Leadership plays an important role in education. The way I define leadership is one's ability to establish a following among a group of individuals. So, I'd like to dissect that a bit. Obviously, in order to begin you must know yourself and your team. Without this fundamental principle you won't be able to play off strengths and weaknesses to create evidences of success. If you spend some time around me, you will hear the phrase "evidence of success". In terms of leadership, I feel it is paramount to create an atmosphere that bleeds constant improvement. I remember watching a Leadercast session last year where Andy Stanley said, "clarity trumps integrity". Although both are non-negotiable, it is interesting to see the value of clarity. Constant improvement cannot happen without clarity; aspects of clarity get into the collaboration and communication of a leader. In a book that I am reading, Digital Leadership by Eric Sheninger, the author talks about branding. I think he is right when he says, "Does leadership brand impact school culture? You’ve created your relational brand. Connect it to school improvement. Communicate brand promise for improving your school’s culture, achievement, and resourcing." A clear brand as a leader builds rapport and confidence in both you and the people you lead. Branding today involves social media. My presence on social media really comes in multiple forms, but one identity: showmerob.
I grew up in Missouri - the "Show-Me" state; therefore, the identity showmerob. Leaving for the Air Force straight out of high school, I had many opportunities to travel. Married at 19 and having 3 kids by the age of 26, I got experience early as a leader in my role as a parent. In the military (I don't let these pictures get out often) I got the opportunity to be in a cohort that received training on Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and Principled Centered Leadership. One of the main points I learned from that experience was that nothing is ever finished, you have to be in constant reflection as a leader and ready for change. Leaving the military for education, I was fortunate to be influenced by several great examples of leadership. I am going to name a couple of individuals that have influenced and mentored my journey so far:
Of my many mentors, one person stands out. This year will be my 12th year working for Mark Evans. Mark brings so much to the table as far as leadership. He understands that a leader develops the talent around himself. One thing that defines Mark is his desire to do what's best for students; this is his brand and if you spend even five minutes with him, you will hear this phrase. Mark is approachable, and able to hold a conversation with any staff member without intimidating them. He has transformed any district he has been in. By far, there is no one that has taught me more about leadership than he. What we have done in Omaha Public Schools is a direct reflection of the leadership he has brought.
Digital Leadership in Education
In education, when leaders get it right, it's like catching lightning in a bottle. It becomes one of the most treasured elements to transform the staff's experience from one that drains and discourages, to one that energizes and empowers. I don't like the term digital leadership; it should be just leadership. Just like e-learning, today's investment in technology is implied, it's just learning. I am going to reference the Future Ready Framework now, as it really gives a great insight on the needs of leadership for students to thrive in the 21st Century. I have the distinct pleasure of being a part of a great team of educators at the national level that focuses on Future Ready in the IT Strand. The framework provides a road map in different gears or domains that support a district's digital transformation. The following is straight from the Future Ready Framework:
The elements that comprise the Collaborative Leadership Gear are:
No matter your leadership position, if you are in education, you should check out the Future Ready Framework.
Where Do You Start...
There is no perfect plan to become a leader. This has been my experience and how I have grown as a professional and hopefully a purposeful leader. Here are some things I would do if I had to start over:
I am fortunate to have an amazing team here in Omaha Public Schools. They accept my ideas, no matter how crazy they are sometimes. Leadership comes from influence, and influence can come from anyone at any level and in any role. Being open and authentic, using empathy, and helping to lift others up creates the circle of influence you have.
Once Upon A Time
It's funny to start a title like this, but this is a great story. Once upon a time just a few years ago, I got to experience NETA for the first time. There were great sessions filled with engaged educators that were producing amazing learning experiences for students - but there was something missing. Although the largest district in the state, Omaha Public Schools didn't have much of a presence. In 3 short years, this has changed. This year there were incredible opportunities shared from this great group of educators; to follow are a few I was fortunate enough to experience.
