mccoyderek

Connecting with Text Messages

schools-text-message-examples

I’m a big texter. I think its fair to say that most people rely on it stay connected with friends and co-workers. As a communication medium, it quick and a great go-to tool.

My objective in communicating with my stakeholders is to provide, accurate and timely information while using multiple mediums to make sure I am reaching all [or as many] of my stakeholders as possible.

We dedicate substantial effort to make sure we are communicating quality information through our callouts and the school’s website. These tools are staples for our community. Discussing these tools with some parents recently brought up the topic of connecting with text messages. There were 4 sets of parents in our group discussion. All said they receive our regular call outs. After some friendly prompting, some even admitting to not always picking up the call when it first comes in or not listening all the way through once we go through our initial menu at the beginning of call. Only one parent attested to visiting our website regularly [when she is at work and can spare a minute]. But all the parents expressed appreciation for our work.

Given an opportunity, I will always ask about social media [Facebook is blocked for us but our school does have a Twitter account]. None of the parents were following us on Twitter but one of our parents did say she was getting text message updates. When she said this, all the parents enthusiastically asked how they could subscribe as well. I was very happy to hear this and immediately shared how our school connects:

  1. Twitter/Text Messages – This is how the parent was connected to our school. We shared how parents could get text message updates from our school by texting to the number ‘40404’ the message ‘Follow SLMSBroncos’. Those familiar with this know that this enables followers and non-followers of our school’s Twitter account to receive our Tweets as text messages. Given that we have very few followers for our Twitter account, we have a number of parents who get our Tweets as text messages. While we communicate our intent is only professional and informative, some parents are still hesitant to create Twitter accounts. While I have a personal/professional goal to show the value of Twitter, I have an obligation as a principal to make sure our stakeholders are getting the good information. I also use Hootsuite to schedule upcoming Tweets
  2. ParentLink – This is a new communication tool to our district but a popular tool in the education landscape. Of its many features is  a texting tool that we can send out school wide. We have used this texting feature many times, not just for stakeholders but staff and faculty as well. The app for this really facilitates its use as well.

We have to use a team approach to manage our tool and coordinating text messages involves good, consistent communication amongst the team. My secondary goal [and hope] is that our parents will begin to dive into social media and we will begin to see our Twitter followership grow but until that happens we will happily utilize both as a means to spread the good things happening at Spring Lake with text messages.

School Leadership 3.0: Make Your Tools Mobile

photo-1This is a picture of my office desk. I’ve also made it the background for my Twitter profile.

I was inspired to take this picture after a teacher visited my office and she immediately remarked about these tools that cluttered about my desk [this picture doesn’t reflect my typical work organization]. She questioned if it was absolutely necessary to have all these to do my job. After I rationalized that there were only three tools here, an iPad, my Smartphone and a desktop with and attached monitor, I came back with a firm yes! I can’t do my job as a school leader without these tools.

My primary function is to improve student learning and how teachers teach. I do that effectively by choosing the right tools. When we talk about tools, sometimes the conversation leans towards hardware and functionality. This talk will be about on the web tools I use as a 3.0 school leader.

We can’t say enough about the critical functionality of mobility in our jobs. Being able to carry out duties, no matter where I am helps me maintain consistency and improve my efficacy in my daily and long term practice. Cloud computing has dramatically changed society and how we function as schools and organizations. Being able to transfer information from one device to another is how we make a difference in teaching and learning and allow us to remain current on tools and thinking that will help us change how teachers, community and students see the value of these  tools and how they aren’t future practice but current necessities.

Social Media – Twitter, LinkedIn, WordPress all contribute to my continuous professional development and learning. They help define me a lifelong learner. As we endeavor to design personalized experiences for our students, we can also embrace the flexibility and impact of our dive into social media.

Coaching – Using an iPad or smartphone to record lesson and direct instruction is the best way to take the people out of instructional coaching and make it about a change conversation about practices, behavior and learning. Keeping continuous, synchronized notes helps me and my administrative team maintain a singular focus in our change talks.

Administrative Organization: Evernote is a tool I’ve come to recently integrate into my practice. Thanks to John Robinson, @21stprincipal, and his blog and accounts I’ve come to rely on it to help me document my day, archive critical learning and quickly record notes needed for upcoming events. The synchronization between all my devices makes this a tool invaluable.

Communication and Organization: Its hard to imagine carrying out our functions and duties in this day and age without Google’s cloud services. Going beyond Gmail and Calendar [which are crucial] other Google products are vital to us moving schools:

    • Chrome – Once I log in, my bookmarks are with me no matter what device. I can navigate websites I need while at school, home or on the road.
    • Hangout – Participating in chat and discussions with my PLN grow my skills and understanding. I take this back to school and community to effect a change. As as a means of connecting with people, a quick video chat beats a phone call hands down.

3.0 school leadership is not about technology, hardware/software, it has to be about changing teaching and learning for the better. These tools are about making a difference in our schools. Future leaders have to have a willingness to dive into these tools, explore their usage and be willing to innovate. Future leadership and practice starts today!

