How To Become An EdTech Leader

by Noël Zia Lee at flickr.com, CC-BY 2.0 licence.

by Noël Zia Lee at flickr.com, CC-BY 2.0 licence.

I hosted a session at On The Rise this year. I’ve posted my slides as a PDF, but I knew from the start that a 60-minute session would be too short for the topic. Here is the previously-mentioned, obscenely long, supplementary blog post.

Introduction

Being a leader in educational technology does not mean becoming technically skilled. It doesn’t mean you can write code, recover crashed hard drives, or configure a router. You don’t even have to know what those phrases mean.

Being an EdTech leader means that you have relationships with others, and that you share with them using technology.

Goals

In order to lead effectively, you need some goals. Here are a few generic examples of goal types:

  • Develop skills and knowledge to improve yourself and your work
  • Develop skills and knowledge in your team
  • Foster collaboration in your team
  • Give to the larger community (beyond your team)
  • Develop personal and professional relationships
  • Share resources

For example, you might have a goal of learning how to use audio recordings for assessment as learning in a language class. You might have a goal of connecting your teachers to teachers in other school boards. You might want to develop closer professional relationships within your department. You might want to collect and curate resources to support newer teachers.

All of these are great goals, but make sure you follow one simple rule:

Have goals for yourself and goals for others

One or the other type isn’t enough if you’re trying to consciously lead. If you only have goals for yourself, you have no reason to share and support others. If you only have goals for others, you’re just trying to “improve” them without being honest about your own needs. Have both.

Kinds of Communities

There are a lot of ways to categorize communities, but the “publicness” of a community is fundamental.

Public vs. Private

This is really a continuum.

At one extreme end of the continuum we have completely public communities, which anyone can observe and in which anyone can participate. For example, Twitter is generally* publicly and globally available. What you say there is readable by anyone, even those who don’t have user accounts with the service.

(*I’m not going to put asterisks all through this post, but be aware most of these statements can be modified by user settings. For example, on Twitter you can protect your tweets so that only approved users can read them.)

At the other extremity we have completely private communities, which are only visible to the “invited” few. For example, you may have a Facebook group that only approved participants can join. The rest of the world isn’t allowed inside.

What’s best depends on who wants to participate, what their level of comfort is, and what everyone’s talking about.

You might have a private community when you need to talk about something sensitive or confidential, or when the participants are worried about making very public mistakes (particularly if this sort of community is new to them). You might protect the conversation when you need to prevent self-censorship in order to have honest dialogue.

You might have a public community when your local community (e.g. the people you work with) is a small one, and you want outside voices. It’s good to be public with universal issues, like assessment or writing.

You might partially protect the conversation by making it “read-only” to the uninvited. For example, perhaps you share the work you’re doing with your department members on a departmental blog/wiki/etc. The rest of the world can view your resources, but only your department members can update the work or comment on it.

Constructed vs. Organic

Some communities are organized and constructed. For example, you might set up a discussion group about instructional strategies, or you might create a sharing folder for rubrics. The purposes of those communities or activities are clear, and so they’re constructed.

Instead you might just set up a space for conversation to happen. Twitter is my favourite place for this. The topic isn’t defined in advance, so we can talk about anything we want to. The connectedness of the participants is what matters, not the quality of the prompt. Organic communities tend to be participant-directed and very welcoming of tangential thinking.

Halfway between these is the ConstrOrganic community (yes, I just made that up. I’m sure it’ll catch on). This is a community of people which doesn’t have a tight restriction on the conversation, but does sometimes provide prompts. For example, you might ask an open-ended or reflective question on Twitter: “How does your experience with technology in your personal life affect your use of technology in the classroom?” The question itself is posed in an otherwise organic community, but you can try to mould the conversation for a while. In my experience we don’t stay “on-topic” for very long, but that’s fine: the talk goes where it needs to, not where I aim it.

Required vs. Optional

This is one of the hardest to deal with, and it very much depends on (a) who you are, (b) what your role is in your organization, (c) who you are leading or hoping to lead, and (d) what your goals are for the people you lead.

If you’re a principal of a school and you want all the teachers you work with to reflect on their assessment practices in an online space, you might be considering requiring a writing activity in a private, online space. When you imagine how that will play out, you might be concerned that some folks might not participate, or that the participation might not be as deep and reflective as you want.

