Leadership: indicatives vs imperatives

As a qualified administrator, I have a vested interested in believing that my formal qualification indicates that I am a leader, and moreover, that I deserve to be. Not so.

While studying leadership at Johns Hopkins, the literature suggested over and over that leaders were more born than made, and coming to believe this more and more myself, I guess I should have dropped out.  Irony aside, I now interpret everything I read about leadership differently.  Whether reading about authentic leaders or servant leaders, we should see lists of characteristics as indicative (these characteristics describe the type of leader), not imperative (do these things and you will be that type of leader).

This isn’t to say that there is no room for development, but there are very real boundaries. For example, collaboration and transparency can be practiced.  Other traits of successful leadership such as candor (Murphy, 2007) are difficult to practice, because they are simply a personality trait.

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Why does everyone want to be a leader?

Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made president should on no account be allowed to do the job.
– Douglas Adams

I’ve been thinking a lot about the psychology of leadership lately. Both my own and that of others. Every sector has its share of people in leadership who just don’t belong there, and education is no different. Education is unique though in that leadership really is the only path available to those that have professional and/or money ambitions.

A relative of mine who just took an entry-level coding job in silicon valley told me that after three weeks on the job, he received a $20k raise. If he is ambitious, what will he do? He will continue to work hard, develop his skills and learn how to make even better products within a team. If he does, he will almost certainly have many more $20k raises in his future, and with a little luck, he will hop to a new job with stock options or hit it big working for himself.

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Google Forms with iBooks Author

iBooks Author is an awesome tool for teachers. I was recently sitting with a few ADEs who are math teachers. While they really like the idea of iBooks Author, they are concerned about a few things. One problem is that the Review Widget doesn’t do anything with the data, so it doesn’t work well as tool for assessing students.

A Google search turns up some promising solutions. I found Mike Seyfang’s technique of using Google Forms worked pretty well. I’ve modified it a bit, but the credit should go to him and Jim McKeeth.

Download wdgt file

All you need is this tiny file and a Google Form you would like to embed. This file is actually a special folder with three small files in it, one of which you will need to edit. When you download it, you may be asked to install it to your Dashboard. Cancel this – you don’t want to install anything.


Now watch this video to see just how easy is is:

*Please note that this post is a rush-job; there is a group meeting at a conference in a few minutes who may find this useful. I’ll revise with better written instructions ASAP.

Photo Credit: fragility_v2 via Compfight cc

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Typing: iPad vs Computer

Most adults can’t imagine typing anything more than a few words at a time on a virtual keyboard, but with practice, is it really any worse than a traditional keyboard? After getting several requests from teachers to buy keyboards for our iPad 1:1 program, I decided to do a little research project with our elementary students. It’s a simple study with some limitations, but maybe it’s a good place to start when discussing the efficacy of virtual keyboards:

Video Abstract:


As iPads and similar touch-based tablets gain popularity in schools, many express concerns over the efficacy of a virtual keyboard. Many believe that a traditional keyboard is necessary for students to develop typing skills sufficiently. At our school, iPads are used throughout the elementary and students in years 4-6 (grades 3-5) each have his or her own. Several teachers have expressed concern about typing speed and technique, and it has been suggested that external keyboards for the iPads may improve keyboarding development, at least for some students.

This research was designed to answer the following two questions about our students:

  1. Is there a difference in speed between using a keyboard and using a virtual keyboard?
  2. Are some students significantly better at one form of keyboarding than the other?
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1:1 Elementary iPads – Reflecting on the First Months

Everyone knew that the transition from 1:2 laptops to 1:1 iPads would be messy. As the person most obviously responsible for the change, it has been an interesting tactical tightrope to walk: enthusiastically promote the transformative power of the iPads while keeping expectations low as everyone adapts to new opportunities and limitations.

Over the summer, I had lots of time to think about our decision to go 1:1, and by the time the new school-year started, I had come to terms with the idea that this would be a two-year project that would look more like a failure than a success for the first 6-8 months. Nothing in the first two months of school gave me reason to modify my projection, but something started to change in early November. It’s too early to declare victory, but there is already a lot to celebrate.

