EngageME: PLEASE! (Personalized Learning Experiences Accelerate Standards-based Education)

This blog post is cross posted on the Rodel Foundation Blog (http://www.rodelfoundationde.org/connect/blog).

Students engaged through use of their own technology

Personalized learning has certainly reached trending status in the education community.  The phrase is being used in many places with many different definitions. For instance, the U.S. Department of Education, in its 2010 Educational Technology Plan, defines personalized learning as “instruction paced to the learning needs, tailored to the learning preferences and tailored to the specific interests of different learners.” The USED’s definition makes note that it encompasses both differentiation and individualization. In comparison, the Center for Digital Education in its special report called “Pathways to Personalized Learning” has defined personalized learning as “the tailoring of pedagogy, curriculum and learning environments to meet the needs and aspirations of individual learners, typically with the support of technology.” The CDE concludes the power of personalize learning is to excite students by turning on their “learning switches.” And Knowledge Works has created an infographic entitled A Glimpse into the Future of Learning. It “points the way toward a diverse learning ecosystem in which learning adapts to each child instead of each child trying to adapt to school.”

Forsyth County Schools (FCS) has also been focusing on personalized learning.  FCS was already making changes to move away from that “one size fits all” model of instruction. Delivering entire units of instruction to all students without variations of differentiation holds back those in need of remediation or acceleration – both in the classroom and online environment.  Forsyth County Schools recognizes the value of digital learning and offers a variety of options for students and we call this the Digital Learning Continuum.

The U.S. Department of Education selected Forsyth County Schools (FCS) as one of 49 grantees for a 2010 Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) grant. FCS is completing the project in partnership with external partners and the University of Georgia. The $4.7 million in funding was awarded to the district in September 2010.  FCS is the only recipient in Georgia and one of 12public school districts in the nation to be a grantee.

This transformational system eclipses the current paradigm that results in silos of data, replacing it over time with a fully integrated system, extended to include standards-based learner plans and a content management system where activities and resources are matched to students’ current performance level and individual learner characteristics. This system will be viewed in a user interface that engages learners as well as teachers, leaders, and parents.

The cornerstone of this project will be the design of a personalized learner plan, which includes the student’s longitudinal and immediate feedback data from prior courses, learning preferences, and intervention successes, that is modified based on the needs of the student.

Teachers will have the ability to sequence the assembly of learning activities and formative assessments in a student’s learning plan to reach proficiency. The teacher’s lesson plan is linked to aligned standards, objectives, instructions for teaching and expected outcomes. The teacher then uses these resources to inform daily instructional decisions in the classroom and prescribe personalized interventions.

Forsyth County Schools will triangulate benchmark assessments, real-time classroom learning data, and student self-assessments to accelerate mastery of district and national instructional standards.

Based on the student’s individualized learning preferences, habits, and progress, the system will recommend learning resources, content and instructional methods that will be filtered to a customized student portal.

Having a learning platform that can transform the educational experiences of students will do nothing unless there is a change in instructional practices. The district has begun working with teachers on the changing role of the classroom leader as it relates to personalized learning. Emphasis on a student centered approach has the classroom activities centered on providing opportunities for student voice and choice, while engaging them with robust digital resources.  Our goal is to develop a learning environment that provide students with the content they need, when the need it, and how they need it.

Stay tuned! This is an ongoing development project and we continue to share throughout this learning journey.

Key Tools of the New Leader: Relationships and Respect

Two lizards battle each other

As our school year gets started, quite a bit of our time is focused on supporting the new school-based instructional technology specialists and media specialists in our district. It’s a tough job being “green” in any leadership role and especially in these two. A new technology leader may feel much like the two lizards pictured here – balancing on the edge and perhaps even feeling like you are being backed into a corner. I have often said that the learning curve is more of a vertical line; or put another way, it’s like drinking from a fire hose. It can be overwhelming and intimidating to go into a coaching role; especially as you realize that you not only don’t have all the answers, you have few, if any, answers!

While some might not consider the ITS or Media Specialist as a school leader, in my district we have always worked to grow leadership skills in these folks. In making hiring decisions regarding ITS or Media Specialist, I believe we should be hiring individuals in whom we see the potential to become a principal. That doesn’t mean every ITS or Media Specialist has to become a school administrator nor that the individual is ready to become a principal right away. But definitely the potential should be there.

