Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Every Principal Needs A Blog!

My only experience with ice fishing is the movie Grumpy Old Men. That brief glimpse was not enough to make me want to try it. However, the fact that ice fishing gave me the opportunity to guest post on this award-winning blog means that it can't be all bad.

Thanks Richard! Hope you caught a few!

By Patrick Larkin - Principal Burlington High School (MA)

I'll start with four questions for my fellow administrators:

  1. Are you proud of your school?
  2. Do you have students who are doing newsworthy things in class and in co-curricular activities?
  3. Do you have some great teachers who engage students in ways you never thought of?
  4. Would you like to improve communication with parents and the community?

Let's hope and assume that you went 4-for-4 in the affirmative. If not...well, I'll save that for another post.

Getting Started

Back to the topic at hand, blogging for administrators. One of things that most amuses me is the accolades I get for having a blog. My fellow bloggers can attest to how easy it is to blog. If you can type a word document then you can blog. The only extra step involved is hitting the "publish post" button. Blogging should not even be a question anymore, it really is a no-brainer.

Forget about press releases. Instead, write a blog post and send the link to the news desk at your local newspaper. Blogging allows you to brag daily about all of the great things happening in your school. You can brag about your students, brag about your teachers, and even brag about yourself. You should be the number-one source of news about things happening in your school.

From experience, I can tell you that your parents, your students, and the community will love you for it. When the students see me around taking pictures of things that they are doing in class and in co-curricular activities, I often hear them say to one another, "He's blogging you." I also enjoy getting e-mails from staff and parents asking me to post something on my blog about something happening with a student or a group of students.

Creating An Audience

I made a conscious decision to post a lot about athletics on my blog during year one. My goal was to get people going to the blog on a routine basis. I also cut out all newsletters and put all items on the blog instead, following up on major news and events with a connect-ed phone message to all parents with information and reminder to check out the blog for more details. Each day I would post at least two items so that there would be new information routinely and through all of this I have monitored my blog hits with statcounter.

As you can see the traffic has been pretty consistent with a record of over 10,000 unique visitors last March. Our boys hockey team made a tremendous playoff run (all the way to Boston Garden and I live blogged during the games with updates, causing my traffic to go through the roof.

With these regular visitors to my blog, I was able to move the agenda and start talking about topics related to teaching and learning at our school (i.e. cellphone policy , progress reports). The blog gave me a place for parents to go and get updates and ask questions about emergencies (i.e.threats against the school).

Promote Your Vision

This year we have transitioned away from sports and started a separate BHS Athletics Blog for most of our sporting news. In addition, I have started to post more routinely about my thoughts on changes needed in education both at BHS and beyond (i.e. My Sixth Grader Made High Honors Again). This has allowed me to get into deeper discussions about changes we need to make at our school and it gives staff and parents a better idea of my vision for BHS.

There is no downside to blogging for administrators. So I will leave you with one last question...

What are you waiting for!?

Making the change: technology and teaching

Two weeks ago I started a whole new adventure in my teaching career. I was, and remain quite nervous about the whole experience. I began teaching a class entirely in a computer lab.

I understand that for many people, especially computer teachers this is nothing extraordinary, but for me this was a big change. I have been teaching for almost ten years, and for ten years I’ve only taught the odd class using computers, so it’s had a pretty steep learning curve. Despite the fact that I am writing on a blog that extols the wonders of technology for teachers, I have been reminded that when you put thirty computers in front of thirty students on a daily basis the mix can be problematic. One of the things that I found myself dealing a lot with is a lot of ‘tech’ problems. Stupid, simple, run-of-the-mill problems, keyboards and mice that don’t work are common, and each issue takes time to solve. On Thursday, however, as I working on one of these problems I had to stop and really think about what I was doing. I had to think about what my goals were for the class.

When I was asked to take this class I had a clear choice, I could have taught this class like I have taught the dozens of other classes in my past or I could try something new. Since I asked for the computer lab you can imagine that my choice was to go for something new.

I have been inspired over the last five months by the amazing writers of so many educational blogs like this one. As the newly appointed teacher-librarian for a fair size high school it was certainly my job to get significantly more acquainted with technology, and reading blogs and following twitter has allowed me to move forward rapidly. The more I have read great blogs form people like Richard's here, Dave Truss, Shelley Terrell, and so many more, the more I realized that technology is just one piece of the puzzle, if I was going to be better, I had to change my approach to teaching and use technology as a tool to achieve it.

So that brings me back to my class from Thursday, should I really be fixing the students’ computer problems? Probably the answer is no, except for the fact that having students dig around thousands of dollars worth of equipment makes me a bit squeamish, so maybe I will keep fixing these problems.

However the small question of how I deal with the technological issues is representative of some other issues with this class. I still find myself answering all sorts of questions, and that is what I’m struggling with.

After ten plus years of teaching in one particular style it is really hard to break the mold. I have always taught in a teacher-centred classroom (learned in them too), and it’s hard to take a step back. There is always that little thought: ‘remember the exams; tell them this so that they pass.’ Not only am I struggling with it, but my so are my students. Since they are in the last semester of grade twelve, they have probably spent a good chunk of the preceding eleven and a half years learning form teachers just like me (or like I used to be). Their molds are hard to break, and many of them just want to ask the teacher so they get the 'right' answer.

So what to do? Well in the last couple of days I’ve noticed something. Some students are beginning to look for answers on their own. They are no longer asking me for the easy answer. It’s a step, a very small step, but maybe as I learn to pull back, the students can learn to step in, and we can enjoy the journey together.

I’m still nervous, I realize this won’t be easy, but maybe it can be fun.

My name is Greg MacCollum and I am the teacher-librarian and IB coordinator in Edmonton, Alberta. I have been teaching for about 10 years and until this year I had been teaching social studies, French and Spanish. Along with all the changes in my life this year (which included the birth of a son in June), I began writing my own blog Greg’s Eduweb blog this past October. It remains a work in progress.