Rule of thumb: don’t require participation (at least at the beginning) if it’s not anonymous (and therefore safe). People need to trust you in order to follow you. If you don’t already have the level of trust that makes an optional task work well, then you don’t have the level of trust that makes a required task work well with names attached. By removing the names, you’ll remove a good portion of the (legitimate) fear associated with putting thoughts out there.

For example, you can create a shared online document (like a Google Doc) and make it editable to anyone who has the link. Participants can modify the document without identifying themselves, which makes it a lot more likely to be honest and complete.

Instant? Persistent?

Your interactions within your community can be synchronous (instant), like a tweet, or asynchronous, like a blog post and a comment. This is often a tradeoff between speed (synchronous) and depth (asynchronous).

Online conversations are usually persistent (they stay there forever), but they may not be easy to return to or make quick sense of later. Sometimes conversations are temporary, like a back-and-forth on TodaysMeet.com or a Google Hangout.

I wonder if having persistent, asynchronous conversations creates a thoughtful-but-cautious environment, possibly erecting a barrier or self-censorship. Is it true that instant, casual, organic conversations are more honest and allow for experimental thinking?

Email is not an effective community

It could be, I suppose, but don’t just do this. Mass email isn’t personal, interactive, or persistent (for most people), which can be good things to have. It’s typically one-way communication, and you can’t really opt-in or opt out. Other types of services will work better for you.

Possible Roles

In your participation in any community in which work is being done, you usually take on one of four roles. You’ll move between them freely and frequently once you’re a solid member of a functional community.

Quester

I have a question or problem, and I’m looking for an answer or solution.

For example, I post to Twitter, “Anyone have a good summative task for the quadratics section in MCF3M?” That’s a specific quest, and I’m the Quester. Anyone else in the community can answer, and anyone else can benefit from the answer.

Adventurer

I am trying something new, and I’m going to share my journey.

For example, I decided to try some physical demonstrations in my classroom for quadratic motion. I wrote a blog post explaining what I had come up with, shared some video from class, and reflected on how effective it was. I wasn’t an expert, but I shared what I found out (even if it turned out to be wrong).

Neophyte

I am learning something new from you, and I may ask questions.

This is great when there is a source of wisdom you can tap into. For example, I can read all about how to use Screencast-o-matic to improve an e-Learning course by watching someone’s videos or reading their tutorials. If there is something I don’t understand, I can ask questions. The answers help me, and both the answers and the questions help others (including that expert).

Adept

I have some special skills or knowledge, and I’ll demonstrate or share.

For example, I post instructional videos about how to program a computer using the Java programming language. I’m sharing some niche knowledge that I have, and I invite conversation and questions about it. I’m not looking for anything specific, but that knowledge does very little good bottled up in my own skull.

Choosing a Platform

There are three major considerations:

  1. Does the platform have the level of privacy that I want or need? This is a dealbreaker if it doesn’t. Also consider the granularity of privacy settings, because you might want to “reduce” them later (e.g. become somewhat more public).
  2. Does the platform have the functions I want or need? Think about formats, ease of use, technical support, exportability (if I leave, can I bring my stuff with me?), and cost.
  3. Will/does the community use the platform? If a platform is popular, the community might already exist or be easier to create. No one wants another password to remember.

Some possibilities

Lots of platforms serve multiple purposes. YouTube is for video, but it includes commenting. WordPress is for blogging, but it can serve as a fully functional website. Facebook is a social network, but it has private community pages. Here are a few loose categories and some popular services:

  • Blogging (WordPress, Blogger, Medium)
  • Video or Vlogging (YouTube)
  • Social Networking (Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook)
  • Curating (Pinterest, Scoop.it)

Some Challenges and Cautions

Here are some other considerations when you’re adventuring online.

Be careful what you say

Think about maintaining loyalty to your employer, respecting copyright and other licences, and protecting student identity and information. There are some things that you simply can’t say in public.

Who’s listening?

You might draw unwanted attention, even if what you say is “allowed” and isn’t “wrong”. For example, what will you do if a parent has a concern about the conversation between two teachers revealing a lack of professional understanding? Also consider students, other schools, and community members.

What is privacy, really?

When you post something in a private or protected space, you’re trusting the other people in that space to maintain the privacy of your thoughts. Before you post something, consider what might happen if it were “leaked”.

