District’s parental engagement soars with new “Glow and Grow” practice

When my district, Charles City Public Schools (CCPS), created our strategic plan, we established “Community Investment in Public Schools” as one of our five core goals. As a small, rural school system with a staff of about 145 serving 719 students in two schools, we feel that strong relationships with our students’ families is essential to our students’ success.

Data Poor with Little Internet Access

Before we could set out to improve our community’s engagement with our schools, we needed to know families’ perceptions about the school division and their attitudes about engaging with their children’s schools. We realized that we needed baseline data collected through a family survey that is aligned with our strategic plan. At the same time, we also gathered feedback from students and teachers and staff using surveys designed to surface and understand their perspectives about school.…Read More

#1: The 7 questions every new teacher should be able to answer

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on June 13th of this year, was our #1 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2016 countdown!]

Not long ago, the leadership team of a school district I was working with asked me: “If you were going to hire a new teacher, what would you ask in the interview?” They were concerned that hiring teachers with the right skills now can save a district a lot of money in staff development later. Moreover, they wanted to hire teachers who would be open minded about changes to come. The problem is to balance the reality of today’s pressure for test scores and required teacher evaluation with the changes that can be anticipated during the next two decades.

As I wrote in my last column, the traditional skill we valued in teachers when paper was the dominant media—the ability to transfer knowledge of a subject—is becoming less important. Increasingly, a teacher’s knowledge can be found online and in various learning styles. As the internet drives down the value of a teacher’s knowledge, their ability to personalize learning with resources from around the world will increase. We will have more data generated about our students as we build out our online communities. We will need teachers who understand how to make meaning of this data to personalize learning for every student from a vast digital library of learning resources. Also of increasing value is their ability to teach students to be self-disciplined about how “to learn to learn.” Rather than losing overall value, teachers will be more important than ever.…Read More

Finding the right parent-teacher communication app for your class

With a smartphone glued to 90 percent of the parent population’s hands, how is it that schools still depend on old methods such as sending notes home, newsletters, and emails to communicate with parents? A recent study by Gallup found only 1 in 5 parents are fully engaged with their child’s school, meaning 80 percent of parents are either indifferent to or actively disengaged from their kids’ school. It’s clear there is a disconnect between the way teachers are communicating and the way most of the world is getting its information.

As a trailblazer in classroom technology, it seems like I’ve tried every form of communication out there: printed newsletters, emails, texting, blogging, a YouTube channel, even Facebook. But along with grading, lesson-planning, and everything else a teacher is asked to balance, it all got to be too much.

I wanted the communication process to be easy and streamlined for my parents and me. Finally I asked my parents, “What’s the best way for me to communicate with you?” Essentially, all of them said “email” or “texting,” implying that their smartphone is their lifeline to the outside world. That’s when my hunt for the perfect communication app began.…Read More

New book illustrates the 5 most important leadership skills

Leaders aren’t just principals, CEOs, and presidents, a new book asserts, but rather people from all walks of life benefit from leadership skills and training. That’s especially true in education where everyone from parents to teachers to students are often called upon to serve in leadership roles. But what does that entail?

The book, Life Lessons in Leadership: The Way of the Wallaby, uses a literary style similar to Spenser Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese? to illustrate real-world lessons through the stories of engaging fictional characters. Co-authored by ed-tech pro Ann McMullan — formerly the executive director for educational technology at Klein ISD in Texas — and journalist Michael Barrett, the educational and entertaining self-help book teaches essential personal leadership skills through a clever combination of literary text targeted to adult leaders, combined with captivating, childlike stories.

Each of the book’s five short chapters focuses on an essential leadership skill and begins with McMullan’s lessons, written in prose, describing the importance of that skill. As the book flows from one chapter to another, McMullan demonstrates how each leadership skill builds on the others and how all are critical to the success of any leader.…Read More

10 ways reinventing education is like renovating your home

Imagine that changing education to a blended paradigm is like renovating a large and much loved home that is more than 100 years old and contains lots of wonderful memories.

Would our expectations change?

