It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.
In 2012 I was asked by the headmaster of my school if I could manage the technology needs at a 4 day leadership institute for educators of color. I gladly agreed and then did not think much of it until the time finally arrived. It was April and the event was not until the middle of June. The end of the school year can be a whirlwind of activity. My energies and thoughts were all on finishing the end of the school year with grace and then I could devote my time to the leadership institute. That first year, things went well on all fronts but it did feel as though we were feeling our way through it all. It was a good institute but we knew that we could do better. We are now heading into our 5th year of the Kingswood Oxford Leadership Institute for Educators of Color (KOLIEC) and a world away from the pilot program held in June of 2012.
From a technology perspective, the pilot program in 2012 only had a scattering of technology. The most noticeable technology was our use of Skype to bring together speakers from across the country with us located in Connecticut. I remember it well; we had a lot of individual video calls scheduled: one with the Head of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the Head for Diversity of NAIS, The Head of Columbia University’s Klingenstein Center and a couple of multi-party video calls with Heads of Schools from California. It was very cool getting together people from around the country via Skype for the purpose of having a conversation.
Best High School Mascot in the Country
We “upped our game” for the second institute held in June of 2013. Oddly, the idea for enhancements to the use of technology at the institute came from my school’s participation in the USA Today’s Best Mascot Competition held in March of 2013. The contest was simple, vote for your favorite high school mascot and vote often. Win your state competition, advance to the regionals. If you win that, you advance to the national finals with 4 other high school mascots. Our school mascot made it to the national round and took 3rd place overall. That was an experience all by itself; one that deserves its own future post. The competition was great but what intrigued me and what I found the most fascinating was the communications and the connectedness that was born from this event. A small group of recent graduates from the school organized themselves, created a Facebook page and reached out to hundreds of others and convinced them to participate in this tedious and repetitive act of entering a code and hitting enter on a keyboard. We were all alone in our offices, homes and in our rooms, separated by huge geographic distances but we were all unified and connected via the Facebook group. The bonds amongst those who participated fully in the mascot contest grew strong because of the shared online experience.
As the 2013 KOLIEC approached I knew that we had to transform the group of 20-25 individual educators into a unified and cohesive group. But how? They were coming from as far as California and throughout the east coast of the United States. We needed to get them together, to break the ice and get them to know each other long before they arrived in Connecticut to spend 4 days with us. The answer came as I thought about the experience we had during the mascot competition. No, not
having them vote for a mascot; providing them with their very own and shared online experience before arriving at the leadership institute. To accomplish this, I turned to Google Plus. At the time, it was a relatively new social platform but it provided us with tools that really made using Google Plus ideal.
Specifically, the Community feature in Google Plus was invaluable. It became our go to before, during and after the institute. It turned into our online central headquarters, digital billboard, digital water cooler and when we combined Google Plus with Google Drive, it became our way of sharing and dispersing news, pictures, videos and documents. It became our way of getting the individual attendees to meet and greet each other long before the institute officially began.
One of the tools available in the input box is video. Clicking on video button presents the user with several options of inserting a video: by URL, by YouTube, by upload or by record from webcam. This gave us the ability to have all the attendees insert a video where they introduce themselves and then answered a couple of questions. After posting the video to the community the other members were able to write a reply via the input box that allows for long responses and keeps the conversations together underneath the initial post. It was a simple and effective way of breaking the ice and getting the group to share and bond ahead of time.
We have now branched into the world of Twitter as well. Twitter affords us another avenue to keep the groups that have come through the leadership institute in contact, learn and share. It is a valuable tool. However, The community feature of Google Plus continues to be our hub. It is a power and elegant platform that allows for great visual displays (picture or videos) and longer text responses. I have found that as Google Plus has become more established as a platform it has become easier to enroll institute attendees into the Google Plus communities. In the second year of the institute I worked tirelessly to explain to all the attendees what Google Plus was and how to join, then navigate around the platform. Today, it is a well known and common tool making it easier to find people and invite them to join a Community.
The Grand Conversations can take Center Stage.
One of the things that I check for when using technology of any kind is does the technology get out of the way. Does the platform, hardware, service disappear and allow you to do what you intended to do. This is one of the reasons that I have enjoyed working with Google Plus, especially the community feature; once set up is done and the members are part of the community it really does move to the background and allows for the grand conversations to take center stage. Yes, there will always be people that need guidance and assistance, that is true in any setting. My experience with the community feature of Google Plus is that people take to it quickly; they begin to communicate, share and create with each other immediately. We socialize.
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