I’m Ba-ack!

This post is an explanation of my absence, and a preview to anticipated changes over the next several months.  Read on…

It has been a while since I’ve posted anything.  A few days ago, when I tried to enter a new post, I discovered it had disappeared.  All I could think about was years’ worth of data down the tubes.  Quite a bit of activity involving this site occurred during the past several months, it turns out, which collectively resulted in the site “going away” temporarily.  No, I didn’t miss any payments; and no, I didn’t accidentally wreck it myself. Here’s what happened.

Recently, this site was to be updated by someone, a professional site developer and marketing person who also happens to be a relative. Instead of being updated, the site was basically destroyed.  My suspicion is that the updater was less familiar with the site configuration than she believed herself to be.  Unfortunately, she did not want to admit this and made the classic “young person’s” mistake of not backing up the site before “updating” it.  I was afraid I would need to start all over again.  However, between WordPress and GoDaddy (where I host this site), enough backup information was available from the last successful post on this site that everything was restored.  (Hooray for WordPress and GoDaddy!!)  From now on, all changes will be done by me, regardless of my limited computing skills. Both companies offer plenty of resources and certified web site developers that, if I get frustrated, professional help is available.

Another reason for no activity here: a month or two ago, a serious illness knocked the wind out of my sails, leaving me unable to work much on the computer at all, much less at almost anything else.  Although I still have more “off” days than “on” ones, I’ve made the decision to concentrate on my blogs and the distribution of information related to education, and stop worrying about consulting.  There will be some changes to the way the site looks as well as the way the site operates.  However, the information will be as up to date as possible, and I hope to reach not only education professionals, but also parents and other professionals who work with children.  Features I hope to add include webinars and recorded videos targeted at learning problems and behavioral issues.  There will be guest blogging professionals, both in text and visual media.  Links to related reading and other materials and resources will be increased for your convenience.  These changes will take place gradually, so don’t expect everything at once.  As I said, I’m no longer a professional computing person, and it will take some time to get everything up to speed.  But updating this site will be as much a learning experience for me as a way to share what I know, especially about special education and behavioral issues.

So please bear with me as this site gradually develops into something more useful to all of us.  Thanks for your patience with me and support for the posts to date.  Without your readership, this blog would have folded long ago.

Watch for the changes!

Mostly, watch for my next posts that might be important to you and your students or offspring.

#educ_dr

St Maarten’s Education: An American’s Impressions–Part 2

University of St Maarten

University of St Maarten

A couple of months ago, I began to address the topic of education in St Maarten–specifically, special education (see previous post). At the time, I was going to review my notes, as well as check the local news for updated information. What I discovered over the next few days was that there was very little education-related news, and that there were no promised updates on the government web site. The official government pages do not contain much more than department contact information. [Click here for what passes as the official policy information page. (There are no public links beyond this page in either English or Dutch.)]

My attempts to learn more about official updates to education policy–or even news–have been rather futile. Except for a few special activities at specific schools–school or student awards, student activities, special events, charitable contribution presentations, etc.–information related to general elementary and secondary education policies and other government-related information has not appeared in local newspapers or government web pages for quite some time. Thus, what I have learned about education here in St Maarten comes primarily from “old” public and government information, much of which was uncovered during my original interest in the country’s education system; and through general conversation with island residents, both “recent” and “native.”

Here is what I have learned since my last post. Topics include general policy issues, ministry responsibilities, special education isolation, education funding, disappearance of “special education” language, teacher training, and “NCLB-like” programming policy.