Will this be personal, professional, both?

Each has advantages and disadvantages. Your decision will depend on your goals. Here are some of my thoughts on the matter from a while ago:

No takers?

What if your team doesn’t follow you? What if they want to do something else? What if your team is already doing something different? What if your team is afraid?

You’ll have to work through the reasons for your particular situation, and talk with your team. There might be nothing you can do, except for continuing to share and model good practice.

What if my preferred platform is filtered by my organization?

Is there a good reason for the filtering? Are the people who make those decisions aware of what you’re trying to accomplish? Are they supportive? Have you talked with them about it (really talked, not just made a request by email)?

Sometimes the decision makers have parameters that you’re unaware of, and sometimes you have insight they are unaware of. Talk to each other. In the best situations, neither party thinks they have all the answers.

Final thoughts

At On The Rise: K-12 in 2014 Catherine Montreuil (then of Bruce-Grey Catholic DSB) said, “Private practice is inconsistent with professional practice.”

Being connected makes someone a leader, and being open and transparent are the best ways to get connected. You don’t need to be expert, articulate, or tech-savvy.

You just need to be willing to share.

 

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Tweets from #OTRK12

Here are some tweets that I wrote, retweeted, or favourited during OTRK12. I still have to write my OTRK12 reflections in a post, and a summary of the session I hosted. Hopefully I’ll get those done this week. In the meantime, here’s OTRK12 in bite-sized chunks:

Tweets and Retweets

(Note: “the” = “they” in above tweet. You knew what I meant, right?)

Favourites

How I Use Twitter Professionally – Version 4

Two and a half years ago I wrote How I Use Twitter Professionally, then revised it with How I Use Twitter Professionally – Updated! and How I Use Twitter Professionally – Updated Again!

I guess we’ll make it an annual thing:

My tweets are public.

I’m trying to encourage conversation and collaboration, so my tweets are globally accessible. This also means I don’t make statements I wouldn’t be comfortable with anyone reading – my family, my students, my employer….

I don’t follow a lot of people.

I currently follow 370 people, of whom about 250 are actively tweeting (let’s say at least weekly). Some of these aren’t related to education; for example, I follow The LEGO Group (@LEGO_Group) and authors John Scalzi (@scalzi) and Marko Kloos (@markokloos – he has a new book out today!).

I can’t read all of the stuff they tweet. I’m relying on my tweeps to retweet the really good stuff so I have a better chance of seeing it, or to mention me if it’s something they think I ought to notice.

I accept anyone as a follower, pretty much.

Except for a few obvious accounts, I let anyone follow me. Since my tweets are public, anyone can read them (even without a Twitter account), so letting people follow me doesn’t reveal anything extra. Plus, it’s easier when you don’t have to approve people.

I don’t follow back as a courtesy.

Before I decide to follow someone, I take a look at their tweet history. Is their stream of tweets going to enhance my experience? Will I learn from them? Or will I only learn what they had for breakfast?

I’m a fan of some personal stuff on Twitter, but if you post 300 times a day just to talk without conversing, I don’t need to see it. It’s not about you, it’s just that your use of Twitter doesn’t fit with mine. I think your lifestyle on Twitter should be like the Law of Two Feet: if it’s not working for you, move on.

I don’t accept Direct Messages (DMs) from people I don’t follow.

This cuts down on the spam. Now it’s just mentions, and there aren’t too many of those. This is a good idea for anyone, so I thought I’d list it here.

I also don’t follow people who I don’t want to DM me. That especially includes students. I have my school email for that kind of communication.

I follow hashtags for a while.

I follow #OTRK12 (our annual conference in Mississauga – this week!) and #elADSB (for my Board’s e-Learning teachers). I don’t follow the very busy tags, although I sometimes apply them to my posts (#D2L, #onted, #blendedlearning, #edtech).

I try to follow the people in Northern Ontario. We face many of the same issues, and perhaps we have solutions to help each other. I like that idea.

I don’t cross post to Facebook anymore.

I tweet too much. No one on Facebook wants to read all of that stuff. The handful of FB friends who do are also Twitter users and teachers, so they just go to Twitter to find me. When I write blog posts WordPress will publicize them on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, and I’m certain that’s plenty for the FB crowd.