A Review – My iPad Improves My Administrative Functions

ipadI was inspired to write this post after visiting one of our classes where students were using iPads to complete an assignment. I asked a group of kids how they like working with the iPads and did it help with their work. All three gave resounding affirmations that the iPads were a great enhancement to the lesson and just fun to ‘play and learn’ with. It was good to hear this and more importantly, see in action. As I was carrying my iPad, daily practice, a clever student flipped my question and asked me how I liked using the iPad. I smiled and responded that I really liked my iPad and couldn’t do a lot of my functions as easily if I didn’t have a mobile device.

This got me reflecting on my first year of having an iPad and how I’ve started embedding it into my practice. I’ve always been a proponent of having a mobile device, mainly a laptop and definitely my smartphone, to help me carry out my duties but this is the first year I’ve had a tablet to use regularly and help me in my administrative functions. It has helped me tremendously. My administrative team and I rely on them for a big part of our instructional supervision and data talks but there are countless ways to have iPads/tablets enhance the jobs of school leaders. I’ve outlined two posts below from a couple of expert #edleaders who have shared some of their impactful tips and useful app the use of their iPads. The last posts were written by me and how our iPads are a key part of our instructional supervision.

EvernoteJohn Robinson, @21stprincipal, is a fellow #ncadmin and a great educator to follow and learn from. John’s written a lot of great posts over the years but these two have really impacted my outlook and have helped my practice. School Administrator Uses of Evernote & Must Have Extensions and 7 Ways Administrators and Educators Can Use Evernote are must reads for all educators who want to take productivity to the next level. They go into detail about the usefulness and practical walk throughs including Evernote in your practice. If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend it. Dive into possibilities on keeping notes, archiving articles for later reading and the great use of tags and notebooks. Having changed school districts and not having access to Outlook [this was a big adjustment], Evernote replaced a lot of key functions. It has helped fill a lot of gaps I was missing and didn’t know I should miss.

Common CoreEric Sheninger, @NMHS_Principal, wrote a post a couple of months ago that struck home. His post is titled  Common Core in the Classroom and its about the free app from Mastery Connect. I had already downloaded the app and referenced it a couple of times but I got away from it to focus on some of our local resources. More importantly, I never shared it with my team. This post stuck with me because it made me revisit a resource that I once heavily relied on and that has good, sustainable information. I immediately took it back to our instructional team to further our talks and planning efforts. This app is a great resource for references what our focus on Common Core should be.

Instructional Walk-Thrus with Feedback – I’ve blogged this year on our instructional supervision efforts using iPads, particularly for walk thrus and informal observations. The convenience of the iPad makes classroom visits and data collection easy to manage. We use that data from the spreadsheet in our instructional leadership talks to determine what we should discuss in our PLCs and Instructional Support Days. Originally, we weren’t able to provide feedback to teachers but after some research and exploring, I learned how to add that script into our form that will allow feedback to be given directly to teachers. There are several steps, nothing way technical, but well worth the effort. Committing to this process with the iPads has help set the tone with our school of where our focus lies.

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The responsibilities of a school administrator are immense, everyday is different, dynamic. At a principal’s meeting, my superintendent was talking about how everyone – teachers, the public, students, politicians – EVERYONE, underestimates what we have to do. In general, educators today have a very different duty set from when I started teaching 16 years ago. Significantly different tasks and responsibilities require us to be willing to not only explore new tools and technologies but modify our methodology and incorporate new tools into our practices.

I’m grateful that I am able to dive into my PLN and am able to connect to practicing experts and professionals from whom I can learn better practices. There will always be learning on the job, stuff that isn’t covered in a class or pd session but we can all grow from the collective knowledge and experiences of our PLN.

Why Does Algebra HAVE to be at 11:34?

Our current schedule is a 7 period day. We have been working hard to transition to a modified block. Our leadership team has been involved in a great deal of planning and communication to make sure that this transition is seamless to our organization and that our teachers are supported and prepared for change. I’ve been writing about this through a series on my blog.

Recently, I was performing my instructional rounds and visited our 8th Algebra class. As usual, it was a great lesson designed by a great teacher – rigorous problems, kids working together, and a silly theme [kids wearing boas is always good]. Lots of laughter, group work and smiles in the room. As I was circulating, I noticed a student slow to get started. I know this student so I asked him what was up, was he ok? To paraphrase, he was just feeling the day. Algebra is offered 4th period, exactly in the middle of our day and that day was simply a rough one for him. I could only imagine what his night was like and, I could only hope, that his morning was filled with mentally exhausting and mind blowing instructional activities. I left his group with an image of the four students around the table – 4 capable students, one needing a mental break to help him better prepare for a rigorous class.

We are a small middle school, our numbers fluctuate around 500. As such, we have one 8th grade Algebra class [though my goal is to do a better job identifying our more of our students who are capable of handling rigorous, well-planned and well delivered classwork]. The confines of a schedule dictate when classes are offered, sticking kids in a narrow box. More class offerings gives the school more options but it doesn’t equate to being responsive to a student’s needs. I think of the student from earlier – it would have made a significant difference if he could have been able to regroup and participate in his group work and assignments when he was ready and better prepared to give his quality work.