  • There is much vague language in what apparently passes for educational policies in publicly available documentation. In fact, this information appears to be limited to the “about” page of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Affairs. There appear to be no policy additions or modifications to the description of educational services on official Parliament ministry pages, except for some minor additions in Dutch which can only be found with much “digging.” Noteworthy here is that, although Dutch is the official language of the country of St Maarten, the lingua franca is English, as a very large portion of the population speaks Spanish, French, Tagalog, various dialects of India and Asia, etc., in home and community. Thus, the majority of the population can neither read nor comment on what little official education policy information is available because such policy is available only in the Dutch language. It should further be noted that the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Affairs is the only cabinet department that had not made an English language version of their policies available until recently, and that–to date–the “policy” is more of a wish list of overly-generalized education department “mission statements” and objectives.
  • Although one of the mission statements of the Ministry of Education (etc.) clearly addresses alignment of education with Dutch and international norms and practices, the lack of explicit language addressing special education services is like a black hole in the center of one’s living room where the coffee table used to be. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is because the goals and objectives also encompass the “culture, youth and sports affairs,” all of which may or may not be directly linked to educational outcomes per se. That no “Oxford comma” is present between “youth” and “sports” is also interesting, since–until recently–the version of English language instruction in St Maarten was British rather than American. What makes this interesting the disproportionately large financial resources that go to “culture” and “youth and sports” (or even “youth” and “sports”) as compared to resources budgeted for education. Since special education services are expensive, the lack of explicit language allows each individual school to offer or ignore resources to students with special needs. In a private chat with the current Minister of Education, Patricia Lourens, I learned that her estimate of special needs students in public education is closer to 40% than my church-affiliated school estimate of 20% to 25%. If Minister Lourens’ estimate is correct, then there is good reason to require that many special education services be available within the regular classroom. However, this would also require substantially better training for teachers through the local university, which attempts to offer special education “specialization” at the baccalaureate level as two courses, roughly equivalent to 6 credits or fewer at an American or Canadian university. (More on teacher preparation below.)
  • A school building originally slated to become a stand-alone school for behaviorally (and socially or emotionally) disturbed students continues to stand empty. Vacancy appears to be due to some disagreement as to who should administer the school–one of the numerous religious affiliations with elementary and/or secondary facilities, or the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Affairs (official public/free education provider). That upgrades to the school whose purpose is to provide education to learning disabled students has been tentatively stopped may indicate that the government has plans to expand special education; or it may indicate that one of the country’s church-affiliated schools has “won” oversight of the building and the program(s) to be offered there.
  • Education funding has once again been cut severely for a variety of political and economic (openly legal or corruption-driven) reasons, including loss of tax revenue–but the latter will be discussed at some future time. Interestingly, a non-academics oriented high school has recently been awarded public funds that were “withheld” by the Ministry of Education (etc.) despite parliamentary budgeting for these funds. The local court apparently felt that it was illegal to cut funds from an already existing government budget.
  • The topic of special education appears to have all but vanished from any dialog related to public responsibility, so much so that the single school for learning disabled youth, the Prins Willem Alexander School (PWA), has not been mentioned in the press for months. Until the beginning of the current school year, special education services were provided by this single school site officially and specifically reserved for learning disabled students. The problems with the PWA are that 1) the classrooms are overloaded with students presenting with behavioral and emotional issues that cannot be addressed within regular education; 2) the average class size is reportedly 20; and 3) teachers have not trained to provide special education services. Other than the worst cases of learning or behavioral/emotional difficulties, special needs students are expected to be handled within the regular classroom with some support from individuals whose official function is to serve as liaisons between school and home. The reality is that this latter group tends to serve instead as individual or small-group tutors, often with responsibilities that go far beyond the official job description. This is especially true of church- or foundation-supported but publicly funded schools.
  • Teacher training and experience are inadequately defined by the Ministry’s education policy, allowing private and church-supported schools to hire as teachers individuals who are straight out of high school/secondary-level education institutions, without a single post-secondary (college or university level) credit to their resumes. Granted, once hired, the individual must register in a teacher preparation program and show continual progress toward credentialing/certification. Teacher qualification does not require the attainment of a bachelors degree, especially at the elementary level (to be honest, I am not sure that a bachelors degree is required for secondary level teaching, either, as information is not readily available). Other islands in the Caribbean have grown to appreciate the skills and knowledge base associated with teacher training through programs leading to a baccalaureate degree–especially those programs that include liberal arts as part of the curriculum–but I believe that education is not as important a topic in St Maarten as in larger Caribbean countries.
  • Despite apparent public documents in place prior to St Maarten’s declaration of independence from The Netherlands Antilles (“10/10/10″), teaching continues to be done to prepare elementary school students for official grade-level year-end exams and the “FBE” Exit Exams given in the final year of primary level schooling (equivalent to what in the US would be sixth-grade). The testing and education policies for which the testing was created more closely resemble US No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policies than anything else I have encountered in international education standards and practices. Since, in the US, almost every one of the 50 states has elected to return to federally approved state-developed curricula–implying that NCLB did not meet local education needs–the success of the current (and two decades old) Dutch-established education system will be interesting to further observe and evaluate. Observation might be entertaining, as even the Dutch have recently declared the parent of these practices to be a grave mistake.

