It is nomination season for the Edublogger Awards (deadline is Friday, December 2), and, like so many of my colleagues, I am participating again with mixed feelings.   As many readers know, I have expressed my hesitations with school awards ceremonies, and hate the idea that we might divide a learning community by singling out some for internal awards.    But at the same time, I am entirely supportive of our students and teachers pursuing and being honored with external recognition.

Before preparing my nominations, I took some time to update my “Blogroll,” and I want to emphasize its importance, much greater than this post: Find it on the right hand column bar.   The 78+  names on that list, and as I am continuing to work on it, what will soon be more than 100, are incredibly important parts of my intellectual universe and learning network, and I am deeply indebted to them.  Please be assured, it is an evolving list, and I will be adding to it regularly.

The Edublogger award nomination page doesn’t make clear, to my eyeballs, whether you can nominate only one, or more than one,  in each category.  For most of the categories I am writing about I will offer several suggestions, but the last in each section, in bold, will be my particular singular  nomination.

Best Individual Blog:

Lisa Nielsen’s Innovative Educator: Sharing Ideas about Learning Innovatively provides an informative, prolific, and passionate advocacy for her view of educational progress and innovation, much, though not all of which I share.   She’s got so much energy, enthusiasm, and idealism for digital empowerment of students and for a whole world-view of networked, tech-savvy, open-minded, educational advancement that it makes you want to jump up from your chair and join a march for her cause.  Among her great strengths is her continuing concern for youth voice.

Kids love having the opportunity to learn online but it’s not merely the medium or the technology that students enjoy. At the recent iNacol Virtual Schools Symposium I listened to high school students who have experience learning this way as well as teachers who have experience with these students, share some advice for making this type of learning even better.

Rick Ackerly also speaks for kids, but does so not by sharing their voice as by honoring, treasuring even,  their experience and point of view.   His blog’s title, The Genius in Children, captures it effectively.

Notice, delight, respond, conflict, challenge, inquire, define, love, and watch how the child’s unique character reveals itself to you. Notice how that character is driven by some ineffable inner voice, her own unique genius. .

Bill Ferriter’s The Tempered Radical speaks for teachers, especially; it is remarkable to me that a full time teacher can maintain such a frequent and outstanding stream.   But he also speaks for all of us who share this vision of the importance of innovation and educating our our students to be innovative; of the exciting synergy of Web 2.0 and 21st century skills; or professional learning communities and networked learning.

“Constructing a TED in their heads” is a cool phrase, isn’t it?   It is an approachable reminder that when we are building our own learning networks using social tools like blogs, Twitter and Facebook, we need to intentionally reach beyond the thinking of leading educators.

Best Group Blog:

Connected Principals has become a second home for me online, and one I am extremely pleased to learn from weekly and contribute to monthly.   

edSocialMedia  is another exciting environment for idea-sharing and collaboration, and I have only just begun to really participate there and benefit from it.

But we are not allowed to nominate ourselves in the edublogger awards process, and even if we were, I think I still might choose instead the exciting work happening at Powerful Learning Practice, Voices from the Learning Revolution.   It has been hosting a series of excellent contributions from some of the best minds in the blogosphere, including Sheryl Nussbaum Beach and Lyn Hilt.  Patti Grayson:

 – Above all, the convenience of 1:1 netbooks provide students with the opportunity to learn about anything! By allowing time for students to construct their own learning, we teach them that they have the freedom and the power to learn about whatever interests them. This encourages our students to pursue their passions, and become life-long learners.

Best New Blog:

Peter Gow has long been an important and leading voice within the world of independent schooling and our national association, NAIS, but with his new blog launched last winter, Not Your Father’s School, he is now in a position I think to influence importantly a much broader network of educators who share his passion for schooling which matters for students.   Be sure to check out his recent series: Things Schools MUST be Thinking About.

You don’t have to be creating your own online learning department, but you need to think about how online learning fits into your school’s, and your students’, program. Classes on line have advantages and disadvantages, and the so-called blended and “flipped classroom” models—in which students experience instruction out of class in a virtual environment and then use classroom time to rehearse, troubleshoot, or apply their learning—are going to become more and more the model for many types of courses in many schools.

Best EdTech Resource Sharing Blog:

Richard Byrne’s Free Tech for Teachers is obviously a heavyweight in this category; what a treasure for educators to have this constant stream of information about how to best exploit all the new tools coming online to advance learning for our students.    But there is no need for me to give my precious single nomination to something already so well recognized.

Steve Taffee’s Blogged In-Determination offers really rich, thorough, thoughtful, and fascinating perspectives on the way in which learning is changing and can change by incorporating technology intelligently, but Steve doesn’t stop there: his blog happily also delves into a myriad of other issues.

The ubiquitous presence of laptops and mobile devices in schools present an opportunity to completely re-think assessment practices. In schools that have adopted 1-1 laptop learning programs, teachers recognize the value of computers for student collaboration, research, writing, illustrating, recording, presenting, performing, and so on. Yet when it comes to assessment, students may be told they can’t use those tools any longer, or that the tools must be crippled in some manner (no Internet access, no spell-check, etc.) in order to be used. Teachers who are otherwise brilliant in their everyday use of technology, ask students to fill in bubbles on multiple choice (multiple guess?) tests. There does not need to be such a disconnect between learning and assessment.

John Sowash’s Electric Educator gets my nod, however, if I only have one.   John offered me enormous value in the conversation of sorts we had on Connected Principals just over a year ago about reverse instruction, and his site continues to offer great insights and terrific examples of what he is doing with tech in his classroom.

