Thursday, July 17, 2014

Study Smarter

Here's a summary of research on effective study techniques alluded to by John Hattie at the Visible Learning Conference.  The big winners are:

Dunlosky and colleagues report that spreading out your studying over time and quizzing yourself on material before the big test are highly effective learning strategies. Both techniques have been shown to boost students’ performance across many different kinds of tests, and their effectiveness has been repeatedly demonstrated for students of all ages.

Teachers, parents, and students would be wise to focus on these strategies for learning instead of the less effective strategies like summarizing and highlighting.  Here's the full study:

Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology

Monday, July 14, 2014

6 Qualities of a Great Follower

Leadership is a popular topic.  I mean, who doesn't secretly or not-so-secretly want to be known as a great leader?  When we read the stories of the past, we all see ourselves as the one who would be sitting in the same seat as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, or Marie Curie.  But why so little love for the follower?  After all, each of these leaders would be nothing without a legion of faithful and gifted followers.

This summer I had the opportunity to join my son on a hike at Philmont Ranch in New Mexico.  We went on this journey with my son's boy scout troop.  There were 20 hikers total and I place myself squarely in the follower role.  I don't like, enjoy, nor have much knowledge about hiking and camping so I was looking to my leaders to make this a positive endurable experience.  During this 13 day journey of 75 miles where we ascended and descended 4000 feet I learned some lessons about how to  be a good follower.  I hope these will help you as you contemplate your critical role as a follower.

1.  Ask questions to become better informed

I was completely at the mercy of our lead navigator and guide.  At the outset, I wasn't clear about our daily direction or course and was not always given the information that I felt would help me attack each day with confidence.  The more I asked questions, the better I understood the overall scope of our trek and the daily expectations of the trail.  By asking questions, I helped our leaders see what was clear and ambiguous about our journey. I found the leader began to anticipate our questions as the adventure continued and provide the kind of information that we found helpful.  If I had continued in silence, all of us would have been less comfortable and informed.  Great followers ask questions to be informed and "in the know"

2.  Before a decision is made, give your open and honest opinions freely

There came several times during our hike that we had to make decisions about which trail to take or which activity we would attempt.  During those times I stated my preference or asked clarifying questions as did others.   Great followers offer their opinions with openness, honest, and respect.

3.  After the decision is made, enthusiastically embrace the decision and help make it successful

Unless the decision is not the decision you preferred!  Actually this last statement IS NOT a trait of a good follower.  Remember, you are the follower, not the leader.   The leaders is the decision maker and, if you want to be a great follower, from time to time you will need to invest your energy and enthusiasm in a decision that you did not wholeheartedly endorse.  A good follower will put his head down and make every effort to see this course through successfully.  Great followers implement decisions even those for which they disagree, as if it was their decision.

4.  Allow yourself to be influenced by the passions of your leader.

Did I mention that I don't like hiking and camping?   However, I noticed that most of the participants of this adventure were truly excited and enthusiastic about this opportunity so it got me wondering, "What is it about hiking and camping that entices these men so much?"  I tried to maintain a positive attitude (very challenging) and keep my grumbling and complaining to a minimum (didn't do so well there!).  In the end, I tasted a little of the feeling of accomplishment and sense of adventure that seems to drive these fellas.  I won't say that I'm planning a trek into the Sierras with a toothbrush and a space blanket, but at least I look back on our trip with some fondness for what we overcame and experienced.  Great followers allow themselves to be influenced by their leaders.

5.  Take initiative to take responsibilities

It's very easy to be a passive follower.  It's possible to only do what you are required to do or directly asked to do.  You won't really get any grief for this approach as no one is expecting more.  However, I noticed there was no shortage of tasks to be accomplished so I took it upon myself to learn how to put up and take down the bear bags (food and smellables that needed to be put up in bags 30-50 feet in the air so the bears wouldn't come visit our camp).   Doing this one small task made our camp set up and take down go a little smoother and it felt satisfying to contribute something beyond the minimum.  Great followers take initiative and learn new skills.

