd. There are questions of legality, questions about inappropriate behavior, statements about the line between personal and professional, and much more. Many people tend to automatically go to that negative and precautionary space before giving the idea a chance. Well, I want to start this off with a question. If we don't teach our youth how to engage in Social Media for positive, productive, and professional use, then who will?

The students we have in class have grown up with social media. It is a significant part of their life if we like it or not. You can argue that much of their daily life revolves around posting pictures, sharing video, liking their friends post, or following hashtags. Rather than fighting it, why don't we use it in a way that will educate them? Social Media is powerful. It is not negative or positive unto itself. It just is. So what will we do with it?

I have had the experience of witnessing my students use social media in positive, productive, and professional ways. I have seen a student write a literature blog and then be contacted by publishers to review books. I have seen a student who wrote game reviews for a company who noticed his blog. I have seen students create videos that ended up getting national recognition and used for non-profit marketing through social media. I have seen students organize educational and philanthropic events with hundreds of people in attendance because they leveraged social media for marketing. I have seen students get jobs in marketing while going to college because they had experience using social media professionally. These examples are just from my school. Students know the power they possess and it is up to us to direct them in a way that will make them successful.

Every teacher knows that to reach students academically, you have to first establish a relationship with them. The classic ways to do this is of course through dialogue in the classroom but also through going to their games, watching their performances and supporting them in their pursuits. However, social media has became another way to connect with them. If a students friends you or follows you, they are trusting you to see their daily posts. They are letting you in to a piece of their life. We can use this and make significant gains in our relationships with them through social media. If we get them to post about school or their classes, this is a big victory for all. Because that means that what they are learning, is relevant to their world. Rather than cutting them off from it, we are embracing their world en route to educating them.

It is not a question as to if they are using social media in schools. The question we have to ask is, are we making school engaging and important enough to them to be part of that world. Social Media is a tool that we can use to help our students accomplish things that we never dreamed of when we were in school. They can access the world around them and bring that into our classrooms on a daily basis. What will you do with this tool? How can we help our kids to commit to a positive, productive, and professional digital footprint? Leading is Teaching.