Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category

Broadening Our Audience: Published Again!

After our short article “Teaching Social Media at Lawrence High School” was published in NJASA‘s newsletter On Target last spring (itself a follow-up to our January 2017 presentation at Techspo ’17 in Atlantic City, NJ), I spoke with my colleagues Dr. Andrew Zuckerman and Ms. Natalie Richey about fleshing it out further with more details and examples and maybe trying to get it published in a more widely circulated publication.

Just under a year later, our work paid off!  Andrew, Natalie, and I are proud that our updated, more fully fleshed-out article (with the same title) was published this week in Educational Viewpoints, the annual peer-reviewed publication by the NJ Principals & Supervisors’ Association (NJPSA).

Educational Viewpoints is also published in hard-copy format, but you can read the article online at their website (or mine).

I’ve been a member of NJPSA for four years now and have always been thoroughly impressed with the quality of professional support (including workshops) they provide.  I’m very proud to have been selected for inclusion in this year’s edition of EV.

Walking the Walk

I’m very happy to be back in the classroom once again this semester. After I stopped teaching high school English to become a school psychologist, I was only out of the classroom for three years before I had the opportunity to teach a graduate level class in developmental disabilities to mid-career teacher certification students. I did that for two summers before demand for the course dwindled and my services were no longer required. Now, six years on, I am teaching an undergraduate course this semester (for the same university) on teaching literacy in content area classrooms.

This is good for me for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I have always missed teaching since leaving the classroom ten years ago. I may not have missed some elements of the job, but I have always missed the act and art of developing engaging lessons and teaching students, regardless of age. I also think it’s good for me, as somebody who evaluates teachers as part of my job, to keep my hand in the craft as best as I can. In no way am I equating teaching undergraduates to teaching high school (or middle or elementary school); each context has unique opportunities and challenges, and certainly I deal with far less oversight, bureaucracy, and red tape in my adjunct teaching position than does a full-time K-12 teacher. This position, however, does afford me the opportunity to put into practice the suggestions I give my staff, as well as try for myself the great things I see them doing with their students.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling a bit rusty and anxious about going back after such a long layoff. Planning a course from scratch is tough, especially since I haven’t ever taught a full semester of three-hour classes before (those grad classes were accelerated summer sessions; just 7 or 8 weeks). From the “that’s just my luck” files, I also came down with the flu early in the semester, which necessitated canceling the second class and risking losing whatever momentum we gained in the first class. I’m happy to say, however, that despite the anxiety and the uncertainty and the hours of planning I’ve put into the course (and will continue to, as I refine my vision for what it needs to be), it energizes me to no end to work with a group of enthusiastic future educators who have been kind enough to humor my dumb jokes late on Monday nights.

It would be much easier for me to turn this course into a series of three-hour lectures, but while I am a man of many flaws, hypocrisy generally isn’t one of them. I’m seizing this opportunity to walk the walk and live up to the high standards I hold for my staff every day, hopefully achieving the dual purpose of teaching my students the information they need to learn while also modeling effective teaching practices they can take with them into their own classrooms.

Ten

This past week, tech journalists across the web celebrated the tenth birthday of the hashtag.  While they are ubiquitous across social networks now, the hashtag as we have come to know it originated, as have so many other major events and movements of the last decade, on Twitter:

Despite the fact that at that time I was a teacher on summer break, I consider that time period to be one of the most significant times in my career.  Having started experimenting with blogs, wikis, and many other emerging “Web 2.0” tools in my teaching in the year leading up to summer ’07, that summer was when I took my deep dive headfirst into the world of the read/write Web and social networking.  I, along with a cohort of other early adopter types, created a Twitter account, and very quickly we teachers, professors, and administrators began to find each other.

My Twitter timeline, ca. summer 2008

2007 was also the summer I started this blog; after some fits and starts throughout July, I finally pulled the trigger on both my Twitter account and my first blog post in early August.

At the risk of sounding cliche, it is truly amazing to look back and consider how much has changed.  At that time, my wife and I had both just turned 30, I was about to start my eighth (and what would be my final) year of teaching high school English, I was less than a year away from completing my graduate degree in school psychology, and I was still a relatively new father of a two-year-old, with one on the way.

In the years since, a lot has changed, both professionally and personally.  My six-year career in school psychology came and went, I started and finished a doctoral program in educational leadership, and I left the district in which I started my career for three jobs in two subsequent districts.  We turned 40 this year, and our children started 7th and 4th grade this week.  We will be the parents of a teenager this coming February.

