NAIS Annual Conference 2013: Youth Culture and Social Media

My final post from this year’s NAIS Annual Conference is about three researchers who spoke on the topic of social media.

Soumitra Dutta

We are entering a period when the dominant design of many things is changing radically. For example, for centuries the dominant design of personal timepieces has been something small, usually circular, worn on the wrist. That is no longer the case, as more and more people use their phones for checking the time.

When new technologies become available, they usher in a period of rapid innovation until things settle down into a new dominant design. Before Dodge introduced the enclosed-metal-body automobile, in 1926, there were 75 car manufacturers in America, all innovating. Once the Dodge model became the dominant design, those organizations that could maximize production and efficiency survived. The others could not.

Organizations are designed for production and efficiency, not innovation. Innovation can come from any individual – as teachers our challenge is to encourage creativity. We must be inspired, so that we succeed at raising the aspiration levels of our students.

We are at a tipping point in education where the dominant design is changing. It’s time for innovation!

Alexis Madrigal

Technology has an aura, and we are drawn to use it.

We give way too much credit to technology, and not enough to the social forces surrounding it.

“Are you into tech in education?” is a meaningless question. The two cannot be separated.

Remember – “experts” have a terrible track record of predicting the future! (Why isn’t everybody riding a Segway these days?)

If you are feeling overwhelmed by all the change that is happening, consider the generation that lived through 1890 – 1910. Rapid advances in agriculture, medicine, transportation, communication that dwarf our changes.

We need to promote what Ivan Illich called Tools For ConvivialityA perfect example of this is the game Minecraft. Connected Learning is the future (see Mimi Ito’s work.)

Danah Boyd

There is a new kind of public: networked publics. These are public spaces that are created through technology.

Young people want to be in a public world without being public.

Consider a conversation in a hallway between two people. The default is that the details of that conversation will probably not be shared publicly; it will stay private. Compare that to a conversation online (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Online communication is public by default; you must choose to make it private.

Adolescents get frustrated, because adults don’t understand when Facebook posts and comments are “private” and when they’re not. Adults don’t get who they are “talking to” with online posts. So they have developed strategies for dealing with the 24/7 lack of privacy.

One teenage girl practices whitewalling: deleting at the end of every day all comments from her Facebook wall, and comments she makes on others’ walls.

Since youth cannot control access to the content, they control access to the meaning, in effect hiding in plain sight.

Young people assume they are under surveillance, so they are figuring out ways to circumvent it. For example, posting lyrics to a song that appear to be innocuous, but have meaning to their friends.

Our task as teachers is to help students choose the “right” networked public spaces to be in, and model good citizenship in them.


NAIS Annual Conference 2013: Professional Learning of the Future

The Association of Delaware Valley Independent Schools (ADVIS) developed an online professional development course for the department chairs of its schools. Carla Silver, of the Santa Fe Leadership Center, and Barbara Kraus-Blackney, of ADVIS, led a panel of course participants (Kevin Ruth, Wendy Eitlejorg, Rosemary Guarino) who shared the successes and challenges of offering a blended learning course for an adult community.

First, why targeted professional development for department chairs?

  • Department chairs are an under-served group
  • They have a lot of responsibility with ambiguous authority

Why a blended learning course?

  • Blended learning courses offer opportunities for sustained reflection
  • They are able to connect people who are geographically distant

Class Logistics:

  • The course began with one face-to-face (F2F) all-day session to allow participants to get to know each other
  • There were 5 synchronous sessions, 90 minutes long
  • For asynchronous work, Haiku was the platform used

Course topics included:

  • Rules and Responsibilities of Department Chairs
  • Managing Up/ Managing Down
  • Current and Future Trends in Learning & Teaching
  • Supervision, Evaluation, & Assessment
  • Planning Professional Development
  • Hiring Talent
  • Critical Conversations

Some rewards of using a blended learning model included:

  • Opportunity to spend time with other department chairs
  • Flexible with respect to individual teachers’ time demands
  • The first F2F session was good at setting the tone and expectations
  • Able to have sustained professional development over time
  • Experts were brought in from all over the country to lead the synchronous sessions
  • There is value in being part of a cohort
  • New networks of department chairs within disciplines were established

Some challenges:

  • Time was a factor. Many participants had trouble finding the necessary time to devote to the course.
  • Using Blackboard’s Collaborate application wasn’t easy for some
  • Putting your thoughts out online to people you aren’t familiar with
  • Learning the technology
  • There were inconsistent numbers of participants at different sessions

Based on their experience, the next iteration of this professional development will incorporate these things:


  • Have clear expectations at the beginning
  • Provide better technology training
  • More community building at the F2F session
  • More small group work


  • Shorten the length to 2 – 4 months
  • Less lecture in the synchronous sessions
  • Are the synchronous sessions necessary?


