Sunday, May 23, 2010

Who's Packing Your Parachute?

You've heard lots of hype about the book, "What Color Is Your Parachute?"  Well, the topic of this entry pertains to parachutes, but it's not about color.  It's not about parachute texture.  It's not about fear of parachutes (and all the activity that comes with a parachute).  It's not even about how to search online to find the cheapest parachute.


Rather, let's examine one of the most essential aspects of parachute care and handling — the packing of the parachute!

If asked to describe the purpose of a parachute, we would talk about how it protects the jumper as s/he leaves the airplane and descends to the ground.  We might even talk about how some parachutes can be "steered" by jumpers so they can hit a target.  But, I venture to guess that we would never mention the importance of proper parachute packing.

Just as with the integration of technology into learning environments, there is quite a bit of important planning that must occur in order for the parachute to achieve maximum value.  The person who performs the packing procedure must know the purpose for which that parachute is to be used.  It may be necessary to have many more elements of information, and for those elements to be given careful, strategic thought.  Perhaps, there is even a set of instructions available to aid the parachute packer.

If the packer is negligent, lazy, or doesn't consider carefully the importance of the packing task, it is conceivable that the jumper's life will be in danger.

If, during technology planning activities, we don't consider carefully the full impact that technology can have upon the lives of young learners, are we not being irresponsible, just as the aforementioned parachute packer?

However, if we technology planners are as deliberate, careful, and focused as a great parachute packer, we have the potential to enhance, significantly, the quality of learning interactions each learner has with various technologies.

It's worth our time, energy, and efforts to ensure that we think of ourselves as important to technology-enhanced learned as we consider the parachute packer to be for a successful jump from that airplane high in the air!

Think about it!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The beauty of variations

Silver Soldier
Originally uploaded by ttsweet
OK, the first order of business is to give credit where credit is due. This photo is titled "Silver Soldier" and was made by the outstanding professional photographer, Tony Sweet. I encourage you to jump over to Flickr and view some more of his amazing photos. You can also view his work at his personal website.

Now, let's examine this photo for a clear life lesson we all need to remember -- variations around us often serve as essential ingredients in the creation of beauty. Variations create harmony, often.

Notice, also, the various color elements in "Silver Soldier" and how they don't fight each other. Rather, they come together, with their own characteristics, and contribute those various characteristics to result in a visual masterpiece.

Another life lesson: Where does one color stop and another color start? You can't really tell. Instead, there's a "blending" of colors. And, although some two or three colors may appear to be the same, upon closer examination, we discover that they really are different.

Where do you see yellow? Yes, it appears in several places.
Where do you see gold? Yes, in several places.
Where do you see brown? That's right -- in several places.
And what about silver? Yep, again, it's in several places, even though our eye is drawn to the silver as though it were one discrete element. Yet, as we examine closer, we discover that some of the lines around the silver are not clearly and distinctly defined. The silver contributes its beauty to the whole by blending in -- and at the most appropriate location.

Now, for the "transfer of learning" part to teach us what we need for beautiful planning within our group/team....

The composition of your technology planning team is crucial. This is definitely not a one-person job! And, not everyone on the team has to view things in the identical fashion. Variety of opinion, talent, experience, work ethic, endeavor, and zeal has the potential for making a planning team strong and resilient when some of the problems buffet us. And, those problems will definitely come!

Just imagine that your committee is made up of both seasoned teachers, as well as the novice. They have different perspectives on many things, yet each of them has valuable input for the whole committee.

You will need not only teachers, but also administrators, civic leaders, parents, students, professionals (doctors, lawyers, insurance executives), retired individuals, .... well, you get the point. You need a veritable cornucopia of people with a broad range of talents, experiences, and opinions. However, your role as a committee leader is critical.

You have to know how to take the best parts of each person's contribution and meld that into a meaningful whole.

That's precisely what Tony did for us in this photograph. First, he had to stop and take notice of this beautiful image. Then, he had to use his best skills in photography to know the proper exposure, shutter speed, and position in order to yield the best image. The result is that we have a thing of beauty to admire. Other passersby might have thought that was just an ugly rust spot, but Tony incorporated the strength of his talent and composed the photo that magnetizes our appreciation. All those elements that contributed to making this photo a lesson for us were brought together at the right time, in the right proportions, from the right angle. Such a great lesson for leadership!

None of this information is news to us. Yet, we have to be reminded of this frequently. Amidst the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, trying to coordinate the work of our planning committee, even as we go about managing the technological uses being applied in our schools or organizations, we often allow the beauty around us to get lost in the seemingly overwhelming "jobs" that consume our time.

Hence, I encourage you to look carefully and closely at the beautiful photograph that Tony Sweet has given us...and ponder the beauty lying around you in the form of people's talents, opinions, etc.

