Finding the Genius

This was a fantastic story, shared and created by Michael Wesch:

What I loved about this was the idea that sometimes our perceptions of students, lead to their new reality.  If we think of a student as lazy, what things do we do that actually feed into that?  But if we look for their strengths and how to build upon them, that perception also becomes a reality.

This is one of my favourite images on that very topic, most likely inspired by the Einstein quote,

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing that it is stupid.”

climb a tree

If we hold a certain knowledge that others don’t hold, it doesn’t make us smarter than them.  It just means that we have different strengths.  In the mechanic that doesn’t have a high school degree, yet can fix my car, I see genius. Finding that genius is part of what great educators do.

“Fads” and Innovation

It is easy to dismiss something as a “fad”.  I hear that a lot and the word is obviously used to dismiss something.  I have used it myself, but I have been really rethinking this idea in the terms of education.

“Growth Mindset” might be considered a fad. The “flipped classroom” might be considered a fad.  “Maker Spaces” even might be considered a fad.

But for any of these things to even be considered a fad, they have to be widely embraced by a large amount of people.  Anything that is widely adopted or embraced, quickly becomes widely criticized as well.  What is important to note is not that we shouldn’t ask questions or challenge popular thinking.  I believe that makes us all better.  But simply dismissing something as a “fad”, especially as an educator, sometimes shows a lack of willingness to learn about the strengths of any one trend.  There are things that I would challenge and question about all of the things I listed (flipped classroom, growth mindset, maker spaces), but what I do know for sure, is that these things have people asking questions about their practice.  That’s a good thing.

Even though no idea is perfect, there are always elements that will help students, if we choose to look for them.  They may not help every student, but I have yet to see any one thing that helps every student.  Learning is extremely personal, and there will be no “standardized” idea that solves all of the problems in education.

Challenging and questioning ideas is great, but simply dismissing them and labeling them as a “fad” might actually alienate the people that are trying to create something better for kids.

3 Ways to Curate and Share Great Content

One thing that I pride myself on, is the ability to curate and share the work of others.  I have been blessed with a huge network on social media and I want to use that to not only share my voice, but hopefully the voice of others as well.  There are certain blogs that I like reading all of the time, but I also want to find the “best” stuff that is being shared right now, so if I limit it to what I already know, then it is much harder to find that.  That is why I have a few different spaces to find and share content.  Many people ask me how I “find my stuff”, so I wanted to show and share how I curate information.

  1. Inoreader – After Google Reader dissolved (sigh), I wanted to find a great RSS reader that looked similar.  After much research, I settled with Inoreader (inoreader.com), which was a great way for me to add and share blog posts.  With this service, I could easily make my own “bundles” of blogs by any category that I would want to create.  This way I was getting some of my favourite content coming to me, instead of going to it.  Here is how my home page looks:

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What I also loved about this site, was how easy it was to share to social media sites.  On the bottom right of each article is a “share” button, so you can do it directly from Inoreader.  If I know someone blogs consistently I add it to my reader, but if they don’t post for awhile, I don’t have to worry about constantly checking for updates.  It is a minimalist site and that is why I prefer using it.  Less is better sometimes when trying to find information.

2. Zite –  Zite is a mobile app that finds articles for you based on things that are popular in your “network”, or based on topics of your own personal interest.  What I like about this site is that it often helps me find stuff that wouldn’t necessarily be in my blog bundles and it becomes a personalized magazine.  If I don’t like the content being shared, I can give it the “thumbs down” and it will note that for the future.  Here is how the interface looks on my main page.

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Again, nice and clean.

The other awesome aspect is the ease of sharing from your device for the content.  You can share to a plethora of social networks (again, on the bottom right corner).  Zite gives me unique content, but it is important to be aware that if you share or read a blog from any author, it will note that and eventually always share that post.  This is both good and bad, as I try to use that space to find unique information.