I recently read Mary Beth Hertz’ post on Edutopia “Advice to New Technology Coaches” with great interest. The suggestions are spot on and well worth taking to heart. Being a listener is a key skill for all leaders. And Hertz does a great job of addressing the fact that it’s all about learning not about the technology.

Additionally Elliot Seif posted a great piece on ASCD’s edge called “Ten Teacher Questions for Self Reflection“. Though Self’s questions are targeted to classroom teachers, it’s not hard to extrapolate how those might be reworked for leaders. For the beginning leader and for the veteran, the practice of self-reflection is key to improving practice. Some of the questions work just as they are. “What are my beliefs about how students learn?” and “How do I build a positive climate for learning?” should be key points for coaches to consider.

Along the lines of the advice offered by Hertz and Seif, I offer the following insights based on my fifteen years of working with new instructional technologists and media specialists.

Induction is a Minimum of a Three Year Process

As I said before, stepping into a coaching role can be an overwhelming change. One reason for this is that typically the individual taking on that role was a master teacher. The person knew his or her job extremely well and had mastered the content as well as the strategies for success. Stepping into that new leadership role means being at a point where there are more things you don’t know than you do. And it takes time to build up your knowledge base in the new role, so be gentle on yourself. I often say that year one in the new role is just about getting comfortable in your skin; while year two is a time when you have the basics ironed out and you can begin to anticipate what will be coming at you and when. However it’s usually not until year three when you begin to really perfect your craft.

Focus on Relationships and Respect

When you start this new leadership role, your gut reaction will likely be to try to change the entire world on day one. That passion and drive are going to serve you well through the tough times of figuring out your new role and in the future as you do change the world one person and one lesson at a time. It’s also true that people won’t be willing to take a risk (change) with you until they trust and respect you. So in year one your most important goal is to build relationships with those you work with and to let folks get to know you so that your word begins to mean something to them. Don’t hole up in your office – get out there and eat lunch with folks and stop by rooms during planning periods (not with an agenda, but rather just to say hi and listen). Focus on just a couple of teachers who are willing to work with you in year one and share those successes with others. That will build trust and grow respect.

Grow Your PPLN

While as a teacher you have a built-in support network of people who are teaching the same grade level/content as you, moving into a leadership role means you will likely be the only or one of a couple of people in your building who do the job that you do. So it means that you have to grow your own garden of support. If there are others who do a similar job in your school district reach out to them! Ask for help. The social media universe is another way to find your PPLN (personal professional learning network). We’ve started a hash tag for instructional technologists and media specialists designed to give our own district folks a place to get ideas and share with a group of people who are walking down the same road. We encourage anyone who is interested to tweet with us to the hashtag “#4ITS”.



What’s Your Story? Telling Beautifully Illustrated Stories with Your Photographs

Photo of an old schoolhouse in Western NC
Photo of an old schoolhouse in Western NC

I’m an amateur shutterbug. I’ve always love photography but the advent of the digital camera, I really became enamoured of the process.  I’ve spent years practicing at all the details of shooting with a digital single-lens reflex camera (DLSR).  I can explain the exposure triangle and I do regularly review the histogram of my shots.

And I know that there can almost be a caste system among photographers. Those who use the manual settings may look down their noses that those who leave everything on automatic and those with DSLR cameras may look down their noses at those who use the camera on a smart-phone. Well, I’m not one of those people!

In fact, though I enjoy all the aspects of shooting with a highly technical camera and I salivate at the thought of acquiring an EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens, I really believe that everybody can take a better photo just by paying attention and by focusing on telling a story with your photos.

I had the great pleasure to take a workshop with photographer Kathryn Kolb that really helped me to “see differently”. While what we do with the camera knobs and dials cannot be discounted, what we do with our eye is at least as, if not, more important!

Photography as Storytelling: Storytelling as Photography

Listen as photographer Douglas Kirkland talks about telling stories through photography.

 Enliven The Story Through Well Chosen Images

Which of these two shots better tells the story to the concept of a deep snowfall?

