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The Future is Now. Librarians are Ready.

the future is now. sci-fi graphic with librarians

“Information is king” and “Knowledge is power” are how the sayings go. Though Sir Francis Bacon’s knowledge quote still rings true, the first would seem to be a 20th Century adage that should be retired. In the 1900s information was siloed and access was somewhat by caste. There are still remnants of the tiers of access in today’s education society. Unequal school funding and geographical economic differences result in imbalanced access to information, with factors such as reliable high-speed internet and the need for functioning technology playing a role. Even with those roadblocks, the arrival of the Internet and open access to networked information has begun to shift the balance of power to where the new saying is closer to “Information navigators are king”. Merely having access to information is now not enough, rather the desired skill set is knowing how to weed through massive amounts of information in varying forms to figure out what really matters. The mere act of knowing how to navigate helps to prevent failure due to information overload.

My final blog post of this quarter explores ISTE Coaching Standard 4:

Professional Development and Program Evaluation

Performance Indicator B

  • Design, develop, and implement technology rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment.

Guiding questions:

  • What role does administration play when designing professional development for adult learning?
  • How should we advocate for necessary professional learning opportunities when administrators pursue new educational technology initiatives?

Which led me to this triggering question:

  • What role should teacher librarians play in planning and in support of professional development, both at a building level and district-wide?

With the goal of proficient information navigation skills for our students, our thinking must then shift to professional learning for educators. How can we expect to help our students to develop these skills if we haven’t experienced the learning process for ourselves? 21st Century learning should look different as it’s focusing on a different outcome. Unfortunately, most professional development offerings bear little resemblance to the teaching we’re hoping to successfully implement with our students. Gaining 21st Century skills requires different emphases. Educator Greg Miller shares thoughts on this idea in a 2014 blog post: “Understanding Networked Learning is an essential part of contemporary pedagogy. Connecting through networks in a digital world is when a learner accesses information through a number of connections and uses that information to construct knowledge, often through those same networks. Whether it is Big Data or Linked Data as Tim Berness-Lee (founder of World Wide Web) refers to it in ‘The next Web of open’, linked data teachers need to be clear about how data, information and digital technology knowledge are interrelated and the opportunities that come with knowledge building.” (Miller 2014)

So how do we make the shift? Librarians. The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) states: “The mission of the school library program is to ensure that students and staff are effective users of ideas and information; students are empowered to be critical thinkers, enthusiastic readers, skillful researchers, and ethical users of information.” (AASL) The central focus is on developing effective “users of information” and not “responders to information” or “consumers of information”. There is a central difference in that “using” means going beyond a passive role into a position of active learning. Librarians are in a unique position and we must utilize our positioning to integrate 21st Century Skills with learning for staff and students alike.  

In 2015, the Alliance for Excellent Education created the Future Ready Schools (FRS) program to “help school districts develop comprehensive plans to achieve successful student learning outcomes by (1) transforming instructional pedagogy and practice while (2) simultaneously leveraging technology to personalize learning in the classroom.” (Future Ready Schools) The Future Ready Librarians (FRL) movement expands on the work of the FRS initiative. Here’s Mark Ray, former Washington State Teacher of the Year and librarian, and current Chief Digital Officer for Vancouver Public Schools, in Vancouver, WA, in a TED Talk about how librarians can and should shift our role:

This shift is not an instantaneous one, nor is it always painless, but it is necessary. “Librarians have traditionally served an important role in school systems as teachers, particularly in teaching students how to access information. Now, in Vancouver and elsewhere, librarians’ roles are evolving, as districts count on them to help teachers use technology to improve instruction, and to troubleshoot problems with digital systems as they emerge.” (Brzozowski 2015) and “Utilizing the ‘whole school’ view, the librarian is in a key position to contribute to the development of strong professional learning communities through professional development and technology integration.” (Dees, Mayer, Morin, and Willis 2010)

Future Ready Librarians frameworkFuture Ready Librarians graphic from http://futureready.org/about-the-effort/librarians/

