Just One of the Boys on the Bus

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The Boys on the Bus was Timothy Crouse’s exposé of the pervasive pack mentality among journalists covering the 1972 presidential election, chronicling how the top political reporters of the time rode across the country by charter bus following Nixon and McGovern, living out of suitcases and reporting on the same events, day after day. These reporters knew each other, befriended each other, and respected one another, and the stories they posted to their news agencies reflected how like-minded they were in their craft. Rare was it that anyone scooped their buddies, as much as they all aspired to do so. There was little original thinking or original reporting as they crisscrossed the highways of the nation that summer of 72.

It was seminal moment in political journalism, because against this backdrop, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post began investigating a seemingly third-rate burglary at the Watergate Hotel which eventually broke open that pack mentality with a new way of thinking about and doing news reporting: investigative journalism. Their tenacity and focus eventually brought down the president two years into his second term, as checks and balances played themselves out across the three branches of the federal government and a constitutional crisis was ultimately averted. Political journalism would never be the same. Arguably, political reporting today is the legacy of Woodward and Bernstein’s innovative thinking and revolutionary work.

History lesson? Nope. Nostalgic flashback? Uh-uh. Well then, Walter, what’s the point?

Déjà vu.

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The longer I’ve been around social media, the more I feel like one of the boys on the bus. The technology that is supposed to provide differentiation and personalization in an age of information abundance is demonstrating just the opposite: people are using social media to reinforce their biases, confirm their comfort zone and opt for intellectual laziness. It’s not about diversity of thought and expanding understanding. It’s about feeling good…liking our own voices and looking for others who sound the same. Add to that all the political pontificating and professional pandering going on, and an original idea or an engaging inquiry on here is a rare find indeed.

So I’m wondering out loud this morning, how long will itbus2 be til we have that defining moment, when social media stops serving as an echo chamber for our egos…when we rise above self-serving pats on the back and safety-in-numbers educational correctness (you know…political correctness among educators)? When do the cliques and commercially-anointed cohorts play out to their logical conclusion, and people realize they’re getting about as far as they would leaving a business card in the fishbowl of a favorite local lunch stop?

There’s a lot of frenetic energy and frantic bandwagoning going on, but there’s not a lot to show for it. Why aren’t more educators jumping into social media and joining us early adopters? Probably because when they peek in and see what’s going on, they make the assessment that there are better uses of their time than spinning their wheels as just another one of the boys (or girls) on the bus. And who can blame them? Sure we all can have a soapbox online. But at the end of the day, how much does time chatting on social media have any major, lasting impact at our day jobs?

If you can earnestly say that your social media time has revolutionized your work in education…not your personal status among birds of a feather educators…not your celebrity manufactured by quid pro quo commercial interests…but real, genuine work being done in the best interests of children…then I salute you. In fact, I know some of you…I hear your unique voice online and I see the tangible connections you are making with students. You stand out, pushing the envelope and asking the questions for which we need answers. Like Woodward and Bernstein, you’re not worried about what anyone else is saying or doing. You’re trailblazing where education needs to go…off the beaten path…where your important work is most needed. It is my sincere hope that your maverick spirit will eventually become a contagion, and this feel-good era of social media will be behind us.

After all, our students get off the bus to get schooled every day. Why shouldn’t we?

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Your Next Generation of Professional Development

Northeast ASCD EdSpace Banner

Working with the ASCD Affiliates is one of the truly great pleasures in my professional life. They are some of the most expert, dedicated, innovative people I know. One of the major points of emphasis in their work is providing high-quality professional development to educators on the ground where they live and work. They have earned their reputation in their professional development work. So it is no surprise to me that they continue to push the envelope, even as educators find it increasingly difficult to get out of their districts and take advantage of PD offerings.

In gauging the best ways to serve educators in the current climate of increased accountability and dwindling dollars, there are four trends we have identified as key when educators select the PD offerings they choose to attend:

  • Networking – educators want to connect with like-minded colleagues outside their district, both locally and globally
  • Capacity Building – educators want to increase their professional capital and capabilities
  • New Value – educators want new skills and strategies they can immediately put into use on the job
  • Digital Productivity – educators want to use virtual tools to collaborate, share, learn and grow

As a result, we are launching a new kind of professional development that addresses these needs: ASCD EdSpace. Focusing on targeted content, useful skills and strategies, unconferencing principles, and web technologies, this format delivers a new professional development experience for educators. Most importantly, this is not cookie-cutter PD. ASCD EdSpace will look differently wherever it is offered, based on the needs and interests of educators in the region.

