Thursday, July 28, 2011

Creating a 21st Century Skills Team

Integrating technology and 21st Century Skills ( into teachers' classrooms is a challenge that is currently facing Pleasant Plains High School. In order to facilitate the change, I have been speaking with the principal about creating a 21st Century Team of teachers, administrators, and students who will plan the integration of technology and 21st Century Skills into classrooms. The purpose of the Team will be to integrate technology and 21st Century Skills into classrooms in order improve student learning and understanding, to differentiate instruction, and to better prepare students for college and career readiness. The goals of the Team will be to 1) create a culture in the educational system that reflects the learning styles of current students, 2) plan ongoing professional development for teachers to build self-efficacy in technology tools, 3) plan ongoing professional development for teachers regarding new pedagogies, 4) create a culture where both students and teachers are life-long learners, 5) provide a means for teachers to build Learning Communities and utilize Personal Learning Networks, and 6) create a culture where students have a way to collaborate with teachers about their education. In order to accomplish these goals, the Team must create a culture of teacher leadership as well as plan for roadblocks to the success of this project.
Creating a team for this project “means creating a phalanx – including the principal – of true believers who assume ownership of new ideas and learn strategies for implementing them and winning adherents among their colleagues in the school community” (Maeroff, 1993). Maeroff (1993) notes the importance of including the principal in the team in order to reduce possible resistance. Thousand and Villa (1992) and Villa and Thousand (2000) note that “collaborative teams are hypothesized to function optimally when team members pursue shared goals, hold mutual levels of respect for the unique areas of expertise and input of members, engage in distributive leadership, and hold members accountable” (as cited in Phillipo & Stone, 2006, p. 230). With this in mind, the 21st Century Team members will need to know and agree to pursue the purpose and goals outlined for the project. Larson and LaFasto identify eight characteristics that successful teams must have: “1.) a clear, elevating goal; 2.) a results-driven structure; 3) competent members; 4) a unified commitment; 5.) a collaborative environment; 6.) standards of excellence; 7.) external support and recognition; and 8.) principled leadership” (Maeroff, 1993).
With the purpose and goals clearly outlined, the next step is to work on team building concepts with the team. Curtis, Humbarger, and Mann (2011) identify ten tips for effective coaching of adults that also make good ground rules for team interaction during meetings: “1. start with a safe, supportive environment” (51), “2. build [positive] relationships” (52), “3. consider staff [and student team members] capable” (52), “4. observe with an open mind” (52), “5. ask and actively listen” (52), “6. highlight strengths first” (52), “7. help staff connect behavior with results” (53), “8. investigate alternatives” (53). “9. nurture work on the goal” (54), and “10. grow your skills – build your strengths” (54). The team must then be trained on integrating technology into the classroom so they can become knowledge brokers. Plair (2008) states that “knowledge of educational or instructional technology is a commodity to be shared, exchanged, valued, sought, and purchased, and the concept of a broker, or go-between, fits what teachers need and want when integrating technology” (72).
In preparing the team members to be knowledge brokers, the team must research and review technology integration for 21st Century Learners. Lawless and Peligrino (2007); Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2007); and Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde (2005) all note that “using technology simply to support lecture-based instruction falls far short of recommended best practice” (as cited in Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010, p. 257). Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2010) continue that “we need to help teachers understand how to use technology to facilitate meaningful learning, defined as that which enables students to construct deep and connected knowledge, which can be applied to real situations” (p. 257). Because the first step is to provide teachers with the knowledge of the technology available (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010, p. 259), the team will need to identify ways to provide professional development to the faculty on basic technology tools so they will be able to transfer that knowledge to technology tools that better fit their own classrooms. Next, the team needs to identify professional development in “pedagogical methods that facilitate student learning, and the specific ways in which technology can support those methods” (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010, p. 260). Professional development will also need to be planned to build technology self-efficacy by providing teachers with
Intense professional development experiences, followed by continued support and community discussions
Opportunities to practice managing technology in the classroom by providing additional help (teacher aides, parents, advanced students, etc.)
Opportunities to share success stories related to using technology to facilitate student learning, at grade-level or discipline based teacher meetings
Opportunities to witness other teachers using technology in the classrooms
Encouragement/expectation of small changes with technology over extended time period
Implementation of a culture that encourages and supports experimentation (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010, p. 260)
Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2010) also recommend that the team hold regular meetings to check on the progress of professional development (266).
            In order to create a culture where students have a voice in their education, the 21st Century Skills Team should consider the creation of a technology team of students as well. Students generally know what their learning style is and which technology tools they might use in various instances. A team of advanced students who are knowledgeable about various technology tools can fulfill the need that Plair (2008) says that teachers have for on-the-spot professional development (p. 73). By arranging for a team of students trained to assist teachers with technology tools as issues arise, the school will adapt a culture where it is acceptable for teachers to learn from students in addition to students learning from both students and teachers. The process will not only empower the student trainers, but will also provide them with real world, relevant experiences.
