Click Barns, Sock Puppets & Troll Factories

The 2017 YouTube video #Socialnomics has recently reported that we are preparing almost 30% of students for jobs that don’t exist yet.  I’ve always wondered what kind of jobs they could be.  Sadly, we are learning about them in today’s times.

I was exposed to three new terms this year that didn’t exist years ago:

  • Click Barns
  • Sock Puppeting
  • Troll Factories

For those that don’t know about these, I wanted to share them, as these terms are creeping into education practices, but have been more prevalent in politics and news.

 

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A clickfarm.| image credit: bbc.co.uk

 

Ever wonder how something gets so many website hits or how it’s ‘liked’ by so many people? Look no further than a click farm. Click farms are offices/apartments that house hundreds of cell phones and thousands of SIM cards.  People and/or businesses that are looking to have search terms rise or fall can get click farms to change how you view products or people. Knowing that 90% of people do no go past the first page when a google search is conducted (Wressics, 2016), “pushing down” a search term is easier than ever.  Here’s the catch – it’s illegal; you’re manipulating data to reflect a false impression.  There are people now dedicated to finding the patterns of this practice and working with police to eliminate them.

 

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Sock puppets in action. |image credit: showtime.com/homeland 

 

If you ever watched the Showtime television series Homeland, you heard about sock puppets in the 2016 season.  Sock puppets are groups of people hired to create accounts (like the click farms above) of every rang of social media known to us as we know it, and then comment on various articles, news websites, blogs, and other topics to boost a search topic or sway an image. This may sound familiar, as Russia has been accused of doing this to sway the 2016 presidential election. You can watch sock puppets in action by clicking here.

 

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A troll farm in Europe. | image credit: reuters.com

 

The third term that has and is causing quite a problem in the online world is troll farm. Troll farms are like sock puppets, but their goal is not to just sway opinion, but incite hatred or anger. Troll farm employees are hired to deliberately cause/create conflict on a website, blog, or online forum. They do this by posting comments that are provocative or inflammatory. Troll farms have been confirmed on national news websites that typically show news in one angle (i.e. Fox News, MSNBC) and have been found to be at local news online stories as well. It should also be no surprise that all of the names that are created are just that; names. Less than 2% of people use their actual name as a username online.

A New Jersey Education Association executive once told me that education has changed more in the past 6 years than 60. I thought it said a lot coming from her; educators, in general, don’t like to acknowledge change, especially when they are comfortable in a routine (I know firsthand, I was one). With these new job creations, we all need to be cognizant of these changes so that our learners are aware of these things. The learner today has had the internet and social media presence in their lives for 100%. Scary as it may be, it is what it is, and we must be ready; our future depends on it.

 

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Voice & Choice

We have seen research over and over again that, when learners have a choice in identifying what to learn and how they want to learn it, it has produced academic success and allows creativity to flourish.

This is nothing new.  The way many teachers, schools, and districts are finally embracing it is.

About five years ago, I was introduced to the EdCamp professional development model, where educators not only choose what to attend, but they also teach it themselves and all have the ability to leave if they don’t like or understand what is being taught. Later, I blogged about the Northfield Community School and how Principal Glenn Robbins (now a superintendent) offered an elective-style period at the end of the day where middle schoolers (yes, students) were able to pick what class they wanted to attend.

Fast forward to today.  I recently observed arts teachers in one of my schools take part in the same model with students in grades 4 and 5. Students had the chance to choose from six different art-themed classes, in addition to the ones they already had during the week, ranging from musical theater to ballet.

While the school itself is unique in that it has been created to circulate around artistic infusion while students receive their elementary education, it also has embraced current, meaningful educational research that indeed shows that student voice and student choice are factors in obtaining an education that will serve students of today’s times, not the school that you and I went to.

Again, saying that we need to be cognizant of today’s times is nothing new and far from groundbreaking. It’s the fact that teachers and administrators not only understand but follow through and implement, so that our students have a chance to take part in today’s society, not be a product of the 70’s / 80’s / 90’s that just collects & completes piles of worksheets (that are all thrown out at the end of the year) and is known by a state testing identification number.

To all those who are embracing voice & choice in your classrooms, schools, and districts, thank you.

Onward!

