How do we make “great learning” go viral?

A question that has been burning in my mind lately is “how do we make great learning go viral?

Many want positive change to spread quickly, but often we create conditions that limit ideas to a small community that can often be contained or die off together.  For example, seeing great practice in a classroom from an educator and asking them to talk about the practice weeks (or sometimes month) later, ensures that this great practice will not spread at a rate that we would like, whereas tweeting or blogging about it could make it visible immediately.  Not only is it visible immediately, but it can now change the conversations amongst staff immediately because seeing something great should spark curiosity and conversation.  Making something go “viral” and keeping it offline, seem counterintuitive in our world today.

Another practice that I have seen that keeps great ideas hidden is when we use “closed groups” online as opposed to opening things up.  For example, in a closed group, you may start with ten people having a conversation, but often, that group is the largest it will ever be.  At any point, two of the people in the group may be busy with something and have to check out for awhile, leaving eight left.  The posts become less, and the interest often decreases, and the group can become smaller and smaller.  There is obviously benefits of using closed groups (appealing to different comfort levels, privacy in conversations), but they are often not conducive to making great learning go viral.

Start with the same group of ten in an open environment, and you see the same two people drop out.  If the information is group is great, others might see it, and jump in whether it is through something like a hashtag or a Facebook group.  Although the original “ten” might not still be in the group, the idea lives on and grows with others, and might actually bring many from the original ten back at different dates.

The visual in my head is of the old notion of a fish in a bowl (which I learned in researching this that you should not do). The fish is limited in growth to the size of a bowl, but when the fish is an open stream, there is much more opportunity for growth based upon the environment.  Sometimes the environments we create are the exact reason that great ideas don’t spread.

What is the environment you create to make great learning go viral?

Adjusting to the Room

(I was asked about the thinking behind how I design my workshops so I thought I would just write it down for others to see a process.)

As someone who does a lot of professional workshops, I am often asked for an agenda ahead of time.  Although I do have some objectives in my mind of where the group could go, I usually send a rough itinerary to the organizer on a google document.  The reason I share it specifically on a google document is because I know that I won’t be sticking with it, whether it is the time or the activities.  How could I organize the learning for the day for a group without actually meeting the group?

Here is how I usually set up my day for a “new” group, no matter what the objectives are for the day.  The first thing that I do is give some kind of content that I am going to share.  It is important to start with some content, even if it is something that some people “know in the room”.  To make sure I tap into those that “know”, I always use a hashtag so that they can share their ideas with groups, or even challenge some of the things that I am saying.  This helps because it lends to collaboration through a backchannel, as opposed to only learning from the person in the front.

After content is given, what I do is try to give a “reflection break”, where I actually give time to share their ideas on a simple google form, and also connect with people in the room.  I have been in sessions where content is given, and then people are asked to immediately share their ideas with people near them, and for many, this isn’t working, because they need time to process.  Giving them a space not only gives them an opportunity to put their thoughts together, but it also allows other to see their thoughts.  Although I do this in a shared google form that everyone can see, it is not mandatory as some are not comfortable sharing their thoughts openly immediately, and honestly this is fine.

Why I call it a “reflection break” is that I usually give people 25-30 minutes to take time to reflect but to also connect with others in the room informally.  A few years ago when I was in Australia, I noticed that in workshops, there were no breaks that were shorter than 30 minutes in the day, which at first I thought was strange, but then saw the types of conversations that were had during the break that were crucial to the learning.  For years, I have been used to a North American version of professional learning where you grab a snack, go to the bathroom, and are ready to go.  Connecting with people in the room ensures that even if the presentation isn’t meeting the needs of some, the people in the room can fill those voids.

One of the key components during the reflection process is that I either ask participants to share what they would want to learn during the day, or ask them, “What is one big question you have moving forward regarding today?”  The opportunity for participants to share a question, helps me to shape the rest of the day based on the people of the room and their thoughts.  We often learn more from a person’s questions than we do their answers. After I read these results, the rest of the day is shaped based on this feedback.  So basically, the first 1-2 hours have a plan, and after that, we are going with the needs of the people in the room.