As you can see in the FRL framework above, collaboratively developing professional learning opportunities for staff is right in the future ready librarian’s wheelhouse: Collaborative Leadership; Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment; and Personalized Professional Learning. With that in mind, one has to wonder why so many districts in recent years have made cuts to library programs? One consideration: in many cases, were those librarians working to make themselves indispensable when it came to working collaboratively with staff, students, and community alike. Were they focused on personalized student learning as an end goal? On the other hand, were the relevant administrators providing the funding and supports necessary for the librarians to achieve those lofty 21st Century goals? And if not, why not? If ever there was a group of educators with the desired skillset for this initiative, it’s librarians. “ISTE recently convened a small group of distinguished leaders to share the success they were having with PD models that integrate context, collaboration, and technology. In analyzing their success, three essential concepts emerged. The most effective PD was: 1. Technology-rich, 2. Delivered through a coaching model, and 3. Enhanced by the power of community and social learning.” (Beglau, M., & et al. 2011)

This video from FRS showcases some of the work being done to develop teacher leaders to strengthen professional learning:

Finally, created by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, this video is certainly applicable to education and professional learning in the U.S. as well:

Future Ready Schools need Future Ready Librarians. Future Ready Librarians are uniquely equipped to lead the way and should actively advocate for the opportunity to lead professional learning for their colleagues. Returning to the AASL’s guiding statement: “The mission of the school library program is to ensure that students and staff are effective users of ideas and information.” We need to provide opportunities for staff to experience information overload, to provide opportunities for creativity by asking open-ended questions and allowing the learners (and teachers) to explore solutions that are authentic and applicable to their world. We need to provide guidance to ensure equitable and open access to information and resources. Calling these 21st Century Skills does them a disservice, as it makes it seem as if they’re skills for the learners of the future. The future is now and librarians are needed more than ever before.

References

Abilock, D., Harada, V., & Fontichiaro, K. (2013, October). Growing schools: Effective professional development. Teacher Librarian, 41(1), 8-13.

Alabi, J., & Weare, Jr., W. (2013, August 23). The power of observation: How librarians can benefit from the peer review of teaching even without a formal PROT program” [PDF document]. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/gaintlit/2013/2013/1

Alliance for Excellent Education. (2017, February 14). Future Ready Librarians: What’s not to love? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2rPnjx_5yM

Beglau, M., & et al. (2011). Technology, coaching and community: Power partners for improved professional development in primary and secondary education. Retrieved from International Society for Technology in Education website: https://www.ri-iste.org/Resources/Documents/Coaching_Whitepaper_digital.pdf

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (n.d.). Teachers know best – K-12 education. Retrieved March 1, 2017, from http://k12education.gatesfoundation.org/2015/05/teachers-know-best-2/

Brzozowski, C. (2015, April 13). K-12 librarians’ roles shift to meet digital demands – Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/04/15/k-12-librarians-roles-shift-to-meet-digital.html

Dees, D., Mayer, A., Morin, H., & Willis, E. (2010). Librarians as leaders in professional learning communities through technology, literacy, and collaboration. Library Media Connection, 29(2), 10.

Farkas, M. (2015, January 6). Peer learning in library instruction [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/2015/01/06/peer-learning-in-library-instruction/

Future Ready Schools. (2017). Future Ready Librarians. Retrieved from http://futureready.org/librarians

International Society for Technology in Education. (2017). Standards for coaches. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

LaGuardia, C. (2014, March 20). Professional development: What’s it to you? Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2014/03/opinion/not-dead-yet/professional-development-whats-it-to-you-not-dead-yet/#_

Miller, G. (2014, May 31). Teacher professional learning in a digital world [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://gregmiller68.com/2014/05/31/teacher-professional-learning-in-a-digital-world/

Moreillon, Judi. “Building Your Personal Learning Network (PLN): 21st-Century School Librarians Seek Self- Regulated Professional Development Online.” Knowledge Quest, vol. 44, no. 3, 2016, p. 64.

Murray, T. C. (2017, March/April). Seven gears principals can leverage to enhance technology use. Principal, 96(4), 8-11. Retrieved from http://www.naesp.org/principal-marchapril-2017-technology-all/principal-marchapril-2017-technology-all

Ray, M. & Trettin, S. (2016). Librarians connected to National Future Ready Initiative. Teacher Librarian, 44(1), 8-11.

