Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category

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

A Moment of Zen: The Busy Badge

Late March through mid-June tends to be one of my busiest times of the school year.  Wrapping up staff observations, completing the summative evaluation process for everyone for the year, and attending myriad after-school concerts and events takes up much of my time these days.  Since I became an administrator nearly three years ago, I’ve been tweaking and refining my planning and workflow in order to be as efficient and effective (though the two are most definitely not the same thing all the time) as possible.

The other day, in a moment of feeling overwhelmed, I was taking stock of my various outstanding “to-dos” and I realized that I was actually in pretty good shape work-wise.  My uncharacteristically messy desk was not covered in undone tasks, but just stuff I could easily throw away.  As it began to dawn on me that not only was I OK, but actually quite a bit ahead of where I needed to be work-wise, I felt a most unexpected emotion.

Not relief.  Guilt.

Instead of feeling proud that I have been able to improve my workflow efficiency or relief that I didn’t have as much to do as I thought, I felt guilty that I wasn’t running around like a chicken with my head cut off.  Like as if I wasn’t overwhelmingly busy, I must not be doing a good job or working hard enough.

I know, I know – it even looks silly as I type it out.  Doesn’t stop me from feeling those feelings, though.

I have to imagine that I’m not the only person who feels this from time to time.  As a society, we (Americans) tend to wear our “busyness” as a badge of honor.  As I have read and thought more about mindful practice and reflection over the last year, I am working on freeing myself of that mindset.  Definitely not there yet, but it’s a work in progress.

I hope to progress more toward that goal over the next few days, when I will be doing something I have not done in 17 years as an educator – using vacation days during the school year to go on an actual vacation.  My son and I are just taking a short trip to Florida (Universal Studios, here we come!) and we’ll be back by mid-week, but as much as I have been looking forward to this, I am also fighting off feelings of guilt about missing work.

Logically, I know that I have earned these days, and that if I do not use them, I lose them.  Logically, I know that the world will somehow continue to turn and the district will run perfectly well in my absence.  Illogically, however, my mind is overrun with feelings of dereliction of duty at the thought of not being at work for three days (*gasp* in a row!) when work is open for business.  I am seriously going to struggle to not respond to work emails on my phone while on the roller coasters.

Does this sound or feel familiar to anyone else?  If you’ve been able to shake the “more busy, more better” mindset, I’d appreciate any links or advice you can spare.  I have a nagging feeling that this will be a very unhealthy mindset to hold onto in the long run.

#SLDunkTank Redux

A little more on Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank this month:

So ‘self-help’ really isn’t my preferred reading genre, but in addition to Dunk Tank, I highly recommend 10% Happier, by Dan Harris (yes, that Dan Harris).  Much of what Harris ultimately uncovers (spoiler alert) is that our own perceptions of situations factor greatly into how they impact us.  Not that it’s as easy as saying, “Don’t let anything bother you” – obviously that’s not possible, nor is it always the best way to handle conflict or problems.  What I take from it – and what I have been trying to do in my own life – is focus on responding to the things within my control to change, and trying to let the things beyond my control go as much as possible.  The last year or so that I’ve been practicing this – well, it hasn’t been 100% stress-free, but I stress about far fewer things and am stressed less often.  As Harris says, I’m definitely at least 10% happier than I was before.

Before coming to this realization, I had a definite tendency to perseverate, over things both within and not within my control.  Perhaps I’m getting more patient or mellow in my old age, but I’m finding it easier to look at situations more objectively than I used to and respond (not react) accordingly.  Coda & Jetter speak to this proactive approach throughout Dunk Tank, and one section of their book that I think deserves highlighting is their “Eight Tasks to Optimize Triumph Over Tragedy”.  They’re survival skills for when you do find yourself in the dunk tank, but they’re also pretty good habits to get into regardless.

NB: This list is presented under the assumption that there are not more serious underlying medical or psychological factors present.  Nothing on this list is a replacement for counseling, addiction treatment, and/or medication as deemed necessary by a professional.

List Your Gratitudes: It’s hard to be perpetually stressed, upset, or otherwise in a bad place if you can list – mentally or physically – the things you are grateful for in your life.  Periodically taking stock of the good things in your life is helpful for avoiding getting stuck in the mire and reframing your outlook.  Not professionally related, but our house has been on the market since January, and we haven’t had a lot of action.  I’m not happy about it, believe me; I could focus on that and stress about not making progress in the last 3 months, but I choose to focus on my gratitudes: if we don’t sell, I am grateful to live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood.  My kids go to great public schools, have friends they enjoy with minimal drama, and are involved in activities they love and that make them feel good about themselves.

Recognize Your Talents: “Self-talk” can be positive or negative.  In times of great stress, negative self-talk may come easier than positive, so it’s important to deliberately focus on positive self-talk.  Even if you have not had many concrete achievements in your position, Coda & Jetter say, focus on the contributions you make.  How do you make your workplace/home a little better every day?  Even if it has no tangible impact on the dunk tank situation you face, the worst-case scenario of this strategy is that you are in a good place to talk yourself up at your next job interview.

Create and Use Affirmations: A little bit of overlap with the previous section, but this is more concrete in terms of developing positive things to say about yourself and then reviewing them regularly.  It helps prevent you from falling into a perpetually negative mindset.  I recall speaking with another dad (teacher in another district) at our sons’ Cub Scout meeting at one point during my dunk tank experience.  He had asked me a simple question about work and I went off on a jag that probably made him feel uncomfortable.  He made a joke; I don’t remember the exact words but it was something to the effect of what a drag it was to talk to me.  He wasn’t wrong.