Piloted by North Carolina ASCD this past November, this ASCD EdSpace format uses a hybrid of virtual and face-to-face collaboration with built-in flexibility, so that participants get what they want with who they want out of the experience. Breaking new ground, five ASCD Affiliates from the northeast United States are planning a larger scale, live hybrid event to take place on Friday, March 27, 2015. ASCD’s Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont affiliates are bringing in Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey virtually to work with educators on the ground in their respective states in real time, learning about and collaborating around their FIT teaching model.

Fisher and Frey

FIT Teaching (the Framework for Intentional and Targeted Teaching) is an approach to instruction that ensures high-quality teaching through school and classroom culture, established purpose, gradual release of responsibility, and formative and summative assessments. It also assists educators in offering descriptive and actionable feedback while using classroom data to inform targeted instruction. It is a rich, meaningful, actionable approach that empowers educators to successful meet the challenges in today’s climate of education accountability.

When ASCD EdSpace was piloted in North Carolina, it was amazing how lively and personably Fisher and Frey came across virtually from their school in San Diego, where it was in the early light of morning for them as the event began. They gave a walking tour of their building, spoke with the audience as they worked from their offices during the school day, and even had students coming in unannounced on camera. Awkward or disruptive? Nooooo….Doug and Nancy parlayed those moments into opportunities for students to talk with the North Carolina audience about their experience as students in the FIT Teaching environment. It was spontaneous, informative, heart-warming and magical.

At certain points during the morning, Fisher and Frey take breaks to tend to their work at the school while participants work together on the ground to make meaning and collaborate around the FIT Teaching model. And the entire afternoon is open to participants forming self-selected groupings and working on FIT Teaching applications that can be used in the classroom on Monday morning. It is a powerful combination of content expertise and practitioner collaboration that reaps enormous dividends. Some educators come in teams from their schools and some come on their own to network with others they meet at the event. Either way, the benefits are numerous.

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One added dimension of the Northeast Affiliates event on Friday, March 27th: at the end of the day all the participating northeast sites are coming together in a virtual meeting space to share and compare outcomes and takeaways. The affiliates see this as critical, since each state will look at FIT Teaching through the lens of its own culture. It is important to compare ideas and insights across the region at the end of the day. If there is interest among attendees during this sharing of takeaways from the day, the affiliates may offer a monthly follow-up virtual academy through the summer…an additional six months of ongoing PD and collaboration across the northeast. There’s no such thing as one-and-done in this brave new world.

Interested in attending? Visit the event page at http://www.ascd.org/professional-development/northeast-ascd-affiliate-culture-purpose-structured-teaching-pd-experience.aspx to learn more and select one of the five affiliate registration pages. Educators from outside the participating states are welcome to participate, too…just select the affiliate of your choice with whom to register. You will not only benefit from the PD experience, you will contribute to our learning as we gather feedback and continue to improve this new breed of professional development for educators everywhere. Help drive the future of educator professional development; participate in the Northeast Affiliates ASCD EdSpace event next month!

EdSpace Event Infographic

Cerebral Networking

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My first district tech director job was in Salem, Massachusetts back in the day. My predecessor left me notes and records and a very dedicated and talented staff, but when it came to the big questions about the education culture of the north shore of Boston and the technology drivers across the commonwealth, I was on my own. After digging and reading and feeling my way along, I picked up the phone and started reaching out to my counterparts in neighboring districts: Beverly, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Gloucester, Rockport, Marblehead, Peabody, Lynnfield, Lynn, Saugus and Danvers. Individually they each had unique district profiles and varied job descriptions. But it struck me that they shared one common denominator; they were all so busy managing district technology, they rarely talked to each other. Still, when I called, they each had an incredible wealth of information and insight to share.

One thing led to another, and as word spread that tech directors were having a shared dialog I started scheduling and inviting them to monthly lunches to network, compare notes and find ways to collaborate and build economies of scale. What started with maybe a dozen tech directors blossomed into all of eastern Massachusetts, as people began coming from the western suburbs and south shore of Boston, Cape Cod, and Worcester. Ultimately I found myself making trips to Springfield and Lennox at the invitation of tech directors in western Massachusetts, as word spread a movement was taking place…people wanted to be heard. And after a number of conference presentations, meetings and writings, this eventually formed into an official organization, The Massachusetts Educational Technology Administrators Association (METAA). And I am proud to say METAA took root and continues to serve its mission today.