Isn't it really a thing of beauty that we have the combination of people working in harmony with us. (Remember, too, that "harmony" is not the same as "unison." Harmony in music comes from various tones, but combined in proper proportions. The same is true among people.)

Now, it's your turn.

What do you think about this?

What has "the beauty of variations" meant to your work?

How can you use this photographic image to help your work with your technology planning and implementation efforts?

Please contribute your thoughts. They will help make this blog more beautiful, too!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Facebook Police?

During a conference recently, I moderated a panel titled, The Supreme Court Is In Session: Ask the Experts. When we reached the portion of the program during which attendees were encouraged to ask questions or make statements about the current state of affairs with incorporating technologies into the classroom instruction, one gentleman in the crowd made the following statement:

I was told by my administrator that if I have a Facebook account, I will be fired immediately!!

Now, I've heard some crazy things coming from the mouths of administrators, but this one "took the cake." When the person revealed this truth, one word sprang to my mind: "insecurity."

Often, we talk about keeping our networks secure. That is a good thing. We even talk about keeping our fellow employees secure. That's a good thing--in concept, anyway. When we mention keeping students secure, though, that often brings on some new meanings. And, often, it involves some person "in charge," who has control over the environment in which the young person finds himself/herself.

Yes, we've heard the cavalcade of "excuses" why Facebook shouldn't be allowed in schools. However, in the same breath, we will create social networking situations that can be equally harmful, yet they have been accepted for many years and are not deemed as dangerous. For example, let's ask ourselves, "For how many years have schools had recess?" And, during recess times, don't we actually encourage students to interact with each other? We even create games and other situations during recess that force students to "network." What excuses do we cling to that lull us into believing these situations are not as dangerous as interactions on Facebook? Do we think that, since we're monitoring students' activities on the playground, nothing will happen? Oh, yeah. Right! Like we teachers on duty can keep our eyes on everything that's happening. Who are we fooling?

It's funny. One of the main advantages of Facebook for me is the resurrection of connections from former students and colleagues. Although many years have passed since we were together, we're renewing our bonds. And, the bonds we're renewing now are, in some cases, much stronger than they were "back in the day." Is there value in building connections among people? Is there value in our teaching students how to handle personal interactions? Is there value in "digging deeper" to learn more about the people we call "friends"? Is there value in focusing upon the true meaning of friendship?

Why, then, would a school administrator issue such an ultimatum to a teacher?

Many of you who read this blog are in-the-trenches practitioners. So, I await with great eagerness your responses. Please join the dialogue about this issue. And, for some great reading on this topic, visit Will Richardson's blog...or David Warlick's 2 cents worth blog.

Oh, and if I don't hear from you via this blog, perhaps I'll run into you on Facebook!!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Taking personal responsibility

This past week, I have attended the 26th annual conference of the Mississippi Educational Computing Association in Jackson, MS. Our keynote speaker this year was none other than the awesome Will Richardson.

One set of comments that Will made in his keynote are of particular interest to me. And, I believe they apply directly to all of us who are involved in planning for the effective use of technologies in the workplace and the lives of those who inhabit.

The concept involved personal responsibility.

After delivering a very compelling keynote address, Will summarized his points with a challenge to all Mississippi educators that we each take the personal responsibility to learn about blogs by blogging. We should invest significant personal assets into the writing and thinking we offer to the entries we make online. He encouraged us to "sweat" with our brains, to stretch hard and make profound, positive differences where we are.

Far too often, I fear that we are prone to just trot along and do our thing, expecting others to carry the heavy load. Or, we like to complain because things are not the way we think they should be. So, we fuss.

Rather than fuss, we should put on the mantle of intellectual actuity and really press for the higher ground. By doing so, we present an encouraging model for those around us.

So, I ask myself today: "Am I lazy or do I have the intellectual energy to give back to my world more than I have gotten?"

What about you? Really!!

What do you say?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Tech Planning Primer needed?

Do you know all you need to know so you will have a top-notch technology planning document?

Without a doubt, most of us have gone through the process of developing a written technology plan.  Well, if we examine our efforts closely and objectively, will we vote that we've done the very best job possible?

Will we think our plan is the best it can be?  Or, are there areas in which we think we can improve?

This goes to the core of the "why" question for having a plan in the first place.

Why do we have technology plans?  To get that federal money?  To satisfy some externally-imposed requirement?  Because the organization next door has one, so we feel compelled to follow suit?

Why do we go through all the laborious, time-consuming effort to create a tech plan?  And, when all is said and done, is it all worth it?

I wonder how many technology plans--in the United States, alone--are created purely out of a burning desire to build a clear roadmap for the future.  And, how many of these will include thorough sets of objectives and goals that have been vetted and, thus, have earned broad-based support among constituents?  

