For Better Or For Worse – It’s Our PLN

#EDLISTEN (Choose to listen above and/or read blog below) – I’m collecting metrics to understand better the value in offering multiple mediums for those who visit my online learning space. Will post future blogs w/ “listening” component on Twitter using that hashtag. 

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while now, and as I work with new educators and leaders at the University level, I find myself introducing folks daily to “the PLN.” This work has caused me to do a great deal of reflection based upon raw feedback on the PLN’s “culture.” I’ve heard publicly and privately from those just beginning to discover personal and professional value in these spaces. I have some strong thoughts, and after seeing something extremely disturbing a friend and colleague shared with me this morning, I simply cannot remain silent any longer. My own silence and lack of action means I condone the behaviors that I witness. I’ve seen various levels of impact in my evolving Personal Learning Network (PLN). For a second, think with me about the good, bad and ugly of our PLN.

The Good

  • Here in 2015, educators can reach out to just about anyone to enhance the engagement in and out of class. Lyn Hilt, Chris Lehmann and Eric Sheninger, who I studied closely during my dissertation study, were a few early adopters. Their work and the press that followed has helped many of us become more comfortable and unlock some previously blocked policy on social media as a tool for teaching, learning and leadership.

  That was 4 years and 36,600 tweets ago.

  • Now, according to 2014’s ISTE estimate, over 600,000 educators are actively on Twitter learning and sharing, making their schools and classrooms come alive and the good collateral damage is that we’ve created glass walls around our schools to provide families a window into learning and allow opportunities for active engagement in the student learning process. You can’t find a conference that doesn’t have social media embedded throughout the entire event as we’re starting to understand more clearly that transparent use of social media leads to deeper relationships with local and global colleagues and an “all-hands-on-deck” mentality in working for kids. <– This is why I got on Twitter in 2011. The (new for educators) online community was selfless, folks were always sharing, playing “dot-connector” and all the associations and publications I had received in hard copy were tweeting out the articles 3-6 months in advance. That was the 30 second elevator speech on how I sold colleagues near and far on the positive power of social media for the field. While that still exists, there are also some things we (me included) need to be up front and honest about.

The Bad

  • As networks evolve, it is inevitable for hierarchies to form. These hierarchies are different based on our own perspectives, personal relationships with various individuals and what those in our circles have experienced. It’s life. I was not a very popular kid in high school. My mom gave me a perm in 6th grade. I was bullied because I was sensitive and lacked initiative and a voice. I was quiet about it and just focused on playing baseball and geeking out on technology – two of the things in life that gave me confidence. The more I participate in social media networks, the more I feel we all need to take a good long look in the mirror and revisit to the reasons we began this journey and took this “edu-risk” to put ourselves out there. Do they still hold water? How has our on AND offline behavior evolved since we’ve become “connected?”
  • There is no official “who’s who” in education, although some awards processes, press, associations, conferences, publishers and groups have certainly put various individuals in the limelight for various reasons – some well-deserved, some not so much. But again, this is only my lens.