Wolf, M. A., Jones, R., & Gilbert, D. (2014). Leading in and beyond the library. Retrieved from Alliance for Excellent Education website: http://all4ed.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/BeyondTheLibrary.pdf

What’s a Librarian to Do? A Few Time-Saving Tools For Sharing Information

time travel clock

Back in my college days, every morning I walked through the art studio doors a favorite art professor of mine would start singing the classic Tony Bennett tune “Just in time. I found you just in time…” followed by a friendly greeting: “Justin!” More than 20 years later and I still find myself humming that little refrain when I’m thanked by a colleague or parent for helping them find what they need when they need it. On my finest days, I sometimes find what they need before they even know they need it. To me, that’s the essence of a librarian’s role. Just-in-time, on-demand access. Access to help, to information, to guidance, to solutions, to a partner, to further questions to answer.

Triggering Question: What role can librarians play in providing professional development in the digital age?

I have 26 classroom teachers in my building and 26 librarians in my district. There seems to be not enough time in the day to make the in-person connections that are necessary to support professional development needs as they arise. Much as I’d love to be able to drop everything and help my colleagues whenever the librarian bat-signal is lit, the reality is I’m often tethered to my library unable to provide these needed supports. As a result, I often wonder what is a realistic professional development role for a librarian in the digital age and how can I break through barriers of time and communication?

I have not yet mastered the art of time travel. And, by extension, I guess that admission is proof that I haven’t figured out how to manipulate the space-time continuum in the future either. Faced with the knowledge that time is a fixed resource, how can I as a librarian make the most of it? By using these resources I haven’t defeated time’s relentless onslaught, but I have found ways to minimize waste along the way.

Google Keep
keep.google.com

Google Keep logoOften compared with OneNote or Evernote, Google Keep is a bit of a fringe application in the Google suite of tools (always a scary place to be, as those seem to be the tools that the Mountain View giant usually axes), and it’s a deceptively powerful one. At its most basic level, with a click or tap you can quickly save/bookmark/share/tag websites and other resources. These two brief articles highlight some of the lesser-known and powerful features. Keep could be a great way to deliver resources and content to staff in real-time. Saving resources for later usage (and tagging them for easy reference) could maximise training opportunities, and its G Suite integration could provide for some great opportunities for digital collaboration.

So, how does this resource relate to time? I’ll share an example… Too often when we attend a training, they’re one-and-done affairs. Sit in front of the firehose of information for 50 minutes, then walk away with a vague recollection of the resources shared. What about if the presenter had instead shared a link with all of the resources? It would make it easier to revisit after the fact, make it easier to share with colleagues who weren’t able to be present, make it easier to participate in the conversation rather than focusing on note-taking, make it easier for audience members to add to the list of resources. Is Google Keep the best of these types of applications? Maybe not, but it is definitely one of the more accessible ones. Every time I show Keep to a colleague, no matter how brief and rudimentary my introduction their eyes sparkle as they start to think about how they could use the tool in their work.

Here are a couple resources that explain Keep’s features and functionality better than I can: 

Elgan, M. (2016, November 16). Why you should start using Google Keep right away. Retrieved from http://www.computerworld.com/article/3144450/enterprise-applications/why-you-should-start-using-google-keep-right-away.html

Whitwam, R. (2016, April 25). 5 awesome Google Keep features you aren’t using, but should be. Retrieved from http://www.greenbot.com/article/3058745/android/5-awesome-google-keep-features-you-arent-using-but-should-be.html

NIMBUS Screenshot and Screencast
for Chrome
https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/nimbus-screenshot-and-scr/bpconcjcammlapcogcnnelfmaeghhagj?hl=en-US
also available for Firefox, PC, Android: http://nimbus.everhelper.me/screenshot.php

NIMBUS screencast app screenshot

There are a plethora of screen capture and screencast tools, but NIMBUS is about as barebones and fully-featured as I’ve found, with the added cost bonus… Free! I’ve primarily tried out the Chrome extension. As it’s Chrome-based, there’s no need to install software on the different devices I use throughout the day which means the tool is available no matter where I’m sitting (standing, crouching, crying quietly in a corner while rocking, etc.).

