Five Essential Tech Tools For Administrators Part 2

by Miguel Guhlin

  • Read Part 1: 5 Essential Technology Tools for Campus Administrators
  • Read Part 2: 5 Essential Technology Tools for Campus Administrators
  • Read Part 3: 5 Essential Technology Tools for Campus Administrators

In this second in a series of three articles on “Five Essential Tools for Campus Administrators," I offer some imperfect responses to the most common questions about blogging.
"This week," I shared with a team member, "we're launching a district-wide blogging solution -- a blog for every teacher and administrator." I could sense the automatic pushback. If one had to summarize the pushback, it would come in the form of a few questions:
  1. Why encourage leaders and teachers to blog when you are unsure of what they are going to say?
  2. What happens when one of them does something inappropriate, such as posts a banner image advertising their private business?
  3. What about account management? How do you create and manage so many accounts?
In this second in a series of three articles on “Five Essential Tools for Campus Administrators," as well as in the linked tutorials, I offer some imperfect responses to those questions. Ultimately, they are questions you will have to answer within the culture, the context, of your own work environment.

Five Essential Tech Tools for Administrators

Administrative tasks that can be made easier with the use of technology.
Blogging has the potential to bring about the most change in your learning and leading situation.
Using technology to R.E.A.C.H. out to parents and create opportunities for learning and dialogue.

OVERCOMING THE STEREOTYPE

When I mention the words "blog" and "podcast," and Web 2.0, the reaction is often "Web 2.-- uh oh." Imagine the various new communication technologies that arrived and were met with the response, "I don't use that newfangled telegraph to send messages -- I prefer the Pony Express;" or worse, "Telephone? How do I know who I'm talking to unless I look them in the eye?" Yet, those communication technologies have changed our lives for the better without diminishing -- and perhaps even underscoring the importance of – face-to-face conversations.
In my home state of Texas, for example, the state education agency disseminates public information via an expensive-to-maintain video-conferencing network. Creating a blog and recording audio/video podcasts of public information releases could easily eliminate the need for obsolete technology. After all, while technologies like the telegraph and Morse code had a powerful impact on the lives of those who came before us, no one would consider still using them in the face of ubiquitous mobile phone technology that even children can wield. Together, we can learn to wield these publish-at-will technologies in ways that engage and facilitate conversation and communication.

BECOMING A LEADER WHO BLOGS

As administrators, we can take two approaches in response to the question, "What do I blog about as an education leader?"
  • Blog to empower powerful conversations: These are blog entries that deepen your understanding of what you do not know and reflect on what you are learning as a leader, and then empower powerful conversations that shape your organization. These entries reflect who you are, and convey the vulnerability of a human being who does not know it all.
  • Blog to facilitate positive communications: These are blog entries that communicate -- with video, audio, and text -- the positive learning experiences that happen in your school's classrooms, hallways, playground, and offices every day. They reflect those emotionally charged, uplifting stories that make students, staff, parents, and the community sit up and take notice.