But time marches on and change happens to us all.  What is really mindblowing to me is how my activities that summer have so permanently impacted my approach to my profession, and how the effects continue to this day.  Education can be a very isolating profession, even under the best of circumstances.  Connecting with other people through social media was novel and cool, but honestly, I had been doing that since my Bulletin Board Service (BBS) days in the early ’90s.  The concept was not new to me; actually, I think the familiarity of it was what made me so comfortable jumping in with both feet.

Where the true value was was the discussions and sharing of ideas, both through chats (Twitter) and in longer form, on our blogs, back when people still used to comment on them.  I know it can sound trite to hear, “Twitter is the best PD you’ll ever have!”, and I don’t entirely agree with that sentiment on its face, but for me, gaining access to such a vast multiplicity of perspectives, experiences, stories, and professional backgrounds through the people I met/meet there… I mean, how could that not change a person?  When I look back over a career that started in 2000, I really do see the summer of 2007 as a major demarcation.  Pre- and post-summer ’07 is my BCE and CE.

Perhaps I’m looking back through rose-tinted glasses, but it seems there was something different about it all back then.  Blogging – at least from classroom teachers and school administrators working in the trenches – has largely died off (I clearly just don’t know when to quit).  Real-time Twitter discussions that used to bring me fresh ideas and perspectives seem to me to have mostly devolved into individual or corporate self-promotion and banal, self-congratulatory chats rehashing the same topics and fluff phrases (a notable and most appreciated exception is #educolor).

I still find value in the network, I just use it differently now than I did a decade ago.  That’s as it should be, I think.  As nostalgic as I get for the “good old days”, I think it would be worse if I was doing the exact same things with social media a decade down the road.  That might be comforting and familiar, but it’s also stale.

Much of my Twitter activity now focuses on promoting happenings in my district (more broadcasting than interacting), and eyeballing my mentions, it seems that most of the interpersonal interaction I have on Twitter is between and among people I work with – sharing resources I believe will have a direct impact on their instruction and amplifying, retweeting, and otherwise promoting the great work of our staff.

Of course, people in my extended network still tweet interesting articles and resources from the web, and I love it when people tweet passages from books they’re reading.  Even an interesting title or book cover is enough to send me looking for more information; after all, I want to read what smarter people and better educators than me are reading.  It’s how I learn and grow, and the potential and promise of being more than what I currently am is what sucked me through this particular looking glass all those years ago in the first place.  Despite my misgivings and grievances, the benefits ultimately outweigh the drawbacks for me, and ten years and a quarter of my life on, I still wouldn’t give up those learning opportunities for anything.

Lighting Fires is Easy…

…but keeping them burning?  That’s a whole ‘nother matter.

My friend & colleague Jessica Cincotta blogged last week about the professional reading groups in which she and I have participated this year.  Read her post for the details, but the “quick n’ dirty” is that Jessica and I actually participated in two groups over the course of the school year – a year-long, monthly group with our other friend & colleague Yvette Panasowich, and a six-week book study over the course of April and May that was just the two of us.  Below are some of my thoughts on why this worked (read: was sustainable throughout the whole year in spite of the many potential “time sucks” and other obligations conspiring against us) when so many other well-meaning initiatives fizzle out.

We initiated these groups.  This idea was borne out of an activity during another (unrelated) PD session we were in together, and while I wish there was a more eloquent way of saying it, once the idea was out there, we kind of just took the ball and ran with it.  We chose reading material that interested us; nobody told us that we were to participate in professional reading groups this year, and nobody assigned us particular readings.  It was all self-generated, which leads nicely into the next point.

We owned the schedule and held each other accountable.  It would have been very easy to give lip service to the idea in the original PD meeting, then have it float away with all the other good ideas anyone’s ever had but never got around to implementing the minute we walked out the door.  Before we left, however, we figured out a schedule (the group we did with Yvette met the last Wednesday of the month at 2:30pm; the book study I did with Jessica met weekly on Fridays, also at 2:30pm) and put it on our all-important Outlook calendars.  We didn’t have time, we made time.

As the weeks and months progressed, we would email each other periodically to confirm that we were all still on for the upcoming get-togethers.  While life did intrude from time to time that either required delays or re-schedules, I don’t think we’ve missed or skipped any of our monthly reading group meetings this year (maybe one out of ten, if that?) and only one of the book study meetings (that was due to a true emergency, and we caught up the following week).  It probably didn’t hurt that we genuinely enjoy each other’s company as well, but even so, the discussions easily could have devolved into socializing sessions if not for one thing:

We found value in the task.  As Jessica details in her post, we found value in discussing the articles and book chapters, not only for our own professional learning and reflecting on our own practice, but also in our role as teacher evaluators.  Like Jessica, I also found myself referencing things we read in my discussions with my teacher and administrator colleagues more and more frequently.  The best professional learning experiences have direct implications and impact on one’s practice, and I feel that the experiences I had with Yvette and Jessica this year definitely impacted my practice for the better.