Here are some keys to this for a presenter that are almost in contradiction.  First of all, to be able to “go with the room”, you have to know your content area in a very deep manner and be able to push learning on the fly, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, you also have to be comfortable with not knowing everything and learning from the room.  As a teacher, if you want to truly create a “learning community”, you have to create opportunities for others to learn from others, not only the teacher.

As we continue on with the day, I leave spaces that I will add resources I know of, or the participants suggest.  This way, there is time for people to explore after the fact, and to be honest, use the work that we do with others.  Although I have started the day off and again, had some ideas of where we could go, it is great to be able to co-create the day with participants, and I am hoping that they used what they have learned with others, both the content and the process.  Obviously, all of this is happening through a google document so I always make sure to share a shortened link at the beginning of the session (bit.do has become my favourite URL shortener because of the immediate need to customize the link).

Here are a couple of things I think about this process and how it ties to the work we do in the classroom:

Are we comfortable with this same format in a room of learners where learning goes with the ebb and flow of the room, not the teacher?

There is an importance in being knowledgeable and flexible as a teacher.  I don’t understand how people create a year plan for a group of learners that they haven’t even met that is strict dates attached.  The learning in the room should adjust to the groups and individuals.

This would be extremely hard to do with a group of students that didn’t have access to devices of their own.  It does not mean that they will use the device the entire time, but a google document is much more flexible than a piece of paper.

I have usually between 3-6 hours with a group so that we can go deep into the learning and have lots of opportunities for questions and exploration.  Although it would be tougher in a class of 60 minutes, there are definitely variations that could be done.  But, if our schedules are in 60-80 minute chunks, we need to really rethink those time frames and how it lends to deep learning.

I know of one school in Norway that has “all-day” classes and I was told that simply adjusting that schedule created transformational opportunities.  Innovative thinking is needed to create environments (which doesn’t just mean space, but also time) where we can go much deeper with our learning.

This isn’t meant to be life changing learning process, but just a different view of the type of learning that can happen in a day when we have access to tools that allow us to adjust so quickly to the room.  The more I have done this, the more I have realized the importance of focusing on the people in the room, and adjusting to them, as opposed to them adjusting to me.  It is something I constantly tweak and think about, but it looks a lot different from the type of learning that used to happen in my classrooms.

There Should Be More than One “Lead Learner”

(Note…based on the first few comments I wanted to update the post to reflect my VERY strong belief that principals/superintendents should model their learning.  It has been updated below and I appreciate the pushback that helped me to communicate my thoughts!)

The term “Lead Learner” has been one that has been thrown around a lot by superintendents, principals, and other people at the top of the traditional hierarchy, mostly in reference to themselves.  As a principal, I actually used the term referring to myself in a blog post I wrote in January 2011, and am not sure where I heard it, or just used it on a whim.  What I do know now though is that I am reluctant to using the term when talking about a principal or superintendent, and I rarely (if ever) have heard someone else call their principal or superintendent the “lead learner”.  Does that say something about the term?

I do however, understand why it is being used so often though.  Principals, superintendents, and other traditional “bosses” see their roles changing, and see this as part of flattening the organization, or at least that is how I saw it when I first used it.  I wanted to model that I was a learner just like everyone else in my school, and, as Chris Kennedy would say,  I wanted to be “elbows deep in learning” with them.  The reality though is that the term still refers to one person being in an authority position, and for me now, evokes the ideas that the principal is seen as the “holder of all knowledge”.  This was not how my school worked at all.  There were not only people who knew a lot more than me in many areas, but they were also more passionate about going deeper in the topic.  I was definitely not the “lead learner” in many areas, nor did I want to be.  If you think about it, in any school a “lead learner” could be in any area, and can be any person, and is often our own students.  In a culture where “everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner”, the term “lead learner” could and should be applied to many.

The role of principal is evolving, but I also know that some people need the principal to be the principal.  There is a point where people need to know that in tough situations, they can count on someone to back them up and be there for them.  I had many principals step in for me when I didn’t know what to do, or supported me in tough situations.  I didn’t need them to be the “lead learner”, I needed them to be the principal.  Great leaders don’t get consensus on all decisions, but sometimes have to make the tough ones on their own.  This comes as part of the role and sometimes it is important to know who to go to when there is a struggle.