BLOGGING TO EMPOWER POWERFUL CONVERSATIONS

"The reflective leader opens the difficult conversations that people in a relationship need to have," shares Dan Oestreich via his Unfolding Leadership blog, "models a connective, respectful vulnerability, and shows not only that such conversations are ‘survivable,’ but that they are frankly essential to the survival of relationships." Blogs can help us explore those conversations -- and because of their openness, invite conversations that help us learn as leaders -- in advance, as theoretical exercises before we ever have them in person.
Blogs, as electronic notebooks, have become a powerful way to share learning experiences, engage others in powerful conversations, and foster reflection. Reflection is the crucial ingredient to a leader's ability to reflect on his or her own performance and then to change it. Blogs can enable leaders to, as Edwin Schlossberg writes, "create a context in which other people can think." Some key points from Reflection and the Middle School Blogger, a study on blogs (Ray and Hocutt, 2006) include:
  • Blogging promotes critical literacy skills, including reading, writing, self-expression, reflection and creativity. (Huffaker, 2004) The elementary school principal at my second school could barely write a coherent paragraph. If he'd taken up the habit of daily blogging -- even short paragraphs -- what a powerful impact he would have had on his own abilities and those of the people he served.
  • "Similar to an open journal, the accumulation of writings and other content [published in a blog] creates both a record of learning and a resource for others" to use. (Campbell, 2003)
  • Weblogs can provide an electronic forum for reading, writing, and collaborating with peers and others.
  • Blogs are especially effective at supporting...reflection...more so than other technologies would be.
  • Blogs enable...communities of practice that support one another's work. That kind of collaborative interaction among peers can promote enhanced understanding of complex situations.
Think is something we seldom have the time to do. Yet, when I sit down to write about something I'm learning, I'm struck by the simple power that blogging gives me. It enables me to reflect on what I'm learning, and be transparent about that learning, even if I don't fully understand it. Each of us deals with an explosion of information and ideas. How do we process it, manage it, keep track of it? My response has been to blog it...keep track of it in a place I can get to from home or work, on the road or at a campus, provided I have Internet access and a computer to type into.

BLOGGING TO FACILITATE POSITIVE COMMUNICATIONS

Although you do not have to blog to be a leader, today and now, you do have to be a leader who blogs. Blogging enables reflection in the face of constant change, but it also empowers you. Tim Stahmer, Assorted Stuff Blogger, highlights this story about an embedded Washington Post news reporter. Where is he embedded? In a war? In a mission to a hostile media hot-spot? No. He is embedded in a classroom to report on how children learn, and how a teacher teaches, Algebra. The words themselves belie a story that is rich with detail.
Wouldn't a more exciting exercise be to provide FLIP video cameras and blogs to the students in that class, and allow them to blog each day, include snapshot interviews with the teacher as to what she planned to teach, reactions by other students to the presentation and activities, and the teacher's self-assessment of her success? More importantly, why can't principals and education leaders who already are "embedded" in K-12 report on the positives -- and creative detours to entrenched roadblocks -- of their school?
In response to the second approach -- and to get started -- make a list of how you solved a problem, or better yet, how someone at your campus/district solved it. See if you can get them to guide you through their problem-solving process. Capture that process with audio or video, and then share it online. The results are powerful because you accomplish the following:
  • celebrate problem-solving by your staff;
  • invite feedback and stimulate idea sharing with a broader community;
  • build a deeper relationship with the individual and the broader community; and
  • establish a record of how work gets done at your site. That piece is one that has inestimable value since it serves as a "living" record, an oral/video history of your efforts. It reflects well, not only on you as the educational leader, but also on your team and organization. Who, after all, can argue with the success that has been shared with such a wide audience?
Remember, you pick the stories that show your campus in the best light and then follow up on those and include video, audio, photos that tell the story compellingly from multiple perspectives (e.g. parents, students, district admin, teachers). Be sure to include links to available online content. If the content doesn't exist (e.g. documents), then make those documents available when not confidential.
Finally, when others in your school district or at your campus start blogging as well, you can create a pagecast of the blog entries using Pageflakes.com (no-cost). [Insert image: Lisa, can you create a screenshot of the pageflakes page?]
Pageflakes enables you to build customized web sites that pull content from blog RSS feeds you provide. You also can add "flakes" that include photos, news, and more. You decide what to add, and how to make it appear. More importantly, the content of any web site that has an RSS feed can be pulled into the pagecast and shared. That makes it easy to combine various information sources and reflect them on one page.
In short, as a tool for deepening your understanding of complex situations and sharing your learning reflections with others, as well as a tool for facilitating positive communications, blogs and podcasting can enhance your reach.