Time savings? Well, countless times I’m asked via email or text or just while passing in the hallway, “How do you…[insert random tech question here]?” A quickly captured screenshot or screencast can answer so many questions more effectively than a text email alone, and the solution can then be passed on to others with similar questions. A picture is supposedly worth a thousand words, but in my years of experience a screenshot transcends that valuation. A clear and basic tutorial that includes screenshots will preemptively address users’ questions and helps to provide for a differentiated approach. Not all of the audience needs them, but for those that do…

Future Ready Librarians
http://futureready.org/about-the-effort/librarians/

Future Ready Librarians infographicFuture Ready Librarian infographic: http://futureready.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/FR_Librarians_graphic.png

I’m cheating. The theme of this blog post is saving time. These resources are supposed to be time savers. This one is not. In fact, I haven’t come across a bigger time sink in recent memory, and it keeps growing! In reality, though, the Future Ready Schools initiative (http://futureready.org/) is amazing resource worth exploring. Their goal: “When high quality teaching is infused with the dynamic use of technology, personalized student learning becomes possible. The Future Ready District Pledge is designed to set out a roadmap to achieve that success and to commit districts to move as quickly as possible towards a shared vision of preparing students for success in college, career, and citizenship.” Even better, the Future Ready Librarians framework follows the same model allowing for embedding librarians into conversations and decision-making at an administrative level.

Though I joke about the time sink, I’m actually very excited about the opportunities that may emerge from Future Ready Librarian program. The focus is on personalized learning. Interestingly, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s 2014 report on professional development, Teachers Know Best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development highlights the perceived value of time and of an individualized and personalized approach to professional learning. Of the eleven barriers provided in their report, the three top-cited barriers were those that mentioned and focused on time.
Gates Foundation graph

  • Short-term goal… use tools like Google Keep and NIMBUS to share resources and knowledge with colleagues.
  • Long-term goal… utilize the Future Ready Librarian framework to leverage embedding librarians into administrative-level discussions and planning regarding professional development and teaching.
  • Slightly longer-term goal… create a time machine.

“Time saved is life gained.” Isaac Pitman 1813-1897

(Developer of most widely used shorthand method. Also, often credited as the first to provide distance learning in education when he utilized the British mail system to teach his shorthand method by correspondence course https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Pitman)

Resources

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (2014). Teachers know best: Teachers’ views on professional development. Retrieved from https://s3.amazonaws.com/edtech-production/reports/Gates-PDMarketResearch-Dec5.pdf

Elgan, M. (2016, November 26). Why you should start using Google Keep right away. Computerworld. Retrieved from http://www.computerworld.com/article/3144450/enterprise-applications/why-you-should-start-using-google-keep-right-away.html

Future Ready Schools. (2017). Future Ready Librarians. Retrieved from http://futureready.org/about-the-effort/librarians/

International Society for Technology in Education. (n.d.). ISTE standards for coaches. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Johnston, M. P. (n.d.). School librarians as technology integration leaders: Enablers and barriers to leadership enactment. School Library Research, 15(2012). Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/aaslpubsandjournals/slr/vol15/SLR_School_Librarians_as_Technology_Integration_Leaders_V15.pdf

Lewis, K. R. (2016, April). The school librarian and leadership: What can be learned? Teacher Librarian, 43(4), 18-21.

Whitwam, R. (2016, April 25). 5 awesome Google Keep features you aren’t using, but should be. Greenbot. Retrieved from http://www.greenbot.com/article/3058745/android/5-awesome-google-keep-features-you-arent-using-but-should-be.html

Tools
Google Keep: keep.google.com

NIMBUS Screenshot and Screencast
for Chrome:
https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/nimbus-screenshot-and-scr/bpconcjcammlapcogcnnelfmaeghhagj?hl=en-US
also available for Firefox, PC, Android: http://nimbus.everhelper.me/screenshot.php

Future Ready Librarians: http://futureready.org/about-the-effort/librarians/

 

PD for Librarians: Let’s Fix It

if its brokeI’ve been a librarian for 13+ years and I’m still learning every day. Through trial and error on the job I’ve learned about Follett’s Destiny circulation system. I’ve learned that Shel Silverstein books will never go out of style. I’ve learned that the right book at the right time in the right kid’s hands will fuel their love of reading. I’ve learned that keeping a tidy library is like stringing beads on a string with no end knot. I’ve learned that technology often experiences glitches when it’s truly most inconvenient. I’ve learned how to save time for teachers by focusing on what they’ll need, and, in best cases, before they even know they need it.