The title does not necessarily make the role, only how you do it.  

Yet words mean something and if we are truly to create a culture where all people can step up and explore their passions and we believe that everyone has the potential to lead and bring out their best, the term “lead learner” should never be reserved for one person.

Should the principal/superintendent still openly share their learning?  Absolutely.  With technology now, that is easier than ever, but note I used the term “model” their learning.  Administrators have been learning forever but it was hard to communicate and share their learning on an ongoing basis.  That being said, there is a difference between a “leader that learns” and a “lead learner”, as one creates the notion that there is a “top learner”, where we should create an environment that in organizations, both inside and outside, learning by all is essential to success.

The Impact of a Teacher

It has been hard watching the news and hearing about strike action and funding cuts to education in so many provinces around Canada.  Being a part of education, I am not only seeing educators go out of their way to do more for their students, but also continuously tweak and innovate their practice.  Of course, as in every profession, there are weak parts, but I have been lucky enough to travel around the country and see so many dedicated educators that go above and beyond what is expected of their profession.

This made me think of my own teachers and their impact on me.  There are so many different stories I could share that go way beyond one teacher.  Like my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Stock who was one of the most kind and caring people I have ever known, sending me messages 30 years later congratulating me on becoming a principal.

Or my grade 3 teacher Mrs. Penrose who sparked a love of drama and “being on stage” as an eight year old, that has never left me, who wrote on my report card, “You can achieve any dream you want if you put your mind to it”, and constantly pushed me throughout my entire time in elementary to love music and acting.

Or my grade five teacher Mrs. Sloan who had my class run a business at our school and taught us about “entrepreneurship” long before it became a “21st century competency” and was just the best teacher ever.  She even made lawn bowling seem amazing.

Or my grade eight teacher Mr. Hill, who is the principal of my former elementary school, who made a bet with me that his Seattle Supersonics would beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs one year, and had to wear a Lakers sweater I gave him in 30 degree celsius temperature for the entire day.

Or Mr. Bellamy in grade 10 who inspired us to create commercials in class that I can still remember to this day and wish YouTube had existed because I am sure ours would have got at least 100 hits.

Or the countless coaches that put in so much of their own time to help me explore my passions and teach me way beyond any game.

Or Mr. Steele, my high school principal, who didn’t judge me by the kid I was, but treated me like the person I could be, and believed in me even though I was huge brat for many years in high school.

Or the huge group of teachers that came to my father’s funeral to support my family even though I was the last of my family in school and it had almost been 20 years since that time.

I could go on and on about my teachers that made such an impact on me, and the current educators that I serve every day that make such a difference.  This is not meant to be a political statement at all, but more just showing gratitude to the many educators who have made such a difference in the lives of so many.  I have often said, “if we only teach the kids the curriculum, we have failed them.”  This is something that was not told, but has been shown to me by so many educators throughout my time in school.

Thank you.

(I encourage you to share your stories about your teachers to the #EDUin30 hashtag, as this week’s question asks for that.  My 30 second story is below.)

Drown or swim?

As always, it is an honour to work with schools and school boards to share my learning with them, and in return, learn from their ideas as well.  I always encourage push-back in my sessions because I want to create an atmosphere where we all get better, including myself.  The challenges are crucial to our development as learning organizations.

Recently, I worked with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) and we talked about changing learning and learning environments. What was really special about this day was that there were several high school students in the room as part of the day.  During the first part of the morning, I went and talked to the students and asked them on their thoughts about different things (should teachers use twitter with them, ideas on snapchat, what their learning looks like) and the conversation was so amazingly rich.  As I talked to them, I shared some of the ideas that I was going to present on, but asked them to think critically about what I shared and challenge me after in front of the group.  If I am talking about opportunities for students in learning, it is imperative that I ask them about their opinions and pushback.

What was really inspiring to me was one of the students talked about how it wasn’t really a great idea to use Twitter with students before I talked.  By the end though, she was advocating it’s use to her teachers, because she had seen used in a different way.  I was almost in tears listening to her as she was open to learning and new ideas, and then advocated for herself for something new.