  • The initial F2F meeting
  • Provide cutting-edge experts to present their work
  • Breakout groups
  • Encourage team-building among department chairs within the the same school


NAIS Annual Conference 2013: Jim Collins

Jim Collins (Built to Last, Good To Great, etc.) was the featured speaker Thursday at the National Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference in Philadephia. Here are my notes from his presentation:

Great leaders have humility and relentless will. They are willing to be the “stupidest person in the room” in order to learn from others. They less concerned with being interesting and more concerned with being interested. Their ambition is not about them, but it is channeled outward to a larger cause. People follow when they have the freedom not to follow.

Why did Amundsen’s South Pole expedition succeed while Scott’s ended in disaster? They started at the same time, and had the same conditions. Answer: Amundsen’s team was extremely disciplined: they covered 20 miles a day, regardless of the conditions. Scott, on the other hand, covered as much distance as possible when conditions were good, but hunkered down and waited out bad days. Amundsen researched and settled on a proven mode of transportation: sled dogs. Scott went with an unproven technology: motorized sleds. When the engines failed in the extreme cold, he switched to ponies, which froze to death. What is a good consistent goal for our school? (What should our daily “20-mile march” be?)

The signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency. When Southwest Airlines started up, they literally copied Pacific Southwest Airlines’ business model. They focused on following that model and making it work. They modified it approximately 20%. PSA tinkered with theirs, modifying it 80%. PSA is out of business, while Southwest is one of the most successful companies in the world today. Great companies innovate differently than good ones. Creativity must be combined with discipline. Creative is natural characteristic of humans; discipline is not.

The most dangerous thing is to be successful without understanding why you’re successful!

great organization:

  • has superior performance with respect to its mission
  • has a distinctive impact on everything it touches
  • achieves lasting endurance, beyond any individual leader

Greatness is a matter of conscious choice and discipline, not of circumstance.

12 Questions for Educational Leaders:

  1. Do we want to build a great school, and do we have the Level 5 leadership in place to make the painful decisions?
  2. Do we have the right people in the right seats on our bus?
  3. What are the “brutal facts”?
  4. For our school, what can we be the best in the world at?
  5. How can we accelerate the clicks on the flywheel by committing to a “20 mile march”?
  6. What is our BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal)?
  7. What core values will we not change for 100 years? What is our core purpose?
  8. How can we better embrace the genius of “and”?
  9. What existential threats does our school face?
  10. What is the right 20% to change?
  11. How can we increase our return on our luck (both good and bad)?
  12. What should we stop doing?

And finally, my favorite point (as I’m about to turn 52!):

Real creativity begins at 50, when you have the benefit of experience.


NAIS Annual Conference 2013: e-Portfolios

Once again, I went to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Annual Conference. This year, it was in Philadelphia. My next few posts will be summaries of the sessions I attended.

The first workshop I went to was presented by a team of teachers (Christine Shriver, Renee Hawkins, Lindsay Kelland, and Stacie Munoz) from Garrison Forest School in Maryland: “e-Portfolos: Teaching Students to Curate and Manage Their Digital Footprints”. They have their students begin creating and maintaining online portfolios beginning in first grade.

The reasons why they feel e-portfolios are important are:

  • STUDENTS learn to think beyond the grade and practice meta-cognition.
  • STUDENTS learn to discuss and set learning goals and strategies for getting there
  • STUDENTS learn to curate their work and accomplishments, practicing responsibility and organization.
  • STUDENTS develop dispositions for life-long learning.
  • STUDENTS learn and practice valuable technology skills.
  • TEACHERS can individualize the student learning experience.
  • TEACHERS, PARENTS become partners in the STUDENT’S, learning experience.

(Taken from the website created specifically for this workshop)

The Lower School uses EverNote. Students turn in their work to the teacher, and he/she scans and uploads it to EverNote.

The Middle School uses GoogleSites. The technology integrator created a sample site for students to see, then she helped them create their own personalized sites. They write reflections, upload photos and videos, etc. They receive feedback from teachers, who in turn use the portfolios in Parent-Teacher conferences.

An interesting twist is the way the students’ work is categorized – not by subject, but by learning habits: Self-Directed Learning, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Curiosity, and Creativity. Students have to explain why each submission fits into each category, which makes them do some meta-cognitive work.

The Upper School will roll out their e-portfolios next year. For this age level, the purpose is to develop an online resume, manage your digital footprint, reflection on your academic learning, build curating skills, as well as technology/design skills.

One thing that impressed me was the team’s emphasis on teaching their students the importance of maintaining a reputable digital footprint that a student can be proud of. They have their students Google themselves to see what is most prominent in their online portraits, and then explain how they can use their e-portfolios to make sure any search will return desirable results. Definitely a skill this generation of students needs to be well-versed in!