            Once the 21st Century Skills Team is trained and has a plan in place, the Team will need to prepare for the implementation with the understanding that “change is then thwarted by [teachers’] tendency to change as little as possible” (Fullan & Stiegelbauer as cited in Maeroff, 1993). Maeroff (1993) advises that the team begin the conversation with the rest of the school as conversations that spread until they become schoolwide. He also says that at first the team members should do most of the talking, but other people who take up the team’s beliefs should be encouraged to promote the beliefs as well (Maeroff 1993). Maeroff (1993) identifies ten ways that teams can promote change in their schools:
·         Teams can set priorities so that all of the team’s ideas are not just dumped on the school with no sense of what is important.
·         Teams can model the kinds of behavior that they would like to elicit from their colleagues.
·         Teams can try to anticipate objections so that the answers are provided before some of the negative reactions are registered.
·         Teams should remember that each member is only part of the team and does not speak for the entire group unless delegated to do so.
·         Teams can make certain that team members interact with their colleagues.
·         Teams should keep the school community informed about the team’s progress.
·         Teams should be positive whenever possible.
·         And, finally, team members should maintain a sense of humor about the serious work at hand. (Maeroff, 1993)
Using these strategies, the team can formulate a plan for both implementing and promoting the shift to integrating technology into the classrooms. The strategies will also help with the introduction of the concept of students as technology tool trainers.
            Maeroff (1993) mentions some other barriers to change, such as societal barriers, budgets, unions, teachers’ knowledge, team functioning, school schedules, and continuity of staffing. In addressing these barriers, it is notable that budgets and unions will likely not be issues. The leaders of the Pleasant Plains Education Association have been promoting 21st Century Skills and technology integration to the faculty of the district for the last two years. Since most of the technology tools are free web tools, there will be little to no expense for implementation. The purpose statement of the 21st Century Skills Team aligns with the district technology plan as well. School schedules will need to checked to determine which students are in classes where they can be utilized as technology trainers as well as which students can work with teachers and students during the PACE (student assistance) period.
            As one of the goals of the project is to provide a means for teachers to build Learning Communities and utilize Personal Learning Networks, it is hopeful that an outcome of the project will also be the creating of teacher-leaders. A healthy ideal self of both the 21st Century Skills Team and the teacher-leaders will need to be created. Boyatzis and Akrivou (2006) identify the ideal self as “the core mechanism for self-regulation and intrinsic motivation” (p. 625). It is “an evolving, motivational core within the self, focusing a person’s desires and hope, aspirations and dreams, purpose and calling” (Boyatzis & Akrivou, 2006, p. 625). Intrinsic motivation is key in the success of the both the project and in the success of teacher-leaders. Boyatzis and Akrivou (2006) identify three paths leading to a healthy ideal self that the 21st Century Skills Team should address (p. 634). The first is to assess if the ideal self has been articulated – if it is explicit. This path requires an increase of mindfulness concerning the ideal self. If the ideal self is low, then “the person is mindless or in denial of a desired future” (Boyatzis & Akrivou, 2006, p. 634). The second path is to determine the importance of the ideal self in terms of desire for its components. A low ideal self would result “in superficial commitments to change” ((Boyatzis & Akriou, 2006, p. 634). The third path is to determine if all of the components fit in with the person’s desire for the future. A low ideal self in this pathway may result in “unintended consequences in other parts of their life” (Boyatzis & Akriou, 2006, p. 634). In defining the ideal self, Boyatzis and Akriou (2006) state that “optimism and efficacy are seen as the main determinants and generators of hope, and therefore, key determinants of the ideal self” (p. 630). They blatantly state that “people who are relatively lower in self-efficacy and optimism experience less hope” (Boyayzis & Akriou, 2006, p. 632).
            Addressing the ideal self is important throughout each step of the process: in developing the 21st Century Skills Team, in preparing the Team, in planning professional development for the staff, discussing the project with others schoolwide, and in implementing the project. Building teacher self-efficacy in instructional technology and maintaining an optimistic attitude with the Team will provide the hope that teachers need to successfully integrate technology into classrooms. Teachers all share the ideal of preparing students for their futures. Developing this ideal to include the component of ensuring that students receive the 21st Century Skills required for their futures is imperative. In doing so, teachers are likely to achieve the healthy ideal self that enables each of them to be effective teacher-leaders in their schools.
            The 21st Century Skills Team will need to meet throughout the project to maintain the collaboration between teachers, administration, and students. The Team will need to continue to assess the needs of both students and teachers as it plans professional development activities. The Team will also need to plan for the turnover of team members as student members of the team change and as new teacher-leaders rotate into the Team. The Team, however, needs to strive for continuity by maintaining focus on the original purpose and goals. If that focus is maintained, then the Team will be able to create a culture of success in the school. Curtis, Humbarger, and Mann (2011) state that “when people feel they are making a difference in the classroom, they become more involved in their work and their job performance improves. They reconnect with the excitement of being an integral part of a dynamic team” (p. 54).