Another amazing moment was when a student advocated that we spend more time on “life” and less time on school (I almost cheered out loud!).  The analogy that he used for the idea of social media was pretty profound.  He said (paraphrased),

“Social media is like water because it is everywhere in our life.  We can ignore it and watch kids drown, or we can teach kids how to swim.  Which way are you going to go?”

Wow.

I was deeply moved by this experience and I thought to myself, why do we not do this more?  We are talking so much about “what is best for kids”, without any kids in the room.  Innovation has no age barrier, and it is important we not only bring them into the conversation, but tap into their brilliance.  How often are we asking kids to be a part of our workshops or “talks”, and not only telling them to be a part of the conversation, but openly telling them to challenge us?  This should be the norm, not the exception.

If any of those students are reading this post, I just want to thank you for your inspiration and ideas.  I hope you know how much your words were appreciated.

(P.S. Here is my #30SecondReflection on the day below.  I am wanting to do this more to push my own learning.)

Inconceivable Learning?

While flipping back and forth between playoff basketball and hockey last night, some things popped into my head that I tweeted out.  As I thought about them, the two tweets are actually correlated.

Here is the first one:

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post talking about “8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom“, and why I mention that is I used the term “today’s classroom”, because those were/are things that I see as crucial today.  I am actually currently in the process of writing a short book  on the topic to go deeper into the learning.  There is a reality of what I know now, and what could change in the time of publishing a book, could change.  I would love the opportunity to share with a different audience that may not read a blog, but I believe it is also important to being open to being challenged in what is written in a book.  Learning is not linear or stagnant.  It is something that is constantly in flux and ever-changing . That doesn’t matter whether it is written in a book or a blog. We have to be open to ideas being challenged and growing as educators.  Things change and we need to be willing to adapt and learn. Here is another tweet that I believe has a correlation in thinking:

The conversation that this sparked really pushed my thinking.  For example, if a child comes into school and creating and sharing videos is the norm to them, would this be considered “redefinition”, and if it is, is it to the learner or to the teacher?

Is “substitution” sometimes transformative to a student?  If I can write with a pencil but prefer to write with a mobile device, even if I don’t want to share it with others, but for my own thinking, is it considered “less”?  If a learner publishes a video at school, but has done it for years on their own, is that still considered “redefinition”? Being transformational to the learner is much more important than being transformational to the teacher.  What technology really empowers is personalization, not standardization, and what learning looks like to any person is a very individual process.

When I looked at the idea of “redefinition” and what it means in the SAMR model, one of the definitions that I saw was, “tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable“.  What I started to wonder is how time sensitive is this?  For example, YouTube is over 10 years old, so is publishing a video and sharing it with the world something that we think of as inconceivable, or is just something that we haven’t embraced in schools?  Is the ability to have the conversation on Twitter to discuss this tweet was pretty amazing and pushed my thinking, but I have been doing that for five years now. Is it still “inconceivable” or does it at some point become just what we do?  What was interesting was that I received a tweet from someone in Switzerland who shared a quote from one of my blog posts and it was still amazing to me, and something that I try not to take for granted.  It’s incredible and awesome (to me), but not inconceivable.

Here are two things that I have heard (paraphrased) lately that have pushed my thinking;

Technology is not technology if you were born when it existed.

and…

The technology that you experience today will be the worst it will ever be from this day forward.

This makes me think about a couple of things…

Is the technology we make a big deal of the norm for the students, just like a television was the norm for me when I was a kid? And, when does “inconceivable” become our new norm, and how do we react when the next “inconceivable” opportunity comes along? That is why I have been focusing more on the notion of the “innovator’s mindset“, because the one thing I know for certain, is that things will change (in technology, learning, life, everything).  How we deal with and embrace change is more important than ever, because of the rate that change happens, and we will need to become comfortable with what we know continuously developing and changing over time.  What is “inconceivable” now, will become our “new normal”, meaning there will be a new “inconceivable”.  How we deal with these shifting paradigms is more crucial than ever.

