Monday, March 31, 2014

The Power of Stories


Today I was able to attend the Digital Leadership Summit hosted by SAANYS and NYSCATE. My reasons for attending the conference were three-fold. First, I was going to be able to hear Eric Sheninger speak on digital leadership, and get a copy of his book (signed no less). Second, Tony Sinanis, was coming and speaking about community engagement, and well if you've read my blog before, you know how much I admire Tony. Finally, I was going to be able to meet in person for the first time, a great group of people in my PLN.

The Power of the PLN Strikes Again

This evening as I had some time to process the day, and what it all means,  I am once again struck by the power of the PLN. As I look at the pictures, think about the conversations, and the sharing of stories, I am reminded of how richly my life has been blessed by the people I have met as a result of connecting via Twitter. As I sat and looked around the table during the closing panel discussion, it seemed hard to believe that most of the people sitting there I didn't know even a year ago, and yet they have had such a profound impact on my teaching practice and in my confidence to share my own story.    
Sharing stories is powerful because it connects us, it is a method of communication that connects with us on a deeper level, and the engagement that results is real and powerful.

Stories, and the power in telling your story was certainly a theme woven throughout the day, particularly in the sessions that I attended. Here are a few of my key takeaways:

Tony Sinanis on Community Engagement

I love how Tony began his session. He asked the participants to reflect on the following questions:

What is your school story?
Do you explain the how and the why (behind the things you do)?
What do you stand for?
How would kids answer that question? Would it be the same?

I am curious about what our students and their families would say, so I think I am going to ask. How clearly have I communicated by my words, but more importantly by my actions what I value, what I believe to be true about education, learning and community. 

I was also challenged to consider whether I am giving students voice, and the power to think critically about what they are doing everyday, and am I putting the power to share their learning journey, their story into their hands. I was pushed to consider how I could this better.

Eric Sheninger on Digital Leadership

I travelled to New Milford High School in the fall for EdScape, and was extremely impressed by what I saw, the physical space (think modern learning spaces married with the beautiful architectural details of a school built in the late 1920's), the student ambassadors, and of course Eric. Not having had an opportunity while at New Milford to learn more about Eric's story, and the story of New Milford High School, I was really looking forward to hearing his keynote address (and yes, getting my booked signed). What perhaps, struck me the most was Eric's honesty about his own digital leadership journey, his own story, and what can happen when we give up some of our power and control.

Here are a couple of quotes that really stuck with me, "give up control and don't fear failure; trust our kids" and "action over position", and with that action over position I extend that to our entire community of learners.


Last, but not least here is to Tony Sinanis, Eric Sheninger, Lisa Meade, Vicki Day, Peter DeWitt, Patti Siano and new friends Alan Spieldenner and Rich Hughes with much appreciation for the laughs. XO

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Courage to Lead

Courageous leadership can look a little different given particular situations. At times courageous leadership can mean bucking the norm, refusing the status quo and moving an organization in a new direction or into unchartered territory. At times courageous leadership may in fact be speaking up, and being vulnerable as you confront difficult situations, and at times it can be as simple as acknowledging that as a leader you don’t have all the answers.  

When I sat down and thought about educators that I believe demonstrate courageous leadership on a regular basis, a couple of names came to me right away, Peter DeWitt and Tony Sinanis. If you are a regular in any number of education chats on Twitter you are sure to have run into them.  These two gentleman have had a tremendous impact on me, and many others. In addition to their regular contributions during Twitter chats focusing on education, they write reflective blogs that challenge readers to think deeply about the current issues in education. What makes Tony and Peter particularly courageous is their willingness to wrestle with complex ideas and examine many sides of a situation. They confront reality head-on, and communicate openly. Both of these educators seek feedback and consider multiple viewpoints, you can see this through their participation in regular Twitter chats, education conferences and the dialogue they generate with their individual blogs. Peter and Tony say what needs to be said, even if it may be counter to popular opinion.  And there is an understanding that learning can be messy, and that in failure we pave the way for future success. Finally, they lead with heart, and leading with heart takes courage. It means being authentic, being vulnerable and cultivating human relationships.

After I wrote this, I got to thinking of another person that I feel is demonstrating courageous leadership, and her name is Lisa Meade. Lisa is a middle school principal modeling the value of being a connected educator, an innovator and reflective practitioner. She regularly engages and challenges others in many of the education chats on Twitter, and regularly posts her reflections on education and teaching practices in her blog. She understands the importance of building relationships and sharing her passion. Sometimes I don't think she sees herself as being particularly courageous, but she is.