Flexibility Maximizes Student Outputimages

If you’ve read Clayton Christensen’s ‘Disrupting Class’, you can understand what I’m referring to when I say flexibility and options. The student in Algebra would benefit from a disruptive change. None of us would object to laying out multiple assignments for the day and serving as facilitators, not sage on stages, to ensure the work is getting done.

This is a timely topic with us being in the middle of developing next year’s schedule. We have a great staff at Spring Lake Middle but we haven’t had any discussions about this type of shift so this topic isn’t on the table – yet. I think its our responsibility as planners and developers to at least have a talk about this and what it could mean for kids. I think the potential outcomes would far outweigh the shift in comfort and familiarity we adults have.

‘Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.’ Rabindranath Tagore

Even though my visit to the Algebra class is what started this thought experiment, the potential benefits apply to all students at every level. A shift like this is a matter of training and holding high expectations. I fully acknowledge that maturity levels and self discipline varies significantly in middle school students and that it would also take time to build this successful program. But student success begins with setting high expectations, monitoring and improving on the successes our schools realize. Any successful educational program that does a good job serving kids takes time and planning to build.

Shift starts with vision and is made successful with commitment. And shift has to be responsive to the needs of the kids we serve.

Your Toolbox

I had a great, reaffirming conversation with another administrator in my school district @CumberlandCoSch. images

At a  scheduling workshop for secondary schools, I met up with Dan Krumanocker and Troy Lindsey, principal and assistant principal of Douglas Byrd High School. A couple of months ago, I helped Dan [@DanielJK68] with a Twitter tutorial, basically some quick tips on maximizing Twitter. I met Troy there and we had a great talk about Twitter and social media use in the school. This week, our district is hosting support scheduling workshops for secondary schools. We are transitioning to a new support system next year and this open meeting is a way for answer any questions school may have. As I was leaving one day, I stopped and spoke to Troy as he was working with his crew. Our conversation quickly went to Twitter. He was commenting on how I share content over Twitter and how we can all grow from the sharing.

We talked about using Twitter as a means to grow and sharpen skills and how its similar to a toolbox. Twitter is a means to grow the number of tools in your toolbox. Its a non-stop, right-on-time pd and research tool. It facilitates 360 degree, 24/7 sharing opportunities. Its there when and how we need. One great and undeniable benefit that defies physics is that Twitter adds more tools to the toolbox without making your toolbox heavier. I make consistent reference of how my PLN lightens my load by helping me with answers and strategies that go directly to helping me be a better leader to my school, community, teachers and students. Troy’s sentiment was simple – sharing works! If you share a resource that works in your school, others can try it and have positive or negative results or simply chose not to try it. Either way, that is how people get what they need.

We have to develop a culture where sharing is expected!

This was a great conversation and a reminder to me that we have a new dimension for not only training new school leaders and but enabling our continued growth. Social media and new media tools are a part of it. We all have to do our part to help our new, continued learning – either as new learners or new leaders!

Embrace your PLN! Share resources and what help you grow.

Boomerang – A Gmail Enhancement

Boomerang

My district, Cumberland County Schools [@CumberlandCoSch] is a Google district. Like a lot of districts, many of our functions have been sent to the ‘cloud’. In addition to benefiting from the integration of many Google apps, our email is now hosted on Google’s servers.

This is the first district I’ve not used Outlook for my email client and as such, I’m missing some impactful features. One feature is the ability to schedule emails. Email is an essential communication tool and most people see it as tool for communicating in the present. Understanding and utilizing a scheduling feature is a is a must of school leaders.

Plan and write your follow ups
All school leaders have important talks with all stakeholders and often need to have them followed up. Using the calendar is a great way to build reminders for follow ups so that we don’t forget but even after the reminder comes, we still have to craft the message [specific for this, write the email]. What better way to plan the follow up than to write the actual email and schedule it to be sent at the specific time you deem would be most beneficial.

The Danger of the Draft
One makeshift solution that’s been shared with me is to type the email and don’t send it, leaving it in ‘Drafts’. While this saves typing the email down the road, you have to remember to go back to your drafts and send the email later. The obvious danger here is without a good reminder in place, you can forget to revisit the draft to send it.

The Boomerang Solution
Boomerang is a third party solution for the scheduling problem. I’ve been using it for several days and it has tested out great. Boomerang is a quick download for Chrome or Firefox. After a couple of quick ‘how-to’ videos, the Boomerang menu item will appear on the Gmail menu bar. When you compose your first email you’ll see a change to your email appearance. I’ve attached a couple of pictures below to show you the changes.

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The videos will define how to utilize the ‘Send Later’ feature but curiosity will guide you just as well.

My Use
Next week is our district’s spring break and I don’t plan on sending any emails to my staff as they enjoy their time off. This current week, I’ve had talks with several groups about rigorous instruction and student engagement. Instead of waiting for the Sunday before to sit and craft the email, I have already created the message while it was fresh and scheduled its delivery. This method ensures teachers feel the impact of the conversations we have recently and I can count this task as complete.

Use this feature to help ensure your message gets where it needs to go, when it needs to go and more importantly, is written how you want it to read exactly.