Isn’t that a fun game? Here are two more. To make it even more exciting, what’s the concept and which better tells the story?

Eight Strategies for Taking Better Photographs

These ideas come from a huge variety of readings, workshops I’ve taken, fellow photographer friends and my own personal wrestling around with taking pictures.

  1. Change Angles – Shoot low or high or turn the camera 45 degrees. This photo by Matt Maness is a great example. And this one by Steeve Le Gal is good too.
  2. Use Your Foot Zoom – Yes your camera may have a zoom function on it and you might have one of those 500mm lenses that I dream about. That doesn’t excuse using your feet to move in closer to your subject. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.
  3. Move Around – Directly related to getting closer is moving around.  Not just a couple of steps either. It’s a good idea to move completely to another spot to see if you get something more interesting.  I had that experience shooting one morning at the beach. Trying to get shots of the pier. It wasn’t until I started moving that I realized what the reflection was doing.
  4. Macro Photography – This is an art form all of its own and it offers some great stories.  How would you caption this one by Fabrice Chevrier? Could you write a six word story for this awesome photo by Erik Roland Grooten?
  5. S Curves – These really help the eye move through a photo. Here’s an example of one by Scott Baldock Photography. And a classic one from Mike Danneman
  6. Leading Lines – This is related to the S curve and rather than forming that serpentine movement through the photo. These are lines that move the eye from one place to another. Here’s an example and another of my own.
  7. Rule of ThirdsDarren Rouse from the Digital Photography School does an excellent job of explaining the rule of thirds so I’ll let that speak for this concept.
  8. Patterns – We naturally love to see patterns and make order even where there isn’t any.  Keep your eye out for times when you can tell the story through a pattern. Here’s one I took at the Denver Botanical Gardens. Another excellent example is provided by Rob Travis.
App-y To Edit

While I think most professional photographers would suggest editing with Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, for the rest of us the explosion of tools available for the smartphone and tablet are worth investigating.  There are too many to talk about all of them and those available change very quickly. My criteria for this list were that the app had to be available on iOS and Android, it had to be EASY, and it had to add unique value. So here goes:

  1. Be Funky – I love the online version and the app version is just as awesome.
  2. My Sketch – This is a very specific tool that creates interesting effects.
  3. Snapseed – A wonderful all purpose photo-editing tool.
  4. Adobe Photoshop Express – Here’s your chance to try the pro tool for free.
  5. Photo Editor by Aviary – One of the only tools that is available for just about every platform.

Sometimes, we aren’t able to be our own photographer. That’s when it’s good to have some places to go for images that are royalty free. Just remember to always give credit where credit is due! You would want the same with your photos. Here are some that I like to use.

Photography Assignment Choices

The Mystery Macro Photography Assignment

The inspiration for this activity actually goes back to an old magazine called Games Magazine which had (has) an activity in it called Eyeball Benders.  See a sample here. Another site with a similar concept is MysteryPhotos.com.

The Six Word Story

This exercise involves telling a story with only one picture and creating the six word caption to go with the story.  See this Tumbler site for some examples. There is a flickr pool for six word stories as well.

Place Based Photography via Windows and Doors

Here’s a great article on the value of Place-Based Education from Edutopia. The idea of photographing windows and doors as a exercise in improving your eye for great photos is not new.  Here’s one assignment along the same lines. Here’s another one from Digital Photo Academy. The goal I have is that your photos will capture the essence of the place. So if you take a photo of a door that could be in any city in the world, that’s not quite hitting the mark. And here’s a photo of a door in Italy by Helen that really tells the story of Italy. And look at this French Door from Judith Montano.

Other random Digital Storytelling Resources


The bottom line is to have fun and enjoy the journey.  Be sure that you are capturing the story in every moment as you take your photos.

Learning to TRUST with Responsible Use

(Cross-posted at Bold Visions and BYOT Network and cowritten by Jill Hobson, Director of Instructional Technology and Dr. Tim Clark, Coordinator of Instructional Technology – Forsyth County Schools) 

Photo Credit: Lynne Mashburn

When do you begin teaching responsible use? It should start at birth. Many parents begin creating the child’s digital footprint before the child is even born by posting the ultrasound photo on social media. Ideally when the child enters school you would expect a child to know how to share, take turns, listen to other opinions and know the difference between right and wrong and some understanding of social norms for public and private behavior. In reality we realize that some children come to school unprepared with some of those social skills and so we nurture and model and teach appropriate behavior until these become internalized.