Boyatzis, R. & Akrivou, K. (2006). The Ideal Self as the Driver of Intentional Change. The Journal of Management Development, 25(7), 624-642. doi:1079220841
Curtis, R., Humbarger, J., & Mann, T. (2011). Ten Tips for Coaching Adults: An Emotionally Healthy Approach. YC Young Children, 66(1), 50-54. doi:2387291781
Ertmer, P., & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. (2010). Teacher Technology Change: How Knowledge, Confidence, Beliefs, and Culture Intersect. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 42(3), 255-284. doi:2212521271
Maeroff, G. (1993). Building Teams to Rebuild Schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 74(7). doi:5004446
Phillippo, K., & Stone, S. (2006). School-Based Collaborative Teams: An Exploratory Study of Tasks and Activities. Children & Schools, 28(4), 229-235. doi:1177685511
Plair, S. (2008). Revamping Professional Development for Technology Integration and Fluency. The Clearing House, 82(2), 70-74. doi:1592650381

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Making Customer Service Come to Life in Education

I can remember working at Osco Drug as a teen in a time when Customer Service was extremely important. It was a matter of esteem to have your voice announce the "Thank you" over the intercom to designate that you had the customer service call covered, whether it be a phone call or a question in one of the store aisles. Every time a call came over the intercom, it was a race to be the one to answer the call. If you didn't know the answer to the customer's question, it was also customary to find out or find someone who might know. Helping a customer locate an item meant walking the customer to the item on the shelf. If there was a price check, any questionable signage in price went in favor of the customer.

That same great customer service experience continued for me as I began my career in banking. At the teller windows, it was customary to greet the customer, refer to the customer by name (Mr., Mrs. or Ms. Doe). The transaction was verbally detailed to the customer as it was processed, and a "thank you, have a nice day" was given as the transaction was completed. The drive-up window tellers commanded the same service. As soon as a vehicle pulled up to the tubes, it was customary for a teller to greet the customer and let the customer know that someone will be with him/her as soon as possible. When grabbing a transaction from the tube, the teller followed the same service routine as the window tellers.

Incidentally, customer service has been important to me throughout my life. As a customer, if I get good customer service, I feel good. If I get bad or apathetic service, it makes me want to teach a customer service workshop for that business. I also try to subtly lead the employee into good customer service. The results of good customer service are

  • customer feels good/happy
  • customer loyalty
  • employee feels good/happy

It's funny to think that as customers we all know what we expect for good customer service, but as employees do we give that good service that we expect? It seems so common sense.

How does this all apply to Education? That same customer service does apply to Education. How? Educators create the same feelings of satisfaction with regards to students and parents. A culture of good customer service begins at the top. Employers/administrators must treat their employees with respect - respected employees are good employees. Teachers/employees must be trained in what good service looks like. The goals of good customer service in Education remain the same. We want the students to feel good about their education. We want parents to be happy with their students' progress and achievement. We want both students and parents to be loyal to the academic mission and vision of the school. It's common knowledge that if someone has a good experience, that person will tell a few friends. We want our students and parents to be able to brag about the academic experiences at our schools.

