October 2012

Last week I had the pleasure and honor to present online to the #Leadership20 MOOC, organized by George Couros and situated in a sense upon the Connected Principals Platform, with a session keyed to theAlberta Education Principal Quality Standardnumber 3, Leading a Learning Community.

Above you can see the slides; click here to open (it takes a couple of steps, including a download) the recorded session on elluminate complete with my audio and the chat commentary.

Below are my resources– books, articles, posts– referred to in the presentation.


  • Dweck, Carol, Mindset
  • Megan Tschannen-Moran, Trust Matters
  • Bryk and Schneider, Trust in Schools
  • Tough, Paul, How Children Succeed

Articles and Posts

Lessons Learned from the Good High School Project

Grant Lichtman Learning Pond educational journey blog

HBR article: Are You Learning as Fast as the World is Changing? Bill Taylor

Why I Blog: A Principal’s 13 reasons

Smackdown: Sharing Technology uses among the St. Gregory Faculty, 2012

Faculty Meeting Edcamp, Richard Kassissieh

Cale Birk  Collegial Conversations

9 Suggestions for the Welcome Back to School letter from the Principal

Michael Thompson article for parent conversation, Peer Pleasure Peer Pain.

Using Student Achievement Data to Support Instructional Decision-Making, Recommendation 2, Teach Students to Examine their own data and set learning goals

St. Gregory “Egg” 21st century skills and character Report Card

KIPP character report card

Awards posts:

This has been composing itself in my head for nearly ten days, but, when her very life hung in the balance, as it did until today, it felt too soon to write about  Malala Yousafzai as a hero and role model.  As I tweeted and facebooked last week, I found myself so moved and affected by her shooting, but writing a full blog entry was hard for me to do– in part because I was still too emotional and too concerned.     But today the New York Times reports, “she is now able to stand with assistance and communicate in writing,” and it is impossible not to note the particular good news that she is able to communicate in writing now– because that is so central to her place and contribution to the world.

The past ten days, following Malala’s story, I felt particularly sorry not to be currently a school-leader, or part of a school community, which I have been for nearly every year of my life previous and which I expect to be again before too long.   Because if I were, I would take some extended time with students to view the video telling her story, to hear her voice and read her writing, to have moments of silence to hold her in our thoughts, and to share with students why I think they should view her as an icon of their generation.

This blog is intended to celebrate 21st century K-12 learning, and my particular vision of 21st century learning includes as a central element an empowerment of students to develop their voice and strengthen their skills and  problem-solving creativity to address real-world problems, using technology in every way possible to amplify these things.

Malala represents this so exactly, so brilliantly, so movingly, and all that much more because her particular cause is itself education and learning.   She is a young person, still only 15, but she has been an activist for girls education in Pakistan for four years or more, and a blogger since 2009, when she was in 7th grade.   Oh to be a seventh grade Social Studies teacher right now, (I’ve been one before), and take some time to read her blog, see the world through her eyes, seek to understand her motivation and world view, and then evaluate her as a role model.

Hear her blogging voice:

Do not wear colourful dresses – 5 January 2009

“I was getting ready for school and about to wear my uniform when I remembered that our principal had told us not to wear uniforms and come to school wearing normal clothes instead.

“So I decided to wear my favourite pink dress. Other girls in school were also wearing colourful dresses. During the morning assembly we were told not to wear colourful clothes as the Taliban would object to it.”

Several times this summer I wrote and spoke about Martha Payne, another awesome model of a justice-seeking young person using a blog Never Seconds to extend her voice and impact, changing the conversation and the meal plan in Scottish schools.

Malala Yousafzai But clearly Malala now has a profile of vastly greater significance.  With the entire world hoping and praying for her, she may have the full recovery she and the world deserves her to have, and thereupon, she’ll take draw upon her strengths and her resilience to become a global leader for peace and justice.

This possible future global leadership role, this possible future Nobel Peace Prize award, began with a girl who wanted to go to school, who was supported by families and teachers to advocate for her cause, who was enabled to seek this justice as part of her schooling and part of her learning, and who used technology and the web to broadcast her voice and share her vision and change the world.

It is increasingly clear that the future of learning, K-12 and post-secondary, will entail a significant online dimension; I’m especially drawn to the concepts of “networked learning,” “connectivism” and “blended learning,” as regular readers surely have noticed the past few months.

At the same time, I am well aware I have a lot to learn about effective practices in online learning of whatever kind, and I need to step up my learning and practice of networked, connected learning.