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In reflecting on this, I realize it wasn’t about the personalities or the social interaction. I didn’t know any of the players when I began making those phone calls to my colleagues in neighboring districts. I was driven by questions, wanting to be fully aware of all my options to serve my district.  The professional connections and eventual friendships that emerged from those discussions was secondary to the networking and the work. Yes the personalities definitely enriched the experience; I am so grateful for the people I’ve met along the way. But it was the value I was able to bring to my district, and contribute to other districts, that was the difference maker in my efforts. It’s the ideas that drive the work, not the people. Names and faces change across the ed tech landscape, but the work goes on.

Another example, for your consideration. As board president of the ISTE affiliate in Massachusetts , The Massachusetts Computer Using Educators (MassCUE), I began asking questions of our neighboring affiliates in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. As we compared our work, emails and phone calls turned into dinner meetings. Each affiliate had a very different set of opportunities and challenges, and yet the common thread of championing ed tech in our respective states provided a lot of common ground. I can still remember our first six-state meeting at the Radisson in Nashua, New Hampshire. The weekend began on a rainy Friday night, wherein those who had to travel the farthest arrived the latest, due to weather and traffic. But we all assembled for dinner fairly on time in a posh Tudor-style conference room, and dinner gave way to an evening of going around the lengthy banquet table cerebral2sharing each affiliate’s story: how they started, what they had accomplished, and their current status. We all warmed in the glow of those stories, giving and receiving, and by the end of the evening we all headed to bed smiling and eager to spend the next two days exploring the ways we could collaborate across state boundaries. On a subsequent weekend each of our state technology directors joined us, alternately meeting with us affiliate leaders and meeting on their own. They hadn’t, they confessed, had the opportunity to meet for a weekend retreat in a long time, and they were grateful to take advantage of our invitation. We were grateful they accepted! The result was ISTE’s first regional affiliate, New England ISTE (NEISTE), which I am again proud to say continues to carry on its mission today.

This was well before the days of social media (the closest thing we had was AOL chat rooms – hey don’t judge me – my 14.4 kbps modem was screamin….so long as the dogs didn’t bark at the doorbell and kick it offline!), but the concept of asking questions and following responses to chase ideas, gain insight, share information and build economies of scale was already alive and well. There are many other stories I could share about reaching out to colleagues and initiating conversations that benefited both our districts and the profession as a whole, but you get my point. These experiences confirmed everything I believe about working within the positive flow of life, watching doors open as I move forward because I am where I need to be to get the job done. At no time was it primarily about people or personalities. Making introductions and collecting business cards is all fine and well, but that’s more about playing the percentages than being in the positive flow. Yes, relationships are important, but they are more important given the context of the work in which they thrive. In my experience, the best, most fulfilling relationships have been those that were doing rewarding work. Even when the work is over and we move on, the relationships that have lasted long-term for me are those that grew out of significant, successful collaboration.

Why do I share these stories and make this point today? Because in an age where social media makes networking and collaboration easier than ever, I see a lot more instantaneous relationships and a lot more flash-in-the-pan points of synergy. What I hope to see eventually emerge is educators asking difficult questions, looking past easy answers, and reaching beyond social connections to build a new professional legacy. We need to be about the work of pushing one another’s thinking and doing the heavy lifting that our profession requires of us here and now. Social networking is easy. Cerebral networking: vetting thinking, doggedly doing, charting paths towards an unseeable future, building capacity not just for us in our own careers, but for our profession and for society’s future…that’s the real work. Because when I go back to see what METAA, MassCUE and NEISTE are doing now, I remember all the work that went into putting things in motion so they could get where they are today. And I am proud to know I had something to do with it…something worthwhile…something that sustains itself long after I’ve moved on. Social networking is all good, but cerebral networking is where we need to be.

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Which Social Networks Should You Care About in 2014?

Which Social Networks Should You Care About in 2014?

“Social networks are the one place where people share the things they are most passionate about. Whether is is sharing an exciting piece of content or responding to something provocative, emotions drive behaviour online. Seeking to connect with their audience, I often see social marketers making decisions about content or conversation strategies, based around emotion rather than facts.

Successful strategies should be built upon interpreting accurate insight from your audience – and not from any assumptions or “gut feelings.” And the brands with the best understanding, will always have the most passionate and engaged audiences.”

-Jeremy Waite