The Ugly

  • The network is no longer the pristine, selfless PLN I became a part of in 2011. There is both on and offline bullying happening in this space. I have to be honest, it scares me that no one says anything about it except in DMs, voxes, side gossip at local and national conferences and other places that are not so public. One of things we forget in the craziness of our personal and professional lives is that we are role-modeling for kids at school and our kids at home with our online behavior, in what we say and what we don’t say. If we are constantly preaching how this has no place in our work in education, we need to walk the walk – no matter how crazy the situation is.
  • The social media waters are now murky and the choices you make as an educator online must be thought about more deeply than ever. Some in and outside of the 100s of weekly edchats are finding a difficult balance between selling their books and keeping a stubborn mindset on the learning, curiosity and innovation that got them there. Some behaviors I’m seeing too much off are adopting titles like “thought leaders” and promoting ourselves by retweeting every compliment handed out. Someone told me my Chuck Taylors were cool last week in Kentucky. Think about this. For me to then walk outside and broadcast for everyone in the world “SOME NICE WOMAN JUST TOLD ME MY SHOES ARE AWESOME!!!!!!!” only not once but multiple times a week — why must our behavior norms change just because we are online. I understand you are excited and someone has filled your bucket, but to be honest, I’ve just lost some respect for you. The hardest part about it? Some of those guilty of these self-promoting behaviors are actually my friends. But how will others know I’m doing such awesome work for kids? If you want others to know what is being said about you, all they have to do is search your mentions. Your Twitterfeed is the new business card, your resume and possibly your opportunity to land your dream job someday.
  • One final thought. “Group think” where the chat is 90% agreement and no one asks prompting questions or pushing the thinking is spreading like wildfire across various evening chats. I understand many of us got into this connected work as a means to be innovative, but innovation isn’t something that can be “checked off.” Just because you are on Twitter or another social media, doesn’t mean you are necessarily innovative, open-minded and someone others should follow. To have this innovative mindset, we must constantly be thinking of how we can be better for not only the kids and their families tomorrow, but our own local and global colleagues. We have to take care of each other. We have to have the tough conversations, continuously expose ourselves to new perspectives and keep our ear to the ground of those actually working with students “on the front lines.” We’re all on the same team, working in the toughest profession in the world (as it should be) – educating kids.

What the research says

As I’ve observed behavior on Twitter (or Twittiquette) I’m wondering if I should be doing more self promotion. After all, I like many others have never been through a social media course on what to do and not do. Does the PLN have core values? Should it? The beauty of this space is that you be who you want to be and go after what you need as an educator or a person or both. Setting out rules (IMO) is not an answer, but we should at least be talking about the behaviors and what they mean to various stakeholders if we’re committed to evolving the space. Here’s an article I found, and I’d love to read more along these lines if you’d add something you’ve read in the comments section below.

The Perils of Self-Confidence via Harvard Business Review

Reams of psychological studies show that being perceived as modest is associated with a wide range of positive outcomes. The message is clear: People do not value confidence unless it is accompanied by competence—and even when it is, they prefer to see as little confidence surplus as possible.

Also check out @drtcp‘s website with more research, resources and media.

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Moving forward

  • Purpose, Passion, Pride – Iowa HS Principal Jimmy Casas has these three words in big letters in his office. He is a champion for these three words. He walks the walk and owns it. These words remind me of the greatest part about being part of the PLN. It wouldn’t be fair of me to throw out my thoughts on the network without offering some ideas on how we can get better. I ask the same of students, teachers and community members when we challenges arise. If were not listening and open to feedback from each of these lenses, we’re probably just in a “job” and not embracing this work as our “vocation” – a whole different post for another time.
  • Embrace the role you have before you embrace the one you want. I love my new gig at @PennGSE and @MCDPEL. I get to collaborate with school leaders, faculty members and MCDPEL alumni all over the world on using social media for connected teaching, learning and leadership. I get to speak from experience on where I made gains and where I fell flat on my face as a leader. I’m not an expert, and I say this each time I speak regardless of what the promo flyer says about my work. We all must work hard to be “experts” of our own communities by listening the most and committing to evolving our work based on what we hear – even if it doesn’t tell us “we’re awesome.” In the words of my first principal, Dr. Maureen Cheever, “The kids are depending on us. Be crazy, be magnificent!”
  • Find ways to bring more voices and perspectives into the conversation. I’ve been trying to follow new people and those who are just joining Twitter that have less than 100 followers. These are folks who are dipping their toes in the water to see what the “PLN” is all about and why everyone is raving about it. Let’s set a good example across the board. This is a space many of us have worked very hard to evolve. We have to take care of it and be vocal and brave when we need to be. We can learn a lot from each other if we just stopped talking and listened.
  • A new twist to think about as we innovate school leadership. Look for a new style of podcast coming out of @MCDPEL (See #backchannelEDU for details). It will be based on connecting research to practice, taking an inquiry stance and involving real leadership scenarios complete with voices from the field. Social media will be embedded throughout the process of this new, interactive “podcast series” starting Monday, March 2, 2015. (Follow @backchannelEDU on Twitter and save the date via Remind) [RESOURCE] What is a “backchannel?” via @educause (2011).