Look below.... After some research this isn't all of them... #OPSProud
First Virtual School in Nebraska History
2017 #20toWatch winner, Wendy Loewenstein, and Tom Gamble present on starting the Omaha Virtual School. It has been interesting starting this initiative without virtual school verbiage at the state level. Real blended learning is happening everyday for these home-schooled students. Right after this session, they presented on Minecraft in Education which has been infused into daily activities.
30 Pearls of Wisdom
I'm not sure if it was the free pearls being handed out, or their presentation but I wasn't able to even make it into the room with these two. Great turnout for Kelly Means and Jodi Brown.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
This one is near and dear to me. Wakonda is an amazing example of a successful turn around school story. The transition replaced the principal, all but four teachers and transformed student learning using technology. Rebecca Chambers and Missy W discuss how they used a gradual release model and infused behavior strategies to create success for students in this North Omaha school. As a result of their efforts, Wakonda became a Microsoft Showcase School in just 2 years.
Gamify Your Professional Learning Now!
Dr. Rony Ortega is one of my favorite principals. He demonstrates the value of modeling effective use of technology for his staff. These guys at Buffett Middle School have their focus on providing effective professional development with their staff. Good things are coming soon with this school. #staytuned
Augmented Reality w the Microsoft HoloLens
Probably my favorite interactive session of the day as Eileen Heller and Melissa Cleaver got up in front of everyone and setup 2 HoloLens units to demonstrate ways these devices will change how students can experience different virtual activities. Everyone that wanted to put on the units were able to - and wow - they loved it.
Connecting Families: Engaging and Guiding Parents in a Digital Age
This one goes out to Keegan. She is thoughtful and presents topics such as digital literacy and citizenship in a manner that our parents and students understand. Here is the sway of that presentation.
She also posted a blog today on the topic of using social media to create a positive digital footprint.
There were many more valuable sessions; I invite you to visit the NETA site to get a list of the presentations and handouts. Omaha Public Schools is becoming a leader in the area of purposeful technology. Am I bragging? You're damn right I am because I am #OPSProud of them. I feel fortunate to work with each and every person in OPS. Always realize the work is never done – it is important to stay in constant reflection so you know the next course of action.
In today's world we are surrounded by technologies that make our life more engaging, convenient, and spans geographical boundaries never imagined before. As smart phones have expanded down to the reaches of our children, social media has played a big part in how we communicate. I remember the first social media platform I posted on, MySpace. It was a place I could share content that interested me. Videos, pictures, etc would be posted. Social media has come a long way since then. Now, we have shifted more to authentic conversations. What's different, however, is instead of speaking in conversation, we provide multi-modal pieces of content. For example, I have a personal group called "The Mexico Group" in Facebook Messenger. Love the people in this group, really fun bunch. If you were to look chronologically, you would see a mix of text, links, images, video, bitmojis, etc characterizing everything from feelings to discussion topics at the time. It's a great platform to participate in this kind of activity. However, I engage with a couple of people in the group individually in iMessage partially because of convenience, and partially because of features such as FaceTime. Which brings the question, does fragmentation of conversation happen because of the multiple social media avenues we use?
Look at the picture above; this is an old picture taken back in 2012. At the time, Emily and Aiyana were playing Words with Friends, Bailey was playing Temple Run and Amanda was browsing the web. Not much has changed today. Let's take a look to see how each of my girls interact via social media.
This is the part where I feel old. I engage with my daughters regularly via social media but using different platforms for each. Much of this is for convenience for them, but also because certain platforms I am not ready to unleash and engage because of age, digital literacy level, etc.
Below is a video of Bailey, the youngest of the three. She is explaining what platforms she engages with day to day.
As you can see she mostly uses Instagram and Facebook for social media. For conversation, she uses Instagram Direct Messages and iMessage. Next we will hear from Aiyana. Each one of my kids are different. Aiyana is no exception to different. Please excuse her eating habits during the creation of this video.