 For example,we live in an era where parents have some model for the “sex talk” because most people participated in such a conversation(s) as a child.  There are multiple books and blogs and other resources to help parents with how to handle this issue.  But who among us as parents has a model for ongoing digital citizenship conversation? Most adults have developed their knowledge of social media through experimentation without guidance, yet we wouldn’t want our kids to learn about sex in that way! So, this is an area where the school has a responsibility to step in and join with families in the work of teaching digital citizenship.

From the beginning of a child’s school career, learning about responsible must be an everyday, ongoing, just in time experience. Where would a school find resources for this kind of instruction? One powerful tool for schools AND parents that we recommend is Common Sense Media.

In addition it seems that when issues occur where a young person makes a mistake, the initial reaction leans towards banning whatever device, app or website was involved as a solution.  While this is a quick way to deal with the immediate issue, it misses the larger need to educate students on how to live in a world of the open Internet.  Students need to learn what it means to responsibly make use of these tools.  And it means that we need to know what to do when we end up in the wrong place, when we mess up, or make a poor choice.  How do young people learn to “course correct” without some guidance from the adults in their lives?

Forsyth County Schools has begun to address the way we deal with issue by moving away from the traditional Acceptable Use Guidelines that include a long list of “thou shalt nots” and has replaced them with the FCS Responsible Use Guidelines.  These guidelines include 5 statements outlining behaviors all members of the FCS community will exhibit regarding digital citizenship. We started to recognize that we had been focusing on the 5% of students who might not follow directions and were making all of the “rules” to deal with their issues.  Our goal in transforming the Acceptable Use Guidelines into Responsible Use Guidelines was to focus on the 95% of students who are going to do the right thing.

The district will begin its sixth year of its Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative in the 2013-2014 school year.  At the onset of implementing BYOT, it seemed necessary to control the devices and applications the students were using in order to ensure safety.  There was some concern about what would happen when students brought their own technology tools to school, and the district leaned heavily on its filtered network as a measure of control.  The big A-HA moment came when students brought devices to school and generally used them responsibly and safely, and the few issues that arose were identified as behavioral concerns to be addressed rather than being technology problems.  The district outgrew its one-size-fits-all Acceptable Use Guidelines and began its quest to develop the new FCS Responsible Use Guidelines.  Some goals of this effort were to have consistent home-school communication and support; to provide some flexibility to local school communities; to teach digital citizenship within the context of students’ personal devices,; and to encompass the growing diversity and different expectations of our learning community.

Here is a poster that we have developed to express the five traits and expectations of the new FCS Responsible Use Guidelines embedded within the overarching concept of TRUST:

We TRUST that the new school year with the new FCS Responsible Use Guidelines will have a renewed focus on digital age learning and citizenship.  To review the FCS Responsible Use Guidelines, please visit http://www.forsyth.k12.ga.us/responsibleuse.



Breaking Through the Digital Divide… A Little Bit At A Time

FCS WiFi Sponsor Logo
Logo for the FCS Free WiFi Program

Recently Forsyth County Schools convened a task force to consider issues of equity in our Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) program.  The task force has examined a variety of data including information on what types of devices are being brought to school in our district and how many devices are in use.

On average we see between 15,000 and 17,000 devices connected to our network at any given time. The most popular devices (in order of frequency) are iPhones, iPods, Android Phones, iPads, Windows OS Laptops, Kindles and Mac OS Laptops.

Additionally, 95% of our middle school students report that they have a device with internet capability.

What we find to be still a problem is internet access at home.  That’s where the digital divide really exists today. Mary Beth Hertz wrote about this in a A New Understanding of the Digital Divide for Edutopia.

FCS’ BYOT Equity Task Force started a campaign to develop a directory of locations in the community which are willing to allow students to come in and use their free wifi after school. This online directory provides a list and interactive map of free Wi-Fi hotspots, sponsored by organizations and businesses in Cumming-Forsyth County. The Free Wi-Fi Directory is available at www.forsyth.k12.ga.us/wifi and also accessible from the school district and school websites.