We’ve certainly made some mistakes and we are still learning what works and what doesn’t. Here are four key things we’ve gotten right:

  • Serious setup
  • Training
  • A new integration model
  • Students leading the way
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Stop Safari Reloading on Back Gesture

The Inconsistency

Like countless others (1,2,3), I’ve been frustrated by recent versions of Sarai on OS X Lion and Mountain Lion. It’s great to have mouse-gestures built in to the OS, but why on earth would a “back swipe” be processed by Safari differently than a back button press or key shortcut? Those of you with blazing internet speeds may never notice it, but when I swipe back on my Magic Mouse, a JPG preview of the last page appears briefly while the page is reloaded back to the top regardless of last scrolled state. Even Apple’s cute little demo in the mouse settings shows a page needlessly reloading. This can be particularly infuriating when going back to search results and basically having resubmit the search each time. Of course, if I click the actual back button or use “Command-[” Safari instantly displays the cached page right where I left it.

Why on earth would this be different? What actual command is OS X sending to Safari ? Obviously, it’s not simply “back”.

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iOS App Management

A principal from a neighboring school recently asked for our thoughts on iOS app management, so I have written down some of what we are learning and some of the things we feel are important to consider. We, along with most other schools, are still unsure about what is the best way forward, so we still have more questions than we have answers, but at least we are starting to be able to articulate the questions.

Apple does not currently make their educational Volume Purchase Program available outside of the US. There are some schools (with some sort of US business address) that have been able to get Apple to approve them for a business volume licensing program. This apparently does not include any volume discounts. At a recent tech conference in HK, the regional Apple rep assured a large group of educators that Apple would be rolling out the Volume Purchase Program internationally. (I’ve had the opportunity to speak with high-level Apple reps a few times over the years, so although I’m optimistic, I won’t hold my breath.)

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iPads vs Document Cameras

I sure am glad for competition. We the customers almost always benefit. Where else can that be more true than for educational technology hardware. You know, the stuff: clunky, overpriced, and just plain ugly; The “breakthrough” product to help dyslexic students that now sits in the cupboard because even if someone wanted to use it, they can’t because the special proprietary connection has gone bad.

They’ve gotten better, but just take a stroll through the vendors at ISTE and you will still see a whole lot of junk. Things are changing though, because society as a whole has become much more savvy. People know better now and teachers (and students) won’t put up with it. If you have guessed that I don’t love Smartboards, you’d be correct. They aren’t the worst thing in the world, but it’s hard for me to justify their price. Same goes for document cameras. Teachers love them and they do actually do a good job at one thing. But do we really want to spend that kind of money on something that students will probably never touch?

Speaking of touch, that’s where iPads come in. One of the reasons they are so great for education is that they aren’t designed for education. Instead, they are designed to be amazing, interactive tools that can do just about anything. I know they don’t do everything, but if you had to choose between a document camera with Smartboard and a cart of iPads for the students, which would you choose?

We’ve been in a bit of a battle over classroom budgets over the last month. Teachers must use or loose them. We have some document cameras and several year-levels are pushing to buy sets of them. No doubt they would put them to good use, but is it really the best use of our limited resources? This video is a quick capture of me practicing the demo I will be giving to administrators tomorrow. They may still choose to approve the document camera requests, but at least I’ve still helped advocate for the power of iPads (which we will be getting one way or another).

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#BeyondConferences – a model for multi-school collaboration

I’ve had the privilege to attend four tech conferences this school year: Learning2.0TechEx21CLHK, and most recently, #BeyondLaptops in Yokohama. They are reliably inspiring yet simultaneously frustrating. On one hand, it is always great to get together with likeminded people to share ideas, affirm our hard work, and get some answers. On the other hand, the Déjà vu gets old, and I feel guilty about the money my school spends to send me to another country just so I can have the same conversations I’ve been having for the last 10 years. In a way it’s a bit like a fan club that gets together to talk about their band. (Sure one might prefer Paul to John and some might think Revolver was better than The White Album, but everyone agrees that the Beatles were better than the Stones.)

That’s why so many of us were so excited about Kim Cofino‘s effort to bring people together who were ready to start making their own music. (And to stretch this metaphor to the breaking point before dropping it,) that’s how I envisioned #BeyondLaptops — as a songwriting workshop where musicians get down to the very difficult task of transferring their skills and passions into a recognizable form that the band can follow along to. It’s hard work and some wanted more. Sure, I had lofty goals that weren’t fully realized, but I think Kim was right (and the only one brave enough) to try to start somewhere.

