Leadership skills are nebulous, hard-to-define, and critical for students’ futures. Yet, many schools and districts still have minimal programs—typically a student council—and tend to concentrate on the oldest grades. But a leadership program can begin much earlier.
In her edWebinar, “How to Fill the World with Leaders: Creating School Cultures Where Student Leadership Thrives,” leadership consultant Mariam G. MacGregor, M.S., not only explained how to integrate leadership lessons in preschool, but she also advocated for administrators to make a conscious effort to develop citizen leaders.
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As with any school- or district-wide initiative, implementing a leadership program requires careful planning and communication.
1. Gather at your table. Yes, the first step is to gather all stakeholders: parents, educators, students, etc. But too often, said MacGregor, they hold separate meetings, and then someone tries to figure out how the different ideas could work together.
Today’s school leader has an overabundance of duties and responsibilities to balance with the mandates from state and national reform. As an instructional leader, you must guide teachers to align learning experiences with objectives and create learning activities to optimize student achievement.
A school leader should monitor instruction and develop a clear and well-defined curriculum while ensuring quality instruction, promoting best practices, monitoring the implementation of the curriculum, providing resources, and examining assessment data.
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How can educational leaders do all that? My answer: By having a pulse on the building.
Getting out of the office and seeing what’s going on in your school is critical to being an instructional leader. By getting out of the office, you’re able to take the pulse of what is actually happening inside and outside the classroom. Here are seven ways to be a more visible leader and “get out of the office.”
Our students are mostly digital learners. We, as teachers, are not. How do we best bridge this divide and bring education into the digital learning space where students reside? How do we take what we as teachers know in one literacy and allow students to demonstrate mastery in another, without losing control of the classroom? One answer: digital storytelling around curricular content.
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From the creation of a new dystopia to an investigative report about water corruption; from a rap about immigration to a police drama that is resolved through trigonometry; digital storytelling is the process of addressing curricular content through short video and audio narratives that can be in the form of a straight documentary, a news report, a game show or a comic parody. The formats are, in fact, endless.
But the bottom line is that digital storytelling is a critical bridge from an educators’ curricular knowledge-base to the digital learning sphere of the students.
In their personal lives, today’s students have traded in reading for watching. Whether getting a makeup tutorial on YouTube or learning ways to crack the code of their favorite video game on Twitch, they use screen time to discover new content and expand their horizons.
In the classroom, educators have the choice to fight this trend, or to embrace it. I understand the apprehension many educators have to increase screen time in the classroom, but ignoring students’ own learning preferences and inclinations is doing them a disservice. Video facilitates retention. As studies have shown, that kind of embodied learning can help students better understand the material, and immersive experiences help with retaining information.
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I got a real sense for this while attending a virtual reality (VR) conference in Chicago when I put on an HTC Vive headset and was immediately transported onto a NASCAR race track. In the most complex advertisement I’ve ever seen, I was asked to change the race car’s tire and then hand the driver a Big Mac. From those couple of minutes moving around, waving my arms into the blank air, I got a vivid look at the car as I worked my way around it, and that virtual burger is emblazoned in my mind.
As content-driven curricula are rapidly giving way to programming aimed at developing core competencies, educators are incorporating standards–such as those developed by ISTE–to reframe their programs to emphasize digital citizenship, innovative design, computational thinking and global connectedness to prepare students for careers that do not yet exist.
However, the process of implementing deep change may take three to five years, because it impacts the way schools do business, as well as fundamental school culture.
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At West Island College (WIC), a university preparatory school for Grades 7-12 in Calgary, Alberta, we are leveraging the expertise of STEM Learning Lab to lead this shift within our school. Our aim is to emphasize computational thinking and computer science skills, ensure math performance is consistent, and incorporate more real-world, interdisciplinary learning.
By now, pretty much everyone knows what Minecraft is. If you’re just joining us, however, here’s a summary: Minecraft is a “sandbox” game offering open-ended possibilities for building and creation. Educators love it because it can be used across all subject areas, meaning Minecraft in the classroom is no longer a foreign concept.
