My Education Heroes: #sunshine #edblogs2013

fosterpln11

Part of my PLN

I received THREE blogging assignments over the winter break, and didn’t complete one.  The first is from hyper-active educator and blogger Eric Saibel who is collecting 2013’s best blogs via #edublogs2013.  Next, I was given the #sunshine challenge by two of my favorite Bay Area Educators, amazing coach Sergio Villegas and Principal Amy Fadeji, maybe the youngest principal ever.

I’m blaming the drought for not completing any of those assignments – I was too busy outdoors to get any real writing and reflection done.  I have decided to catch up now, however (I hope that time is the variable here and that my late work will be judged on it’s merit, not it’s tardiness).  I’m not going to write three posts – but here is my combo post – the best #edublogs of 2013, my #sunshine superstars, and why I love my PLN.

I guess I should give props to Eric (@ecsaibel) first.  His writings on his blog Principals in Training are reflective and thought-provoking, and it reminds me of why I got a lot from working at the same school with him for three years.  I like all of his posts, but here I will highlight The Art of Coaching: Or, Disrupting the Echo Chamber.  As an administrator it is important to remember how to be a coach first – how to nurture the potential in all teachers.  Eric highlights some amazing coaches and what makes them successful.

Also on my list this year are new PLN colleagues and friends, Amy Fadeji (@mrsfadeji) and Adam Welcome (@awelcome), both Bay Area elementary school principals.  They are the dynamic duo of local leadership – they met each other at the first #edcampmarin and have not looked back.  I enjoy both of their blogs on their own merits (Adam’s here and Amy’s here), but one of my favorite posts of theirs this year was one they wrote together – Wire it Up – about being leaders in a digital age.  They are both amazing examples of leading by doing and I hang close, hoping their energy and enthusiasm will wear off on me.

One of the coaches highlighted in Eric’s piece is Sergio Villegas (@coach_sv), the second funniest tweeter, and a person who has so much energy and enthusiasm for awesome teaching and learning experiences that it is hard to keep up.  Here I’ll highlight his post What’s your filter? A case for CUE as your Instant PLN, both because the introduction is a perfect summary of the type of “let’s do it” person Sergio is, and because it highlights the amazing things that can happen for educators and their students when we connect with each other.

Rounding out my #teamnorthbay PLN is principal Catina Haugen (@chaugen).  I love the elementary connections I’m making as my focus has been on high schools.  Catina is another of those who lead by doing, and one of my favorite posts from her this year is from the #gafesummit in Napa in early January.  If it’s not working, change gears. #growthmindset highlights some of the tools Catina learned at the summit, but more importantly (to me, anyway) highlights her own attitude toward learning.  “It’s exciting to work through a problem…and come out the other side a more flexible thinker.”  Sounds about right to me.

Another new PLN member is the amazing and talented teacher David Theriault (@DavidTedu) who writes an all-time best blog :The Readiness is All.  There are so many gems on this blog about all sorts of topics including good PD, making Twitter chats better, and how to make a winning short video.  One of the things that captivated me the most, however, is the section called Cool Pictures to Use.  Here, David shares images and offers ideas about how to use them with students.  In fact, that is what I love about David’s blog – it is ALL about how to make student learning experiences in school better.  Head to the blog only if you have a few hours – it is hard to leave.

District Superintendent Jennie Snyder (@POUSDSupt) is another local hero and blogger.  Her short but sweet posts show that she is the ultimate learning leader – reflecting on her learning and on education in general.  One of my favorite posts from her this year is Growing a Culture of Innovation.  In addition to being about the meeting where I first met Jennie face-to-face, the post is a great example of a leader taking some important and inspirational work and applying it directly to her own District.

If you want a quick inspiration, check out #edcamp maven Kristen Swanson (@kristenswanson).  Her blog Teachers as Technology Trailblazers is awash with inspiration and ideas for making education the best it can be.  Can Education Save the Middle Class? makes this #sunshine list because it highlights the importance of amazing education in a thriving global democracy.  Follow Kristen if you can keep up…

OK – I think I’ll end this now.  The idea of this post has been my excuse for not blogging – I HAD to do this post before I could move on with the year.  There are so many other inspirational people in my PLN that I think I’ll have to consider other ways to highlight their work.

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Public Reflection is Leadership

reflectionLast Thursday Marin County educators were lucky to have George Couros as a speaker as part of the County District’s series on Innovation and Imagination (thanks to Mary Jane Burke and Raquel Rose for creating the opportunity).  George (if I may be so bold) was one of my first Twitter follows, and I blogged about his blog in my third post ever back in 2011.  On Thursday I was happy to share directly with George how he inspired me, but I also let him know that I pretty much had stopped blogging because I feel like I can’t find the time.  His reply was (and I use the quotation marks loosely), “you have to blog.  Reflection is necessary for learning, but public reflection is necessary for leadership.”

And just like that, the glove dropped at my feet.