What is becoming more and more clear to me as I interact with the citizens of this country is that parents are becoming more accepting of causes other than home for their child’s learning difficulties (specific learning disabilities, dyslexia and discalculia, attention disorders such as ADD and ADHD, autistic spectrum disorders, brain trauma, behavioral/emotional disturbances, etc.) and are asking why services to address such issues are not directly provided for their children.

It is unclear to me whether the lack of information related to education–especially education policy–is due to lack of further action because of funding or time constraints, the absence of forward movement, or the upcoming parliamentary elections which are tentatively scheduled for late August. As with many matters political, sometimes it is better to do nothing before elections and stand on one’s old record than risk statements and/or actions that may be deemed as sensitive or unpopular. However, candidates and incumbents for office should consider that not all their citizens are as willing as they were in the past to simply vote for the familiar names and faces. The younger voters are questioning whether their needs might be better served by political representatives who appear willing to be more responsive to the constituencies they would represent.

More on St Maarten education soon…

#educ_dr

 

21st-Century PLNs for School Leaders | Edutopia

What’s a PLN? It stands for “personal learning network.” I’ve been in computers and education for many years and still had to Google the acronym.

There are three main bullet points: Joining and connecting through Twitter, reading education blogs, and finally writing education blogs. Many useful links are provided for educators to explore and use. The end result of PLN is better informed and better prepared educators!

If you are interested in creating a PLN, read the suggestions in the blog below from Edutopia‘s web site. The post appears to be aimed mainly at school administrators and teacher leaders, but I believe it is equally applicable to all educators, whether K-12 or post-secondary. It offers some great pointers on PLNs that can be used to connect educators to educators and, by extension, educators to students. Read on.

21st-Century PLNs for School Leaders | Edutopia.

George Couros

George Couros (@gcouros on Twitter) is the Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning for Parkland School Division, a large district near Edmonton, Alberta. He believes that, as educators, “We need to inspire our kids to follow their passions, while letting them inspire us to do the same.”

*****

As many school administrators are enjoying their summer break, we all tend to think of ways that we can make our school better in the upcoming year. Often, I point school principals and district leaders to a powerful post by Will Richardson that helps us point the finger right at ourselves when we are looking to push our school ahead. Richardson states:

“Meaningful change ain’t gonna happen for our kids if we’re not willing to invest in it for ourselves first. At the heart, it’s not about schools . . . it’s about us.”

With that being said, I have spent the last few years focusing a great deal on my work as an instructional leader within my role as school-based principal, and now as division principal. Although building relationships is the most important thing that we can do in our schools, in my opinion being an instructional leader is a close second.

With all of the new technologies that are surrounding us, and to the many school administrators that are not feeling comfortable with Twitter, Facebook, etc., I would like to suggest three ways (as opposed to the typical round number of 10) that you can focus on your own professional development over the summer. Less is oftentimes more in the digital world as we move from simply being “literate” to “fluent” in this language.