I challenge those in my PLN to raise the bar for both themselves and others as we continue to innovate inside this space. We have successfully made the education world smaller by the daily interactions we have on a variety of different mediums. We have made the impossible possible. This work is about relationships and there is no “summit” where you say, “I made it!” Building and sustaining them is hard work. Jealousy, gossip, self promotion, lack of transparency, lack of attending conferences and hashtag chats anymore as a learner is very clear to the rest of us. You simply can’t “outgrow” these things.

If you’ve gotten this far, I appreciate you taking the time. These are simply some things I’m seeing too much of as of late and I couldn’t go one more post without putting it out there. I think we can do better. I will always think we can do better. We must if we hope to move our educational system forward as we evolve locally and globally. How would others (new, experienced, early adopters) describe the present “culture of our PLN? What are YOU doing to innovate in order to take it to the next level of support, collaboration, personal and professional learning? What would be your elevator speech to describe the PLN?

I’d be anxious to hear your thoughts, your experiences good, bad, indifferent. Please push my thinking as I continue develop my own lens on this work and “our” network.

[WATCH OR LISTEN] High & Low Tech Strategies to Engage Families


PODCAST LINK VIA SOUNDCLOUD – The video webinar above has been converted to a sound file for listening on the go.

It’s been a busy couple weeks on the road, and I’m sharing some new resources and media around engaging families. Please feel free to pass it along on your networks if you find it useful. Below is a 45-minute national webinar facilitated by FERP and the U.S Dept. of Education. The full recording is embedded below, and starts a few minutes in after some announcements. Scroll down farther to listen to it via Soundcloud. (runtime 40 min)



The slides to my presentation are linked below via Slideshare. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me on Voxer at Joe_Mazza or on one of the channels in the upper right hand corner of this site with follow-up questions.

SLIDES to guide your own school/district’s reflection of “meeting families where they are.

EDCAMP IOWA GDOC – Great list of over 50 high & low tech ways to engage families. List created by in-person and virtual #PTcamp participants (via Voxer) on Saturday, January 31, 2015 at #EdCampIOWA. Full #edcampIOWA resources from all four locations here. (Click on locations to see schedule/notes docs). Thank you to Matt Degner for hosting us at your school and for Jimmy Casas for inviting me to Iowa for a great visit with students, staff and parents. It is inspiring to witness “in-person” the pride you each have for your schools and for your respective learning communities. Keep setting the example of LISTENING to the needs of your families for others in leadership roles.

Principals’ 15 Point Winter Break Inspection

Inspiration for this post – My father the mechanic. 
It’s that time again. You get a few days away from the office with a long list of things you want to have accomplished by the time students walk back in those doors in January. The following are 15 things to think about.
1. Get away from the office. Enjoy some quiet reflective solitude as spring break begins. You’ve earned it. Reflect on the first 5 months of the school year. Are you feeling like your ship is headed in the right direction? Hit some rough patches? What could you have done differently? What have you learned about yourself and your school?

2. Take your spouse/significant other out to dinner and enjoy some quality time without your mobile device. If you’re a connected principal, you’re probably used to checking your phone for work emails, phone calls or Tweets even at home. It’s time to take a little break. He/she will appreciate it. Take some times to discuss device time and some family-friendly guidelines while you’re out it.

3. Read an unrelated magazine article, book, or anything that takes you away from “job-thoughts.”  Watch a movie or go shopping. Find the time to get back to exercising and taking better care of yourself. Some friends around the country are now using Fitbit devices to keep each other motivated.

4. Update your own leadership goals for the year. What have you accomplished? What is your next move? What resources do you need to get there? What will you focus on in 2015?

5. Pull out your staff roster.  Go top to bottom.  Who have you worked the most with this year. The least? Make some goals for the next trimester of the school year on how you can support your staff members, assistants, cafeteria workers.