In years gone-bye, information was a critical resource that determined success. Today, information is cheap and easily accessible by anyone with a web-enabled computer or mobile device. Access to information is no longer a distinguishing factor. The critical skills that determine success today are time, attention, and clear thinking.

Best Teacher Blog:

Bill Ferriter, Richard Byrne, and John Sowash are all teachers, and clearly could and perhaps should be nominated in this category, but I chose to nominate them instead in other above categories.   So I’ll offer instead three terrific voices from the among the many, many exciting teacher voices contributing to my understanding of learning as it is happening in their classrooms every day.

Anthony McGrann’s Seconds is a reflective, sometimes almost meditative blog from a Seattle second grade teacher who is very effectively modeling learning as a life long practice and chronicling his journey to be a more intentional practitioner.

Leadership is not easy, but the more aware you become of yourself (strengths and weaknesses), the more you become a better leader. There is a large amount one can learn from a book, but being able to adapt and inspire, those are the traits of our next leaders. If we as teachers can truly call ourselves life-long learners, hopefully we can inspire the next generation of true leaders.

Shelley Wright’s Wright’s Room is all about experimentation and innovation as she fearlessly shares her own journey and lets us know what is working and not, and how her students’ learning is becoming realigned with our changing world.

Before the technology/constructivist shift in my classsroom, I would have taught all of this quite traditionally. We’d learn formulas through worksheets. I’d lecture a lot, with supplemental textbook readings here and there. The whole design would have been extremely teacher centered. And at the end of it all, I’d hope they learned something about Chemistry & Biology.  Instead, inquiry and technology are a natural part of our science classes. It’s what my students have come to expect.  Instead, of saying, “hand in your assignments,” I say, “publish your assignments and send me the link.” That’s the 21st century difference.

John Burk’s Quantum Progress gets the nod if I have to select just one, as tough as it is to choose just one.  John is a Physics teacher who shares his own experiments in physics teaching (do others notice that there seems a disproportionate number of science teacher blogs?) and about networked learning and technological integration generally.   John writes prolifically with a wonderfully wide-ranging and curious eye and a great enthusiasm for what he is doing.   Listen to him about Finding the Connections between Arts classes and Physics.
I would love to see my classroom be taken over by a project of similar scope to the dragon project. When I first saw the dragon, i thought of how much of a pain it must be for other classes to teach in this room, but then realized how amazing it must be to have a giant artifact of learning slowly taking over your classroom as the semester progresses, and how incredible that must be for the class community. In a way, it reminds me of Anna’s “Wall of Biology” This is far off goal for me, but I’m going to keep looking for some big unifying project we could take on.

Best School Administrator Blog:  

Lyn Hilt, an elementary school principal who blogs at the Principal’s Posts,  doesn’t post with a high frequency, but every time she does her writing sings: eloquent and enthusiastic.  Her writing delves into the life of her school, and regularly finds fascinating connections between what she is doing on the ground with her young students and what she is learning high up in the cloud.

Administrators, get connected. First, with yourself and your beliefs. What do you know about your communities and students, and the world in which we exist? What is important for children to know and be able to do? If you don’t know – find out. FROM KIDS, the community, and others around the world. Next, connect with your own school and administrative councils. Consider what you’re asking your teachers to teach; why you’re doing so; how you’re evaluating the effectiveness of the learning environments in your schools; when and how often you’re going to push the status quo and start demanding changes in your school’s curriculum, assessment, teacher evaluation systems, and instructional methods in order to provide more authentic learning for your children.

Get connected. Make your voices heard among bodies of decision-making leaders, starting with your own administrative council and moving beyond into your state and national organizations.

Bo Adams’ It’s About Learning is magnificent: eager to learn, eager to share, eager to make a difference in the life of students and to have an impact on education broadly.   Bo is restless, intellectually sophisticated, philosophical.

Are you mapping your school’s journey in this 21st century? Do you know which maps to reference? Do you know which maps to chart yourself? When your school drives a flag into the frontier line of one of these proverbial maps, does your school have clear travel plans, itineraries, and methods of travel to reach the destination(s)?

Jeff Delp (Molehills out of Mountains)  is my fellow Arizonan, and has only just this year become a Principal himself, but he has been writing for several years as an administrator.   His blog tacks regularly from grand ideals of 21st century learning to the reality of running a public school in this day and age: his idealism and realism are intertwined beautifully.   His care for his students and his teachers are tangible, and his willingness to be transparent and acknowledge his own limitations and challenges are inspirational.

Obstacles…or opportunities?  Too often, I believe we feel trapped by the constraints of the current educational system — unable, or unwilling, to try something different.  But instead of feeling overwhelmed and upset by these “obstacles”, we should seize them as opportunities to make meaningful change to a profession that looks eerily similar to what it did 100 years ago.  Of course there are going to be challenges in what we do.  We work in a dynamic profession.  Not only do we have to keep up with changes in teaching pedagogy, testing requirements, standards and every additional policy that comes down the educational pipe–we have to keep up with changes in our students and the world in which we live.  That is no small feat.

 Again, there are dozens of other blogs I admire and learn from and with on a regular basis; the short list above is just the tip of the iceberg.   For more, please read my post from last December, A Few of My Favorite Blogs (25 of them).   Best to everyone in the blogosphere; on this Day-After-Thanksgiving, please know I am grateful to you all.