Chasing Social Media Squirrels 

The public can attack President Trump for Twitter behavior that is beneath the office, but it shouldn’t ignore that while we let an entire media cycle get dominated by a Tweet about a morning show host on a cable network, the Trump Administration put into place new regulations regarding the profiles of people who can enter the United States from certain countries and what they are allowed to bring with them when they enter our borders. And we might want to question what really deserves our limited, ADHD attentions.

From Eduflack’s latest on President Trump and the public responses to his social media activities 

A 40-Something Fat Guy, Learning Life Lessons in an MMA Ring 

Most guys of my age and my physical “stature” likely spend their sunny Sunday afternoons on a golf course. Or sitting in a baseball park or at a movie theater. Maybe they just spend the afternoon on the couch, recovering from a long week and preparing for a longer one.

Instead, I spent my last Sunday at a civic center in Central New Jersey. I was there to cheer on my daughter, competing in her first “Challenge of Champions,” a regional grappling and kickboxing tournament sponsored by Tiger Schulmann’s MMA. My mini-me has been training with Tiger Schulmann’s for two years now. On Sunday, she earned a silver in grappling for 9-10-year old girls, and a gold for kickboxing.

But I was also there for me. I’ve been training a few months longer than my daughter. As a result, I spent my Sunday strapping on my gear to kickbox against the old, fat, and unskilled bracket (those over 40, more than 200 pounds, and with white, blue, or yellow belts). Unlike my daughter, I left with no celebratory hardware. Instead, I walked away from my bouts with two fractured ribs, bones broken 30 seconds into my first fight, and that remained broken throughout my entire second bout.

 
Which begs the question, why in the world is a guy like me spending his Sunday getting kicked and punched to the point of breaking? Why do I spend much of my free time sparring with men half my age and with (at least) twice the skills and athletic prowess? Why do I suffer from broken toes, fractured tibia, and more bruises than I care to count, and respond by thinking of how I can do better and how I can avoid suffering the same injuries in the future? I should be pedaling a stationary bike or strolling around the neighborhood. Instead, I worry about the quickness of my left cross and the strength of my roundkicks.

Why?

I do it because it forces me to do something that doesn’t come easy to me. Not everything should come naturally. Not everything is covered by our personal skill sets or lives in our personal wheel houses. When we are challenged to break those comfort zones, we learn who we truly are as individuals.

I do it because it eliminates the word quit from my vocabulary. Parents know how often kids want to stop doing something because it might be a little challenging. If I’m not traveling for work, then I’m on the mat training. I don’t come up with excuses to skip, and my kids (both of whom train) similarly can’t offer excuses. 

I do it to be healthier. Yes, kickboxing is an incredible workout. I’m a man who once weighed more than 400 pounds. Today, I am in the best physical shape of my life. I’m stronger. I have far greater physical stamina. More importantly, I am healthier so my kids see the importance of a healthy lifestyle and staying physically active. If dad (and mom) can do it, then the kiddos can definitely do it.

I do it to clear my mind. It may sound silly, but the hour on the mat is the one hour in a given day when I don’t think about work or family or finances or any of the other thousand and one things that weigh on me most days. I need to focus on the task at hand. If my mind drifts to a work issue, I’ll take a blow to the body (or worse, to the head). So I need to stay focused on me and my opponent. All of those professionals who embrace the philosophy of “deep thinking” or who bemoan the impact of multi-tasking fully understand the benefit.

I do it because it is a pure meritocracy. No one cares what one does for a living. It doesn’t matter how much money one earns, how big one’s house is, or what car one drives. What matters is commitment, focus, and skill. It’s about the color belt around one’s waist and the number of days one trains. As a result, my community is one that we strive for in the 21st century. It is male and female. It is black, white, brown, and yellow. It is Christian and Jewish, Muslim and atheist. It is young and old. At the end of training, we are all just brothers and sisters, working toward similar goals.

And I do it because it provides a sense of family. It may sound incredibly corny, but our little Princeton school does indeed become a family. I care for many of the other kids there as I do for my own, watching them train and develop. We have a tight group of families that train, with both parents and all kids working. It provides a sense of belonging that it harder and harder to find these days. We help each other through training issues, through work issues, through family issues, and through personal issues. And we do it because we choose to, not because of a sense of obligation.