6. Arrange a meeting with your office staff. How has the year progressed? Set goals for the new year. Talk to them about “PARTNER” and how you want to take your building to the next level in developing a family-friendly school – Share abbreviated research.  Ask them to consider the following mnemonic when helping a parent who has come to the office:

P- Put a smile on your face
A- Attitude-LESS
R- Recognize ESL or other needs (engage Language Line/interpreter)
T- Talk to them. Engage in conversation that shows them you care about them as people, they’re more than guests.
N- Never be satisfied that you have addressed the needs they walked in with. We can always do more.
E- Engage building resources (principal/guidance/teacher etc) each time the need arises.
R- Revisit reasons for visit and verbally confirm needs were met.
7.  Arrange a meeting with your head custodian. Reflect on the school year. Share any feedback from staff and your own personal input. When was the last time you provided the staff type opportunity to complete a quick school cleanliness survey using
8. Take a walk around the exterior of the building. How does it look? Check for safety risks while making notes to continue building an inviting campus for your families.
9. Pull out any walkthrough data and observations you’ve done on staff so far. Go down your staff roster once again. Have you missed anyone?  Equity matters.  Make a plan for the next trimester.  Send an email to 5 teachers you observed referring to an observation and include a link to a related resource.  Consider moving to a free online walkthrough form.
10. Encourage a colleague to sign up for Twitter. Search #edchat, #cpchat #ptchat #elemchat. Find new resources and give yourself some new things to try over the last few weeks and during the summer.  If they are already on Twitter, join a hashtag chat and Tweet it Forward- help another educator in the family identify relevance in this amazing global resource and build their “PLN.” Consider using the great Twitter resources of Jerry Blumengarten or Steven Anderson or visiting the Learn Twitter page on this blog.
11. Reflect upon the level of feedback and praise you have provided your staff. Teaching can be a thankless job at times. Have you recognized the people in the trenches each day…the ones who lay it on the line with students and parents and make your school what it is? Send a text or write a note to them with authentic thanks and praise.  Start thinking about what you will do for Teacher Appreciation Week to make this year different.
12. Plan an agenda for the next Home & School Meeting that evidences any changes you’ve made in response to their feedback. Instill in them that you are serious about building partnerships with your families and meeting them where they are. Use research and some proven strategies.
13. Does your school truly integrate technology each day in classrooms and overall? Search #edtech and get some ideas together to compliment your curriculum. What traditional components of your school can go digital?
Newsletter/Website–> Blog.
Loudspeaker announcements –>Video stream, Google Docs
Photo gallery–>Picasa/Flickr/Twitter
Hard copies to all families–>Gmail distribution lists
Write to pen pals?–>Skype around the world #MysterySkype
Traditional phone chain–> Remind
14. Identify student leadership opportunities at your school. You can never have enough opportunities for students to take ownership of their school. Student council members, student bloggers, photographers, environmental club members, academic tutors, guest readers. How about student voice and how this differs from student council or government.
15. Pick up the phone and cold call 20 parents. Solicit feedback on how the year has gone. Thinking bigger? Develop a family engagement survey to help provide information on where your parents feel connected and where you need to differentiate further for them.  Here’s one that is based upon the important work of Karen Mapp.
Take pride in the fact that you are meeting the expectations of one of the most challenging jobs in the world. You are a reflective leader working to build your school into a 21st Century innovative learning community.  You’re committed to improving your own leadership and your school from one day to the next. You care about your staff and acknowledge the hard work they put in each day and night. You seek out new resources, make building relationships a priority and are working to be the transparent liaison between home and school.
In a job with so many responsibilities, you’re well aware that there are more than 15 points to write about. I invite your comments and encourage you to add to this list below.