 

Punch Her Face

It’s hard to believe that violence in the workplace still exists in schools. Sadly, there are still incidents that require leadership to step up and alleviate it. With national Violence Prevention in the Workplace month coming up, I wanted to touch on one issue that I had to deal with.

A few years ago, we decided to go with a computer program that required quite a bit of training and recalibration. Needless to say, some were not happy with the switch, as it required starting from scratch in a variety of ways. One of the seasoned secretaries was just having a rough go at all of the change. While a myriad of training both online and in-person was offered, the secretary just could not understand.  During one session over the summer, a representative from the company came to the school to conduct in-person training. The representative entered into the office to find a group of people around the secretary’s desk trying to assist with the program. When the representative signed in and asked where to go, the secretary responded with, “You’re here for this training? I’d sure like to punch you in the face.

The representative was taken back, and rightfully so. Never had she, or I either, heard a secretary say she’d like to punch her in the face. The representative conducted her training without a hitch. A few hours later, the CEO of the company called me at the office to inform me what happened. I was furious. I was upset. I was shocked.

I immediately contacted the secretary’s supervisor and asked for an immediate investigation. Naturally, the secretary denied her actions, but the representative had recorded the entire conversation and had it on tape. The secretary was relieved of the position that afternoon.

No association, union, or group will advocate for a member who engages in workplace violence. No leadership will tolerate such behavior, and, if they do, they should be removed as well.

As the saying goes, “If you see something, say something.” Don’t be a bystander to violence in the workplace. There is no excuse for it.

Onward!

 

Trolls Trolls TROLLS!

 

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image credit: http://www.dreamworks.com/trolls/ 

Warning: if you don’t have kids, much of this post won’t make sense.

 

They say that, when a woman becomes pregnant, she immediately becomes a mother, and the father doesn’t become one until he has the child in his arms. I’m certainly in that category.  There were certain concepts I just did not understand.  One of them was reading, watching, or doing the same activity, over and over and over. Then my twins came, and everything changed. Everything. I think this goes without saying, but things changed for the better.

Currently, my daughters are obsessed with the 2016 animated movie “Trolls.” Sometimes they watch the movie two, even three times a day. This is not the first movie they have been glued to; before this was Disney’s “Moana,” and before that was every episode of “Little Einstein’s,” “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” “PJ Masks,” “Goldie & Bear,” “The Wiggles,” and the 60’s version of “Batman.” There are books that go with us everywhere, and certain activities have to be done every day including long walks or wagon rides, coloring and singing at least three songs. When I introduce a new toy or a new show to them, they buck. Wanting nothing to do with it, they want to focus solely on what they already know.  It is habitual.

Back to the “Trolls” movie. If you haven’t seen it, I can tell you every line. I’ll spare you that; the gist of the story is that there is a group of happy trolls and a group of unhappy monsters called the Bergens. The Bergens believe that if they eat a troll once a year (called Trollstice), they will experience true happiness. Through a series of fun songs, dances, and goofiness, Trollstice is avoided and true happiness is discovered.

I found many similarities between the Bergens and internet trolls–petty, bitter, angry, jealous, and refusing to accept change and anything different from their routine.  The trolls in the movie are happy, singing, dancing, and smiling–nothing like internet trolls who sit and find someone or something to happen and immediately point out all of the things not up to par with them, their beliefs, or their way of life.   The Bergens were like vultures, circling around until they found something. Anything. The Bergens were completely clueless and in the end were exposed for what they were–miserable–until the trolls showed them that happiness was inside them and that they didn’t need to eat a troll to be happy.

I feel the movie has a multitude of great takeaways for life these days.  Our political spitefulness on all levels, from the President to the local superintendent, is both polarizing and shameful. Whether you love or loathe people elected or appointed to office, we should be setting examples for our future and displaying some kind of decorum.

Since becoming an administrator, I have been rather aggressive in trying to get teachers and administrators into practicing and being mindful of digital citizenship. Programs ranging from “Common Sense Media” to “HaikuDeck” offer lessons and applications on digital citizenship, platforms to use creative comments, and even how-to guides for chat rooms and posting comments online.

Will there still be internet trolls and Bergens in our world?  Yep. Can we do something about it? We sure can. Don’t be silent. Do something.

Onward!

Going Backwards?!?