When used to blog I was blogging for my classes, with assignments that my teachers gave.  I actually love to write and I love education, so I liked the challenge of maintaining a blog about education.  At that point, however, I was hitting the publish button but I never published in the true sense.  I rarely tweeted my posts and never with any hashtags.  I knew my classmates were reading because they had to, and that kept me honest and trying to make it good, but I most certainly was not reflecting publicly.  As soon as my classes stopped, my discipline waned, and I let that first blog die a slow death.  Subsequently, I started a short blog on my former school’s web page, but that was not deemed appropriate spot for my reflecting on leadership. In essence, I don’t reflect publicly except the odd times in a faculty meeting or with small groups, out loud and in person.

So, George, I’m going to get all meta on you and publicly reflect on public reflection as a form leadership.  Challenge taken.  I have read many, many blogs by educational leaders, so I am ready to try to write my answer to the question: What is the role of public reflection in leadership?

Vulnerability

My sister is going through a separation this year and has been reading a bunch of self help books.  She has been talking about Brené Brown a lot.  A lot.  I have been smiling and nodding as I do through much of her self actualizatin talk, but that name won’t go away – I keep hearing it from many different people in many different places.  Finally, as I was clicking down the TED talk worm hole, I ran into Brown’s TEDx Houston talk on vulnerability.  (This video has 12 million views). Her point is in essence that the key to human connections is the ability to be vulnerable. Leaders need to show their own vulnerability as learners if they expect that anyone they are leading will have the courage to try something new, share with colleagues and collaborate.  Not only is blogging as a leader modeling, it is actually reflecting to make adaptations in leadership strategies.  And here, I leave myself vulnerable by showing a Brené Brown TEDx Talk in my blog:

Vision

Doug Reeves defined seven dimensions of leadership, visionary leadership being one.  However, Reeves cautions, “Visionary leaders are not grandiose, as their visions are more likely to be the blueprints of the architect than the uncertain and cloudy visions of the dreamer.”  A public reflection is also a way to convey your vision as a leader by detailing and showing examples of great work that meet you vision, as well as creating a shared vision by interacting with others through comments and co-authorship. In choosing what you write about, how you comment, what media you share, you convey your vision of a school community even if you never state it explicitly. The National Equity Project defines leadership as “taking responsibility for what matters to you.”  By blogging, anyone, first grade student to superintendent, can lead by sharing what matters.

Collective Competition

A blog also allows a leader to engage in collective competition (a term I first heard last Thursday from George Couros).  Leaders can showcase greatness on their blogs and can get others to copy and improve on their ideas by sharing it publicly.  Other examples of collective competition include the #edurivals Google+ community which advocates the “use of #edurivals on Twitter to call out a fellow teacher and see if they can TOP THIS.” The multidimensional relationships created by public blogging allow for learning from the interactions with others, building on each others’ successes.  Couros points out that every time you post a blog about an idea and a colleague comments, you are in a sense getting free consultancy to make your idea better.

Committment

Spending three hours in the presence of such a real, creative, funny, and energetic educational leader was inspiring, as was the collegiality in the room and continuing on Twitter since (#mcoe).  (For a great summary of all that George covered, see Eric Saibel’s post). I’ve said it here before – and I’ll say it again.  I am re-committing to blogging as a necessary and important part of my leadership.  I hope my colleagues near and far will continue to challenge me to be my best.

What are your ideas about learning and blogging?

Starting Over

diplomaphotoAfter a year and 10 months, I can say I am done with school (at least for now).  When I began my adventures in formal post-collegiate education it never occurred to me that I would become a blogger – and in fact I didn’t.  Though I maintained a blog, I almost never wrote except in response to a prompt or assignment.  I enjoyed writing for an audience, and I enjoyed the multimedia aspect a blog allows, but with two kids, a full-time job and the demands of my courses, I never actually had the time.  When I  finished with school I pulled off the road for a bit and easily returned to my web 1.0 ways of consumption without production or interaction.  My Valentine’s resolution (takes me a bit longer sometimes) is to pick myself up and rejoin my PLN, returning myself to a producer of content and reconnecting with my colleagues around the world.  I decided that rather than dust off my old blog (ifyoucantbeatem.wordpress.com), I would think about my current work context focus more on my day-to-day reality.

So here it is. I am a leader interested first in education at a means of maintaining an educated and productive citizenry in a large democracy. I have worked in high schools my whole career, first as a social sciences teacher, and now as an assistant principal.  I began my career in the urban setting of the San Francisco School District, and 3.5 years ago migrated to an affluent suburb where I am living the culture shock of the Savage Inequalities that Jonathan Kozol so aptly described in his 1992 book.

This blog is dedicated to the fact that all students deserve an excellent, high-level education that enables them to be productive global citizens. This is my moral imperative – what gets me up every morning. As I lead for learning and I learn to lead, I will be writing about my journey in a way that will help me reflect and join a larger conversation about schooling of the future.  Strap yourselves in and let’s go for a ride.