Archive for July, 2009

Changes You Can Believe In

Just a quick midsummer’s post to let you know about two new ways to access my blog:

  • Odiogo is an excellent text-to-speech service that has voice-enabled my blogposts.  If listening is more your style than reading, click on the “Listen Now” icon just below each post title.  You can stream the blogpost online, add it to your iTunes, download the .mp3, or click on the “More” option to subscribe to the podcast or send it to Facebook, Digg, Delicious, and all the other usual suspects.  I invite you to subscribe to my Odiogo feed to receive the audio version of my blog in your reader/player of choice.
  • The good folks at MoFuse provide a free (and optionally ad-free!) mobile interface for your blog.  If you have your own domain name, you can also map it to your new mobile site.  The mobile version of this blog can be accessed at

Multiplicity of access is something that’s been on my mind lately; I don’t think that adding a voice to my blog is anything but a drop in an otherwise huge bucket, but as these tools come across my path, I try to be mindful of how students can utilize them – at least the concept, if not the specific tool (e.g., mobile phone access, text-to-speech).  Of course, the fact that I’m no longer in the classroom is turning out to be a double-edged sword in this regard – theoretically, I can reach more students in my current position than I could as a classroom teacher, BUT my removal from “the trenches” means that I now have an extra degree of separation to overcome in order to identify those in need and implement those changes.  I plan on being more proactive in that regard this coming school year, however, and I’ll be sure to report on my progress (or lack thereof) here.

I hope your summer has been as enjoyable as mine has been thus far; a little hard to believe there’s only four or five weeks left for some of us.

Leadership Day 2009

Scott McLeod at Dangerously Irrelevant asks the educational blogging community to write about effective (or ineffective) school technology leadership today.  School leadership in general has been on my mind the last few months, and will undoubtedly find its way to this blog sooner rather than later, but to address Dr. McLeod’s focus on school technology, I thought I’d give a shout-out to a former supervisor of mine who I feel deserves much credit for his willingness to support my explorations with educational technology, and could serve as a model to other supervisors whose teachers would like their students to collaborate and publish online.

Mr. X was the third supervisor I’d worked under as an English teacher at my former school, but the first under whom I started working with wikis, podcasts, etc. with my students.  Whenever I have spoken about these experiences, formally or informally, I make it a point to credit Mr. X as integral to whatever degree of success my students experienced via these projects, not because he had any hand in implementing them with me, but because he did four things that I think any supervisor would do well to emulate:

1. He asked questions. I don’t discount how fortunate I was to have a supervisor who, not knowing terribly much about a wiki, was willing to say, “I’m interested; tell me more about it and why this could be beneficial to learning.”  He very easily could have shut me down without a discussion, but instead, he took time out of his exceedingly busy schedule to spend many sessions with me, not only learning about whatever project I initially proposed, but also to follow up with me, observe my classes, and speak to my students.  He was also available to me as a sounding board; quite a few times, I visited him to say, “I have this great idea for a project; here’s where I think I want to go with it and how I’d like to do it, but I just can’t figure out x or y.”  Again, it would have been easy for him to take that as a sign of ‘weakness’ or unpreparedness on my part and shut down the project, but instead he saw it for what it was: one colleague who doesn’t have all the answers reaching out to another to help him create the best possible learning situation for his students.  He was willing to engage in discussion about teaching and learning (and give suggestions!) in a medium that was new to him, for which I give him much credit.

2. He supported me outside of his office, by which I mean that when word of my tech-based projects floated up the administrative ladder, he was willing to stand behind me and support my students online projects all the way up to the district superintendent (who, it must be said, also ended up being very supportive and appreciative of my efforts).  Again, it would have been easy to tell me “You’re on your own”, but he had the professional integrity to stand with me as I tried what some might have considered unorthodox or unusual – certainly new for that school at that time.

3. He looked at the big picture. When I approached him about replacing one of my research papers in my curriculum with a wiki-based collaborative project, one of the first questions he asked (see #1) was about the skills each assignment aimed to teach or hone.  When he was sufficiently satisfied that there was extensive overlap in skills between the research paper and wiki project, as well as considered the additional benefits I thought the wiki project brought he greenlit the change.  As much as I hate the cliche, he was willing to think outside the box and consider an unusual request that others might have dismissed out of hand.