BLOGGING SOLUTIONS

When I -- with the help of many talented individuals on my team -- launched our district's Get a Blog! initiative, it was after two years of searching for the right solution. A variety of solutions are available to schools and some of those are listed here. I encourage you to go to Blogs Made Simple and add others that I might have left out inadvertently.
Most administrators who want to blog have trouble differentiating between the two approaches. To facilitate your work, I encourage you to consider the above blogging solutions in response to the question, "Am I blogging to empower powerful conversations about my work as a leader of a learning organization, or to facilitate positive communications for my organization?"
The tool you choose will be dependent upon what your primary approach to blogging as a leader in K-16 schools. Here is a list organized according to approach:
Empower Powerful Conversations: Since empowering powerful conversations means reaching an audience diverse enough to help you learn outside your "normal" community -- that is, students, teachers, leaders, and community affiliated with your school -- you will want to use personalized blogging solutions. Although you can find an exhaustive list at SupportBlogging, maintained by education bloggers from around the world, my top three list of blogging solutions for leaders are:
  • Edublogs This is the perfect vehicle for new bloggers and you can get started right away with minimum fuss. For an additional $25, you can get custom help in publicizing your blog to a wider audience, even though you probably can find lots of help anywhere. Use the Edublogs.tv to host your audio/video content at no additional charge. This solution is available at no cost. This is an example of one leadership blog on edublogs.
  • Blogger This is Google's solution, and while it might be blocked in some districts (you'll want to double-check because blogging is something you do when learning happens, not just when time allows), it provides a simple tool to start with. This solution is available at no cost. My blog is EduWrite.
  • WordPress This free solution is run by the people who make popular blogging software, Wordpress. It is often blocked in school districts, but again, you might find it useful.
These solutions are all compatible with the social annotation/bookmarking tool Diigo, so you can highlight online documents (e.g. research, memos from your state education agency, web sites) and quickly add comments then send your blog post via Diigo.com. Take advantage of sites like Edublogs.tv to host your audio and/or video, as well as image hosting sites like Skitch (Mac only, although Windows users can save images there), Flickr, BubbleShare to share photos. You can also obtain a blog through Dr. Scott McLeod's Principal Blogging Project.
Some printable tutorials (available in Acrobat PDF; start with these first) and web sites to help you get going:
Facilitate Positive Communications
Since you are facilitating positive communications about real situations at work, it will be important to ensure that your school district is aware and supports what you are doing. Your district can use several solutions to get going with blogs that cost them only the price of a web server (and there's no reason why a blogging solution could not reside on an existing web server). Such solutions include the following ones, but will require installation and technical setup. While tutorials are available, I do not encourage you to approach this without support from your information-technology department.
Here is my top three list of blogging platforms for leaders:
  • The Apple Xserve OS X.5 Leopard Blog/Wiki solution: This is a powerful solution that makes it easy for school districts to launch blogs, although initial setup can be a chore. Here is a blogging tutorial I prepared for my district when we launched a district-wide blogging initiative during the 2008-2009 school year.
  • b2Evolution: This enables you to control/moderate comments, set up a "master" blog with multiple sub-blogs (each with its own subscribable RSS feed); easy user management and assignment of permissions, and more. Here is a short tutorial for how to set up a b2Evolution blog.
  • WordPress: A powerful blogging platform that is easy to customize and for which there is a lot of support available. A short tutorial is available, although you can find up-to-date ones via the Wordpress.org web site.
Again, I encourage you to use the blogging solution that is appropriate for your approach, whether that be powerful conversations or positive communications.

CONCLUSION

In part 1 of this series, I shared the first three of five essential technology tools for campus administrators.
In this second part of the 3-part series on essential tools, we have explored blogging and podcasting. As an administrator myself, I have found blogging/podcasting to be a powerful tool to have at my disposal. In fact, of all the tools available, this one tool has the potential to bring about the most change -- for the good or worse -- in your learning and leading situation.
In part 3, we will discuss facilitating online learning conversations with Moodle and how it can impact professional learning at your campus or in your district.

About the Author

As director of instructional technology for a large urban district in Texas, past president of the state-wide Technology Education Coordinators group in one of the largest U.S. technology educator organizations (TCEA), Miguel Guhlin continues to model the use of emerging technologies in schools. You can read his published writing or engage him in conversation via his blog at Around the Corner.

Article by Miguel Guhlin
Education World®
Copyright © 2009 Education World


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