Good Education customer service:

  • smile and greet students (by name if possible) as they enter the building and/or walk down the hall
  • smile and greet students by name as they enter your room
  • be knowledgable about your content
  • be knowledgable about pedagogy
  • be knowledgable about student interest - know your students
  • be professional and respectful to students/parents
  • respond to questions promptly
  • listen to students and parents
  • if you don't know the answer, find out and/or show the students/parents where to find the answer
  • respond to phone calls and email messages promptly
  • hold the students to high expectations that are realistic
  • clearly communicate expectations
  • make learning resources easily available to students and parents
  • clearly and promptly communicate concerns to students and parents
  • provide feedback in a timely manner
  • make sure staff is trained
  • make yourself available to students and parents
  • know that the impact of your teaching may not be realized until much later
  • avoid letting negative people bring you or the people around you down - battle them with kindness, respect, and procedure

While this is a good start, I welcome you to add more Education customer service tips in the comments.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Educational Technology Goals and Adapting to the Digital Natives

Based on The ISTE National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) and Performance Indicators for Administrators, Teachers, and Students, following is a list of short-term goals and long-term goals that I would like to achieve as an educational technology leader.

Short term goals
I plan to
• In regards to inspiring student learning, more consistently model communication of my thoughts and analyses of literature and classroom activities on my classroom blog.
• Create and publish video lessons for various lessons such as copyright, Creative Commons, and netiquette as well as more how-to videos for writing, speech organization, Photoshop techniques, beginning photography concepts, lighting concepts, etc., which will serve as a means of both differentiated instruction for learners as well as reference tutorials for students.
• Communicate regularly and consistently with administrators from each building regarding technology professional development needs required by teachers and training needs required by students and/or parents.
• Facilitate the installation of and transition to the Edline site that is replacing the current district websites. The system is similar to Blackboard, and I will be on the team of trainers who will train staff regarding site management and classroom applications.
• Facilitate in the training of parents and students in Edline applications that will improve student learning and parent communication in the district.

Long term goals
I plan to
• Lead Personal Learning Network groups at each building of the district by promoting the Teacher Share websites that were created for each.
• Participate in twitter #edchat’s as well as Educator’s PLN and Classroom 2.0 webinars to explore technology trends and applications that will improve student learning.
• Infuse technology into my classroom as a means to differentiate instruction while providing students with college and career readiness skills. I also plan on using the Edline tools to improve student learning.
• Continue to participate in flatclassroom projects such as NetGenEd that engage student in collaborative communications with students from other cultures, creating global awareness
• Create a student Geek Squad at the high school and middle school. The squad will be comprised of students who will train teachers, administrators, and other students in using technology tools and in problem solving technology issues.

It is imperative that education systems change in response to digital natives. The first time I heard about digital natives was three summers ago when Dr. Leigh Zeitz from Northern Iowa University presented, for the lack of better term, a technology workshop for the district (personal communication, 2008). Dr. Z opened up the possibilities of technology as a tool for improving student learning. At that time, Pleasant Plains School District was in the process of re-evaluating the learning styles of current learners.

Milman says that educators must shift the focus of education onto students and their educational needs, “making thoughtful, informed decisions about how to engage learners in the process of learning, accepting learners for who they are, understanding learners’ strengths and weaknesses, and capitalizing on their [learning styles]” (2009, p. 60). It doesn’t matter what generation a student is from or what label educators stick on a student or group of students. The pedagogical philosophy must remain the same: adapt the teaching methods to the learning style of the learners.

21st Century Skills and Common Core Standards are also designed to guide educators in preparing today’s learners for their futures. This generation has educational needs that differ from previous generations as those generations had needs that differed from their predecessors. It is the responsibility of educators to change “instruction to meet the diverse needs of one’s target audience – and not blaming individuals for being different than students one might have had 20 years ago” (Milliman, 2009, p. 60). It is also our responsibility to promote this philosophy to our colleagues. As times change, learners change, methods must evolve and adapt to the needs of the learners.

Milman, N.. (2009). Are Students Today Really Different? Distance Learning, 6(2), 59-61. Retrieved July 6, 2011, from ProQuest Education Journals. (Document ID: 1903519841).