4. He trusted me as a professional. This is no small feat.  In an era where Internet filters and draconian usage policies imply that teachers cannot be trusted to go outside their school network’s walled garden, Mr. X not only supported my decision to do so, but also to take my students with me.  I don’t believe he would have supported me so fervently if he didn’t trust that I knew what I was doing (or at least had a pretty good idea, with one or two contingency plans, just in case!).  This has less to do with technology, in my opinion, and more to do with good leadership in general.  I have always felt that good leaders don’t try to be experts in every area; rather, they identify the people around them who are strong in certain areas and look to them for advice to supplement their own strengths.  Mr. X is an incredibly knowledgable teacher with many years of experience, but in this one small arena, I was more knowledgable, and he trusted me enough to let me lead the way into heretofore uncharted territory.

Overall, the administrative attitude towards technology in my old school was very positive and progressive.  I’ve said many times that we had the most liberal filtering software of any district I’ve heard of, and there was (and, I believe, still is) a strong “teachers teaching teachers” professional development model.  That said, there still existed among the faculty the fear, ignorance, and apathy that comprises much of the opposition to educational technology and Internet-based projects.  I don’t know how differently things would have turned out if this hadn’t been the atmosphere in which Mr. X and I worked, but I think this goes to show that support for educational technology must be systemic and built-in in order for it to benefit teachers’ professional practice and, ultimately, their students.

The last thought with which I’d like to leave you, especially if you are in a position of educational leadership, is to be willing to break from convention when considering implementation of educational technology.  The paranoid and alarmist responses I’ve most often heard coming from parents and administrators seem to be the result of considering the worst-case scenario.  I would ask all of you who are in a position to support educational technology to ask yourself not, “what’s the worst that can happen”, but rather, “what’s the best that can happen?”  Chances are that reality will lie somewhere in between the extremes.

Mapping Out My Mind

The other night, I got to thinking about some things I’ve got coming up on the horizon, both personal and professional.  The funny thing about it was that with each new thought, I came up with another two or three tangentially related things I’d like to accomplish.  In a way, it was almost overwhelming to think about what I have to/want to accomplish in my personal and professional lives in the next few years, but in a good way.  I’ve got lots to look forward to, so much so that I didn’t want to forget anything or let a potentially good idea slip once I moved on to the next idea.

I fired up my MindMeister account and started a mind map entitled “Yearly Goals”.  From this central main topic, I had five branches – one for each of the next five academic years (e.g., “2009-2010”, “2010-2011”, etc.):


As I recorded some of the ideas I had thought of earlier on the mindmap, I placed them under the year I thought I’d begin or complete them.  I don’t want to go into too many specific details here regarding content, but I will say that by the time I was finished, I had a very clear idea of what I was going to work on this summer and coming school year and what could safely wait until at least next summer and beyond.  This has helped me to focus my energy and attention on what is most immediately needed.

In the matter of about 20-30 minutes, I went from feeling overwhelmed with abstract concepts and ideas to having a very clearly defined, well organized plan of attack.  Mindmapping is not something I ever got into in depth with my students (although I did use graphic organizers to aid in writing), but maybe I should have.  My expertise is in the secondary English/language arts setting, but I imagine students in any project-based or multi-step environment could benefit from something like this.  In addition to helping me “pace myself” and sort out a plan of attack, an unexpected benefit of this exercise was seeing what smaller milestones I can achieve in between the major ones I’m shooting for.  Instead of focusing on the big things I’m planning for 2011-2012, for example, and wishing I could fast-forward to that date, I now have a list of smaller, more manageable (but still important) achievements to keep my focus on in the here & now (not one of my strong suits!).

Although I did this for personal reasons, how many of your students, in a special ed or general ed setting, could benefit from some short and long-term goal-setting like this, online or off, for curricular or other purposes?

For further information on mindmaps, check out Dr. Brian Friedlander’s blog – he has written more extensively on the topic than any other blogger I’ve read.