I have no grand aspirations. I recognize that Dana White is never going to come knocking on my door, because he has been looking for someone just like me to join the UFC. I know that, no matter how much time I put in, my skills will never be great. Sure, I know they will improve over time, and I want them to improve, but few will ever look at me and use the words “skilled fighter” without adding a “not a” before it. I’ll continue to work through the bumps and bruises and breaks, using them as motivation instead of reason for surrender.

I do so because it makes me a better, more complete individual and because it makes us a stronger, more capable family. I’m reminded of that when I see a group of people cheering their hearts out for my daughter as she took home the gold. I’m reminded of that when I see those members of my Tiger family who waited until the very last fights of our friends were fought late on Sunday evening. And I’m reminded of that when I see the resiliency, commitment, and respect my young children demonstrate on a daily basis because of it all.

At the end of the day, I am a writer, a father, an advocate, an agitator, a strategist, an innovator, and a fighter. And through all of the ups and downs all of those identifiers bring me in both my personal and professional lives, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

(Eduflack is a high blue belt training at Tiger Schulmann’s MMA in Princeton, NJ. A version of this piece also appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.)

Happy Happy!

On this day in history. Seventy years ago, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was established. Twenty-three years ago, Justin Bieber was hatched, err was born. Twenty two years ago, Yahoo was incorporated. And 10 years ago today, Eduflack was launched.

It’s hard to believe that it has been a decade. In that time, we have had well over a million page visits to this site. We have experienced three different presidents and four different EdSecs. We went from the height of NCLB to the rejection of NCLB to the passage of ESSA to now the start of the rejection of key ESSA provisions. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

When I launched Eduflack in 2007, I did so because I found the writing cathartic. I didn’t expect folks would actually want to read it (no, I’m not being self deprecating). I certainly didn’t expect major news outlets would quote posts (particularly when I hypothesized on potential EdSec candidates in 2008).

This site has evolved over the last decade, but I still try to keep it at that intersection of education communications, policy, politics, and research. Sometimes we lean more one way than the other. But with each post, we try to stay true to our roots.

This blog has led to the establishment and curation of a top education policy Twitter feed, @Eduflack (believe it or not, Twitter wasn’t even a thing when the blog was established). It has led to a regular podcast for BAM! Radio Network, with the current focus on education policy under President Trump (#TrumpED). And it has resulted in essays and commentaries bearing the Eduflack name in Education Week, US News & World Report, and many, many others.

It has even led to an upcoming book, currently late to my publisher, on the need to reform education reform.

And while I hate the term, it has also resulted in an Eduflack “brand,” which hopefully stands for something that is seen as contributing to a meaningful discussion, and not just adding to all of the meaningless white noise in public education.

Big thanks to all of those who read this blog, who encourage me to continue to do this blog, and to those who run into me at conferences and events and simply know me as Eduflack (granted, Riccards can often be too difficult for some to pronounce.)

Thank you all! And happy birthday Eduflack, truly my middle child.

 

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For Schools, Spelling is Serious Business

As many students were coming back to school after the winter break, communities on the East Coast experienced their first real winter weather of the year. Ice and snow forecasts had students flushing ice cubes down the toilet, parents worried about childcare coverage, and school districts watching weather patterns like tornado hunters.

In Maryland, one student even went to social media to ask for time away from the little red schoolhouse, tweeting the Frederick County Public Schools to “close school tammarow PLEASE.”

Responding with the type of levity we expect to see on Twitter (at least when we aren’t experiencing vitriol), the school district’s social media coordinator tweeted back at the student, ““but then how would you learn how to spell ‘tomorrow’?” So that no one would mistake her humor for snark, she closed the message with a smiley face emoji.

Now, according to The Washington Post, that social media coordinator has been fired. The termination came after the district demanded that she delete all that the district deemed as “inappropriate” tweets and after the system’s communications director issued a public apology to the FCPS student who can’t spell tomorrow.

Overreact much, Frederick County Public Schools?

Now Eduflack gets that the school system as worried about potential backlash. As a former school board chairman, I get that the district feared parents concerned students were being called stupid or were being mocked on social media and that is could become a “thing” at the next school board meeting. But this is Twitter, folks. It is designed for interaction and give and take. A student tweeting at his or her school district is expecting a response.