The Biggest Barrier to Innovation

“Being realistic is the most commonly travelled road to mediocrity.” Will Smith

Maybe it’s because I have been listening to “motivational speeches” on 8Tracks, or maybe because I have been emotionally touched by so many tributes to all of the moms out there in the world, but I have been thinking a lot about our mindset towards innovation and the barriers that we need to overcome to create better learning opportunities in our schools.  This post is a tribute to my mom who is my hero for more reasons than I could ever count.

Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 7.47.18 PM

I saw the above picture a few months ago, and it is one that has resonated with me.  When we talk about “change”, it is often something we think about when talking about others, and rarely in connection with ourselves.  It is easy to want others to change, but it always starts with “us” and our attitudes to change.  Constantly looking at the life of my parents, I learned from them that change is an opportunity to do something amazing, and that when we embrace new opportunities, even when they seem like obstacles, we can create something much better than what currently exists.  Change is scary and we often stay with a “known bad” than take the chance on the possibility of a “great” new opportunity.  Fear can stop us or make us reluctant, but it doesn’t have to defeat us.

My mom has proven this to me over and over again throughout her life.  Having a grade six education in Greece, and nearly dying from meningitis as a young child, she decided one day to come over to Canada to create a better life.  If you think about the time that she came over, she probably had no idea whether she would see her family again.  Yet she worked hard, and with my dad, created a life for themselves and for my siblings that had more opportunities for us than what they had as children. I remember her taking lessons to read in her 50’s and 60’s because she knew that being able to read and write would create opportunities, even though learning it would be an obstacle. To this day, at almost 80 years old, she constantly sends me emails and it is amazing how she gets better with every single one.  I save each email that she sends to me in a folder, and it is like my mom’s own learning portfolio. I cherish each one.

In the last few years, I have watched her deal with so much adversity and come out strong, although not without her struggles.  My dad passed away two years ago, and her only brother passed away a few months ago.  The older we get, the more we seem to lose, yet my mom still goes out of her way to show me love and connect with me and give me advice.  With such a little amount of formal education, she is wise in so many areas that I need her to be.  This wisdom comes from her attitude to the world more than anything.  She sees light in not only situations, but people, when it would be really easy to see dark.  If I could be one-tenth the person my mom is, I would be happy.  Although I am all about embracing change, I don’t know if I could have done what she has done in her lifetime.

In relation to this attitude, I have been thinking about the challenges that we face with school.  Budget restrictions, policies that don’t make much sense, and curriculums that are way too static for a world that is constantly changing, we could just throw in the towel and be okay with the notion of school in the past.  But like my mom who wanted better for her kids than what she had, I am hoping we can create something better for our students than what we grew up with.  When we know better, we should do better.  People challenge others to think “outside of the box”, when really we need to think how do we become innovative inside of the box.  When Vine came out, many people asked “what in the world could you possibly do with six seconds?”, when others said, “I wonder what I could do with six seconds?”  While some looked at the constraints as a barrier, others looked at the constraints as an opportunity.  It is your perspective.  One of the questions above is not a question, but an excuse.  Are you asking questions to stay still or to move forward?

Often, the biggest barrier to innovation is our own way of thinking.

It is not the policies, it is not the curriculum, it is us. I hear things like, “Well we can’t possibly do that because of our (parents, students, teachers, principal, lack of resources, government, etc.)”, yet someone somewhere has done whatever you might be trying to do facing the same adversity you face.

In fact, the story is better because of the adversity.

Do you know why people love reading comics or watching movies about super heroes?  It is not only because they often go beyond our imagination, but more importantly, they do it while overcoming adversity.  The story becomes so much more compelling when it is not easy.  Have you seen those shirts that say, “I teach…what’s your superpower”?  Just being a teacher is not a superpower; the way we teach is. That can help change the world.  Just showing up each day is a start, but it’s not enough.

I thought of this when I recently heard the quote, “be the hero in your own story,”  I think of my mom who taught me to always look in the light when all you can see is dark, and who has overcome so much adversity to give everything she has to her kids, to create something better, while showing love and kindness to everyone she encountered.  She’s the hero in her story because she focused not on what she didn’t have, but on what she did have and what she could do with it.  This (her) mindset is crucial to the innovative educator.