All it takes is a Google or Pinterest search to find some pretty cool ways to incorporate Minecraft in the classroom.
You can search Twitter for hashtags such as #MinecraftEDU to see what other educators are doing, you can explore blogs or learning communities, or you can seek out likeminded educators at edtech conferences.
Whatever you do, don’t miss the chance to incorporate Minecraft in the classroom. English teachers can task their students with replicating villages or structures that play in integral role in a novel. History teachers can ask students to create historically-accurate representations of certain time periods. Foreign language teachers can ask students to rely on their vocabulary as they build and label objects within the game.
From Portland to Pittsburgh, Seattle to Stockholm, Abu Dhabi to Atlanta, and in hundreds of towns and cities around the globe, authentic professional learning is energizing educators. Edcamps—participatory, teacher-driven professional learning events — are multiplying on a national and international scale, creating local and global communities of passionate educators.
The first Edcamp was organized by a group of teachers who came together in Philadelphia in May 2010 for BarCamp, a computer science unconference. At BarCamp, people create discussion sessions on the day of the event based on the interests in the room. The entire day is personalized and learner driven. It’s a place where everyone is a learner and everyone is a leader.
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After experiencing the passion, sharing and excitement that surrounded the event, a handful of other educators and I decided it was too good to contain. We exchanged contact information and, on Skype calls over a period of months, tweaked the design and adjusted the BarCamp concept to accommodate teachers and administrators.
In the 1930s, Upton Sinclair was one of the most prominent writers in the United States. But no amount of fame could protect him, when he ran for governor of California, from “one of the most well-orchestrated smear campaigns in American history,” instigated by political and business interests hostile to the muckraking revelations in Sinclair’s books, such as The Jungle, making him a victim of “a forerunner of [the] ‘fake news’” that’s so pervasive today.
Nor was he the first American to be misrepresented by his adversaries: John Adams and others in colonial and post-colonial times often felt abused by an unfettered free press.
Call it fake news, propaganda, disinformation–it’s been with us in some form or another as long as the written word and doubtless in the oral tradition before that, in whispering campaigns and word-of-mouth slander.
Related content: How to fight fake news
But what’s happening today is different.
The disinformation campaigns of the past were hard to execute – they required significant effort and money, brick-and-mortar operations, were often limited to print, and even on radio and TV were centrally orchestrated. The near-zero cost of publishing and distributing has made creation and dissemination of misinformation a lot easier at scale.
Last year, my school started sending “welcome back to school” videos to our families to generate excitement among students before they came to campus for Open House. Even though they didn’t necessarily know who their teacher was going to be, the kids fell in love with every single teacher in those videos, because there’s power in seeing people’s faces and hearing their voices.
The other purpose for the “welcome back to school” videos was to share some major changes in school procedures that we made last year. We wanted a lighthearted way to prepare students and parents for what they were going to walk into, so it didn’t just hit them in the face.
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To share the videos, we sent a postcard with a QR code to every family. Scanning the code gave them access to three videos: an introduction from the admin team, a greeting from the teachers at their grade level, and a special message from me. Here’s how each of those “welcome back to school” videos made our school a happier place to be.
Here are the most-read stories on creativity, engagement, and student well-being this month:
1. 3 great ways to supercharge student engagement
No matter what the subject, before students can learn new skills or absorb new material, they need to be paying attention. Here, three educators share the tech tools and best practices they use to improve student engagement and make sure students are energized, focused, and ready to learn.
2. 5 effective ways to help students reduce stress and anxiety
Have you had a student act out when you try to redirect her misbehavior? Ever had a kid freeze on a test and then give up in frustration as he forgets everything he studied for? Or have you had students who simply, seemingly randomly, shut down out of nowhere and refuse to participate? If so, it might be time to examine how to help students reduce stress and anxiety.
3. 5 ways to create spaces that unlock creativity & encourage collaboration
It’s easy to focus on what we teach and how we teach, but where we teach is often overlooked. We need to prepare students for jobs that don’t yet exist and for a world that is rapidly evolving. While no one can predict what the future will look like, we can set students on a path for success by unlocking their creative potential.