While all of that knowledge is important, very little of it was gained in traditional professional development experiences. The main problem for building specialists such as teacher-librarians is the professional development model in place in many districts is focused on classroom teachers and their needs, and building specialists are often left to try and find applicability where there is little. Or better yet, librarians are clumped together with music or art teachers or PE specialists in a corner table and we’re tasked with goals such as working collaboratively on a specialist schedule or planning assemblies instead of focusing on teaching and learning. If we are able to meet with job-alike colleagues, it’s often after-hours or at an annual professional conference, if we’re willing to fund our own way.

CassetteTapeGuiding Question: What are some professional development options for my job-alike colleagues and me as we try to develop a more cohesive teacher-librarian cadre in our district?

For the past several years, the librarian professional learning community (PLC) in my district has met for one full day, either in the fall or spring. Substitute teachers were provided for all of us, and we all met in a meeting room at our district headquarters. Last year, our annual meeting day was cancelled due to a district snow day. It was never rescheduled. When we finally met as a whole group this fall, it became apparent that our current instructional model was broken. It is impossible to form an open and collaborative culture when you’re literally meeting someone for the first time after they’ve been in their job for almost two years! Think of the implications of placing teachers in the same boat… Imagine seeing a teacher coming down the hall, saying “Hi” to that person and introducing yourself only to find out they’ve been teaching the exact same topics as you a mere two doors down. Wow! You’re not alone in this academic endeavor! You eat lunch with them, share a few stories, trade a few tips, then you each go back to your respective classrooms, closing the door behind you, emerging again to work together… twelve months later!

It was after this fall’s somewhat annual meeting that I realized, the system’s broken. It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. Well, we’ve been doing the same thing over and over again, and the results aren’t only different than intended, they’re trending in the wrong direction. While it is certainly energizing and engaging to gather as a large group, waiting for those whole-group gatherings does not seem to be a sustainable instructional model. At the same time, I’m also hoping to extend our cohort model — moving from an in-district-only cohort, to beyond our district boundaries.

That is not to say that there is no value in attending staff-wide trainings and professional development offerings. Stephens writes about this in her blog post, Rethinking What We Do. “‘Do we need to go to whole-school PD? Yes!’ We are a part of a learning community…you can’t operate a successful school library program in a vacuum” (Stephens, 2013). But vacuums and being stuck in a time-wasting staff development meeting share a common trait… major suckage.

One emerging professional development model that is trending in popularity is the “unconference”. Rebecca Bagley provides a great description of the unconference: “The concept is fairly simple. At an unconference, no topics have been predetermined, no keynote speakers have been invited, no panels have been arranged. Instead, the event lives and dies by the participation of its attendees. They decide what topics will be discussed and they convene the individual breakout sessions. In other words, an unconference has no agenda until the participants create it.” (Bagley, 2014). In the world of education, unconferences have taken the form of “EdCamps”. A recent Scholastic Teacher article highlighted EdCamps. “EdCamps are all about the room being smarter than the individual.” (Borris, 2016). This is the disconnect that’s so pervasive with our current professional development model. Collectively our district library cohort has a wide array of skills and knowledge, but like so many organizations, our skills and knowledge are siloed. The unconference model seeks to disrupt the tradition of “stand and deliver” instruction, while empowering and encouraging all parties to take an active role in our professional development.silos2

The Washington Library Media Association (WLMA) has held a multi-day professional conference, with sessions, keynote speakers, vendor booths, and all the normal conference accoutrements. But as Washington state schools and teachers alike have been forced to tighten spending over the past years, attendance, participation and membership rates have consistently diminished, so much so that WLMA has merged with the Washington Library Association (WLA) to save costs. Gone too is the annual conference. In its place, in October 2016 WLMA will be shifting to a one-day unconference: WLMA 2016 unconference. There are pros (free/lower-cost conference for participants, sessions are adaptable to the interests of attendees, all participants are encouraged to share ideas rather than only listening to presenters) and cons (can be an uncomfortable model of professional development for introverts, success is dependent on attendees’ participation, and conferences are on a much smaller scale). It will be interesting to see if an annual unconference model will be a sustainable one for WLMA in the years to come.