One has to only look at the tweets from the school district since the incident to understand that, while the system may think it has built a “model for the state” when it comes to social media, it just isn’t the case.

  • “Schedule reminder: schools are closed on Monday, January 23rd.”
  • “All FCPS activities are canceled for Saturday, Jan 14 due to weather forecasts.”
  • “Academic Tournament continues with ‘Human Diseases’ as the special topic.”
  • “Reminder: schools are closed on Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Day.” (one has to wonder if someone is getting suspended for leaving the “Jr.” off that tweet)

Model Twitter feeds are those that happen in real time and generate discussion and sharing. They aren’t automated, nor are they approved weeks in advance on a schedule. If anything, the now former social media coordinator for FCPS provided a little personality to the site, and in doing so, ensured that students across the district were actually checking it out (if only for a little bit). She showed how school district social media feeds can actually interact with the very students they are supposed to be serving.

Unfortunately, the actions in Frederick County will have more districts pulling back that getting into the scrum. Instead of using Twitter to engage and build community, they will use Twitter as a bulletin board, thinking that a single line they post on scheduling will stay top of mind to their entire community for perpetuity. And that’s a crying shame.

If school districts are going to use Twitter, they need to use it for all it is worth. Otherwise, they may just take their messages and chalk them up on the old slate and hang it outside the little red school house. It’ll be just as effective communicating with families.

 

Thanks, Bulldog Reporter! #bulldogawards

Just wanted to take a quick second to thank Bulldog Reporter and all of those who are involved in the Bulldog Awards process. Earlier this week, Bulldog Reporter announced the winners of its 2015 Bulldog Not-for-Profit PR Awards. I’m honored to announce that dear ol’ Eduflack won the gold for Outstanding Non-Profit Communicator.

Specifically, Bulldog recognized my work with the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, where we are seeking to transform teacher education. Communications has been an important part of the Foundation’s work over the past year, and I’m fortunate to work with a number of terrific individuals on this effort. Communications is now integrated in all of the Foundation’s programmatic work, and the mutual benefits of this relationship can be seen in Woodrow Wilson’s successes.

So thanks to Bulldog, to the judges, to the Woodrow Wilson Foundation team, and to all those across the nation who are part of a shared effort to transform teacher education. We are building a movement, and I am fortunate to be a part of it.

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#Edtech and E-Learning Influencers

This seems to be the time of year for rankings and lists in the edu-space. In addition to Education Next’s annual list of the Top education folks on social media, Onalytica this week released a fascinating read, Edtech and Elearning: Top 100 Influencers and Brands.

In teeing off their study, Onalytica notes:

Blended with traditional teaching is the use of advancing technology to support learning. Institutions are behaving more like brands, looking to spur innovation in the same way that businesses can, utilising entrepreneurial and startup practices to improve learning. Being ahead of the game in the field edtech and elearning is one of the best ways to make yourself more attractive to prospective students and increase your reputation.

I’ll let you read the full report. The mapping out of the networks is particularly interesting. But let’s jump right to the rankings. First up are the influencers. For this list, Onalytica looked at normalized page ranks. And like Education Next, they are using Twitter feeds as the base.

Sylvia Duckworth (@sylviaduckworth) comes in first, with the top 10 being rounded out by David Anderson (@elearning), Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler), Jeffrey Bradbury (@TeacherCast), Scott McLeod (@mcleod), Monica Burns (@ClassTechTips), Tom Murray (@thomascmurray), Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher), Mark Anderson (@ICTEvangelist), and Kasey Bell (@ShakeUpLearning). Yours truly, @Eduflack, comes in at number 46 (somewhat remarkable as I don’t focus on edtech the way most on the list do, thought I do favor it).

And what of the brands? We see a top 10 that includes: EdSurge, EdTech K-12 Magazine, eLearning Industry, Mindshift, Education Week, ISTE, EdTech Higher Ed, Edutopia, jisc, and Edudemic.

The role of education technology and e-learning in discussions, policies, actions, and outcomes in education is only going to continue to grow. As we all try to navigate this world, the primer offered by Onalytica is a great place to start. So many of these influencers and brands are on my go-to Twitter read list. And now I have a few more to add.