They say that the old stuff is new again. Wood paneling on walls. Deviled eggs. One teacher for all subjects in middle school.

Just kidding…or am I?

About once every two months I’m fortunate enough to still meet at a local diner with stakeholders from a former district. Great food, wifi, and, yes, a room in the back where we can eat, drink, and be merry. Our “dinner club” consists of teachers, parents, retirees, employees, and even some current and former elected officials. We should really call ourselves the dirty dozen; our table is rather messy by the time we are done.

We do have one rule at this gathering; NO SHOP TALK. Meaning, I don’t want to get into current practices, gossip, or local politics. We’ve been good for almost a year, and then we slipped. A parent lashed out about a logistical change. A change back to something that was pretty cool to do between the inception of public school to about the 1960’s, lingered on until the late 80’s, and was all but dead when everyone realized how detrimental such a concept is given our world today.

When a parent brought it up, I choked on my food. Surely this couldn’t be. Yet it was. All I could do was shake my head and sigh. Those poor kids, being set up for failure. All of the hard work and buy-in, all of the long meetings, all of the anger, for what? All gone.

As disappointing as it was to hear and sad to see that students will go back into a pattern of remediation the following year to catch them up to where they are supposed to be, I was very quick to switch gears. “Oh, well,” I quipped.

“Oh, well?” the parent bit back. “That’s all that you can say?” She was legitimately annoyed and expressed to the table that her kid was getting screwed in the process. The parent felt this was being done not out of student benefit, but out of bitter political spite. “They are literally going through a checklist of accomplishments that were made under your watch and are undoing them. You changed this for the better and now we are going backwards in every way.”

I said, “Oh, well,” again.

She began to cry. I pulled her over to the side and said very simply that there is nothing I can do about it. The board of education sets the polices and philosophies, writes the paychecks, and has control over one person–the superintendent. If a board changes multiple times and new leadership is elected, the board goes on a different path; the board itself changes every time a person leaves or comes on. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

That being said, if the board directs the superintendent to go in a certain direction, the superintendent will most likely do it if he/she needs a job. It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is. Most people have families, mouths to feed, and bills to pay. Some superintendents can take the rogue and/or lazy route if they have other things lined up where their families are taken care of and so on. But if the Superintendent needs a job, well the Superintendent is most likely going to listen to the bosses. Thankfully, Superintendents don’t have tenure.

In the meantime, you can and are allowed to disagree.  That’s healthy and democratic, but please be supportive in a way so that your child can grow, learn, and move forward. Politicizing, witch hunts, and fishing expeditions don’t do anything but create stress amongst a myriad of stakeholders and waste money. There is no need to put you or your child through that. In all seriousness, if things were that bad, the teacher, leadership, or board member(s) wouldn’t be there; they’d be in jail.

One last point I told the mom to consider–wait until the standardized scores come out. When you look at one set of data of what was good for kids versus implementing something that isn’t, you’ll see it, clear as day, guaranteed. You’ll compare it to other state reports, and you’ll be able to make a clear path and argument that what was in place versus going backwards for future years will explode in the board’s face. Surely, they will try to spin it and place blame on something or someone (one time I was even blamed for potholes, on public record!), but the real truth will get out, and now you have a case to run for the board yourself.

I’m looking forward to our next gathering. Diner food is…well…a Jersey thing!

Onward!

I’m Pushing Boundaries

Below is my guest blog post from the Pushing Boundaries educational consulting website. You can see my post below and why I’m so excited to be working with this fantastic group of educators!

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Meet Superintendent Jay Eitner

September 5, 2017

Rick Jetter & Rebecca Coda

This Superintendent of Schools is passionate about every learner growing, learning, and moving forward.  ALL-IN-EVERY-DAY!  Everything Jay does pushes boundaries.  Whether he is at the U.S. Capitol advocating, talking with national leaders, promoting change in our system, or running leadership podcasts from the Hot Tub, he is ALL IN!  Superintedent Eitner is the founder, blogger (The Sup’s Scoop), consultant, and host of Eitner Education (www.jayeitner.com) He settles for nothing less than his personal best because our students are counting on us! 

We approached Jay Eitner because of his contribution to educational excellence and his unstoppable force of influence and passion to always do what’s right even adversity is inevitable. He isn’t afraid to knock over the apple cart to gain traction for kids.  This is who we are and Jay is the epitome of what a “boundary pusher” is in his own right!