Using Google Maps, the locations can be viewed in map format so that a family can get directions to the location and there is also a alphabetical listing of all the businesses at www.forsyth.k12.ga.us/wifi. The map has already been viewed over 1800 times.

We’ve been pleasantly surprised at the types of businesses that have volunteered to participate.  From a realty company to a karate studio to grocery store, more than 45 businesses have already signed up.

The school system provides a static cling that the business can put up in the window or door to indicate that they are a participating member. You can see the logo as part of this blog post.

The main reason I’m sharing our story is because the investment of dollars in this project is nearly non-existent (just buying the decals). It’s something that every single school community could do and probably should do.

I’m a realist – I don’t think that this addresses every equity issue that exists in our community and I think that it is a fantastic first effort. Stay tuned to hear about additional efforts coming from the BYOT Equity Task Force.


Strategies for Taking Flight with BYOT

“There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings.” ~ Hoddin

(cross posted at BYOT Network and Bold Visions and cowritten by Dr. Tim Clark, Instructional Technology Coordinator of Forsyth County Schools)

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills identified 4 critical areas of learning for students that include creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.  In Forsyth County Schools, we’ve been working hard with parents, teachers and students to embrace learning with student-owned technologies; something we call Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT).  What we know for sure is that BYOT is really more like Bring Your Own Learning because we’ve discovered that it is NOT about the technology – it IS about the learning.

The video, Above and Beyond, by Peter Reynolds and produced for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, is a wonderful illustration of what is possible when students are given the freedom to personalize the learning experience for themselves.

As you watch the video, you might consider the following questions:

  1. What happens when designers of learning recognize that students are always volunteers in learning?
  2. How can designers of learning create a “kit” and still allow students the freedom to produce individualized results?
  3. In a world where we feel pressured to cover everything within a given time frame, how do we schedule innovation and deeper learning?
  4. How do we honor each child’s strengths and still nurture collaboration?
  5. How would the meaning of the story change if Maya and Charlie were to lose the race?

We have spent a great deal of time watching BYOT unfold its wings in the classrooms around our district.  And we’ve seen so many great strategies that support the 4 C’s of creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. These strategies are ageless and cross all content areas. We teach them in our professional learning sessions and coach teachers to consider these as they begin to incorporate BYOT themselves:

  1. Backchanneling while watching a video:  In this way the teacher is able to foster collaboration and communication by having students answer questions and post observations as the video proceeds.
  2. Take a picture or create an image which demonstrates understanding of a concept: This is a powerful way to encourage creativity as well as critical thinking.  A variation on this strategy is having students annotate on the image using an app on their device.
  3. Arrive at consensus and submit one answer per pair: It’s not necessary for every student to have a device. In fact it’s preferable that students are forced to collaborate on their thinking and agree on the answer that will be submitted via a student response system like Socrative. This strategy enhances critical thinking as well as collaboration.
  4. Sharing tools for learning: There is a magical thing that occurs when BYOT is first introduced in a class.  If a teacher encourages students to share their devices with each other while talking about the ways in which the apps and device can be used to support learning, the great ideas flow and student excitement about learning blossoms.  And meanwhile students are thinking critically, collaborating, communicating and getting creative.
  5. Demonstrating how to do something: We’ve seen some fantastic examples of critical thinking where students are using screen sharing apps to demonstrate how to solve math problems.  We’ve even seen some examples where students have to incorporate a mistake into the problem and show why that mistake is incorrect and how to fix it – requiring some creativity to communicate as well.
  6. Turning a standard into a driving question: When teachers gain some comfort with implementing BYOT and have begun to give up some of the control in the classroom, this strategy works very well.  The teacher will share a particular standard with students and together they will write a question that is compelling, asks “so what” and results in a product that useful and beneficial beyond the classroom.  This strategy definitely addresses all of the 4 C’s in the process!
  7. Finding a new way to show what you know:  Another great strategy to use once students have become comfortable in the BYOT classroom is to ask them to demonstrate their learning in an innovative way.  Students cannot repeat any of the previously used strategies as a way to represent learning.  Students are forced to think critically about ways that they can demonstrate their mastery and to do so creatively.
  8.  Building a community bank of ways to show what you know: The teacher has to utilize the ingenuity and critical thinking of the students in the classroom or online in a wiki for instructional and technical support.  By suggesting ways to learn with their technology tools, students begin to own their learning.  Teachers can posts these ideas throughout the classroom, so students can use them as creative resources and communicate with each other for additional expertise.

