Sunday, July 8, 2012

#SCed Network

Before I set out why I am so hellbent on starting #SCed, let me tell you my "Twitter-estimony" (I made that up!).

I joined Twitter a couple of years ago to keep up-to-date with Gamecock sports and local and world news. My wife and I had just decided to cancel cable, so I needed a way to stay connected.  I have never been a huge Facebook lover, so I needed something different.  I chose Twitter and am glad that I did.  The first people I followed were all sports and news related until I sought out @johntspencer after following his blog for a short while.  Honestly, this opened the door to something that was simply breathtaking.

I began to read John's tweets, then began to read responses and dialogue he was having with fellow educators all over the world.  Much of the dialogue was what I called "challenge based".  He was not looking for echo-chambers, but for people to challenge his ideas.  Great thing about it, John wasn't alone.  I started turning over more and more rocks, and found more and more AMAZING educators with a unbridled passion for learning.  Soon after that I figured out hashtags and began watching #edchat, #edtech, #4thchat, and #5thchat very closely.  Not long after that, I was introduced to the #140edu conference.

I remember sitting in my family's lake house on beautiful Lake Murray in Lexington, SC watching 2 presentations.  One was on the power of Wikispaces in the classroom and the other was EduTecher aka Adam Bellow's presentation on Educational Tech Commandments.  I was absolutely hooked.

I am a learner at heart.  I tried my best to convince my students that I was probably the least intelligent being in the classroom.  I was just a 30 year-old kid wanting to learn as much as possible about math, science, reading, and writing.  Twitter was my grown up inlet for learning.  The professional development on Twitter is both priceless and price-LESS (...seriously, it comes with no price...FREE...beat that)!  It is also not necessarily limited by time.  Discussions are archived so if you cannot be there for real time, just come back when you can and catch up!  Finally, it's not limited by space.  I can communicate with people half way across the world and people in the same room simultaneously.

Since it's now been a solid year since I have been diving into Twitter for professional purposes, I have been around the block a few times, but am still finding so many cool and amazing people, learning communities, organizations, products, groups, etc.  The thing that has amazed me over everything else is the fact that teachers that buy into professional learning through a medium like Twitter are usually educators that are worth listening to.  However, I have been hard pressed to find a ton of other South Carolina educators that have tapped into the professional benefits of Twitter.

This leads me to why I want to start #SCed.

I have served in the education field for six years.  Throughout my time as a South Carolina educator, I have been very impressed with a ton of things that the state does to support teachers.  Of course, nothing is ever perfect, but I would say for the most part, South Carolina has a foundation on which to build.  I think this is where #SCed could be very valuable.

Times are changing in education, especially in South Carolina (Common Core, merit based pay, etc.).  As Will Richardson said in a recent blog post we must "redifine better".  It is time for South Carolina educators (especially the ones that are worth listening to) to come together in order to connect, collaborate, and encourage to make the education in South Carolina better by making it different!

#1 - Connect - #SCed will be used to connect educators from all over the great state of SC.  This Google doc is being passed around so you can link your twitter account so other SC educators can find you.  There are directions on how to do this on the doc.

#2 - Collaborate - #SCed will be used to collaborate vertically and horizontally so we can share ideas, thoughts, and beliefs.  Likewise, when ideas, thoughts and beliefs are shared they will also be rightfully and respectfully challenged.  This will be a forum to do just that!

#3 - Encourage - #SCed will be used as a tool to encourage (NOT gripe to) each other.  We all know that SC is a poverty stricken state.  I could link to article after article that tells us how hard we have it.  I don't have to tell you how hard it is.  We need to be encouraged by fellow educators that are in the trenches with us, because what we do as educators matters to THAT child.  Our passions for teaching and learning will simply breed more passion.

#SCed might be a complete waste of time.  It might never get going, or it might get shut down before it starts.  However, the people of SC deserve only the best.  Educators that connect, collaborate, and encourage are the ones that will not only make SC better, but will make it great.

I look forward to connecting with you soon!


Friday, July 6, 2012

The Book on Leadership

I just finished John MacArthur's "The Book on Leadership".  As many of you know, John MacArthur is a very prominent American pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California.  This book was entirely based on the leadership principles observed through the interactions of the Apostle Paul.  Before you simply tune out thinking that this is a strictly "Christian" book (which in some ways it is), the leadership principles presented are universal.  The Apostle Paul is a very influential leader in a religious movement that is still being carried out today.  Just as Ghandi, Mother Theresa, and George Washington deserve merit for their qualities, I believe Paul deserves some love for his leadership as well.

Pastor MacArthur starts his book by discussing the amazing leadership influence that Paul demonstrated during a ship wreck.  He was not a leader, but instead a prisoner on this particular ship.  As the story goes and the storm grows, Paul becomes more than just a man in shackles, but a vocal leader that even the centurions begin to defer to.  After the shipwreck, all 200 some odd people on board are counted as alive and well thanks to the leadership qualities Paul executed.  

After the shipwreck commentary, Pastor MacArthur frames more leadership principles by analyzing Paul's second letter to the church in Corinth.  Many things were beginning to turn south in the church that Paul founded.  Paul was no longer in Corinth, but had moved forward to other missionary endeavors.  Paul, however, had a huge heart for the people of Corinth and  knew that with the right guidance, amazing things could happen.  His boldness, wisdom, and humility expressed in his letter refocused the church, quieted false prophets and naysayers, challenged reckless behavior, boldly restated the mission and vision of the church, and encouraged all involved.  Pretty impressive considering this was a letter, not face-to-face contact.  If all this was accomplished through a letter, imagine the influence if Paul was present in body!  His leadership was impressive.