6.  Provide aid and assistance to your peers.

A leader can't be every where at all times.  Our daily hiking regimen meant that we were hiking in a single file line with 10 people back to back.  One one treacherous hike we were descending a narrow canyon trail that had some tricky spots.  One of our hikers was struggling and anxious on his way down.  He was assisted for a couple miles by a dad who took it upon himself to provide individual guidance, modeling, and encouragement.  This task could not have been done by the leader even if he wanted to since he was out front navigating our direction.  This follower (Mr. Warmbier below) provided the perfect assistance for our colleague and made the descent more effective and smooth for the whole squad.  Great followers help one another to strengthen our collective effort.

As we start the 2014-15 school year, it would be a good time to review the qualities of a follower that we embody.  Whether you are a teacher following lead teachers or a principal, whether you are a principal following a superintendent or cabinet, it would behoove us all to be great followers, which will encourage our leaders to be better leaders and make our organizations and schools stronger overall.  Just think what we can accomplish through the efforts of a legion of Stellar followers!  After all, you won't be able to see views like this without a little hardship, dedication, and teamwork!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Social Media Journey of Camarena Elementary

Incredible tools exist today that allow schools to build a stronger partnership with their community.  When we opened Camarena Elementary in July 2013 I was eager to utilize these tools to connect with our families, believing that vibrant two way communication would be critical to growing and developing a healthy school culture.  Though I didn't have a strategy at the outset, in retrospective there were several key steps that I took along the way to build our social media presence.

Step 1 Wordpress Blog. 
Six months before opening our school we created our school website and invited parents to connect and engage with us as we crafted our plan for opening day.  This proved to be an excellent way to communicate with our constituents before we had a physical building to call our own. After our first school year we have received over 1,000 comments and questions via the school website. The ease of posting and connecting on the Wordpress platform made for a simple way to stay connected.  Here's a screenshot of our first post:

Step 2 Expose staff to power of social tools. 
At our opening staff meeting last June, I asked the teachers to work together and post a picture on Twitter of a learning space around campus. This gave our teachers a chance to play with this tool. There was no concrete requirement that teachers actively join Twitter, but there was an expectation that they explore and experiment with various forms of social media.  The result was that we had about a dozen teachers who became consistent users of Twitter for professional learning.  Some started initially then pulled back because of the addicting nature of Twitter, however they saw the power of this resource for professional learning.  Here is one of those tweets from our first day:

Step 3 Create and broadcast a hashtag. 
We decided the #camlearns hashtag would be our coordinating tagline. This made it easy for us to share ideas and follow the thinking of one another. One teacher also created a Twitter list of Camarena teachers which was another way for us to follow the professional conversation and learning among peers.

Step 4 Combine #camlearns hashtag through Instagram and Wordpress via IFTTT.
People love to see their kids working at school. For parents who can't attend school regularly, we wanted to open the doors of our classrooms so that parents could connect with their kids. First, I created a photo blog on Wordpess, then used IFTTT to create a menu that connected every Instragram post using the #camlearns tag to simultaneously post to the Wordpress site.  Initially I was the only person who made posts, but as the year continued we saw more and more staff and parents postings.  For teacher appreciation day we posted pictures of teachers around campus and encouraged parents and students to take selfies with their teacher and post to twitter or instagram using the #camlearns hashtag and gradually we started to get more traction from the community.  At our final event of the year, a 5K color run, several families and staff contributed to the hashtag and community blog.

Step 5 Student Curated Twitter Account
Finally, I had started a school twitter account that was slow picking up followers so the last quarter of the year, I assigned a student to curate the account one week at a time. (with parent permission).  We had students from 1st grade to 6th sharing what they were learning and thinking about during the school day and started to gain some followers and retweets of our school Twitter account.  The kids caught on fast:

All of these attempts have slowly grown our social media life with our entire community.  I can't encourage you enough to jump in at some point by starting with your purpose.  What are you hoping to gain by investing your time in social media?  For me, the primary purpose is to connect our families and community with the daily work of students - to open a window to the hard work and accomplishments of students fall day long.  This helps break down the traditional isolation of the classroom.  Also, I want to tell our story of Camarena Elementary from the point of view of students, staff, and parents.  In this way we take control of the narrative that is told about Camarena Elementary.  Feel free to share your social media journey as well so we can add some new and fresh ideas to our plans for 2014-15