Accordingly, this month I have stepped into (in various capacities) no fewer than five FREE  online learning experiences, four of them MOOCs of one kind or another.   For each of these five there is some expectation that I reflect and share my thoughts on my blog, so this post is in part a preview (and a warning) to regular readers of what may be coming soon to this site.

What is a MOOC?  I know some readers will ask this, though fewer today than would have four or five months ago, as the term has vaulted forwards and upwards into our consciousness this summer and fall with all the publicity nationally about Coursera and EdX.    To quote Wikipedia,

massive open online course (MOOC) is a type of online course aimed at large-scale participation and open access via the web. MOOCs are a recent development in the area of distance education, and a progression of the kind of open education ideals suggested by open educational resources.

Though the design of and participation in a MOOC may be similar to college or university courses, MOOCs typically do not offer credits awarded to paying students at schools. However, assessment of learning may be done for certification.

Taking on five different programs this fall is a lot, and perhaps too much, (I reserve the right to drop-out of one or more, though the very act of posting this post increases the odds I will persevere) but I happen to have some time on my hands, and I really want to work toward strengthening my understanding about our fast-changing world of education.   As it happens, and perhaps I ought to mix it up a bit, all five are in a sense meta-MOOCs: they are all online and in various ways digitally enhanced learning courses about digitally enhanced learning (though the last, the fifth, isn’t really a MOOC.)

All five of them are open to you too, readers: join me!

The Five:

1.  The Current and Future State of Higher Education (CFHE12).  This MOOC, organized in part by Stephen Downes, the Canadian scholar, famed newsletter writer, and co-creator of connectivism, is explained as follow:

University leaders are struggling to make sense of how internationalization, the current economic conditions, and new technologies will impact their systems. Educators are uncertain of the impact of open educational resources, alternative accreditation models, de-professionalization of academic positions, and increased grant competitiveness. What is role of the academy in increasing national economic competitiveness while preserving the “vital combat for lucidity” that defines an open democratic society?

I’m enrolled not because of an interest in higher ed but because I want a better view to the changing world of education, and those in higher ed are, at least some of them in some ways, ahead of the curve of K-12, and trends in post-secondary surely will be coming to K-12 soon.  This works in reverse, too:  on a discussion forum for this course, there were interesting points made about the pressures coming to bear on higher ed providers by incoming students who have become accustomed to the flipped classroom, the use of Khan Academy and other online delivery of course content, and hence are demanding their college professors come into line with their expectations.   But for my purposes, I’m seeking to draw from this forecasting of higher ed insights about the future of K-12 learning.

2.  Designing a New Learning Environment.   This is a MOOC from Stanford and its Associate Dean of Education, Paul Kim.  It is explained here:

What constitutes learning in the 21st century? Should reading, watching, memorizing facts, and then taking exams be the only way to learn? Or could technology (used effectively) make learning more interactive, collaborative, and constructive? Could learning be more engaging and fun?

We construct, access, visualize, and share information and knowledge in very different ways than we did decades ago. The amount and types of information created, shared, and critiqued every day is growing exponentially, and many skills required in today’s working environment are not taught in formal school systems.

In this more complex and highly-connected world, we need new training and competency development—we need to design a new learning environment.   The ultimate goal of this project-based course is to promote systematic design thinking that will cause a paradigm shift in the learning environments of today and tomorrow.


A weekly post, Quotes of the Week.

 Technological prowess
Because technology is becoming simpler to use and more ubiquitous in our daily lives, teachers won’t actually need as much as people may think in the way of technology skills to teach in a blended-learning environment.

Still, they will likely need a few basic skills.As the International Association for K-12 Online Learning’s (iNACOL) National Standards for Quality Online Teachingdocuments, teachers will need to be able to communicate via a variety of mediums, explore, identify, and use a variety of online tools to meet student needs, and be able to do basic troubleshooting–such as helping students reset passwords, download plug-ins, and so forth.

For many teachers, being able to teach effectively offline as well as online will be critical.

5 Skills for Blended Learning Teachers,  Michael Horn and Heather Staker

In preparation for our students to become actively involved in contributing on the classroom blogs, as a school, we needed to Update & Upgrade Our School’s Media & Publishing Release in order to reflect the shift from students as consumers to students as producers.

Some teachers felt ready sooner than others, to climb the next step on the ladder. They opened their classroom blog up for comments to their students. They started to shift from merely pushing out information to parents and students to see the opportunity for a conversation. Teachers were learning to, not only post information, but posing questions for students, encouraging them to think and to participate in a virtual conversation.

Implementing Blogging in the Classroom, Silvia Tolisano

The right cognitive tools can repurpose our brains, have done so repeatedly, and are at the root of what it means to be human….

