Dear Administrator: Focus

As I said on Twitter this weekend:

"When you need to focus your presentation, get offline and focus on your presentation." 

This is my letter to administrators about focus.  As I read the story of Monica Keeler leaving Myspace for Facebook  the words on her blog "This is the Story of a Girl" echoed in my brain:

"To my friends and colleagues at MySpace, some parting advice:
It is imperative that MySpace puts in place strong technical leadership who can attract good technical talent and make well-informed decisions. It is important that they stay connected to rest of the world and work on interoperable standards and solid products which benefit the end user. Many of my fellow engineers have fantastic ideas and a plan for phased delivery."
So,here it goes.

Dear Administrator,

I was thinking that really you could replace Myspace with YOUR DISTRICT or SCHOOL name and also instead of end user - we should replace it with students - so this is how it would read with my words inserted in the paragraph:

"To my friends and colleagues at ________ (fill in your school or district)...
It is imperative that _____________ (your school or district) puts in place strong technical leadership who can attract good technical talent and make well-informed decisions. It is important that they stay connected to the rest of the world and work on interoperable ________(curriculum) and solid ___________ (projects) which benefit the ___________ (student.) Many of my fellow ____________ (educators) have fantastic ideas and a plan for phased delivery."

This is not only a prescription for myspace but for My School and Your School as Well. I challenge you to write in your information and read it out loud to yourself, NOW.  In this short paragraph is the core of what you should consider as you prepare to improve your school and district's use of technology.

  1. Strong Technical Leadership - this is not just about a grasp of the technology but also realizing that effective technological change requires people-centric implementation. It is often not how the technology works as much as how people feel about how the technology works.

  2. Good Technical Talent - the more technical talent you have, the better.  Teachers, IT integrators, principals. But even if you do NOT have a lot of technical talent, if you involve lifelong learners in your pilot programs you can spend your Learning capital well. 

    (Learning capital is something I've really pondered this weekend as I wrestled with my thoughts for the TICAL keynote on Wednesday - and it is created as people are part of implementing a new technology as part of a pilot or rollout - you want to spend learning capital well by involving key people who will give you a RETURN on the investment by sharing with others.)

    Additionally, good technical talent can and should save you money. They can implement a Linux operating system or take you into cloud computing. If they won't even discuss those two options, perhaps you should reconsider if they are really good technical talent.  Good technical talent is beholden to you and your district and NOT a particular vendor. They are always willing to get bids.

  3. Make Well Informed Decisions - not based on hype and for goodness sakes NOT on newspaper articles.  Since I've really been digging deep into technology, I've found that nine times out of ten that what a newspaper is hyping is either "Old news" or "no news" -- something outdated or that someone is trying to sell that most leaders have been doing for some time -- or really, something that a good school would do anyway that isn't much of any news for those who follow tech integration.  Follow good Technology magazines and websites rather than your local newspaper. Build and use your PLN (personal learning network)  Talk with other educators who are doing this. (Thus the value of Twitter.) Make up your own mind instead of letting one or two people make it up for you.  (As the saying goes, if two men always agree, one of them is NOT NECESSARY.)

  4. Stay Connected to the Rest of the World - Build a PLN (personal learning network) including blogs, mainstream media, and well-constructed RSS feeds for search terms important to you (like your school name.) If you don't know how to do this - have someone come to your office and teach you THIS WEEK.  Ask them to help you set up an RSS reader.  Then, take 15 minutes at least three times a week to READ IT! Learn. Try new things. Don't get "not invented here" syndrome by thinking that you have all the answers.  If you think you have all the answers... you don't. If you know you don't have all the answers, then you're someone we can all learn from.
  5. Interoperable curriculum

    "Rather than dealing with each technology in isolation, we would do better to take an ecological approach, think about the interrelationships among different communications technologies, the cultural communities that group up around them, and the activities they support."  Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture [PDF] - McArthur Foundation

    Yes, interoperable.  Interoperable with other schools and the world. (Do you honestly think that you can wall in your school grades k-12 and give them a leading world-class education?  If so, See #4 about having all the answers. It is sort of like these olympic teams only racing themselves.)  Interoperable in that how well do departments, classes, grades work together - is there a seamless transition as you promote students?

  6. Solid Projects - Develop long term relationships and ongoing year in -year out projects with other schools so that your teachers have relationships and strong learning experiences come out of the project.  Not just "window dressing" meaningful collaboration is vital to a good education and as one who sets up this sort of thing every day -- this doesn't just "happen" but is the product of hard work and pushing to get to that point. This is global collaboration, community collaboration, multi-grade level collaboration - all of these things!

  7. Benefiting the student - This is about students, my friends.  Not being convenient for the IT department or making life easier for curriculum or even making it so the principal has less headaches.  (My husband, an engineer calls this suboptimization.  Suboptimization means you've made one department or group very efficient but also means that rarely is such a suboptimization best for the organization as a whole  This is where the stress comes in and where a superintendent and principal must make the call.  Don't let IT rule just because they are using terms you don't know.  IT should not have complete control over the sites used on campus - that is often better decided by curriculum.)

    This is about our students.  I am convinced that much of our problem is that schools have the wrong customer.  Our customer are the students when they are about 25 or so.  Will they look back and say that they received a good education? Will they thank us?  This is not a popularity contest with today's students - give them a choice and they'll choose recess.  It is a matter of what benefits the students and where the world is heading.  And massive global collaboration is where it is now as well as where it is going. Mastering social media is where it is now and where it is going. Virtual worlds and gaming are definitely part of where it is going as well as GPS, QR Codes and all manner of things that aren't even on the radar of most educators yet.  But again, making students PART of the transformation is flattening the classroom and also spending learning capital well - with those who can help us transform our schools as they move from grade to grade.

  8. Harness the Power of Those You Have - You have people on staff who will help you with these things NOW. If you want to kill morale, bring in an outside consultant to tell you to do what those on your staff have been saying you should do for some time.  Put aside your preconceived notions about their agendas and invite them into your office and listen for thirty minutes to an hour.  Listen, take notes, make eye contact, ask questions. If you do this with your staff, I guarantee you that you will see a common pattern emerge and your action plan for the next six months, year, and 3 years.  It is right there.  LISTEN.  LEARN. ACT. (For that matter, why not pull in a variety of students.)  Flatten the progression towards excellence by involving everyone.
So,  administrators, right now my mind and heart is on you. Likely due to the twenty something hours I've spent working and reworking the 21st Century Influencer Keynote I'll be giving in Arkansas on Wednesday.  You have a tough job, but one that is important.  Each member on the team of educators is vital: teachers (I love you!), IT Directors (you rock), Curriculum Directors (some smart people), Principals (thankless job) and Superintendents (sleepless nights?)

Appreciate and recognize that you need each other.  And think of me... as you read this I'll be heading out to Tallahassee FL in the hopes that planes will take off and leave from there on time on Tuesday!

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