If the adversity wasn’t there, would the story even be that interesting?  How will you become the hero in your own story?

I am thankful for my mom, who constantly teaches me to see the light in the dark, who treats every person with nothing but love, and through adversity, not only has created opportunity, but does it with a smile, laughter, and joy, when it would be easy to choose a different way.

Always Let Them Know You Care, Even When it is Tough

This week in #EDUin30, I asked the question, “If there is an incident in school (with a student), how do you communicate with families?“, to help educators that are probably going into the interview process coming up, or to share with educators that have any number of years of experience.  With the number of ways that we can communicate, my fear is that we go away from the things that are most important.  For example, I always caution educators to NEVER deliver bad information through an email.  Without hearing tone or sometimes losing context, this can make a bad situation much worse.  This is one of those examples of things in education that does not need to change.  Face-to-face, or a phone call, is still a much better alternative.

When I was an assistant-principal, I remember my secretary at the time communicating something with me that I still remember to this day.  She said something like, “When you call a parent about something bad that their child has done, just know that you are probably going to destroy their world, even if it is only for a short amount of time.  Make sure they know that you still care about their child.”  This advice never left me.

So when I would talk to students about something that happened that was less than desirable, I would focus on two questions; “Why are you here?”, followed by “What would you do in my position?”  It was important to let the kids talk and work there way through the situation, as opposed to me solving the issue.  I want them to be able to deal with situations without my presence, and these questions created independence and accountability to themselves.

After we would work through the situation, I would call home, with the child in the office.  Why this was important was I would talk to their parent or guardian, and start off by telling them any positives that I saw with their child, but then share with them that they had an incident at school, and then would pass the phone over to the child to explain.  This ensure that they learned to take accountability for their actions while also making sure there was no miscommunication.  They would also share how we would move forward after the fact.  After this conversation, I would talk to the parent or guardian, and share the process, and often, how proud I was of their child for taking accountability and working through their problem, and then often remind them that all of us, make mistakes.  It was important for both the child and the guardian to know that I valued them and that none of us are perfect.  Did I do this 100% of the time?  No, because certain situations called for something different, but this was pretty standard practice, and a far removal from the notion of the school principal yelling at a kid from making a mistake, which I have seen far too often.

There are so many times that things happen in school, and no matter the community, I can guarantee mistakes will be made.  What is important is that we work with our families and communities to let them know that we value each child, and sometimes especially when they screw up.  It is easy to love when all is perfect, but it is more crucial to do it when it is not.  I am forever grateful to that secretary for sharing something with me that has stuck with me for so many years.

(Below is my short video reflection on the topic…Please feel free to share your reflection to the question to #EDUin30 and #EDUin30w10.)

Questions to Drive Growth #3QuestionsEDU

I am blessed to work in a school district that has done some really great work, but is constantly asking questions of where we can go.  Over the last few days, having conversations with principal Karen Stride-Goudie and my superintendent, Tim Monds, I have been really thinking about the questions that are driving my work and focus right now.  As I thought about these questions, I was reminded of Ewan McIntosh’s idea of “Problem Finders”, as opposed to simply “Problem Solvers” and how this connected to our own growth plans.  In the past, my own professional growth plans have focused more on what I am trying to learn, as opposed to what questions I am going to focus on.  This has really encouraged me to think about the questions and “why” they are important to me.

There are so many questions that I have, but if I want to be successful in my work, it is imperative that I narrow my focus to a few that will ultimately drive my work and learning.  I encourage others to think about your own roles and think of three questions that may drive your work now or into the upcoming school year.  The process I am choosing to use is to pose these three questions to drive my work and discuss why they are important.  No matter what your position in education, this process can really help you focus on what you learn, and the more questions that are shared in an open network, the better we can all become.  I encourage anyone to share a reflection through either a video or blog post (or whatever you are comfortable with) to the hashtag #3QuestionsEDU.

Mine questions to drive growth are the following:

 

  1. How do we a create a culture where the “innovator’s mindset” is the norm instead of the exception? (Or, how do we move from “pockets of innovation” to a “culture of innovation”?)

Why is this a focus?