Humans appear to be natural born cyborgs, biologically equipped to reprogram each other’s thinking machinery through culture.  That’s where today’s 2 billion Internet users come into play.  Developing a mutualistic relationship with computing machinery– becoming networks of cyborgs– is taking this process of human tool co-evolution to a whole new level.

Mind Amplifier: Can Our Digital Tools Make Us Smarter, Howard Rheingold

Reality for teachers is that we may get away to a conference for a few days but we’ve got a hard row to hoe every day of the week. We’re up past midnight grading papers and have parents who send us emails and expect an immediate reply. We might have a tad of time and if we read our reader or education news we see another teacher basher who has written a damning article from the quiet of their office while their secretary holds their calls and their own children are off at school. (more…)

Principals and School-Leaders: The quality of your leadership makes a big difference in the success of a 1-1 student computer implementation, and these implementations, when well done, make a big difference to your students’ learning success, measured both by narrow academic achievement and a broader array of measures.

For the 4 Key Steps for Effective School Leadership in 1-1 computer programs, scroll down to the bottom section with the large heading: The Importance of School Leadership.

These are among the conclusions of a recently released report from Project Red, which can be found on its website, and in a new ISTE publication by the Project Red principals, Revolutionizing Education through Technology   The Project RED Roadmap for Transformation (which is happily available for free download: click here for the pdf).   (In addition the summaries on the website and the ISTE book, there is also a fuller research report which I have not reviewed, priced at $50.)

Regular readers know that I am an enthusiast for connecting our students to and empowering them with the wider world of information and networked collaboration and creativity that is available today, and essential to tomorrow, and I have to say I would be in favor of this even if there were not compelling evidence of improved learning (when defined narrowly by test scores).   But if there is quality evidence for improved learning, I’ll take it and use it to advance the cause.

Project Red explains the substance of their research this way:

In 2010, Project RED conducted the first large-scale national study to identify and prioritize the factors that make some U.S. K-12 technology implementations perform dramatically better than others.

Our research project had unprecedented scope, breadth, and depth:

  • 997 schools, representative of the U.S. school universe, and 49 states and the District of Columbia
  • 11 diverse education success measures

Let me share first some of the following key elements of their research findings with short commentary, before focusing more closely on the role of school leadership:

  • the financial analysis provided for cost-neutral, or cost-advantageous, 1-1 programs,
  • the education success measures used,
  • the key implementation factors for success, and
  • the academic achievement improvement. (more…)

[Cross -posted from original posting at Connected Principals.]

Sometimes we feel we are living on a pre-apocalyptic brink, and post-apocalyptic themes and memes are abundant in the media, such as the new TV show Revolution,  the Hunger Games, and the fear-mongering that happens around individual incidents in the Middle East presaging a coming Clash of Civilizations.    Clearly the continuing economic woes aren’t helping.   I fear our students sometimes absorb this: they are saturated in much of this media, and they have their own angst to reckon with regarding college/university admissions and, even more stress-fully, financing post-secondary education.

But there is reason for optimism, and Steven Johnson’s latest book, Future Perfect,  is a very fine tonic for our fears and road map toward a far more promising future.  The future may not be perfect, but there is, as his subtitle explains, a “Strong Case for Progress in a Networked Age,”  and we owe it to our own mentality and attitude, and for that of our students, to share this vision and to work toward it.

We have Wikipedia because the Internet and the Web have made it easy and cheap to share information, and because they allowed people to experiment with new models of collaboration while minimizing the risks of failure.

To be a peer progressive, then, is to live with the conviction that Wikipedia is just the beginning, that we can learn from its success to build new systems that solve problems in education, governance, health, local communities, and countless other regions of human experience.

That is why we are optimistic: because we know it can be done.  We know a whole world of pressing social problems can be improved by peer networks, digital or analog, local or global, animated by those core values of participation, equality and diversity. That is a future worth looking forward to.  Now is the time to invent it. 

I should make clear I am a Steven Johnson fan, and have been for a long time.   Reading his 2005 book Everything Bad is Good For You greatly influenced me, sharply revising my view about the potential positive effects of video and computer games (a revision for which my sons are very grateful, and I tell them they owe a great debt of gratitude to Johnson.)   I enjoyed his Ghost Map, and those who know me know that his Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation has been hugely influential and inspirational to me.   Click here to read my suggested “take-aways” from that book for educators. 

This new book sets out to establish the principles of a what Johnson believes is a political and world-view, “peer progressivism,” which is built upon the power and opportunity of “peer networks.”   One important clarification he regularly reiterates here is that peer progressivism can occur without technology, and did do so brilliantly, but it is greatly amplified by the effects of networking technology.