Next up is a summer reading group of four administrators, in which we’ll be reading a different book, and then the plan for 2017-2018 is to continue with the monthly reading groups (primarily articles from ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine) while doing one book study in the fall and one in the spring.

I read a ton, and most of the books I read are about education. While I enjoy the act of solitary reading, it’s also nice to be able to bounce my thoughts about what I’ve read off someone else.  In the case of the makeup of our reading group, I think we struck a nice balance between similarities (all administrators in the same district so we have a similar contextual basis for discussion; all have secondary ed experience and/or focus in our current positions) and differences (1 building administrator, 2 instructional supervisors; 2 women, 1 man; a high school assistant principal, a 7-12 math/science supervisor, and a K-12 technology/arts supervisor; teaching backgrounds too varied to list).  Having a variety of viewpoints made the discussions valuable and thought-provoking beyond the written content.

This has been one of the more valuable professional learning experiences of my career (mirroring, in many ways, what first attracted me to the burgeoning education community on Twitter ten years ago), and it’s a practice I hope to continue – to one extent or another – throughout my career.

ICYMI: Teaching Social Media at LHS

After our presentation at Techspo ’17, the New Jersey Association of School Administrators was kind enough to ask my colleague Dr. Andrew Zuckerman and I to contribute a piece to their monthly newsletter for school superintendents on the Intro to Social Media course that has run at Lawrence (NJ) High School since 2015.  The article below is cross-posted from NJASA’s April/May 2017 edition of their On Target newsletter; check the original here.


Students today have unprecedented access to social media but may not have structured opportunities in which to think critically about how and why they use it, and why doing so is important. It was with this thought in mind that the Business Department at Lawrence High School, Mercer County, designed and implemented a course entitled Introduction to Social Media.

Lawrence Township Public Schools is a technologically progressive district that has embraced the use of social media for professional learning, culture building, and public relations. When a flurry of simultaneous retirements brought some unanticipated changes in terms of the district’s ability to staff existing courses, we turned problem into opportunity by shifting a staffing position to another department and hiring an additional Business teacher. Introduction to Social Media came about as a result of needing additional curricular offerings to replace the ones that could no longer be taught, given the role of social media in our society and how the district embraces the use of it to communicate with the local and global community, it was an addition that made sense.

The course is run as an elective out of our Business Department and open to all students in grades 10-12. The scope and sequence (with approximate timelines, on a 60-minute block/drop schedule) is:

  • Digital Identity/Footprint – 2 weeks
  • Historical Perspectives – 6 weeks
  • Legal Considerations – 2 weeks
  • Ethical Considerations – 4 weeks
  • Peer Presentations – 3 weeks
  • Media Analysis – 3 weeks
  • Language/The Online Voice – 7 weeks
  • Business Applications & Engagement – 9 weeks

After learning about the safety, legal and ethical aspects of social media, students work with their peers to develop a presentation to educate their peers about digital responsibility. During the current school year, social media students conducted presentations on digital responsibility to other high school students. During the upcoming school year, the presentations will also be conducted at the middle school.

While Lawrence Township runs this course out of the Business Department with an emphasis on marketing in the latter half of the year, with some revision of focus, this course lends itself just as well to being run as an English, Social Studies, or Technology elective, at the middle or high school level.  So much of what the course can and does deal with has students grappling with big-picture questions of digital identity, ethics, societal movements, and the disparities between the evolution of technology and the evolution of the law that it would be right at home in any of those departments.  Additionally, social media plays a role in so many current events that teachers will never want for fresh discussion topics or opportunities to expand the curriculum.

The next steps for the course is to connect the social media classes with departments and/or clubs within the district that are looking to develop a social media presence. The students will be required to meet with the group to determine what they are looking to accomplish and identify the appropriate social media platform to support them in accomplishing their goals. In future years, we will look to connect the students with community businesses and organizations to help them develop an online presence to promote their businesses.

Interested in learning more about this curriculum or modeling a similar class in your district? Visit http://bit.ly/LTPS-SM to see our complete curriculum documents or contact:

Andrew Zuckerman, Ed.D., Director of Instructional Services at azuckerman@ltps.org

Damian Bariexca, Ed.D., Instructional Supervisor at dbariexca@ltps.org