Allow Yourself to Be Vulnerable Again: Sometimes we stay in bad work situations because leaving is scary and requires us to be vulnerable (opening up to rejection in the job hunt process; risking repercussions of having people in our current workplace find out).  Having been there myself, I get it, but it’s an important mental block to overcome.  Allowing yourself to be vulnerable puts you in a good position to either fight the necessary fight in your current workplace and not shrink and be a pushover, or break out of your comfort zone and move on to a potentially better situation.

Strategize Your Game Plan: So you’re in the dunk tank.  What are you going to do about it?  Specifically, I mean?  And what if that doesn’t work, then what?  What’s your Plan A, B, C, etc.?  At what point is enough enough and you need to eject?  What Coda & Jetter call “proactive paranoia” I’ve always referred to as “playing chess” – thinking about multiple possible courses of actions, outcomes, and responses.

Redefine Yourself: Does your game plan include any changes in how you view yourself professionally?  Take the opportunity to develop new goals.  If you are an assistant principal, maybe now’s the time to look for that principal position.  If you are a building administrator, what about a position in central office (or vice versa)?  It’s no coincidence that artists with the most staying power – Madonna, Bowie, Prince – have been able to successfully reinvent themselves (and please don’t read too much into the fact that two of those examples are now dead).

Develop Yourself into a Behind-The-Scenes Expert: Knowledge is power, so do some “deep dive” self-directed learning and learn more about topic or topics relevant to your field – it will either make you more confident, make you better able to navigate the dunk tank, or help you represent yourself well in an interview if/when you decide to leave.  The worst that can possibly happen is that you know more afterward than before you started, and it may even help with the recognizing talents/affirmation/positive self-talk.

Empower Others: Cultivate a Think-Tank for Your Colleagues: In the most basic terms, this involves you creating a support system for yourself where one doesn’t currently exist.  Coda & Jetter give the example of getting superintendents together from around the local area to share advice, information, and experiences, but you can do this regardless of your position.  Reach out to your counterparts in other districts and get together once a month – not as a “bitch session”, but to discuss current events, share interesting articles, and generally compare notes.  If you can’t bring yourself to do it locally (either within your district or outside of it), develop your PLN on Twitter, LinkedIn, or your preferred social media service.  It’s good for the soul to be able to rub a friendly elbow with people who do or have done your work and can commiserate, support, advise, and celebrate.

 

Required Reading

As someone who has been involved in a variety of social networks over the last decade, I know that my participation in each tends to ebb and flow, influenced by any number of factors both internal and external.  One service I’ve been making better use of recently is Goodreads, which – if you couldn’t tell from the name – is a social network for book lovers.

When I first started using Goodreads (and Shelfari before it), I thought it would just be a neat way to catalog all the books I’ve read, because I just have a tendency to want to suck the fun out of everything catalog, collect, and categorize things.  Goodreads allows users to sort books into “shelves”, and the initial three that every user gets are “Read”, “Currently Reading”, and “Want to Read”.

Up until now, I used this service primarily to catalog books I’ve read and maintain a list of books I’d like to read (something for which I previously used Evernote) for my own purposes, passively accepting friend requests but never really making use of the network.  Now, however, I’m starting to take more of an interest in the networking aspect – I see what my friends are reading (many of them don’t tend to share this information out to Facebook or Twitter) and getting good recommendations and suggestions for what to read next.

Goodreads also allows you to add shelves to your initial three.  I created one the other day called “Edu-Must-Reads“, which is where I tag books that are – in my opinion – “desert island discs” of the educational publishing world.  Not all of them are necessarily about education, but anything on that shelf is something I consider an essential read for folks in education, for any number of reasons.  These works have all had a significant influence on the lens through which I view teaching, learning, and leadership.  Not only is this a resource for my Goodreads friends, but I figure it’s a quick link I can share with anybody when the discussion of favorite books about education comes up (because those are the kind of nerd parties I go to).

Feel free to peruse my shelf – it’s a bit small at the moment (13 at time of writing) but as I read more, I have no doubt it will grow.  Also, if you’re on Goodreads, let’s connect so we can grow our respective collections together.

#SAVMP 2016-2017

Moving ever onward out of my comfort zone in the name of professional growth, I signed up to participate in SAVMP for the 2016-2017 school year. SAVMP is the School Administrator Virtual Mentoring Program, and I volunteered to serve as a mentor to aspiring and novice administrators.

I know I’m only just beginning my third year, but in my experience, being in a position such as mentor or student teacher supervisor has helped me to clarify and codify my own thinking on any number of topics, situations, or challenges.  I’ve spent the last two years learning by the side of some excellent mentors in my own district, and while I’ve also tried to pay it forward to my admin colleagues who joined the district after me, I’d like to think I also have something to offer a fledgling administrator elsewhere in the Twittersphere.

Back in the heady days of 2007-2009, edu-Twitter seemed to me to be more about connecting with and learning from one another (it’s felt more like a self-promotion engine/mutual admiration society to me for the last few years, but that’s another post for another day).  The teachers we interviewed for The End of Isolation called out the networking and professional collaboration aspect of Twitter specifically as a primary benefit of the service.  Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s something else, but when I heard about the call for mentors, I thought this would be some small positive step I could take to help someone out as I’ve been helped as I transitioned to this new professional role.

An additional benefit (for me) is that apparently there will be blogging prompts.  I look forward to those, as I’ve been lacking for structure and focus for blogging of late.  I anticipate this will be a mutually beneficial project for both my mentee and me.

If you’re interested in seeing what this is all about, check out the hashtag #SAVMP on Twitter.