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Discussion via bumper sticker


No indictment for officer Wilson! Very sad day in America. How do I explain this to my black students? - Tweet by St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent, Valeria Silva. (See article here.)

Superintendent Silva certainly has a right to free speech. I can understand her POV on Ferguson. And Twitter can be a valuable tool in education.

But for discussing politics, educational theory, or any subject that requires any nuance whatsoever, tweeting is the wrong medium. Except for social or political ideologues, the national discussion on police relations with communities of color has no absolutes. The widely discussed incidents of the past months cry out for thoughtful dialog, deliberate empathic responses, and as objective an interpretation of facts as possible.

Not 140 character bumper sticker blurting.

To me it's ironic that in an era where communication is more open, more accessible, more democratic, less complicated, and more ubiquitous that we as society seem to have decided to let billboards, news headlines, posters, protest signs, and Tweets be our main source of information. We have a banquet of thoughtful opinion and information, but we only eat junk food.

Not a good role model of the use of social media by an educated person, Superintendent Silva. I guess it just goes to show that all educators need a good digital citizenship course - even those at the top.

Other Twitter-related posts...

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BFTP: Big projects and psychic wear and tear

It seems history repeats itself. Five years ago I was implementing some of the same changes in the Mankato School District that I am currently undertaking in my new district, Burnsville-Eagan-Savage. Our administrative team also spent a morning last week discussing leadership - and what it feels like. This post is as personally relevant today as it was half a decade ago. Does this mean I am not growing as a human being??? My post from 2009...

Leadership is getting someone to do what they don’t want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve. - Tom Landry

... it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. - Machiavelli

We are currently undertaking two major projects in our district that will impact all staff members. We are installing 157 mounted LCD projectors and 120 interactive white boards between now and winter break throughout the district. And we are switching our e-mail service from Microsoft Exchange to GoogleMail and providing GoogleApps for Education to faculty.

While every effort has been made to plan well, get buy-in, provide information, and make these changes as easy on everyone as possible, there will be a learning curve for all, nervousness by many, dissatisfaction for some, and outright resistance by a few. We'll have missed some problems in our planning and implementation no matter how diligent we try to be and every problem will not be immediately solvable. And I, as tech director, will be pretty much the focus for those who don't like change - or at least these changes.

I will hear about it - either directly from the aggrieved or via my boss, the superintendent, relaying complaints he's heard.

I don't know about you, but I get little satisfaction from knowing something I've done is making others unhappy.* Like most folks, I prefer days filled with compliments rather than criticisms. I know over the next few weeks I am in for some pretty long days of getting verbally beat up about installations, migrations, training (usually lack thereof), additional work, and plain old differences in how things are done. What makes things harder is that some of the complaints will be deserved.

But having gone through big technology implementations before, I know that in only a couple months the vast majority of those impacted will be very glad that the changes happened. Teachers will be pleased with their projectors and SmartBoards. Principals will be appreciate the flexibility of the GoogleCalendar and GoogleGroups. Techs will be happy not to have to deal with overflowing e-mail storage spaces. Everyone will appreciate the ease and power of collaborating with GoogleApps.

And the district will be more effective because of these changes. And, of course, students will be better served as well.

But getting through the next couple months will be tough. I see why:

  • It's easier to advocate for big changes when you don't actually have to make them happen. (Consultants, pundits, politicians, I'm talking to you.)
  • It's more psychically difficult to advocate for big changes the more you've done - why many people seem to take a long glide path into retirement.
  • It's essential to have faith that what you are doing is in the best interest of students and staff. You genuinely need to be on a mission.
  • That never attempting to change anything would lead to a pretty damn boring existence. I suspect that most changes are made by those of us, who when we were students, preferred attention for bad behavior than no attention at all.

Any secrets for maintaining one's sanity when "undertaking an order of new things," as Niccolo put it?

*With rare exception - there are always a few people it is fun to royally piss-off. They turn such interesting colors of red and blue.

Original post November 21, 2009.


Tech directors vs students - bet on the students

I'm a student. As a student, my school is one of my favorite places to be: I enjoy learning and find almost all my teachers to be agreeable. I'm also a programmer and an advocate of free speech. In that role, my school holds a more dubious distinction: it’s the first place where my interests in computers and my rights were questioned. Nathan Ringo

The BoingBoing website headline reads:

In Wayzata, Minnesota, a school spies on its students 


Nathan writes that his school has "an unsavory policy of blocking not just porn, but anything and everything they feel is inappropriate in a school setting. Worse, I could not find out who makes the judgements about what should be considered inappropriate. It’s not stated in the school board policy that mandates the filter: that police say that the filter should “only block porn, hate speech, and harassment.” Our censorware, however, blocks material ranging from Twitter to comic books. Meanwhile, students are told to use Twitter as part of our Spanish classes and our school offers a course on comic books. Beyond blocking sites that are used in classes, there are also many false positives."

Fellow tech directors, be warned - Nathan could be (and probably is) a student in every one of our schools. And this is what his letter made me think about...

  1. Do we have a transparent policy on Internet filtering? What is blocked, how are those decisions made, and how can stakeholders have sites blocked or unblocked?*
  2. By overblocking are we simply encouraging students to find ways to go around the district filter? Are we only blocking those with inadequate technology skill?
  3. Have we clearly articulated to students what "a limited right to privacy" means in our AUPs and, more importantly, in our practices? Do our students know that nearly all institutions retain the right to view the use of the Internet by employees if there is a suspicion of wrong doing?

If filtering becomes a contest between technology directors and thousands of bright young students like Nathan, we adults will lose. The kids are smarter, have better tech skills, employ PLNs we've never dreamed of, and have a hell of a lot more discretionary time to spend on cracking or hacking or just trying to get to the resources they need.

I would genuinely like to read the Wayzata administration's side of this story. And yes, I am sure there is a very compelling one.

Our relationship with our brightest kids cannot be adversarial.

* This is our district's procedure, but I am not sure how many staff or students know about it:

Blocking or unblocking websites:
All requests come in via the "Web Filter Change Request Form", located in the Technology Department 'How To' section.  Once completed by the end-user, it must be signed by the user's Principal or supervisor, then forwarded to the IT Director.  Once there, it is reviewed by the Instructional Technology Advisory Committee, made up of teachers, administrators, and principals, then ruled on. Once the change has been approved, it is passed back for implementation.

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And yes, I've been banging this drum for a loooong time...