Implementing the above strategies can strengthen the learning community of the classroom.  The real transformation begins to occur as teachers realize that they can and should learn alongside their students to explore new ways to utilize personal technology.  Not only do students strengthen their digital age skills, but they also feel more connected to each other, their teachers, and their learning.  As shown in Above and Beyond, our students will one day truly take flight, and hopefully their experiences today will successfully pilot them in their different directions.

iRead iCreate iShare, A Reading Incentive Program

It has been a goal of mine for quite a while to create a modern version of the reading incentive program. The reading incentives that I’ve been aware of previously have all focused on students earning points towards tchotchkes. I see this as external motivation rather than encouraging students to find intrinsic motivation for reading. And giving rewards has a tendency to decrease interest and motivation rather than the opposite.

iRead iCreate iShare logoSo over the past six months or so I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to partner with our local library, Forsyth County Public Library, to craft a new kind of reading program which we call iRead iCreate iShare. What we’ve created is an idea that can be replicated in any community anywhere in the world. And there is very little to no cost associated with it.

So here’s how it works:


Anyone ages 0 – 109 (and beyond) reads a book.  Any book. There are no levels or scores or any restrictions other than conversations that parents and students have about what is appropriate in that family. Being passionate about the book will make the next part even more fun.


Now it’s time to create a book trailer.  Think of this as being like a movie trailer but about a book. The goal is to entice others to read that book. We offer a series of questions and ask readers to choose three questions to answer as part of the book trailer. The book trailer has to be online.  This is something that the student and parent or student and teacher or the adult does. We don’t restrict this to using any particular platform or online tool. We want the creator of the book trailer to decide how best to accomplish this task. We do have some resources for those who are looking for suggestions on how to create and share a book trailer online.


Now for the fun part! Participants complete an online form submitting the book trailer for consideration.  If accepted the book trailer will become part of the iRead iCreate iShare website. And all libraries – both school and public – will be adding a QR code to the book so that patrons can watch these book trailers as they are choosing their next book selection.

And Forsyth County Public Library through their Friends of the Library program has graciously agreed to host celebrations for those whose book trailers are accepted. These celebrations may be opportunities for pajama parties to sharing a love of reading or times when an author comes to speak to the attendees or perhaps attendees will be asked to dress as their favorite character from a book.

We already have several book trailers on the site including one by Esther, a 4th grader, for The Dragon Prophecy, by Geronimo Stilton and by Aparna S, a 4th Grader, for The Giver by Lois Lowry.

This project would not have been possible without the support of Vanessa Cowie, Information Specialist, Youth Services, Forsyth County Public Library.


Literacy for the “Now”: Digital Citizenship, Digital Footprint and Online Safety

Today’s post is really more of a resource guide and less of a post…

Let’s begin by hearing from Karen Cator, Director of the USDOE Office of Educational Technology, as she talks about the importance of educating young people about online safety.

Karen Cator: Cyberbullying

There are plenty of smart people who have shared their thoughts on the topic of online safety and digital citizenship. I don’t need to wax poetic – let me point you to these fine examples:

If you aren’t Googling yourself and keeping up with your own digital footprint you SHOULD be doing it! A great way to do this is to use Google Alerts.

And staying abreast of the federal legislation that governs our responsibilities as educators when it comes to online safety is important too. This document, Online Safety – A Federal Mandate resource guide, will help you keep up with four important laws.

Watch Common Sense Media’s short video on E-rate and CIPA.

Speaking of Common Sense Media. If you haven’t joined and made use of their resources, what are you waiting for???

A couple of other things that may be useful:

Something new that is coming on this front is a trend nationally to move away from Appropriate Use Policies and Procedures that have lots of specific “thou shalt nots” in them and to move towards the idea of Responsible Use Policies.

