Tuesday, March 12, 2013

CoSN 2013

I am excited to have the opportunity to both participate in and present at CoSN 2013.

Here is a link to the presentation that I did in partnership with Dr. Cynthia Temesi from Cisco.
Technology and Connectivity in Education:

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hope, not fear

On December 14, 2012 a tragedy struck Sandy Hook Elementary and Newtown Connecticut. The response nationally has been overwhelming, as one would expect. As a district, we responded with hurting hearts, knowing that there are parents without children, classrooms without students, and families without parents as a result, and on a bigger level, a country with a weakened sense of security. Sandy Hook, like other shootings before it, is a painful reminder of the damaged hearts and minds that exist in our society and force us to think differently about things that we often take for granted. 

Debates are raging across the country right now with respect to gun control. On one extreme are gun advocates saying that if we had more guns in schools, children would be safe. On the other are those saying that guns are the problem and should be banned. Like in many debates, the answer in my opinion is somewhere in the middle, but I do not have a problem going on record saying that I do not believe having more guns in school is the answer. I can confidently tell parents there are no guns in my schools today; in the preferred state of some, I could no longer do that. My county sheriff told me once that every situation is dangerous when there is a gun present, even if it is in the right person's hands, and I think there is great wisdom and truth in that statement.

John Patrick Egelhof, former FBI agent and responder to the Red Lake shooting in March of 2005, wrote what I think was a great editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune shortly after the Sandy Hook tragedy. His article, entitled "What I learned at the Red Lake shooting" speaks to things he has learned, regrets he has, and his thoughts on gun control and some of what is plaguing our country. Even though I don't agree with everything that Mr. Egelhof says, I would encourage you to take the time to read it.

What I think is independent of the gun control debate is the need for an acknowledgement of the significant mental illness that has proliferated in our society, in both numbers and severity. A corresponding call to action needs to take place, recognizing the need to identify and support the children and adults in our society that have become unable to function in pro-social ways. Resourced schools are part of the solution, but government and community intervention is needed as well. While determining the cause of what seems to be an increase in mental health needs - drugs, a recession, etc - is important and good long-term thinking, the reality is that the cause is not as important as our need to deal with the problem at hand when we are considering safety in our schools and communities. 

It does take a village to raise a child and it takes a community to keep children safe, whether they are in school, at the community playground, or at the grocery store. While we can do many things in and around the school to promote safety, I believe safe children and safe schools are ultimately the responsibility of our entire community. Children need to know there are people who care about them and adults who they trust. All the adults in our communities need to be vigilant in the work of observing and reporting things that seem out of place, individuals who seem to be significantly troubled, or situations that seem like they could lead to a bad result, no matter how small the issue might seem at the time.

Despite the tragedy at Sand Hook, we need to continue to promote hope, believe in people, and care for each other. As adults, we need to continually and intentionally use words and actions that enable our children and other students to feel connected to us, each other, and our schools, so when conflict arises it can be dealt with in ways that are safe, and we must be careful that violent acts do not carry over to the way we treat each other. The communities we live in are not immune to a tragedy like the one in Newtown, but we also must guard ourselves from living in fear.  

Where fear is, happiness is not. ~Seneca

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Watching Finland?

I originally posted this on the Itasca Student Success Initiative Ning... 

I've had the opportunity to hear Tony Wagner in person twice in the last three years, most recently this summer. His book The Global Achievement Gap has informed some of our goals in Deer River and his most recent, Creating Innovators is on my to read list...

Finland has consistently been lifted up as the model, and really for good reason. They continue to produce students who are leading the world on international measures. Some "reformers" point to the demographic differences in Finland (much more homogeneity) as a large reason, but I heard recently that Finland's demographics are extremely close to those of Utah, and if demographics were a huge driver for performance differences, we should expect Utah to lead the U.S. They don't. Diane Ravitch, whose career has been very interesting - first as a supporter of NCLB and now an outspoken critic of standardized testing, wrote the following article, which I think briefly explains some of her observations about some of the fundamental differences in the culture around education in Finland - from issues of trust to professionalism. Huge differences.

The following article (also from the Post) was written by an author who wrote the book "Finnish Lessons". Although the article is about what the US can't learn from Finland, I'd argue he spends plenty of time on lessons we should learn.
It has become my opinion more and more that changing culture is the ballgame when it comes to change ("culture eats strategy for breakfast" - Peter Drucker). In my mind, transforming the culture that exists around education in America is really the reform that needs to happen and it represents the most overwhelming of all necessary changes.

The last thing I'll share is a book I'm reading called Catching Up or Leading the Way, in which the author makes an interesting conclusion about America's desire to move away from a model of education that China desires to move towards (a country who Americans often feel threatened by, whether in education or another sector). China desires to move away from a narrow, standardized, didactic system to one focused on broad knowledge, individualization and innovation. America, on the other hand, is moving away from a broad, rich system to one focused on standardization (the one China wants to abandon). Of the two countries, America has produced more patents, scientific discoveries, and innovations in the last 100 years. The authors point is obviously "why would we move away from a model that has served our country so well over time, and is one that other countries really desire to move toward?" A person could even make the argument that Finland's system today looks a lot like America's system of the 1950's and 60's. Teachers were highly respected and trusted; students came from supportive home environments, adolescent poverty was a fraction of what it is today, etc....
I know my response certainly doesn't answer any questions, but hopefully shares some of my thinking and the thinking of some people who's thinking aligns with mine, but who are much more credible than I am :~)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Education going Google

Recently I attended the TIES conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota's largest annual technology conference, and went to a session on Google Apps in Education. At the beginning, the presenter asked how many districts were currently using Google or migrating to Google. My unofficial, unscientific ballpark is that no fewer than 2/3 of the 200 participants raised their hands.

Granted, this is a technology conference that attracts technology wonks, and there were no doubt multiple people from the same district that raised hands in some cases, but I was still surprised by how many districts had gone Google. Considering there are only about 330 districts in the state, it is a large number.

Deer River and the rest of our regional collaborative, IASC, went Google this fall and the transition was slick in my opinion and the reasons were many. First, IASC wanted to be on the same platform so we could share support and training. Second, we wanted a robust solution that could enable collaboration. Third, we wanted something that wasn't going to cost us a bunch. Because it's free, we were able to give email addresses to students as well as staff and that has proven to be a great decision.

What I've noticed is two things. First, since many staff had Gmail accounts personally, learning the new email system wasn't too difficult. Second, and most important for me, the collaboration that happens naturally through Google Docs is great. Students creating content together on projects, teachers and students sharing with each other, creating a space where students can access their work anywhere - all these things have happened naturally just because the functionality was there. Teachers haven't been mandated to use the tools, they just make sense, which is obviously the best way for changes like this to happen.

With what we've and other districts have learned and experienced with Google, I'd be curious to know what the hang up is for other districts. Maybe I should have been surprised by the 1/3 that didn't say they were using Google.

Friday, November 4, 2011

MREA early childhood presentation

Jan Reindl (director for Invest Early) and I recently did a presentation on our regional early childhood collaborative at the Minnesota Rural Education Association (MREA) conference. You can check out our Prezi by clicking this link.