Privileged to have them as colleagues, inspired by their leadership and ultimately blessed by their friendship.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

The "P" in PLN

"P" is for POWERFUL

There are many days when I think the "P" in PLN stands for POWERFUL instead of, or at the very least in addition to, professional. Investing time and energy, connecting and developing a professional learning network, is certainly a wise investment. The power of being a connected educator, lies not in the connections themselves, it is not in the number of individuals you are following or the number that may follow you, the power is in the relationships that we nurture and cultivate. It isn't the technology it is the humanity. The technology is the vehicle that makes the relationship possible.  All of this has come into really sharp focus for me lately.

The opportunities I have had, the transformation I have seen in my teaching and learning as of late, can in a large part be traced back to being a connected educator.  Being a connected educator has afforded me opportunities I would have never dreamed of, and this has been a huge benefit to myself and to my students. Regular participation in the education chats on Twitter have helped me to develop some pretty amazing collegial relationships.


I'm currently working with a gifted group of educators from around Upstate NY on an Ed Camp project.  You can follow our progress here: EdCampUNY. I have not met any of these educators in person yet.  We communicate via email, Twitter, and Google Hangouts, and though we have not met face to face, I consider these individuals colleagues and more importantly friends. As Marty Keltz so eloquently put it recently, "the virtual is real." I will be sharing more about my meeting with Marty in just a bit, but let's consider the power of those words. I think those new to social media can be quick to be dismissive of its positive power, I know I was a few years ago. But it really is true, if you invest positively, if you are authentic and genuine, the relationships that develop virtually can be just as real as any other relationships. This is why part of me is just a little bit jealous of Marty, you see Marty is on a journey that is going to take him part way across the country and give him the opportunity to meet more than a few of the people in his PLN.


So let me set the stage a little bit, it was a pretty typical Tuesday evening, and after putting the kids to bed I sat down and began scrolling through my Twitter feed. There are a few great chats on Tuesday night, so it wasn't long before I was sucked in. One that immediately got my attention was the #PTChat being moderated by fellow New Yorker and all around great guy, Tony Sinanis. I jumped in, and it wasn't long before I found out that Marty Keltz, someone I had come to know through other edchat discussions, was in the area. Pretty quickly it went from connecting on Twitter to the next day meeting for coffee and great conversation.

I admit I was more than a little excited. Meeting people that I have come to know through our online exchanges is just plain exciting. It was actually at this point that I decided that maybe I needed to learn a little more about Marty. I knew we shared some common beliefs about learning, and the role of education and educators, what he shared and tweeted was what led me to follow him in the first place. I really felt like I knew what I needed to know; I knew what was important. But being somewhat responsible and prudent I thought a little research was in order. I started with checking out his Twitter profile and running a quick Google search, I very quickly found out that I had just agreed to have coffee with an Emmy award-winning producer, the co-founder of Scholastic Productions, and the man who led the team that created the Magic School Bus series. What?! Yes, I was feeling woefully inadequate, and yes, as an elementary school educator, the idea of getting to meet the man behind the Magic School Bus series was pretty mind boggling (talk about street cred with my students!). I woke up the next morning not really sure what to expect. I'm still struggling a little bit with putting into words just what our brief conversation meant. Which is probably difficult for some of you to understand. I think it might be a little like connecting with a long lost member of your extended family.

Very quickly our conversation turned to "our children" the students we serve, our mutual goal of promoting empathy and developing social emotional intelligence. Our shared belief that a test score should never define a child, and our support for the need to reclaim education for the whole child. I could have spent the whole morning talking with Marty, but time was short. Before I had to make my way to school we discussed his current project CritterKin. Listening to him I became more and more excited. His project CritterKin, with Jena Ball was just the thing I had been looking for. I couldn't wait to get back to school to share it with my colleagues.  In the coming months we will work with Marty and Jena, and the rest of the CritterKin pack as we help to develop social emotional intelligence, and promote kindness and empathy. This is just one more example of the POWER of the PLN.

The moral of the story is this...get connected. Yes, being connected takes time, and it takes commitment, just as building any other relationship does, and just like any other relationship you get out of it, what you put into it.

The power of the PLN is the people. It is the relationships that we build. It is the causes that unite us. The stories that we share.