Here’s what Jay had to say about his role in pushing boundaries:

For my entire educational career, I’ve been pushing boundaries. As a student, I recall a few incidents where I challenged the status quo and  even went rogue. Some key incidents include:

Leaving my 5th grade class (without telling my teacher) so I can go to the GT class and speak to the zoning official about the building that was being constructed next to our school (my teacher, Mrs. Donatello, did not take kindly when I told her I was doing it because I thought her class was boring);

Giving a student council speech in 7th grade calling out two of my teachers in front of the whole school  because they were so disconnected from today’s times (my principal, Mr. Malles, didn’t take it too kindly, and I got some time off for it);

Writing a letter and reading it to the Board of Education as a senior in high school and copying all of my physical education teachers stating the program was “completely useless” and I’m failing because I couldn’t run a mile in 12 minutes (not only was my Principal, Mr. Fortunato, pretty steamed, the entire phys ed department gave me some extra attention in class).

I pushed the boundaries. I bucked the system. I called people out and I pleaded for the person who was not meant for cookie-cutter education: me.  It was the entire reason I went into education.

As an educator, I’ve taught everything from kindergarten to second semester seniors. I pushed the boundaries with my kids, always encouraging them to think and act outside of the box. I’ve been an Assistant Principal, K-12 Supervisor, Superintendent of Schools in rural, suburban, and urban environments. I pushed the boundaries in all of those arenas.  I rose to the top and gained statewide, national, and international attention because I’ve pushed boundaries.

For years, I have sought out people who think like me; leaders who don’t care what people say, who have no problem adapting to change and making it work for their districts, schools, and students, who speak up against the old boys club and status quo, and most importantly, who make every single decision based on their students, because our students are counting on us.

I have found a group of dedicated, inspirational, and progressive educators who have no problem pushing boundaries. The #pushboundedu team has stood up to complacency, speaks and acts when necessary, and have no qualms with upsetting the educational applecart.

September 13 marks a new day in education across this country; we are Pushing Boundaries, and we are doing it for one and only one reason; because our kids are counting on us to do it.

Please join us on September 13 for a chat focusing on how all of us can push boundaries so we can grow, learn, and move onward in new and amazing ways.  We look forward to changing the educational game with you under the hashtag #pushboundEDU.

Onward.

You can find Jay everywhere on social media and at many national conferences. He will be co-presenting on Prevailing Leadership at the AASA National Superintendent’s Conference in February in Nashville and travels the nation influencing our profession.

We are honored that Jay is one of “us” and willing to break the glass ceiling together. Check out his blogs and podcasts!  He is a contagion for sure!

The White Elephant

image credit: https://goo.gl/eAPDq5

It’s that time of year again, when we all go back to school. Some districts have started; some are about to.  Here in NJ, we typically start after Labor Day.

For the past five years, I have been privileged to kick things off by gathering everyone together and sharing new goals, fun videos, exciting images and apps, and discussing issues that we conquered the previous year. I have recorded each of them; you can watch them by clicking here.

Last year, I inserted a slide of a white elephant.  The prior year had some challenges, something that comes with change. There were rumors running amok, and I had people asking me questions about some issues up to the moment before we started. It wasn’t one white elephant; it was a parade. I wanted to address the parade with everyone in the room, head on. I don’t avoid controversy, and I certainly don’t hide behind any white elephants. It was and will always be my opinion that we address issues openly, so that we can all move forward.

That being said, I addressed them, and I placed a strong emphasis on what had happened the past year, was just that, the past. It was a new year, and what had happened, had happened. No grudges, no drama, no one cares, and onward we go. People get passionate when change takes place, especially when they don’t want it. They will also do anything, say anything, and organize in a way that will prevent the change. That’s okay, too. In fact, it’s hopefully encouraged where you are. We are born with these inalienable rights that should be practiced because we can. It’s the beautiful part of our democracy. Can you tell that I was a civics teacher?

It should be noted that I think protesting and disagreeing are far different from going on a gotcha campaign, a “fishing expedition,”or what I call “loading the shotgun.” (If one loads a shotgun with buckshot and fires, it sprays. Some of it will stick to a target; some won’t). The latter does nobody good. It’s a waste of time, money, and energy that should be focused on you and your students.