Another model of instruction that is worth exploring is on-demand and web-based professional development, often in the form of webinars or videos. The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) provides archived webinars with topics such as “Brains Change @ Your Library” and “Coaching the Leader Within”.  Pros: webinars can be completed independently, there are numerous free resources available, and they’re often available anytime/on-demand. Cons: access to full offerings often requires membership or other payment, there is often little interactivity in the delivery, and sound/video quality (as well as the quality of the presentation itself) can be inconsistent. One wondering I have is the feasibility of using webinars in a blended model, with independent viewing of the material followed by small and/or large group discussions.

Finally, I’m deeply interested in web-based (Hangouts & Google+ communities). As our district has shifted to a Google Education platform, it’s becoming easier and easier to integrate Google applications into our learning. A web-based community has many advantages over traditional in-person professional development, but it’s also not with its own issues. Pros: free access to community of job-alike colleagues from around the world, ease of 2-way conversation, no transportation requirements. Cons: our district has not opened access to Google+ for teachers, much like EdCamps these communities are dependent on members’ participation to bring value, and privacy issues — including some teachers who prefer to not be on camera.
Some examples of applicable Google+ communities: https://plus.google.com/communities/114899053206458405634 TLChat (538 members — invite)
https://plus.google.com/communities/117972083606648197914 School Library Media Specialists (2,258 members — open)
https://plus.google.com/communities/109025267965562834348 LSSD Teacher-Librarians (9 members)

Ideas and wonderings moving forward with online communities:
If I can’t convince the district to open up access to the Google+ features, what are my other options to get things started? Who will lead the sessions? Is it worth the time and effort if only a few colleagues participate?  I think these applications have the greatest potential for meaningful job-alike professional development in my current role as teacher-librarian, and I think a few proof-of-concept sessions would go far to convince district leaders of the value to teachers. And an added benefit with these new approaches… I won’t have to wait two years any longer to meet the new-hires!

Resources:

American Library Association (ALA). (n.d.). School libraries: Online learning. Retrieved June 1, 2016, from http://www.ala.org/onlinelearning/schoollibraries

Bagley, R. (2014, August 18). How ‘unconferences’ unleash innovative ideas | Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/rebeccabagley/2014/08/18/how-unconferences-unleash-innovative-ideas/#26b5f2045e12

Borris, C. (2016, January/February). Happy campers. Scholastic Teacher, 125(4), 24-29. Retrieved from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/how-edcamps-are-changing-face-pd

Evans, S. (2016, June 4). Our first Google Hangout for professional development [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://librarymediatechtalk.blogspot.com/2016/06/our-first-google-hangout-for.html

School Library Journal. (n.d.). School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://www.slj.com/

Stephens, W. (2013, October 14). Rethinking what we do: Professional development for school librarians. Retrieved from http://yalsa.ala.org/blog/2013/10/14/re-thinking-what-we-do-professional-development-for-school-librarians/

There’s a Pony in Here Somewhere!

manurepile

excerpt from “How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life” by Peter Robinson

Chapter One
Journal Entry, June 2002:

Over lunch today I asked Ed Meese about one of Reagan’s favorite jokes. “The pony joke?” Meese replied. “Sure I remember it. If I heard him tell it once, I heard him tell it a thousand times.”

The joke concerns twin boys of five or six. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities — one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist — their parents took them to a psychiatrist.

First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. “What’s the matter?” the psychiatrist asked, baffled. “Don’t you want to play with any of the toys?” “Yes,” the little boy bawled, “but if I did I’d only break them.”

Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. “What do you think you’re doing?” the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. “With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere!”

“Reagan told the joke so often,” Meese said, chuckling, “that it got to be kind of a joke with the rest of us. Whenever something would go wrong, somebody on the staff would be sure to say, ‘There must be a pony in here somewhere.'”