So for the administrator new to the world of social media and all of the possibilities that it holds for developing instructional leadership, here are three ways that I would suggest starting to learn this summer

1) Start a Twitter Account

Twitter is not just about “what I had for breakfast” (although I did have a delicious omelette at my favourite breakfast place this morning). There are a ton of educators on Twitter that are connecting and learning from one another, while building some global relationships that will be invaluable to the future of their own professional development, as well as their schools. Two years ago, it was something that I swore to stay away from, but in those short two years, Twitter has made more of an impact on my learning than any professional development opportunity I have ever been a part of, and dare I say, much more than my undergraduate and graduate work. The learning is real, the ideas are powerful yet simple, and the connections to resources and people are infinite.

To start, simply go to Twitter and create an account. Once there, you can follow the people on this list of educators, which will immediately start filling your column with great ideas and resources. If you are lost, you can often ask questions from Twitter sherpas like Dean Shareskior Alec Couros, two guys always willing to help. You are also welcome to connect with me, and I would be more than willing to help guide you in this world that isn’t as confusing as it may seem. You can also use the Twitter Search tool and look at tweets from school administrators, or on the topic of educational leadership through the #cpchat hashtag.

If you are not sure what you want to put out there, I wrote this post, What should a networked educational leader tweet about?, to help school leaders share in a way that will benefit their own learning. Once you start to create your own Personal Learning Network (PLN), you may also want to look at creating a Twitter account for your school.

There are a ton of benefits from joining Twitter, but until you immerse yourself in using it, you will not be able to share them with those you serve.

“Go the way, know the way, show the way.” (John C. Maxwell)

2) Read Blogs

Now that you have started connecting and learning using Twitter, you will probably have figured out that most content worth sharing goes way past 140 characters. With that being said, many school administrators are looking for content specific to their position, especially since the position of school principal can be quite isolating.

A great blog to start at is the Connected Principals site, where a ton of school- and division-based administrators share some of their best work within their schools. Although this site does have some great ideas, there are many other administrator blogs out there which may be of interest to you. Edudemic does an excellent piece on 20 Educator Administrator Blogs, which will lead you to some great writing of administrators that continuously share those ideas.

If you are using Google Reader (which you have if you have a gmail account), you can easily subscribe to a bundle I have created that will update you on blogs as authors post them, which will save you from constantly checking the site for updates. (Contact me for details.) In general, there are a lot of other good educator blogs as well, which share some great ideas for your school.

There is some great information out there and hopefully this will have helped you on the right path.

3) Write a Blog

Now that you have had access to some beneficial learning through Twitter and blogging, how will you share this with your staff and the world? Many leaders find that sharing links through email is a great way to start aggregating resources for staff, but many others are annoyed by all these messages. However, with these media opening up the world, it is important that, as school leaders, we share our learning back.

Dean Shareski shared the idea that blogging makes better teachers, so it is logical that school administrators do the same:

“There’s a natural transparency that emerges. The teachers who blog as professionals in this reflective manner in my district invite anyone to look into their classrooms and you can get a picture of what happens on a daily basis. This goes a long way in addressing accountability concerns.”

So where would one even start?

Although there are plenty of blogging platforms out there (EdublogsBloggerTumblr, etc.), I would suggest using WordPress. It is free, has no advertisements and is simple to use. There is also a ton of support.

Reading other blogs, you may develop some ideas of what you want to write about, but if you are stuck, I started You Should Read, a weekly blog post that shares some great online articles that I’ve discovered. This is an easy way to start sharing some of the brilliant stuff you are reading, an easy way to start writing, and an opportunity to spark discussion with your staff and the global community. The best leaders not only can speak, but also have the ability to be good listeners. Blogging becomes a way to listen to your readers and learn from them while sharing your own knowledge.

Conclusion

Many look at tweeting and blogging as technocentric or even narcissistic, yet I look at them as ways of learning and connecting. There are so many real educators out there who want to get better at what they do so that they can always do what is best for kids. By opening up your own learning to the world, you will be surprised not only how your knowledge elevates, but how your passion for teaching and learning will benefit as well. Two years ago, a group of generous people spent time with me to help me learn about this awesome network, and I am glad to be doing the same for others now. Hopefully this will give you a good start.

 

This Edutopia post’s URL: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/21st-century-PLNs-school-leaders-george-couros

#educ_dr