Look our for SQUIRRELs

They sneak up on us from everywhere. Something we heard about at a conference, a blog post we read, something we saw on Pinterest or Facebook or Twitter. Maybe at an EdCamp or an observation at another school. We think, “If I did this, it would change everything; it would totally solve the problem of __________.” And all the sudden we want to drop everything and focus on that idea.

I like to call these squirrels, those silver bullets for situations that don’t have silver bullets. Deep down, we know there’s no quick fix (of course there isn’t), but that shiny new package is so … shiny.

We know that change takes time. We know that one quick intervention won’t solve a complicated problem. We know that getting that new piece of technology, having everyone read that new book, or adopting that new policy won’t change things overnight. We know this. But those squirrels are still out there, vying for our attention.

And of course, there’s no quick fix (squirrel?) to avoid squirrels. But we need to be aware that they’re always there. And if you find yourself super-excited about something as soon as you hear about it, sure that this new idea will solve that problem, stop. Take a breath. Sleep on it. Ask some colleagues what they think.

Beware of squirrels.


This started as a post about technology (about Squirrel Apps), but as I mulled it around it became about so much more in schools (and in life for that matter).

Don’t Talk If They’re Talking

This morning I checked in with a first-year teacher in my building. Knowing she’s ready (or at least as ready as any of us were in our first year) I offered one quick piece of advice: Don’t talk if they’re talking.

If your’ve giving directions, everyone needs to be listening. Everyone. What you have to say is important, so no one else should be talking. If you allow them to chat when you’re talking it sends the message that what you have to say isn’t important (which is a dangerous message to start sending on day one).

Wait as long as you have to. They’ll figure it out. When you’re talking to students, don’t talk if they’re talking.

Reflections: Starting Year Two as an Administrator

Tomorrow, staff return. Next week, the students. As I prepare for my second year as an administrator (assistant principal at an elementary school), I’ve been looking back on year one. What went well? What didn’t? What do I want to keep doing? What do I need to pay more attention to? Three things came to mind.

1. Being in Classrooms

This went pretty well. I tried to get into as many classrooms as I could each day. Even if just for a minute. Teachers and students got used to me popping in when I was “in the neighborhood.” Some days I got to all of them, other days none. I also tried to use errands as a way to get into classrooms – if I had to go to the gym I’d try to swing by a few classes on my way there/back.

This year, I want to see more. I’d like to try to carve out an hour a day in my calendar (between other less-flexible things) to be in classrooms. I’ll still shoot for every classroom, every day – that has to be the goal.

2. My “Peers”

I had been warned by many that being an administrator is isolating, and I thought I was prepared. By January I realized that I wasn’t quite as prepared as I thought. Sure, I had a few key people to bounce ideas off, but the large peer group I had as a teacher simply didn’t exist anymore. And as things got busy, I neglected my online peers (losing touch with twitter and my blog – which serve as place for reflection and hashing out ideas). And my hour-long commute didn’t help any either.

This year, I need to get back to this blog. And back on Twitter. They are ways for me to reflect as well as connect with other educators. Without the large default peer group I had as a teacher I need to put some directed energy into creating/maintaining one.

3. Exercise

Between the craziness of administration and my hour-long commute exercise took a back seat. I saw it happening, but had a hard time getting my routines back. In February I signed up for a May marathon (not my first, I’ve run many, and I can’t advise running your first marathon in your first year as an administrator). It helped give me a goal and helped me get back into a routine. Marathons are hard enough, I wasn’t about to put myself in a position to start the race unprepared.

Did I get every workout in exactly as planned? No, but I was able to look at my calendar every Sunday night and map out my training for the week. Move a workout here and there, cancel a run all together from time to time. But knowing raceday was coming kept me out on the roads (marathon training isn’t something you can fake or cram in at the end).

This year, I need to take care of myself a little better in the fall. Running is an important part of my routine (physically and mentally) and no one benefits if I neglect it. Looking at my calendar and planning each week of workouts seemed to work.

Looking Forward

I’m looking forward to year two. I know the staff and the school in ways I couldn’t have coming in to year one. I’ve identified some stuff to tweak and some stuff to keep doing. It’s going to go well. And I’ve moved closer to school; I should get close to an hour a day of my life back. That will help in a variety of areas.

Photo credit: Ben Schersten

Field Day, 95 Degrees, and a Button-up

Yesterday was Field Day. I spent most of the day outside. It was 95°. The low the night before was 70° (so is wasn’t even cool in the morning). There was blue sky from horizon to horizon. I still wore my button-up with a bow tie, the same thing I wear to school every day.

Because… consistency.

I’ve written about consistency before in Your Students Secretly Hate Vacations and Is Your School Year Winding Down or Winding Up, and it holds true for things like Field Day. As an assistant principal there’s a good change that on a very-different, less-structured day I’m going to have a chat with one my regulars, one of my friends who really relies on the consistency we’ve taken away from them today.