From my experience, the percentage of school districts developing technology plans for all the right reasons is very small.  Most of the school leaders with whom I talk will tell me that they have to develop a tech plan so they can "get our money."

Yes, money is important--perhaps even crucial.  However, if this is the main reason for crafting a tech plan, the process is flawed from the beginning.  Granted, some great outcomes may result even from flawed processes, but just imagine how much better results could be!

So, my question to you is:  Do you think there is a need for a technology planning primer?

I have begun recording a series of podcast episodes that go through the technology planning process from start to finish.  I am using all the resources that NCTP (National Center for Technology Planning) has garnered over the years.  But...

if I continue to build it, will you come?

I'm depending upon you to let me know.  What do you think?  And, why?  What pieces would you like me to include in this program?

Leave a comment here, or else shoot me an email.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Encouragement: A Planning Vitamin


How often do you feel like you're just paddling in still water?  Using up loads of energy, but not getting anything for it?  

Have you ever seen one of those little mechanical horses out in front of a discount store?  Children  can pop in a coin, then climb aboard the horse and ride, ride, ride while music plays.  But, no matter how long they ride the horse, when the time runs out, they're still in the same place as when they started.  

They've ridden a long time, but made no progress.

Do you ever feel like that?

I do.

So, what's the antidote?

Recently, I was feeling a bit unproductive--and the more I thought about it, the more unproductive I became.  I felt myself slipping into a feeling of depression, actually.  I wanted to shake it all off and move forward, but somehow, I just couldn't jump free of the grasp that feeling had upon me.  The clock kept ticking, but I wasn't making progress.  Then, it happened.

My cell phone rang.  The caller was a dear friend, Kristi Brown, who was calling just to see how things were going.  After we had our usual "hello" exchanges, she immediately began telling me how proud of me she is, because she knows I am accomplishing so much.  What on earth was she thinking?  She couldn't have known that I needed that call.  Yet, there she was, encouraging me and telling me the exact things I needed to hear so I could realize how much I was capable of accomplishing.

Encouragement!  That was the precise vitamin I needed.  And, it didn't take her but just a couple of minutes.  However, it made all the difference in my day.

Before the call was even over, I had risen from my chair and had begun organizing some materials on which I had needed to be working.

When we hung up our phones, I was like a windstorm.  I believe I accomplished more that day than I had the entire previous week!  What made the difference?

For me, it was someone else taking a few moments of their time and giving me a positive word.  She was telling me, perhaps in different words, that she believed in me and knew I was capable of making a significant, positive difference in the world.  She told me of ways I have meant a great deal to her.  She reminded me of impact I have had upon others' lives.  I didn't even have to tell her that I was in a "funk," because there was neither time nor need for that.

Her actions turned my day around.  Kristi's simple act moved me from apathy to activism -- from complacency to achievement.

Think of the other people on your team.  Are they achieving at the levels you wish?  At levels they wish?  Are they tired?  Or, are they losing focus of the project?  Are they becoming distracted?  Is their participation waning?  Perhaps, they are still working hard and seem to be productive team members, but they just need a little boost from someone else who can help them understand that their efforts are valued and are of great benefit to the team momentum.

You need to give someone that little push -- that little "lift" -- that can make all the difference.

Now, what can we learn from this?

I encourage you -- right now!  Actually, I encourage you to think of someone who means a great deal to you, then contact that person and thank them for what they mean in your life.  Send them the gift of encouragement.  You don't have to wait in long lines, run up charges on your credit card, or worry about the color of the gift wrap.  Just contact someone today.  Share with that friend your personal gift of encouragement.

See what a difference it makes in not only the life of the other person, but also in yours!

I encourage you to take action!

Let me know what happens.  OK?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Teacher as Coach

Outside the education realm, there is a great deal of activity emerging around the notion of "coaching."

We see evidence of life coaches, career coaches, business coaches, etc.

So, doesn't it seem to you that a career teacher is a natural candidate to serve as a coach?

Would you hire a life coach?

If so, why? If not, why not?

Have you served as a coach to others?

If so, what did you do? If not, why not?

As I study the nature of these new coaches, I am pleased to hear that the structure of life coaching, etc., is including many of the concepts that we discuss as classroom teachers. So, the bridge to this new career seems open and clear.

I just heard one coach say that "vision affects the way we move forward." Then, the coach went on to explain the difference between vision and eyesight. Following that, the coach described how, as a person develops the ability to be visionary, one's life improves. Things become clearer. Problems are avoided more easily. Many excellent concepts followed during this discussion to which I was privy.

So, what do you think? Do you want to create passive income? Do you want to extend your service to others? Maybe you are tired of "trading your time for money" (a REALLY weak idea!!) and would like to use your life to provide more value to society.

What about a teacher as a coach?

Let me hear from you.