The 26 Leadership Principles that John MacArthur gathered from Paul are:

  1. A leader is trustworthy
  2. A leader takes initiative
  3. A leader uses good judgement
  4. A leader speaks with authority
  5. A leader strengthens others
  6. A leader is enthusiastic and optimistic
  7. A leader never compromises the absolutes
  8. A leader focuses on objectives not obstacles
  9. A leader empowers by example
  10. A leader cultivates loyalty
  11. A leader has empathy for others
  12. A leader keeps a clear conscience
  13. A leader is definite and decisive
  14. A leader knows when to change his mind
  15. A leader does not abuse his authority
  16. A leader doesn't abdicate his role in the face of opposition
  17. A leader is sure of his calling
  18. A leader knows his own limitations
  19. A leader is resilient
  20. A leader is passionate
  21. A leader is courageous
  22. A leader is discerning
  23. A leader is disciplined
  24. A leader is energetic
  25. A leader knows how to delegate
  26. A leader is Christlike


I have to say that reading about each of these principles is humbling enough, but when you write them out so you can see them all at one time it is breathtaking.  After seeing all of these principles together, I am humbled knowing that these are the traits of a solid leader.  In my mind, I can picture a leader bestowing many of these traits.  That leader is someone that many will follow.  To reach this level will take much discipline and reflection.  I have a ton of work to do!  Hope you enjoy the book as much as I did!

Paul was a many of humble appearance.  Some say he was even possibly a hunchback.  Leaders of our day are usually where they are due to looks and surface level achievements.  However, true leadership stems from below the surface.  Scanning the list of principles proves that the majority of leadership is completed between the ears and inside the heart.  I will need to start in and continue to return these two places in order to effectively lead others.

Finally, Paul's boldness was evident throughout the entire book.  I quickly defer to others and shift blame and responsibility when the going gets tough.  Paul's boldness is a great example for me and my timidity. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Choosing a school

Photo link

Today I received an email from a very dear friend that has relocated to the Washington DC area.  Their son is nearing school age and they are looking for the "perfect" school.  Here's his email:

We're looking at neighborhoods and schools in our area so that we'll be one step closer to buying once our house in Columbia sells. I thought recently that I don't necessarily know what the most important factors are for choosing a school. Many of the schools in Fairfax County, VA (most likely where we'll be living) are good schools, but I was wondering if you had any thoughts on which factors would have the most significant impact on a child's education - possibly factors like class size, training of teachers, standardized test scores, etc. Also, if you know of any good websites or publications that rank schools, my wife and I would be interested in that as well.

This email really got my motor running.  What makes a great school?  How would I, as a parent with no background in the everyday world of education, determine what school is best for my child?

My response:

I think first and foremost you need to gauge the climate of a school.  To do this you need to take into consideration the outer appearance as well as the inside.  How inviting is the school when you drive up, approach, and walk in.  Remember you will go into the school only a handful of times each year, your son will venture in each and every school day.  Call and make an appointment with the administrator to feel them out.  Ask to tour the school and possibly sit in on a few classes from all grade levels.  Don't forget that some districts' zoning policies, liken attending schools to an arranged marriage (or a gang), it's not easy to get out once you're in and you don't have much of a choice.  Think long term.  As you move throughout the school pay very close attention to how the students and adults interact.  Are the interactions something that you're comfortable with?  As you move throughout the school, continue to pay attention to the physical environment of the school making sure that you're looking past the "fairy tale & pixie dust" bulletin boards and cutesy displays.  Are the children and THEIR hard work being valued and on display throughout the school?  Gauge the teachers' attitudes as they facilitate learning in their class.  One of my professors in college wisely said, "if you're bored, the kids are dead!"  Talk with support staff as you tour, great work places generate amazing energy - you be the judge.  If a school doesn't pass the climate test, don't go any further!

Second, I would begin to dive into the academic side.  One thing that the current push towards standards and accountability has done is that it makes it easy to see if content is being taught.  A quick glance at test scores can answer the question of "are they teaching the students" with very little brain power.  Once that is determined, you must decide on the instructional method that fits your son the best.  You must honestly ask the question, "how best does he learn?"  One great thing about research is that its given every school a reason to try a "best practice" of teaching.  I place best practice in quotations because what may be great for your son may be a nightmare for my daughter.  You can gauge instructional practices by watching several classroom teachers interact through the course of a lesson.  Where is the teacher located?  What are the students doing?  How many students are working together at any given time?  Does the learning community feel chaotic, but the students are engaged or not engaged?  Is everything very rigid a structured?  No matter what, you must decide what fits your child the best?

Third, a school is also charged with the requirement to prepare students (K-12) with skills that will allow them to "work jobs that have yet to be created, to solve problems that have yet to be discovered, with technology that has yet to be invented."  How is the school that you are interested in going about doing this with the uses of technology in the classroom?  Be careful to not get the "bug to a bug zapper" mentality when you hear/see iPads or 1-to-1 integration or computer labs.  Ask the question, how is technology being used in this school to increase the level or rigor (higher order thinking skills)?

Finally, How does the school interact and communicate with parents and the outside community.  If you find a school that understands that they are but a microcosm of the larger community, then you've found a school that gets "it".  How does the school involve parents beyond the typical PTO functions?  How does the school serve and reach out to the the highest of the high and the lowest of the low?  Also, how does the school participate in the community through service opportunities?  (personal belief: I believe that a neighborhood does not make a school, a school makes a neighborhood.)

I would love to hear feedback and what you think parents should look for when searching out a school that fits their child's needs.