As our district moves to a 1:1 model for students and staff alike, [A] what practices can we put in place to encourage responsible technology use? And [B] are there exemplars of device user agreements, specifically for younger elementary students (2nd/3rd grade), to set the groundwork for later years? With those guiding questions in mind, these past few weeks I’ve been exploring ISTE Teacher Standard 4.

Promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility

Teachers understand local and global societal issues and responsibilities in an evolving digital culture and exhibit legal and ethical behavior in their professional practices.

With Standard 4 in mind, how do we work achieve goals A & B? The optimist might look at things and say, “We can do this! We’ll find a magical device that will meet all of our needs. Maybe an iPad or a Surface Pro.  Kids today know all about technology — they’ll know how to use them.  And if they try to misbehave, our I.T. folks will have all our bases covered. People are going to write research papers about our amazing results. It’s gonna be great!” But blind optimism with only surface-deep planning is often a recipe for disaster [see Los Angeles Unified School District’s infamous iPad plan].

The pessimist’s response is more common in the educational world.  District leaders think about the headaches that come with technology purchases and decide to prioritize limited resources elsewhere. They talk about value-added growth measures and question (wisely, at times) whether or not technology provides an adequate return on investment, often focusing on highly publicized disasters such as LAUSD’s iPads.  They focus more on locking down access to bandwidth, email, rights, and privileges, not to deny student achievement, but acting in fear of what might happen. “Give ‘em an inch, and they’ll be hacking computers.”

“Are you an optimist or a pessimist?” my own kids asked me as I was writing this piece. Would I dive headfirst into the pile to find that missing pony or cry over the toys and over what might happen.? Optimist or pessimist?  Which approach will work?  I would argue for Option C, pragmatist.  I’m looking at that room full of manure and I’m thinking, “We could sell that manure and get someone else to shovel it out. And if there’s a pony in there? Endless supply of manure! And if we posted on social media about our new school-based business: Let’s Doo It! [trademark pending] Think about the learning opportunities for our staff and students…”

Goal A: Responsible Tech Use

I could talk for hours on the value of focusing on digital citizenship, but I’ll be mercifully brief here.  Instead I’ll direct you to two outstanding resources that provide more information than I could fit into this article:

Digital Citizenship: Resource Roundup (Edutopia) http://www.edutopia.org/article/digital-citizenship-resources
K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum (Common Sense Media)https://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/digital-citizenship

Goal B: Device User Agreement

As our students and staff are shifting closer to a 1:1 device model, I think a pragmatic approach would be to focus on getting out in front of problems before they arise.  What do we expect from our students with regards to technology use?  While they are certainly digitally native, they’re most certainly not digitally savvy. Students’ relative lack of fear with regards to technology is not an inherently good or bad thing. It can definitely get them into trouble in a hurry (e.g. unwise use of social media).  On the other hand, their lack of fear is a quality that many educational staff would be wise to emulate in moderation.  Making mistakes is okay, and modeling how to respond to mistakes is an area where we grown-ups often miss out on teaching opportunities.

With that in mind, I feel that one low-cost, high-impact approach would be a device-specific user agreement.  In this case, I focused on a Chromebook user agreement for 3rd-5th graders at my school.  There are a lot of misguided examples of student forms to be found online, often filled with legalese and educational jargon. They often focus on costs and restrictions, and are one-size-fits-all (one form for K-12 students).  Going back to Goal A, digital citizenship must be embedded into learning to be successful and to find meaning.  Very few of the examples I found online included elements of digital citizenship, and of those, fewer still went beyond merely a vague reference to the digital citizenship skills and learning involved.

The K-12, one-size-fits-all approach is one of the biggest blunders that many in education leadership make.  In the world of educational technology, oftentimes the K-12 approach is the easy way when it comes to those in I.T. leadership.  Uniformity allows for ease of response, opportunities for streamlined training, and for optimized repair and maintenance plans.  But uniformity is not an effective practice at a classroom level.  Each child is different, each classroom different, each teacher different, each grade level team different… the list could go on and on.  While many in leadership roles spend a great deal of time crafting the perfect mission statement, arguing over semantics of whether saying “each child” is more impactful than “every child” or “leaving no child behind”, they lose sight of the fact that there needs to be flexibility and freedom in how we empower our teachers.