As you can imagine, things begin to get different with our oldest, Emily. She is 19, going to college, and gaining independence from us. We begin to choose the platform that she most engages in. I think this becomes a pivotal point. Social media changes frequently, and companies come and go. What happens if the platform is different between each of them? How or can we capture those moments we want most?
As you can see Emily engages in Snapchat frequently. Yes, at its core, Snapchat is used to send photos and videos to friends. Your friends can view snaps for up to 10 seconds, and then the snaps disappear. Snapchat is unique in that all photos and videos only last a brief amount of time before they disappear forever, making the app unique in nature, though you can take a screenshot of all the snaps you receive to save them in picture form. You can also save your own snaps before sending them to friends or to your story. This workflow makes it difficult to reflect on the history of conversation. But that might be the point.
As you can see, I engage my kids in what they choose as they get older. It is important to meet them where they are at. I do draw some lines a parent. A good rule of thumb that I remind them of is to not post something unless they are ok with their Grandmother seeing it. I don't allow my younger two at this time to engage in Snapchat. As parents we have made the personal decision to have our kids wait until they get older until they engage in Snapchat.
In education in general, I truly believe in student choice. Digital Literacy and Citizenship is so important though. Keegan Korf (right) is the Lead Teacher for Digital Citizenship for OPS. I love the role that Keegan has in the district, especially as we provide digital access and equity. Having that role in education is a non-negotiable with how technology has influenced the classroom and society in general. Whether you are a parent or an educator, it is important to identify how you can engage your kids or students. This can be crucial in their growth as a digital citizen, as well as your growth. We are all here to be life long learners.
If you would like to see how Omaha Public Schools is approaching Digital Literacy and Citizenship, check out our Transformation Site below.
This Would Be A First
We wanted to create something different. Mr. Evans and I had done this before; just in another state and district. For Mr. Evans, this would be his third successful virtual school. I have learned much from his experiences. This one would be a first for the State of Nebraska. How could we offer virtual schools in a state that didn't have verbiage? Where would we get the talent that could offer a great experience to students? We were about to find out.
The OPS Way
The Omaha Virtual School is led by Wendy Lowenstein, 2017 NSBA 20 to Watch recipient. During this first year, the Omaha Virtual School is open only to home-schooled students, providing a mix of face-to-face instruction and online lessons. That's how we designed it in our previous district, Andover. This time though, we weren't competing with 87 other virtual schools in the state, we were just competing with state verbiage that would restrict us. Nebraska is one of seven states in the US that doesn't offer legislative verbiage for virtual schools. But that wouldn't stop us. Students participating in Omaha Virtual Schools will be given a laptop so they can receive instruction primarily in their home. They’ll also be required to report in person once a week for face-to-face activities at the Metro Community College floor of the DoSpace, a flexible classroom space inside a high tech community library. Teachers are state-certified and employees of OPS, and the curriculum is aligned with Nebraska standards.
How Does This Change Learning?
Obviously the virtual school approach is different. It isn't completely online, nor is it the traditional brick and mortar face to face. It's blended. The goal is to create capacities at every grade level and every content area. At that moment, you have a knowledge owner in every area we teach in OPS, in day to day practice of blended learning.
The virtual school provides the mechanism for what blended learning best practices should look like. The Instructional Technology Team operates as the vehicle for professional development to get schools through the transformation of traditional instruction to blended learning. A mixture of Planned Obsolescence of Devices, Infrastructure Initiatives, and Digital Citizenship is sprinkled along the way to make sure it is successful.
What Does The Future Hold?
The goal of the Omaha Virtual School is to provide a new learning style, while also providing learning experiences to students we previously haven't served. Sometimes the verbiage of school choice gets a bad taste in the realm of educators, but this does just that. What if a student was at a magnet school that offered what was needed in that particular magnet theme, but didn't provide a class like Mandarin Chinese? If we could offer that course for that student while they still attended the magnet school, isn't that what's best for students? In the end, the goal is to provide the opportunities needed for students to succeed.