The change from traditional teaching to blended learning is the biggest change in education for over one hundred years; it changes a core aspect of the way teachers teach. Make no mistake; this is not tinkering at the edges of education. If education was a house it would be a fundamental refit, from the foundations to the roof. (Note that I am talking about organization wide change, not just a few “lone innovators” operating independently in a school. That would be more like repainting a couple of rooms, in the hope that others would then follow suit, compared to a whole house renovation.)…Read More

5 ways to improve your school website design right now

These days, before visiting your campus or even speaking to anyone on the phone, the first impression anyone will ever have with your school is via its website. When researching existing schools, the majority of people will automatically undertake in-depth online research to learn more about their options. Therefore, it is crucial that your website contains enough relevant information that is eye catching and easy to navigate through so as to provide helpful information and not confuse the visitor, causing them to leave the website. After enrollment, the website will serve as a vital link between parents, students and school administration.

Content seems to be key here, yet it is not merely enough, meaning if it is not organized in the right way, it will be difficult to find or there will be too much of it, therefore it will not serve its purpose. This is where design plays its part in providing solutions for content display and organization.

That being said, design is not something you should fear since it does not present a difficult task given the development and advancement in the CMS that enable even those without much designer skills achieve great results. Yet, there are a few steps you should consider and implement if you want to maximize your website’s effectiveness.…Read More

The 7 questions every new teacher should be able to answer

Teaching for the 21st century looks a lot different. Here’s what admins — and teachers — need to know for job interviews and beyond

Not long ago, the leadership team of a school district I was working with asked me: “If you were going to hire a new teacher, what would you ask in the interview?” They were concerned that hiring teachers with the right skills now can save a district a lot of money in staff development later. Moreover, they wanted to hire teachers who would be open minded about changes to come. The problem is to balance the reality of today’s pressure for test scores and required teacher evaluation with the changes that can be anticipated during the next two decades.

As I wrote in my last column, the traditional skill we valued in teachers when paper was the dominant media—the ability to transfer knowledge of a subject—is becoming less important. Increasingly, a teacher’s knowledge can be found online and in various learning styles. As the internet drives down the value of a teacher’s knowledge, their ability to personalize learning with resources from around the world will increase. We will have more data generated about our students as we build out our online communities. We will need teachers who understand how to make meaning of this data to personalize learning for every student from a vast digital library of learning resources. Also of increasing value is their ability to teach students to be self-disciplined about how “to learn to learn.” Rather than losing overall value, teachers will be more important than ever.

The big change is not adding technology to the current design of the classroom, but changing the culture of teaching and learning and fundamentally changing the job descriptions of teachers and learners.…Read More

How to transform your media centers into makerspaces

Even with tight budgets, it’s possible to repurpose your libraries or media centers into 21st century makerspaces

For many of us in education, budget cuts are always a possibility. The challenge becomes how to make our services and programs truly stand out to stakeholders, so that we’re truly transforming what we’re doing to meet the needs of our students in today’s world. With that in mind, we recently re-introduced our media centers to our district community, Brevard County Schools in Florida, as a valuable and integral part of a student’s education that supports 21st-century skills

Our “a-ha” moment about how to make this rebrand a reality came at a tech conference. With a colleague, the two of us stopped at a 3D printer booth and we both had the same vision. We talked about repurposing the media centers into Innovation Centers where students had the opportunity to experience STEM activities through a maker format. We were excited about the chance to give our students the opportunity to truly envision, design, create, and walk away with a 3D printed model.

We approached the Brevard Schools Foundation and shared our vision. At the Foundation’s recommendation, we applied for and won a grant from Northrop Grumman. In developing a timeline and plan for implementing the grant, we identified six schools where the changes would start and made sure that they were willing and able to support this new program. One of our goals was to make the program replicable and sustainable. This was our chance to create a model that could be rolled out to other schools in the future.…Read More

How to manage your one-to-one program after you hand out devices

After the Chromebooks and iPads are distributed, admins and IT teams must keep asking the tough questions

If there’s one thing schools have learned from the multiple one-to-one mobile device implementations that have rolled out during the last few years, it’s that they’re hardly “set it and forget it” projects.

Purchasing and handing out the iPads, Chromebooks, or laptops are just the first steps on a long path that must also incorporate ongoing professional development for teachers and training for students; the establishment of acceptable usage policies and procedures; management of device support, insurance, and repair…and the list goes on.

“As a one-to-one implementation matures, different things happen that you may not have considered at the outset,” said Scott S. Smith, Ed.D., who serves as chief technology officer at Mooresville Graded School District in Mooresville, N.C — a district with one of the most celebrated one-to-one programs in the country. “For this reason, it’s important to maintain a clear vision and purpose from day one.” For most districts, that vision should center on why the one-to-one initiative is a good idea and how it will change instruction, teaching, and the learning environment for the better.…Read More