Lead Learner

A connected educator has a lot to say about the value of being connected. 

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Joe Mazza, Lead LearnThe “lead learner” (principal) at Knapp Elementary School in Lansdale, Pa., Joe Mazza has spent his career working with students, teachers and families as a 3rd grade teacher, bilingual assistant principal, middle school vice-principal, an elementary principal, while serving as a TV studio producer, webmaster and technology integration coach in each setting. A recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership, his dissertation topic was principals’ use of social media to strengthen home-school partnerships. His blog, eFACE Today, was created to share ways educators can use innovative tools to compliment face to face communications between home and school, and do this in a transparent and collaborative way. “It’s the relationships that matter,” says Joe, and his work is aimed at meeting families where they are with a focus on technology and social media tools to compliment face to face interactions.

Victor: What’s your general view on the state of education these days?

Joe: Education is in crucial state right now. The Department of Education still controls much of what we do on a daily basis. Until school leaders and teachers can get the autonomy they need to do what’s best for kids, we are in for more mandates, races, initiatives that try to jumpstart a system that is outdated. If I were in Arne’s ear, I’d strongly suggest to him that he needs to gather all stakeholders starting with today’s students, and draft a new educational policy. It’s time to stop testing kids to death while pretending that what we have in place is working.

Victor: What formative moment in your near or less recent background really prompted you to take your current approach to education? 

Joe: I’ve been in the field since 2000. Over the last thirteen years, I’ve seen kids be successful and kids fall short. I’ve learned a great deal on a daily basis from students, parents, teachers and admin colleagues. What I’ve learned most is the be a better listener and to invest in the day to day relationships that create buy-in, inspiration and focus on the “hooks” that all students have.

Victor: Got any stories, anecdotes that characterize the plight of a 21st century educator?

Joe: A 21st-century educator wakes up every day looking to learn and share. He or she never feels satisfied with the status quo or that they know more than someone else. They value global perspectives and are always looking to support someone else through transparent collaboration.

Victor: You’re a bit of a celebrity educator, how has that been possible and why you above others, what avenue(s) have most helped that? What have been some of the value and benefits of this?

Joe: Celebrity educators or rock stars is an interesting topic. Everyone has people within their PLN that they count on for various ideas, support and inspiration. I follow over 1,000 students, teachers, parents and school leaders because I have so much more to learn to be a better school leader tomorrow. I am no celebrity, and when educators start to feel like they are better than the person next to them it works against their goals. We must stay humble, but take time to celebrate our successes and hard work.

Victor: What are the great issues and challenges in your local sphere of influence? 

Joe: I’m often worried about the core values of the PLN as more and ore educators become connected and join the Twittersphere. Who will they learn from? The person who uses the tool to build relationships, harness professional development through hashtag chats or the person who focuses more on selling books or announcing how many followers they have. I believe there is a need for a social media support group for those jumping in the pool, and this will be part of my work in a support role with the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania this fall.

Victor: What do you see as the greater issues and challenges more broadly across this country (for education)? 

Joe: High stakes testing, teacher and leader evaluation; social media for collaboration across the field.

Victor: What highlights have you had in your schools that are worth sharing? 

Joe: Highlights and successes are important and have been articulated by local and national media, but nothing is more important to me than the fact that 1) Our students love coming to school. 2) Our parents believe we care about their children as if they were our own. 3) Knapp Elementary teachers and teacher leaders feel trusted and supported to do what’s best for kids on a daily basis.

Victor: What are some of the tools you’ve employed that have really moved things forward unexpectedly for you, are there other facets that require more patience but still have a worth and payoff? 

Joe: Google Docs by default. We rarely use Word documents with staff and parents because we should be in a constant state of collaboration. Evernote and Livebinders for teacher ePortfolios. Anymeeting.com for live streaming of monthly home and school meetings that take place at school and out in the community (local mosque, Boys and Girls Club, Library, etc). Mystery Skype, gHangouts Cross State Homework Debate, Skype Authors, Cross School Skype Move-Up Days, Skype Town Hall Meetings with Guidance Counselor, Lead Learner and grade levels.

Victor: What advice would you have for an educator in your “five-years-ago-shoes”? (considering how you were 5 years ago, advice to someone today) regarding leveraging technology for advancing schools, students, self, etc?

Joe: Push the envelope. Be crazy, take edu-risks, move the needle for yourself, admit when you are wrong and develop a culture of learning. Share the leadership and always have fun now matter what you are doing. The positive, healthy and supportive culture of a building is more important than any tests, mandates, strengths or weaknesses of your school system.

Victor: What’s on the horizon? interesting tech tools, trends, people to watch? what makes you say those things?

Joe: I’ll be working with both the Institute for Educational Leadership (Washington DC) and PennGSE this school year pushing innovation further in higher education and school reform. Stay tuned as there are some exciting things planned. I’m also in the final stages of writing a book called “Home & School 2.0” — a guide for meeting families where they are that features some really smart and innovative people from my PLN. One of the highlights of the upcoming year will be keynoting an international family engagement conference in Melbourne, Australia in November.

Victor: Anything else you’d like to add or emphasize concerning technology enhancing education, or anything else for that matter?

Joe: Get connected Join the best personal learning network (PLN) in the world. Follow me at @Joe_Mazza at leadlearner.com.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Are you an edtech leader, trendsetter, or the creator of a cool edtech tool? The 2014 EdTech Digest Awards extended entry period runs until October 18, 2013. There is still time to enter. For full details, write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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