Here are a couple of examples:

The most important thing is to keep talking about this issue and make plans for how you will address this in your school.

What would you do?

Mr and Mrs Snowman

Recent events of all sorts have had me thinking, “what would I do?”

From the terrible, terrible tragedy in Connecticut to the seemingly impossible end of the world predictions, there have been quite a few events that have all had implications for educators.

One of the most haunting word pictures for me were the stories of the youngest of children joining hands, perhaps closing their eyes, and being led away from danger. While heartbreaking and tragic that children have experienced such violence, it’s uplifting to hear of the heroic efforts of educators and community members in the face of evil.  The mere act of holding hands and joining together symbolizes a kind of hope and belief in the power of community.  The rest of the world has been left to try to learn some lessons from the awful events of December 14. Thank goodness for organizations such as Common Sense Media that have provided guidance and resources for families and parents to talk to children.

This may also be a time for contemplating the fragility and fleetingness of life.  The often used question, “What would you do if you had only one day left to live?” comes to mind. As an educator, my mind is drawn to that question from the perspective of what my legacy might be.  Would I be the kind of hero that Dawn Hocksprung was?  Would I have the courage that Victoria Soto had? If the world is to end tomorrow, what should I be doing with today?

While I fervently pray that I’ll never have to face a situation like the one at Sandy Hook, there are questions to consider.  What if I only had one day left as an educator or leader?  What would I want to do with that time?  What legacy do I want to leave?

There are so many possibilities it’s hard to put my finger on just area of work for a legacy.  Perhaps it would be the work to create a new kind of reading incentive program, iRead iCreate iShare, with Forsyth County Public Library. Or it could easily be efforts to transform learning through programs like BYOT.

But more than all of these, I would want my legacy and would use one last day to extend a hand to those who are considering a new leadership role.  I’d want to take the opportunity to share a few insights, offer a few questions to consider and perhaps help a leader find their way through an often confusing and stressful path.  What would I do?  I’d hold hands and join with others to build a bridge toward a brighter future.

What would you do?


Creating the “Must Have” Media Center

Must Have Media Centers
FCS Media Centers

One of the largest spaces in any school is the media center. Unfortunately this space hasn’t gotten much attention or thought as the way in which we learn has evolved over the past 150 years.

In many cases the library is still thought of as a place to keep books. And I don’t mean e-books. In fact, the media center of 2012 and beyond should be a place for creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication. As Common Core puts more emphasis on performance tasks (also called projects), research and informational texts, the library is even more mission-critical than ever.

Kate Rix writes in “Are Librarians Still Important?” (Scholastic Administrator Magazine, Back to School 2012) “the more robust the library ­program, the better students do academically. Not only that, but a credentialed teacher-librarian can become another instructional leader in the building and a go-to resource for the principal.”

Here in Forsyth County Schools, we are re-thinking the design and layout of the space as well as re-inventing the role of the media specialist.

Some areas of consideration for the physical space include:

  • Food – Think about it – if you had a choice between hanging out at Starbucks with your coffee and free wifi or going to a place where you couldn’t have food, which would you choose?
  • Noise Level – The days of shushing people in the library are over. As previously mentioned this is a place for students and adults to communicate.
  • Comfort and Flexibilty – Hard wooden furniture that takes 5 people to move when you need a difference configuration don’t make sense in today’s learning environment. And we’re all more likely to sit in the “comfy chair” aren’t we?
  • Open and Close Times – The media center needs to be open when patrons need it and that means allowing having an assistant come in early and letting the media specialist come in late. Or using volunteers or setting up a duty station in the media center.
  • Do we need Dewey? – I think I may have blasphemed by uttering that phrase, but think about your experience of looking for what you want in the brick and mortar bookstore or even in the online sources. Do you go to the 900’s to find biographies? I think not.
  • Less Paper, More Digital – In our district we’ve made a big push towards BYOT and as we move more and more personal devices, we see our patrons wanting to read on their device rather than by checking out the physical book. We’re exploring lots of digital content. And still our biggest frustration is the publishers’ unwillingness to allow for eBook circulation.
I’ll be interested in what kinds of renovations are occurring in your modern, must have media center.



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