The New Twitter Edu-List is Here! The New Twitter Edu-List is Here!

It is that time of year again, when kids start going back to school and the adults in their lives complain about it. I know this from my Facebook feed, as many of unhappy kids (and gleeful adults) faced a new school year. Fortunately, the edu-family here has until next Wednesday, as September 2 is D-day in the Eduflack house.

It is also that time of year when Michael Petrilli and Education Next release the annual “Top K-12 Education Policy People on Social Media” list. The list is always good for a few reasons. One, it provides a check to make sure you are following those individuals who tend to be near the center of edu-discussions on Twitter. Two, it opens up a discussion on the role of people of color and even journalists play in such social media discussions (see Alexander Russo’s discussion of that here). And third, it opens up a social media free for all from folks who believe they merit consideration for the list (and as a corollary, we have those folks who want desperately to be on the list, and then attack Petrilli’s methodology because they fall short, either by Klout score or followers).

In past years, Education Next has looked at how edu-Tweeters stack up in a number of ways. There was the educator/policy-noneducator comparison list. There was the individuals and organizations comparison. But no matter how it was disaggregated, many just couldn’t get past the Klout score as a metric. Since so few understand how Klout scores are assembled (and many who do are frustrated they don’t have enough activity to gain a Klout score), they complain about the methodology, assuming it was done to help friends and punish enemies.

In this regard, the Klout score is like the state test. Yes, it is high stakes. Yes, it may be unfair to some. But at the end of the day, there simply isn’t another metric to measure performance. It is just too hard to compare Twitter feed to Twitter feed without having some sort of quantitative measure. And for education on social media, Klout is that measure.

But to help those who don’t believe in social media “accountability” and think things should be more democratic (with a little d) and driven by the Twitter users themselves, and not by the big bad corporate Klout developers who must be profiting from social media, Petrilli and company have also ranked based on followers. The most populist of populist metrics, whether folks like a Twitter feed enough just to throw it a follow.

So how do the lists stack up? First, let’s take a look at the Klout-driven rankings. The top 10 are: Arne Duncan, Diane Ravitch, Randi Weingarten, John White, Xian F’znger Barrett, Jose VIlson, Andy Smarick, Robert Pondiscio, yours truly, Julian Vasquez Heilig, and Andre-Tascha Lamme. As one would expect, six of those names boast total followers in the five figures. All have Klout scores at 67 or higher. Lamme, from the StudentsFirst organization, becomes the true outlier with only 687 Twitter followers. That likely means a Klout score driven by other very active social media platforms, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, Blogger, and the like. Pondiscio, for instance, is masterful at driving huge engagement on edu-discussions through his Facebook page.

And the list when we through Klout accountability out the window and look just at Twitter followers? The top 10 are: Arne Duncan, Diane Ravitch, me, Michelle Rhee, Alfie Kohn, Randi Weingarten, Dorie Turner Nolt, Valerie Strauss, Pasi Sahlberg, and  Michael Fullan. There we see followers range from the EdSec’s 217k to Fullan’s 22,600.

In looking to the second list, it is worth noting that eight of the top 24 Twitter feeds (based on total followers) do not have Klout scores. Don’t shoot this messenger, or the messengers at Education Next. Take it up with Klout, my friends.

And back to that pesky question about members of the media that Alexander Russo often raises. If we look at the Klout-based, accountable list of Twitter feeds, we see Joy Resmovits (formerly of HuffPo and now part of the L.A. Times’ new education focus) leading the list of mainstream reporters, coming in at number 12). Russo comes in at 16, the New York Times’ Motoko Rich steps in at 21, joined by Vox’s Libby Nelson.

We see more reporters on the just-the-followers list, with WaPo’s Strauss at number 8, USA Today’s Greg Toppo at 12, EdWeek’s Stephen Sawchuk at 13, Russo at 17, and Rich at 19.

Definitely give the EdNext article a read. Some items will surprise you. We see names like Campbell Brown and Joshua Starr (now of PDK) quickly cementing their reps on social media. We also see go-tos like EdWeek and Politico (on the education side) not represented as I would expect.

Social media is a fickle mistress. There are bound to be many changes before Petrilli offers up the 2016 edition. Eleven months to bolster your followers and Klout scores!