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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

2 Technology Tools That Will Help Change Your Impact

By Peter DeWitt — October 13, 2015 4 min read
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Tools are only as good as the relationships we build in our schools so we can use them to authentically connect with stakeholders.

Sitting in my office when I was a principal, I had an idea. It was a few days before our Open House in 2012 and I wanted to engage parents in a different way. In the words of Stephen Covey, we had an emotional bank account together. There were times when I made withdrawals in the school community...or individually with parents. Other times I made deposits by engaging and listening...or treating their children with the respect they deserved.

So...I knew that I could capture the attention of a few.

Using my laptop at home, I created a 5 minute video using some slides and I focused on the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), which was the anti-bullying legislation passed in New York State, where I was a principal. Additionally, I spent two minutes talking about the Common Core, which was being poorly implemented in NY, but parents needed to know as much as we knew. I saved the video, and sent it out using Edline, which was our parent portal. I asked them to attend the Principal Conversation part of Open House with questions.

After pressing send everything changed in my life as a principal. It was called Flipped Leadership.

Parents watched. They laughed, they cried. Ok, they may have laughed but hopefully they didn’t cry. Within 30 minutes I heard from a parent (and yes, I remember specifically which one...thank you Ethan). He thanked me because he couldn’t always get to school and loved the new format.

3 days later at Open House we had standing room only, which wasn’t unlike other open houses, but this one was different. We engaged in dialogue about what bullying was and what it was not. We talked a bit about the Common Core, but mostly focused on DASA. We all left feeling different.

Which brings me to tool #1. Touchcast.

I used to flip my leadership using some online formats that no longer exist, and often had to use my home computer because the desktop in my office didn’t have a camera or a microphone. Then I found Touchcast thanks to my fellow professional learning network (PLN) friend Curt Rees.

With my iPad, I was able to easily create videos for teachers and parents. Touchcast made it so easy to flip, and they make it even easier now. They have a green screen option so users can transform their office to a news desk or outer space if they like. They have a teleprompter so users can write something in a Word document and cut/paste the document into the teleprompter so they can remember what they want to say.

The cool thing about Touchcast, is that over the last couple of years, they have used the feedback of many educators around the world (including me!) to make the whole Touchcast experience so much more user-friendly.

Now they have Touchcast Studio in a Box, which is an all-in-one package. Touchcast Studio comes with a green screen, lapel mic, and mini tri-pod. It has everything a principal, teacher or library media specialist could ever need.

Using the Studio in a Box, educators and leaders can transform their classrooms or offices into a creative space to flip their leadership or put students in control over their own creative experiences. Open the box, set it up, and ask students to find creative ways to express themselves.

Touchcast changed the way I communicated with parents and teachers, and there are many educators and leaders who have the same experience I did. It also makes the opportunities for learning experiences so much more creative for teachers and students. Check it out!

Do the Twist!

The other tool which has completely rocked my world as an instructional coaching trainer and workshop presenter is Swivl. A few years ago and the Boston Tech Forum, I saw it demoed by someone at Swivl. He made it look so easy, and I really never thought using it would be as easy as he made it look. The reality is that it is just that easy.

It begins with wearing a lanyard around your neck that is no heavier than a school badge. The lanyard has a remote control on it, and teachers need to just press record...and suddenly...the Smartphones and tablets that fit perfectly into the Swivl are transformed into recording devices that help teachers and leaders see their blind spots.

We all have blind spots (Scharmer). There are parts of our instruction and leadership that we don’t see. We can’t possibly see the places where we need growth...or even the places we succeed. Using a device like Swivl helps record interactions with students and teachers. It provides us with the evidence we need when we reflect on our teaching and interactions.

The Swivl seriously moves from one direction to the other flawlessly because it follows the voice of the person wearing the recorder. After a few moments, because no one stands next to the device, it is easily forgotten that it is on which really helps us go to a deeper learning place.

In the work of John Hattie, someone I work with as a Visible Learning trainer, Micro-teaching has a .75 effect size, which is almost double the hinge point of .40. An effect size of .40 is consistent with a year’s worth of growth in student learning for a year’s input. By using a Swivl and recording our teaching, we can clearly see the impact we have on students during instruction. It provides us a window into our blind spots.

In the End

Tools are only as good as the relationships we build in our schools so we can use them to authentically connect with stakeholders. Even the best tools won’t work in school climates that are hostile and focus on rule following rather than risk-taking.

Swivl and Touchcast are serious contenders to be game changers with how we connect with others in our school communities. Even the biggest technophobe could use these tools in a way that will help deepen learning and communication.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.