I use Tweetdeck; it rocks.

Chrome has TweetDeck as an app; I like that I can have columns for a variety of things I want to look at. Currently I have my Twitter timeline, my Twitter Interactions, my Twitter Messages (DMs), and columns for a bunch of hashtags and lists I follow.

I say things for myself, and I say things for others.

I tweet things that I want to remember or revisit (great for “note-taking” at a session/workshop/conference). I also tweet things to inform others or start conversations. My tweets (of links and such) aren’t endorsements, but since people sometimes view them that way I try not to share stuff that I’m not at least familiar with.

I talk a lot, but not too much

I try to ask questions and help out when others ask questions. I’m proud to say I am included as an honourary member of the SGDSB educators list because I help out the teachers up there, so I think my contributions are valued.

More importantly, I’m developing relationships with these distant folks, and the growth of my PLN has helped me out in my work as well. It was very exciting last year at OTRK12 to meet people whom I knew only through Twitter, and it was surprising how natural the face-to-face interactions felt. We were already friends. So thanks, tweeps.

If you want to follow me…

I’m @bgrasley. No pressure, of course. Use Twitter however it works best for you, and don’t be upset if other people use it differently!

Session Preparation for #OTRK12

Yup, On The Rise is this week. It’s hard to believe we’re that far into the school year already, and it’s harder to believe that it’s been over year since OTRK12 2014.

This year I’m very happy to be presenting on Friday morning. The session title is “How To Become An EdTech Leader” and it’s for school and system leaders. Here’s the official description:

What does it take to be a leader in educational technology (EdTech) today? You don’t need to be a technical wizard. You do need to be willing to connect to a community, listen to others, and share what you’re doing.

We’ll talk about how to create or join different kinds of communities online. We’ll explain some different roles you can have. We’ll have hands-on time for you to get started using a platform of your choice based on your personal goals. And we’ll look at the challenges you can experience trying to lead at different levels of your organization (and propose some solutions!).

You’re coming to this session because you want to be a better leader with EdTech. If you’re a highly connected, social media guru, you probably want to go to a different session.

Did I mention it’s only an hour long? Yup, it’s a big topic. I’m paring down the stuff I’m going to talk about, and I think I’ll have to write an obscenely long blog post to get the rest of it out there.

My basic outline for myself is the following:

  1. Introduce myself (and participants, if there aren’t too many)
  2. Share some types of communities
  3. Develop some goals that participants might have as leaders
  4. Share some roles or stances that leaders can take
  5. List some possible/preferred online platforms
  6. Share challenges/cautions and solutions/suggestions to go with them
  7. Breathe a bit

I’m definitely feeling the time crunch. Sadly, I’m more verbose in person than I am in writing (shocking, I know), so I’ll need to strictly monitor myself. Of course, the actual path I take during the hour will depend on the other learners in the room with me.

Suggestions are very welcome, as always.

What would you do with a day to improve your teaching?

Andrew Campbell asked tonight on Twitter:

I answered a couple of times.

Then I had a related thought:

If I want to improve my teaching, I can work on something myself or I can learn from others (or both).

What would I want to learn?

A full day… 8 hours… no restrictions, no prescriptions, no requirements, no accountability, no strings… just work to improve my teaching….

It was harder than I expected, until I had the defining thought:

What do my students need me to be better at?

So instantly I landed on Assessment. That’s my area for improvement, and that’s what I would spend my day on.

The Plan

  • Before that day, decide on a specific focus (for me, probably assessment as learning, including peer assessment and self-reflection) and gather some short articles from trusted, external sources.
  • Start the day reading those articles, and writing a short, reflective blog post. The post is to share my learning and hopefully get some helpful feedback from my PLN.
  • Apply my prior knowledge and my new learning to a specific task that I’m planning for my class. If there is time, plan multiple learning opportunities using different strategies.
  • Share those tasks with my PLN and solicit more feedback.
  • Reflect, modify, reshare, etc.

Let’s be realistic – I ran out of time already, and I’ll be finishing at night.

This would be good PD

It would be wonderful to spend a day like this, although I don’t want to miss my class or my family, so it would be a really expensive day in that sense. It might be worth it, though.

What would you do?