Teachers need tools.  Not tool.  Tools, plural.  What works for one teacher or child may not be needed in the classroom two doors down.  A user agreement for K-12 is destined to fail in its goals.  There needs to be a user agreement for kindergarten students and parents.  A different form for 1st or 2nd graders and their parents.  A different user agreement for 5th graders than for 12th graders.  And we need to revisit the idea often: why are we having them sign the form to begin with?  Is it merely to warn them off of undesired behaviors? And if so, what message does that send?  If not, does the document truly reflect our goals?

SBA testing requirements have resulted in an incredible influx of Chromebooks in my school.  A wonderful opportunity for students, but with little guidance or time to prepare, we as a staff soon found ourselves in a room with a pony (including aforementioned pony byproduct).  Nuts and bolts issues, such as how to plug/unplug devices or how to properly carry Chromebooks, soon took center stage as staff found they were having to constantly deal with the effects of poor/misinformed choices on the part of students.  Working with a fellow teacher at my school, we developed a Chromebook user agreement for our 4th and 5th grade students:

Chromebook agreement jfeOur work was guided by two examples of documents that we found online:

Redondo Beach Unified School District http://tes-rbusd-ca.schoolloop.com/file/1244185264194/1406346522769/1457584482771379047.pdf
South Orangetown Central School District https://blogs.socsd.org/soms/files/2015/06/somschromebookprogram-t1aguu.pdf

In developing this Chromebook user agreement, our hope is that this document can be used to guide conversations before/during/after using the devices, not only between student and teacher, but also with parents.  And in the inevitable moments of missteps by students, this document can guide conversations about learning from mistakes rather than repeating them ad infinitum.

There’s gotta be a pony in there somewhere and I think I’ve found it…

fat-pony

In writing this post, my mind kept drifting to one of my favorite new books from this past school year, Kate Beaton’s The Princess and the Pony. Princess Pinecone is small but mighty and longs to be a princess warrior.  Her birthday wish and dream of a battle-ready horse is shattered when she finds that her newly-gifted trusty steed is in fact, a corpulent and flatulent pony with a lazy eye.  But rather than focusing on her plump equine’s shortcomings, she trains the horse for battle as best she’s able and rides the odiferous beast to greater achievement than she ever thought possible.

What’s any of that have to do with our Chromebooks and user agreements?  It’s a stretch, but here goes…  We’ve been gifted a pony (carts full of Chromebooks) and a pile of manure to boot (little training or additional supports provided).  We could focus on the shortcomings of our pony (Chromebooks are definitely not perfect) and its lazy eye (our students don’t always see things clearly either) and its emissions (…) or we can take the pony we have into battle (teaching our students and not just focusing on SBA) after adequate training and preparation (ongoing professional development must be a part of any successful technology plan). Princess Pinecone’s moment of victory was not a fluke; it was the direct result of finding the right tool for the right teacher, who fully utilized the tools she was given.

Now go find your pony.  It’s gotta be around here somewhere…

Resources

Geuss, M. (2016, May 13). After LAUSD iPad program failure, Apple’s help spurs success in other schools | Ars Technica. Retrieved from http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/05/after-lausd-ipad-program-failure-apples-help-spurs-success-in-other-schools/

International Society for Technology in Education. (n.d.). Standards for teachers. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/ISTE-standards/standards-for-teachers

Jefferson Elementary Chromebook user agreement (4th/5th grade)  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1L0rgRwkT1B4C7nYD9BSox_4VQLZ44vF2V4PB1KppepQ/edit?usp=sharing

Morales, T. (2003, July 30). Writing for Ronald Reagan | CBS News. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/writing-for-ronald-reagan/

Robinson, P. (2004). Chapter 1: The pony in the dung heap. In How Ronald Reagan changed my life (pp. 15-16). New York, NY: Regan Books.

Images

Manure pile http://modernfarmer.com/2014/08/manure-usa/

Pony from “The Princess and the Pony” by Kate Beaton (ISBN 978-0545637084) http://amzn.to/1TGAN6V
The-Princess-and-the-Pony-300x225

And so it begins…

12:08 AM, 9/24/15.  1st blog post.  One step closer to my MEd degree from Seattle Pacific University.

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