#BeyondLaptops certainly helped to validate some of my medium-term goals, but more importantly, it reinforced my belief that conferences are not enough. They are just a quick introduction to a group of individuals — speed dating, if you like. It’s great to chat and swap a few stories, but now it’s time to choose whose phone numbers we want. Blogs and Twitter are a start, but we need something more substantial. We need a model that will help leaders meet somewhat regularly, not to simply discuss, but to create a tangible, actionable program to take back to their schools. Maybe something like this:

The idea is that traditional conferences are big and people’s goals varied. For those of us looking to do the difficult work of dramatically re-imagining an ICT program or writing curriculum, we need a much smaller group that can meet several times in the year. These people must come from schools with similar challenges and similar goals. Here’s the kinds of schools I would be looking for:

  • IB World Schools
  • Medium sized with existing 1:1 program and solid tech infrastructure across the school
  • An existing integration model that isn’t working as well as people would wish
  • Wide (if not deep) use of blogging or social media
  • Empowerment from administrators to make bold changes
  • A desire to synthesize an integration model (describing what an integrated classroom looks like) with a practical collaboration model (how coaches help teachers)
  • A desire to map major ICT initiatives to ATLs and TD Skills
  • BONUS: Bullish on iPads

I’m sure there are more, but if I could find a handful of other good people from schools like these, I’d gladly give up my tickets to traditional conferences in order to pursue closer collaboration.

Would this provide value to you #beyondconferences? Can schools find enough common ground to collaborate this closely? Is anyone already doing something like this?

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Embedding PDFs Stored in Google Docs

It should be easy to upload a PDF to Google Docs and then embed it into a WordPress blog, and I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to figure it out. Here’s the story and the solution:

Schools that run WordPress (WPMU) for teacher and student blogs have a very powerful tool at their disposal. There are, however a few workflow issues that can greatly impact teacher buy-in and the consistent application of best-practices. Perhaps the most vexing problem to me is the issue of attaching and/or embedding documents.  As a single blogger it’s not too hard to come up with an attachment workflow that works, and it usually isn’t a problem to find a location to host the files, but it quickly falls apart when scaled to a large group of teachers who have widely varying competencies and extremely tight storage limits on their blogs.

Although I’m not personally a fan of cluttering up blogs with endless embedded documents that bring load-times to a crawl, I do understand that a large percentage of teachers want to get their pretty documents straight into their blogs. They want something simple to get them from a highly stylized Word document to an easily printable embed on a blog post.

Many teachers have learned to use Scribd, but the advertisements and need to log-in in order to print make it a poor solution. I thought I had found the solution in embedit.in but after some trials, we found that despite its perfect interface and lovely embeds, uploaded documents often got stuck “processing” for days.

Then I thought I had a good solution using Dropbox*, but the IT director balked at the reliance on a bunch of unmanaged, free dropbox accounts. Since my school is belatedly embracing Google Apps, I really wanted to find a Google Docs solution as it would help drive people toward exploring it more.

There are quite a few nice WordPress plugins which turn PDFs into embeds, so how about uploading PDFs to Google Docs and then linking to them. With plugin names like Google Doc Embedder (GDE) and Google Docs Viewer you might think it would be a breeze. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.  The author of GDE clarifies:

“… a common misconception that I regret. It’s called Google Doc Embedder because it uses the Google Docs Viewer, but changes after Google made this service publicly available made Google Docs themselves difficult or impossible to embed in this way…”

At my prior school, we used Google Sites and it was easy to use a Google Docs Widget to add Google Docs, but uploaded PDFs were tricky. I had previously found that Mori79’s PDF widgets worked wonderfully, so I took a look at the URL that was embedded in the iFrame of a Google Site using his widget. Eureka!


From here, it was easy to get this into an iframe. I’m not much of a coder so I chose to use the excellent Embedder Plugin to generate a slightly easier shortcode. The added advantage is that if Google changes their URL formatting for their viewer, I can change it in the plugin rather than every post that uses the embed code.

Thus, users can now upload a PDF to a public folder on Google Docs, grab the doc ID and add it to a shortcode like this:

[gpdf id=”0B-PPWU-EByz4MWFlZjAjAtN2E1Mi00YjFlLWJkYzgtMmJiMWYE1NDM0″]

to get this:

<iframe src=”https://docs.google.com/viewer?embedded=true&a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=false

which renders this:

Do I think this is a good workflow for teachers? No, of course not, but I’m hopeful that the developers of the existing Google Viewer plugins will incorporate this. Better yet, someone will extend the WP media uploader so that instead of the file uploading to the WP site, it uploads to Google Docs (or other cloud location) and then generates a link or embed for it.

I’d love to read about work that others may have already done in this area.

* The Dropbox solution was really a lot simpler than this Google Docs nonsense: user saves as a PDF directly into their public dropbox folder. Then they navigate to it, right-click to get the public link and paste it into a blog post. Then a plugin like dirtysuds embed does the rest.
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