Blogging and Leadership

Last week, Bob Sprankle posted two new Bit by Bit podcast episodes. These were the last two recordings of presentations made at the Christa McAuliffe conference in New Hampshire back in November. It looks like he saved the best for last.

Dr. Tim TysonDr. Tim Tyson was a middle school principal in Georgia before retiring last year. He spoke on the transformational change that tool place over the course of a few years at Mabry Middle School. Both of his presentations focus on using technology in innovative and transformative ways in an environment where technology was not previously valued or used effectively.

The first presentation, Leadership Applied: Building Powerful Learning Communities, is aimed at technology leaders, in which he includes both administrators and teachers. He urges us to be risk takers — to empower teachers to try new things. Both teachers and principals tend to be control freaks, but letting go of some of that control allows teachers to be creative and innovative without fearing the repercussions of failure.

In the second presentation, The Blogging School, he describes how his school moved from a single, rarely updated, hard to use web page to a multimedia site in which every teacher had a blog and posted to it at least once per week. The change didn’t happen overnight, but he facilitated it by modeling the behavior he expected, by showing teachers how easy blogging is, and by replacing some of their “busywork” tasks with blogging activities.

Here are some more ideas from Dr. Tyson:

  • We have to get teachers to the point where they’re willing to suspend the disbelief that they don’t want to learn or can’t learn technology.
  • Educating to minimum standards doesn’t work. EVERY kid has to do his or her best, and go as far as he or she can go.
  • People do their best with their current vision of what can be done and with the resources they believe they have available to them. By helping to develop the vision and the resources, most people will want to do more.
  • When requiring teachers to post weekly to their blogs, he did not intend to create more work for the teachers. He made more work for the parents. By giving parents useful, timely information about what was happening in their children’s classes, they could ask meaningful questions about their children’s schoolwork and reinforce concepts at home.
  • “I have a significantly greater chance of my child being killed in the car on Interstate 275 around Atlanta than I ever do that my child is going to be picked up by some pedophile. But what do I do? I put the kid in the car all the time without giving it a second thought.” We have to measure our reaction to fear with reasonableness.
  • By distributing the ability to put content on the school’s web site, he also distributed the responsibility. The people with the information should be the people posting the information. When it’s as easy as sending an email, there’s no excuse for not doing it.
  • Teaching parents to use RSS allows them to subscribe to all of their children’s teacher’s blogs.
  • When requiring teachers to post weekly to their blogs, he also took some work away. By using categories on the blog, teachers could tie their classwork to the curriculum objectives. It was then no longer necessary to do curriculum mapping, which used to take hours. They could simply look at the blog posts for a particular concept to see what was done, and when.
  • When teachers are posting content online, establish boundaries for both teachers and parents. One week worked well for his school. Every teacher had to post at least once per week. Some of the parents wanted more; Some of the teachers wanted less. But this was the communicated expectation, and everyone had to live with it. Teachers were free to post more often, but they weren’t expected to.
  • When approaching something new, start small. Learn what the issues are. Then, replicate your successes.
  • Blogging formed the basis of all of the other technology projects undertaken in the school. Podcasts, videos, and everything else grew from the framework provided by the blogs.
  • When working with teachers, start where they are. Empower them to move forward. If you’re doing something and find that it doesn’t meet a real, genuine need that you have, then stop doing it.

Take an hour and listen to one of these presentations. Then, if you liked it, go back and listen to the other one.

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