To be a peer progressive is to believe that the key to continued progress lies in building peer networks in as many regions of modern life as possible: in education, health care, city neighborhoods, private corporations, and government agencies.  When a need arises in society that goes unmet, our first impulse should be to build a peer network to solve the problem. (more…)

Installment eight of a weekly post, Quotes of the Week.  (For more about QoTW, click here.) Sorry to have missed last week: in the past ten days I have been in San Francisco/Oakland, Washington DC, and Chicago.

I asked Eric Juli to define success for this year.  “We need to stop doing and start learning”.  His teachers don’t know what that looks like, so he will need to find professional growth opportunities to show them.  His students don’t know what that looks like.  School has always been a place where you do worksheets and there is a cultural accommodation between teachers and students that sets a low bar and everyone gets by.  He has a few teachers who know how to teach, and a few who are eager to learn.  He needs to fill his ranks with these folks and that is going to take some time.  Nothing is going to stand in his way.

Innovation on the Front Lines: Design Lab School Must Reframe the Meaning of School, Grant Lichtman

nb: If you aren’t already, you ought to be following Grant’s #edjourney here: http://learningpond.wordpress.com/

Our culture is information-rich (Shirky), connected (Siemens), participatory (Jenkins), creative (Florida). Given the affordances of technology, we live in a time that is significantly and qualitatively different than when many teachers went to school.

  • Does the physical setting of your classroom reflect a participatory, creative, connected, information-rich culture?  Is your classroom flexible and creative allowing changes to reflect the different learning tasks rather than having desks and seats set up in rows facing the teacher  
  • Is your classroom an open portal  – open to people, visitors, social networks?  Are your classroom walls permeable allowing persons of interest to enter; allowing students to visit persons of interest?

14 Tweets or small “t” truths about Educational Reform, Jackie Gerstein

Today on social media I saw someone write gritty, gross details of her cat’s stomach ailment and another person described the moves that she learned in her yoga pole dancing class (with names too adult to share here.)

I’m trying to understand why either of them would think those two things would enlighten or improve the lives of other people.

These ill advised shares mar the timelines of otherwise interesting professionals.

Think Before You Tweet, Vicki Davis

We have Wikipedia because the Internet and the Web have made it easy and cheap to share information, and because they allowed people to experiment with new models of collaboration while minimizing the risks of failure.

To be a peer progressive, then, is to live with the conviction that Wikipedia is just the beginning, that we can learn from its success to build new systems that solve problems in education, governance, health, local communities, and countless other regions of human experience.   (more…)

As a cyclist, I found myself fascinated by yesterday’s New York Times piece about helmet use, and as I bicycled this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder about the implications of this piece for the way we think about safety and protective-ness in other domain, such as online engagement for our kids.

Regular readers here are well aware of my enthusiasm for online participation, but those of us who are enthusiasts and advocates often encounter hesitation or anxiety: is it safe?   Aren’t we exposing our students to too much risk?

Yes it is, and no we are not.   This article about helmets uncovers interesting arguments that we can use to by analogy to the question of online safety.

A few caveats right at the start: as a school-leader I always insisted and would continue to insist that students wear helmets when cycling, and I don’t intend to argue for any extreme position here about risk-taking.  It is balance we seek.

The article by Elisabeth Rosenthal, To Encourage Biking, Cities Lose Their Helmets, is richly thought-provoking.

European health experts have taken a very different view: Yes, there are studies that show that if you fall off a bicycle at a certain speed and hit your head, a helmet can reduce your risk of serious head injury. But such falls off bikes are rare — exceedingly so in mature urban cycling systems.

On the other hand, many researchers say, if you force or pressure people to wear helmets, you discourage them from riding bicycles.

There are four main points here, if I am reading it correctly, and without too great a stretch I think that for each point we can substitute online participation for cycling, and helmet use for heavy-handed internet use warnings and limitations.

  • one, cycling isn’t as dangerous as people think;
  • two, expanding cycling makes the general population better off, healthier and safer, so that the greater good far outweighs any small increase in risk;
  • three, communicating or emphasizing the use of helmets intensifies people’s unwarranted fears, and hence diminishes problematically the number of people who cycle; and
  • four, the more people cycle, the safer it becomes for all cyclists, so we should be wary of any communication which seeks to promote cycling safety but in doing so reduces the rate of cycling, as that will become counter-productive.

Drawing out each point, with quotes from the Times article:

One, Cycling is safe: (more…)