This is a new school year. What happened in the past is the past.  Don’t be the white elephant in your room or school this year. Start fresh, start positive, and start with a smile. Holding a grudge, celebrating a coup, or even relishing in bitterness and spite will do no student, colleague, or, most importantly, you any good.

If you’re starting a new school year, have a great one.  If you just retired, congratulations and enjoy your next chapter; you earned it. If you’re a student, parent, or board member, make it a great year. You deserve it!

Onward!

 

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Scores, Lies, and Tries

Below is a great piece by Jay Mathews of The Washington Post. You can find the original article by clicking here. Take a moment and digest; it’s worth having some conversation with your administrators about this (if you are in the central office role).

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Few pieces of research have shocked the American education system more than the 2009 study “The Widget Effect,” by the New Teacher Project, now known as TNTP. It found that classroom assessment systems were a sham, with fewer than 1 percent of teachers being rated unsatisfactory.

Reformers promised to fix this. They demanded that schools augment the standard ratings by principals with data on how well each teacher’s students did on standardized tests. Now, that reform seems to be crumbling as test results have proved erratic and unusable with subjects such as science and history that don’t have standardized state tests.

So, are principals triumphant, eager to assert their assessment responsibilities, show some spine and rate teachers honestly?

The answer is no. Two new studies reveal principals still trying to make nearly all teachers happy. Interviews by researchers and by Education Week reporter Liana Loewus reveal a troubling reason principals are not telling subpar teachers they need to get better: It takes too much time.

One middle school principal in a Northeastern urban district told Matthew Kraft of Brown University and Allison Gilmour of Temple University that the demands of extra observations and support were too great. “I just feel like sometimes you have to have a lot of extra detail before you can give somebody a Needs Improvement,” the principal said. “When you have an unsatisfactory teacher, it takes a lot of time to observe that teacher, to give true honest-to-goodness feedback.”

It’s even worse if several teachers need help. “It’s not possible for an administrator to carry through on 10 Unsatisfactories simultaneously,” another principal said. “I mean, once somebody is identified as Unsatisfactory, the amount of work, the amount of observation, the amount of time and attention that it requires to support them can become overwhelming.”

In Loewus’s exposé of how principals avoid accurate evaluations, she found some school administrators willing to go on the record. “At the end of the year, if you haven’t repeatedly gone into the classroom and given the teacher suggestions for improvements, it’s really not fair to give a poor evaluation,” Marilyn Boerke, director of talent development for the Camas School District in Washington state, told the Education Week reporter.

Researchers Jason Grissom of Vanderbilt University and Susanna Loeb of Stanford University published a study in the journal Education Finance and Policy similar to the study by Kraft and Gilmour in Educational Researcher. Both reports compared the formal district evaluations principals submitted with how those principals assessed the same teachers in confidential surveys. The formal and confidential assessments were as different as your view of your company’s latest mission statement might be when talking to your boss or your spouse.

In the Grissom-Loeb study of 100 principals in the Miami-Dade County schools, the teachers who were scored “very ineffective” on the confidential assessment were on average deemed “effective” on the reports the principals filed with their districts.

The Kraft-Gilmour data, based on a survey of 157 principals and other evaluators, had them assessing 19 percent of teachers as below proficient to the researchers, but rating only 6 percent of those teachers that way in their official reports.

Kraft and Gilmour looked at teacher assessments in 24 states that have supposedly improved their systems after “The Widget Effect” exposed the empty optimism. There was no consistency. Only 9 percent of teachers were above proficient in Massachusetts, but 62 percent reached those heights in Tennessee.

In New Mexico, 29 percent were rated below proficient, compared with only 1 percent in Hawaii. Loewus said New Mexico seems to have thought better about being so tough and is moving to ease its standards.

If principal evaluations and test-score evaluations won’t work, what will? The researchers mention the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) systems that use independent teacher evaluators. In PAR systems like the one in Maryland’s Montgomery County, those trained people also help struggling teachers improve.

That approach has been praised for decades but is very expensive. I don’t think it is going to supplant the easier and cheaper alternative of telling ineffective teachers they are doing just fine.

Jay Mathews is an education columnist and blogger for the Washington Post, his employer for 40 years.