Check out Andrew’s response (clever fella):

PD Day plan: Meeting with my Math department

Tomorrow is PD Day in Algoma, and I have a couple of hours to work with the math department in my school (which I newly lead). I want to make the most of our two hours together, so we’re going to be spending our time [mostly] talking about assessment.

I’ve been working here for a few weeks, so I have some idea of the nature of assessment in each teacher’s class, and in the school as a whole. Some of that comes from talking casually with teachers in our shared office; some of that comes from my students explaining what they’re used to (common practices).

I have learned something in the last few years: hardly anyone has had the time I’ve had to read about, hear about, reflect upon, and discuss their teaching practice. That’s not a criticism, of course; I’ve just had the luxury of working centrally for six years. That’s a lot of workshops, a lot of meetings, and lot of one-on-one conversations with classroom teachers from all over the board.

I have thoughts about what good assessment looks like, so I could just tell everyone how I think it should be, but I know that’s not effective. First, I could be up in my sleep, having not practiced all of the strategies I believe will work. Second, people need to own their approaches, not just follow someone else’s.

A principal told me last year that school boards often make the mistake of having senior administration learn a lot so that they can make a decision about a system-wide approach to a problem. Then the school principals are “trained” or “in-serviced” or otherwise told how to implement this approach. But almost never is there really an opportunity for the principals to become deeply familiar with the solution (or even the problem!) in order to believe it’s the right choice.

So I’m trying to be careful to not make that mistake. I’m trying to coach in the way I know is best: encourage the learner to reflect upon the current practice, to question its efficacy, and to consider something else that has reason and research to support it.

The Plan for tomorrow

We’re going to develop a Working Agreement for our meeting (lots of folks use the term “norms”; I first heard “working agreement” and I like how it feels more collaborative than imposed). I don’t know how long this will take, but it’s worth taking the time now.

Then I have some reflection questions for everyone. I’m still deciding on strategies here (for practical reasons; there could be a dozen people in the room). These are the questions I’m considering:

  • What kinds of assessment do you use in your classroom?
  • What is the purpose of each kind of assessment you use?
  • How does each kind of assessment help students to improve?
  • How are students involved in assessment?
  • How do you record assessment information?
  • What are the rules/policies about assessment and evaluation (department, school, board, Ministry)?

There is a lot of background knowledge that goes into assessment, and I don’t yet know how common that knowledge is. I’m thinking about

  • Assessment For, As, and Of Learning
  • Conversations, Observations, and Products
  • Big Ideas, Learning Goals, Success Criteria
  • Summative Tasks, Richness, Authenticity

I have about 14 hours until we meet as a group. Any suggestions are very welcome.

Intentional vs. Incidental Professional Learning

Two women drinking coffee and talking.

“coffee talk” by Anna Levinzon via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Here’s an interesting, if corporate-centric read:

Have some coffee & stop worrying about finding a “mentor.”

And it got me thinking (I bet I use that phrase in half of my posts… I’d better watch for that): how intentional will I be in my professional conversations with other teachers next year?

I have a central role in my board for a few more weeks, and so I’m often engineering intentional conversations about certain topics (like assessment or social media) in the context of a group session. For example, I’ll meet with a group of teachers I’m working with on a project and I’ll prompt the group to spark a dialogue.

In the hallway outside my office I have lots of incidental conversations with my fellow program warriors. We ask each other for help with problems (“what code do you use when a student completes Credit Recovery for a Coop credit?”) which lead to interesting (often philosophical) questions.

The Staff Room

But I’ll be at a school next year, and there will be a staff room or department office or something. When I think back to my last teaching experience, I talked shop with other teachers all the time, but rarely with the intention of learning something specific. Instead we just talked (complained) about whatever was on our minds (was irritating us). Looking back I’m sure I missed out on great learning opportunities in favour of lunchtime gripe sessions.

A possibility

What if we were to plan to have conversations? What if, instead of just “going to lunch” with some colleagues, we go to lunch with a topic in mind? There is a great teacher in my board who has suggested meeting me for breakfast to talk about some ideas he has; I need to make that happen, because it’ll likely be really useful for both of us. Also, I like him, and I like breakfast.

Balance

I’m not suggesting we should do one thing all the time. Personal and organic conversations are awesome and essential. But if we’re going to talk shop anyway, perhaps we should periodically craft those conversations for a little more focused gain.