Will that conversation be more productive if look like I do every other day, or if I’m wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and sneakers? No doubt consistency, predictability, will make it a more productive conversation where I can help get the student back to Field Day activities as soon as possible.

So, no matter the day, you know what I’ll be wearing.

Side Note: To be clear, I have no qualms about my teachers wearing shorts, t-shirts, and sneakers for Field Day. They play a different role in the success of the day, and dressing for success and what’s best for kids sometimes look different for teachers and administrators.

Screen Time: We’re Asking the Wrong Question

Screen Time: A Quick History

Screen Time started to become a thing in the mid-90s and our awareness of it has taken of since then. With the prevalence of portable screens on smart phones and tables, screen time has become an important issue.

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Use of the phrase “screen time” as cataloged by Google Book’s ngram viewer.

 What Does Did “Screen Time” Mean?

When the idea of screen time started to take off 20 years ago it’s important to remember what screens were like back then. Screens were mostly passive, and they were a consumption activity. Screen time meant watching TV, watching a movie, or paying a video game. It was the early days of the internet when being online meant consuming someone else’s content. Screens were not a creative space.

What Does “Screen Time” Mean Now?

babyscreenScreens have changed though. First, screens are much smaller and more portable; we carry them with us everywhere. This makes the screen time conversation that much more important. But, there is a second way screens have changed, and this is important. Screens, and screen time, no longer just support consumption; screens now support creation.

The Right Question Is: What Kind of Screen Time is it?

Screens do so much more today. Because of this, we can no longer lump all screen time into the same category. Passively watching cat videos on YouTube and actively taking an idea from your head and turning it into a video game with Hopscotch are very different things. When we talk about screen time we have to consider whether it’s a consumption or a creation activity.

In September 2014 the Boston Globe posted this graphic.

Click to enlarge, or there’s a linear version of it here (though this version doesn’t differentiate the passive, interactive, and creative sections).

Clearly not all screen time is created equal.

More Reading

The full Boston Globe article is here. Edutopia has a nice article written by Beth Holland as well. And eSchool News has a report on some recent research here.

photo credit: Mark Kenny via photopin cc

Using iPad Restrictions to Help Students Make Better Choices

13215772563_891cbf5654_oWe have a rule in my school that if you want to photograph someone with your iPad you must get their permission first. It’s an important rule, but sometimes students break it. This raises an interesting question: if a student is using the iPad inappropriately, should we take the iPad away from them? Since we’re 1:1 with iPads, taking a student’s device away can have ripples of impact.

On the surface, it seems like taking the iPad away makes sense. If a student uses a tool inappropriately, take the tool away. But the iPad isn’t just a tool, it’s a toolbox full of tools. So if a student abuses a tool (such as the camera), is there a way we can take away just that tool? Yes, using iPad Restrictions.

iPad Restrictions

Restrictions allow us (with a password) to enable/disable certain tools in the iPad toolbox. In Burlington, we have some restrictions automatically pushed to every device (for example, we disable FaceTime and the iTunes Store and restrict ratings for videos).

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Standard elementary student restrictions.

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Standard elementary student restrictions.

In addition, for individual students we can add additional specific restrictions. The iPad is a powerful device because it does so much, and I am certainly in favor of having as few restrictions as reasonably and developmentally appropriate, but if a student is abusing a feature on the iPad I’d much rather disable that feature than take the entire device.

Setting Up Restrictions

In the Settings app, go to General -> Restrictions. Select “Enable Restrictions.” It will ask you to set a passcode. Make sure you remember it. When I set it for kids, I write it down somewhere. From here you can disable features on an individual basis. If a student is abusing the camera, turn just the camera off for a day or so. If a student is downloading apps they shouldn’t, disable Installing Apps. If a student is hanging out on Safari when they should be doing other work, turn Safari off (and get rid of any other browsers they have).

Since these restrictions can be set at the classroom level, you can turn them back on whenever you need to.

Finally

For kids to learn appropriate use it’s important to give them a chance to make mistakes; let’s not over-restrict their iPad experience. But if they make a mistake, let’s deal with that mistake specifically by addressing the specific tool, not the entire toolbox.

lock photo credit: Locked via photopin (license)

It’s Not About Teaching, It’s About Learning

laotzuI recently had a teacher tell me one of her students had accused her of not teaching him anything. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“You don’t teach us anything in science.”

What?! The teacher was confused. What about all those experiments we did? What about the weeks of carefully planned lessons? What about all that stuff you learned?

The student responded, “yea, but you didn’t teach me that. I did all that by myself.”

Isn’t this what we want to have happening? Having students play a roll in their education. Not just being lectured to, but actually learning though experience? Something needs to change if we have a culture where students feel cheated out of something if their teachers don’t rely on direct instruction.