Lessons From Ferguson: Bias, community engagement and privilege

By way of various media, research reports and opening up dialogue to family, friends and colleagues on Facebook, I’ve been constantly engaged in gathering perspectives on the #FergusonDecision as a white, middle-class Philadelphian. I’ve followed the events of Mike Brown’s death since August, but when the decision not to indict was made last week, I became glued to the TV, and of course the #Ferguson & #FergusonSyllabus hashtags on Twitter. My Facebook wall has become a place where every opinion you could ever imagine is shared in the most unorganized and sometimes visceral way. I’ve really gotten to know much more about the unique sense of “privilege” my family and friends carry with them as I read each post. Some comments are quite disturbing, but offer a window into the real-life perspectives WE ALL HAVE in our communities that educators need to be prepared to engage. I’ve struggled to make sense of where I stand in many places, as it’s hard to have a definitive line in the sand with so many details absent. I can say that this particular situation has encouraged me to be even more transparent about the white privilege I’ve been fortunate to have with me my whole life.

Last night CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Anthony Batts. Batts speaking on his leadership of the BPD immediately caused me to reflect back on the work of today’s school leaders. As you listen, what themes strike you as you during the three-minute clip below?

Cooper asked Batts two questions that could have been answered in a similar fashion by a school superintendent and/or principal.

AC: Can training really be effective in reducing the impact of bias? 

AB: Absolutely and shares the following keys in his experiences as the leader of three large urban police departments:

  • Bias-based policing
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Tactical proficiency
  • Embracing that every human being has bias
  • We need to move beyond our bias based on scenarios
  • We have opportunities to back away from situations, call for back up, in effect take the bias out of the situation

AC: How important is it that the police force resemble the community they are policing? 


AB: There is a need to have diversity in the workforce – not only in race, but in gender and ethnicity.

  • Police force must understand what its like to live in the unique community.
  • New officers should come out of the Academy away from theory and get into the community to get them to know the people they serve.
  • There is culture, norms and issues going on in community. It’s more important to have the pulse of these things than to have a workforce that mirrors the community.

I also watched Batts’ introduction speech as new BPD Commissioner in November, 2012. At the 6:50 mark, he talks about community engagement. From an educator lens, there are many parallels to our work inside the school with students and out in the community with families. We need to build trust, get to know the norms, culture and issues they are challenged with to best serve them when they are in our care.

What have you learned from the Ferguson movement? Please detail your own takeaways as it relate to your work in the comments below.

Looking for support in the classroom? Tonight’s #PTchat (via @IELconnects) features special guest, Georgetown Professor Marcia Catelain (@DrMChatelain), as she details the hashtag #FergusonSyllabus, she first used in August after Mike Brown was killed by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO. The one hour conversation will be about supporting healthy dialogue in the classroom with students on these and other issues involving sensitive topics.

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Innovating within Twitterchats through Leadership Simulations

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I’ve been a participant and a facilitator in Twitter chats for over four years now. I’ve learned so much and connected with some really inspiring and hard-working people and organizations. The majority of these chats out there follow the format of Q1, Q2, Q3 followed by A1, A2, A3. There’s an awful lot of “group think” going on where agreement and praise is a great core value of the conversation. I think this is a real area of concern as social media conversations around educational issues evolve and it’s up to chat moderators to encourage a rich conversation that digs deeper, doesn’t shy away from the tough conversations and works toward actual strategies and solutions that can be taken into school conversations the following day.

Tonight, my colleagues at PennGSE will join #PAESSPchat to host a LIVE online Leadership Simulation using the PELS program. Instead of the chat being based on six or seven questions, participants will experience a real-life scenario supported by audio and video from a school principal. You can check out the Penn Ed Leadership Simulations “sim” we’ll be using here that is open for the duration of the chat thanks to Ken Spero, Eric Bernstein and Mike Johanek.

My message here is that many organizations have fallen into habits of “group think” and steer away from critical conversations that could yield positive results for all stakeholders. By offering a variety of leadership scenarios based on actual issues school leaders face, we can provide hands-on PD opportunities for school leaders in an admin meeting to break down in a collaborative manner, forcing us to tackle a myriad of issues that will undoubtably come up.

Below the SIM Screenshot is the 11/20/14 #PAESSPchat (Pennsylvania Association of Elementary & Secondary School Principals Chat) where we walked school leaders on Twitter through the following SIM:

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