What I have noticed in a lot of the work that I have done is that either the communications from the school or district level, really focuses on sharing the stories of a few educators and their classrooms, as opposed to being the norm in schools.  Even doing visits in schools around the world, I am often asked to go visit specific teacher classrooms who are deemed “innovative”, as opposed to being able to randomly walk around and see that is the norm.  I do not see this as an educator problem, but a leadership problem.  What conditions must we create to really create an “innovative culture”?

  1. Within the current confines of school infrastructure, how do we create environments that promote innovative teaching and learning?

Why is this a focus?

The physical structure of schools, especially older buildings, does not necessarily create an environment that is conducive to innovative learning.  When I think of the best “learning spaces” in the world, schools rarely pop into my mind.  With that being said, it is impossible to think that we are going to tear down our buildings in the near future and be able to start from scratch.  Instead of always asking people to think “outside of the box”, I am trying to think, how do we be innovative inside of it.  There are many educators around the world have created innovative learning environments within the “traditional” spaces of the classroom.   Environment is often as important as mindset, so how do we create spaces for kids that really promote innovative learning.

  1. How do we create professional learning opportunities that our staff are excited to be a part of on a consistent basis?

Why is this a focus?

When educators experience something different, they often create something different.  Unfortunately, I do not see educators flocking to their own professional learning opportunities, unless there is an awesome lunch being served that day,  This is a problem.  We have to rethink what learning looks like for professionals so that they experience the learning that can happen with our students and that they see themselves as lifelong-innovative learners.  To be a master teacher, you need to become a master learner, and this again falls upon the shoulders of leadership (leadership is from any position) in creating different experiences for staff, and ultimately helping them to create those learning experiences for themselves.

So there is a quick synopsis of the questions that are going to drive my thinking and keep me up at night.  What are yours?  I think this is a good practice whether you are a superintendent, teacher, secretary, or any other position, and hopefully this is something that could trickle down to students.

 

Please share your three questions to the hashtag #3QuestionsEDU in any form. I would love to see what is driving the learning of others.

It’s not about the technology…or is it?

One thing that I believe in deeply in my work is that we should always focus on relationships and learning, before technology, and if technology can’t enhance those things, it is a very tough “sell” to educators.  The focus, although on relationships and learning first, is also on the use of technology.  They are not separate.

Yet I have seen people say that it’s not about “technology”, it’s about “pedagogy”.  In fact, I had this conversation with Brian Aspinall on Twitter recently which sparked this thought. This statement could easily be taken as separating the two ideas of “pedagogy” and “technology”, and can sometimes provide an easy “out” for many educators who see the use of technology as irrelevant in their classrooms.  If it about “pedagogy” and NOT “technology”, then why would I ever have to use it?  I will have to be honest; there are a lot of classrooms that I walk into that have very little use of technology with students in their learning, other than the occasional visit to the computer lab.  Sometimes when the statement is made, “it is not about technology, it is about pedagogy”, you then hear the roars of approval, and off we go on our merry way with nothing changing for many students.

In reality sometimes it is about the technology, and the opportunities that it provides that were not there before for a student.  For example, teaching students how to code is something that is really hard to do without the technology, yet this is not happening with the masses in schools, and it would be extremely hard to learn it in an effective manner with 40 minutes a week in a computer lab.  Is it happening in some classrooms? Absolutely. Is it happening more every day? Absolutely.  Is it happening enough?  I am not sure it is.

I have been reluctant to say things like “technology is just a tool”, because again, the statement often provides an out. If you do not see it as transformative, then why use it?  A video that I have shown to show how technology is more than a tool and can be “transformational”, is this video of this young boy getting his first hearing aid. You can literally see the second the boy’s life changes:

When you look at Lachlan in that video, you can see that as soon as he has the “hearing aid”, a light goes on in his eyes.  I will have to admit,  that there are a lot of students in school who have lost that light.  This is no different from when I was in school, but there are more ways to create that “light” in the eyes of kids because of the use of technology in some cases.  It is about what they need, not what we are comfortable with.

So yes, it is about the learning, but it is also about the technology and the opportunities that it provides us.  They are no longer separate.