Guest Post: Advice for Ed Leaders on Walking the Talk

by Michelle Spencer, @RustyClover 

When I was Principal of New Technology High School in Napa, I supported an amazing staff with advanced skills in designing projects that fostered collaborative and authentic learning opportunities for students. With such a talented group of educators, I needed to step up my game as an administrator. What does it take to walk the talk for using technology to personalize learning? The answer to that question involves not only finding the right technology aligned with instructional pedagogy, but also necessitates using technology in an organized, efficient, seamless manner. Here are three favorite discoveries I’ve made from my time at New Tech and EdSurge.

1: Efficiency and Organization with Google Apps for Education
As a leader at your school or district, it’s just not good enough to use Google Docs, you need to set up systems to help everyone find the documents and information they need. How many of you are being swallowed up and lost by the mass of shared docs you’ve created and received? Do yourself and your coworkers a favor and set up a series of numbered folders that include shared permissions embedded in the folders. And establish a protocol of naming conventions for folder and document titles. Here’s my suggestions for what should be created centrally at a typical high school:

Name of Folder Shared With Contains
00 Admin All Staff Subfolders for:

  • Frequently Used Forms & Letterhead
  • Staff Meetings
  • Handbooks & Calendars
01 Mod Lang Teachers in that department Subfolders for:

  • Each individual course by course name, but includes a naming convention with the teacher’s initials who created it, and the year it was created.
    • For example, “Span 1” is a subfolder, and within that folder there is a doc (or folder containing multiple docs) called “Culture Project MS17” to indicate that teacher Michelle Spencer invented the Culture Project in 2017.

Similarly, create a series of folders following the above numbering sequence, such as 02 STEM, 03 Humanities, etc.

By setting up shared permissions in organized folders, educators will be able to see each other’s assignments and inspire each other. This strategy helps new teachers as well as veteran teachers taking on a new prep to have background and history on what the course looked like in previous years. It provides institutional memory, and fosters staff sharing and collaboration.

Another favorite strategy I’ve used is to create one (only one!) doc for an entire year’s worth of staff meetings that includes a table of contents and bookmarks by meeting date so that everyone can easily jump to previous meetings. No more searching through a sea of individual docs. Instead you have one doc (and yes, by the end of the school year it has gotten long) that can be searched by keyword or date. Something about one doc helps build a mindset of consistency and continuum for an entire school year; everything is connected. I’d be happy to share a template I created for this type of rolling agenda, just email me (mspencerconsulting@gmail.com)!

2: Make Learning Authentic by Bringing in Real Experts
Most teachers strive to connect their content to authentic work in the real world. It’s incredible when a teacher takes the time to locate a local business person or organization who can help design, launch, or evaluate a project, making a clear connection to the community and the world of work. However, it can be a heavy lift for educators to find these resources. You as a leader can help: you can build a stronger bridge with your local community and invite individuals into your sphere to meet your staff and discover possible connections. You will find that when you invite local business people into your school, they will fall in love with your students, and often assist in any way possible.

Another awesome way to connect to experts in the field, especially in the challenging STEM area, is with a tool called Nepris (https://www.nepris.com) that connects teachers and students with industry experts through a virtual platform. It’s easy to use, good for any grade level K-12, and offers a starter plan that is entirely free! I’ve found that Nepris not only inspires students, but it can reenergize and inspire teachers as well.

3: Provide Staff with Easy To Use Collaboration Tools and Use Them Yourself Regularly
This is a tough one, because your job is crazy busy, and it is hard to find the time, and energy, it takes you, as an ed leader, to master a technology tool. Let’s use the example of the interactive white board. Did you invest in purchasing interactive white boards for classrooms a few years back? Now that so much time has passed, are your interactive boards being used merely as projection screens? I see this happen everywhere.

My favorite program for wirelessly sharing student work is NovoAssurED (http://www.novoassured.org) because it allows any device, regardless of make, model or operating system, to be projected onto the screen. Great for a BYOD environment or staff meetings where educators are using a variety of smart phones, Chromebooks, or lap-tops. Students or staff download a free app, and with the push of a button they can share their screens with everyone in the room. It also includes interactive whiteboard features. This program is available to individual teachers right now through a grant, so if you would like to nominate a fellow educator, or if you would like to try it out yourself, shoot me an email (mspencerconsulting@gmail.com) and I’ll send you the grant information.

The single best way to engage staff with using tech tools is to use them yourself. You gotta walk the talk!


Image: Michelle SpencerMichelle Spencer has been a teacher for seven years, and an administrator for fourteen years, in traditional and charter schools. She was the principal of New Technology High School (collaborative project-based learning), and has been a Google Education Trainer since 2011. Michelle is currently National Faculty with Buck Institute for Education and the Director of Summits & Professional Learning at EdSurge. She is on Twitter @RustyClover.

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