3. Tweetdeck –  I love Twitter, but it is very hard to information on any topic unless you utilize hashtags or lists to help you out.  Tweetdeck (tweetdeck.com) allows me to search by hashtags, and even if I am not following someone, if they share to the hashtag that I am following, it is really helpful.  Here is a snapshot below:

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My very good friend and AMAZING leader, Dwight Carter, shared an amazing analogy on hashtags, likening them to “TV channels”.  As shown by the image above, the “channels” I am watching for content (in this example), are #psd70 (my school district), and #cpchat (Connected Principals Chat).  This way I can see what is being shared in my school district, while also seeing what other educators are sharing that they feel is relevant to school administrators.  What is important to note here is that #cpchat is not exclusive to only school administrators sharing to the hashtag, but anyone that feels the information they have found is relevant to school administrators.  I try to help people find content by filtering it for them.  For example, if I find something that is great for kindergarten teachers, I would use #kinderchat.  For science teachers, I would use #scichat in my tweets.  This helps others find great stuff in an area of interest.  (Here is a list of educational twitter hashtags from Jerry Blumengarten to help if this is new to you.)

Many people ask “who should I follow?”  I always try to encourage them to find a hashtag that is relevant to them first.  If you are a math teacher, following other math teachers does not mean that they will share stuff related to the topic. But if you follow #mathchat, the opportunity to find stuff that you are interested in on that topic, is more likely to happen.

This list is not meant to be the only way that you can curate and find content, it is simply part of the way that I do it.  I encourage you to write in the comments any other ways you find content and share it with others.  This is something that I think is important for educators to do, because it is also something students should understand and make part of their learning as well.

Hopefully this helps some people find and share their own content as well.

Taking Notes vs. Taking a Picture of Notes; Which Wins?

Although I have seen this picture before, I saw it tweeted again recently:

Taking Notes

Although this seems like a no-brainer as a method to quickly capture information, there is also the challenge that if you want to “retain” information, writing it down is a much better method.  In an article titled, “Want to retain information? Take notes with a pen, not a laptop”, the author shares the following:

To examine the possible advantages of longhand note taking, researchers from Princeton and UCLA subjected students to several TED Talks and then – after a break featuring “distractor tasks” designed to disrupt memory – quizzed them on their recall of the content. Students were equipped with either (internet-free) laptops or paper notebooks while they watched the talks and instructed to take notes as they normally would for a class. Test questions included both factual recall (names, dates, etc.) or conceptual applications of the information.

Because the quantity and quality of notes have been previously shown to impact academic performance, students’ notes were also analyzed for both word count, and the degree to which they contained verbatim language from the talks. In general, students who take more notes fare better than those who fewer notes, but when those notes contain more verbatim overlap (the mindless dictation issue) performance suffers. As one might expects, students who watched the TED Talks equipped with laptop were able to take down more notes, since typing kicks hand-writing’s butt in terms of speed. However, the luxury of quick recording also resulted in the typed notes having significantly more verbatim overlap than the written ones, and this was reflected in test scores. While, laptop and longhand note takers both fared similarly on factual questions, those taking the tedious pen-and-paper notes had a definite edge on the conceptual questions. So while laptops allowed students to generate more notes (on average a good thing), their tendency to encourage writing down information word-for-word appeared to hinder the processing of information.

So one is easier and much less time consuming, and one seems to improve the ability to “retain” information and be able to share it back.  So which one is better for learning?

How about neither?

The ability to simply obtain information and recite it back is not necessarily learning as much as it is regurgitation.  I might better be able to retain the facts shared, but it doesn’t mean I understand them.  On the other hand, if I am taking a picture, putting it in my camera roll and doing nothing with that information, then really, what good is that?

What is important here is how you make your own connections for deep learning.  Taking a picture is obviously much less time consuming (why would not just give the information over in the first place?) than writing notes, so with the extra time, the ability to do something with the information is where the powerful opportunities for learning happen.  For example, taking this picture and writing a blog post on it, will help me more than simply retweeting the picture out in the first place.  When I speak, I try to challenge people to create something with the information I have shared, whether it is write a blog post, reflection, podcast, video, or any other type of media.  If they really want to process what I have shared, they will need to make their own connections, not the connections I have made for them.

Having easy access to the information is great, but what we do with it, is what really matters.

“The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it).” Thomas Friedman

Hopes for the Future

I thought this was a very powerful video:

Just an idea…would this not be an amazing project to do with students if they talked about their hopes and dreams for both long term and short term? What would they hope for at the end of the school year? What would they hope for ten years from now?

Developing the questions for themselves would be powerful as well. This could make not only for a neat project, but it could help you understand the hopes and dreams of the students that we serve, and build relationships with students in a pretty powerful way.

As the new year is upon us for many teachers and students in parts of the world, a question I always think about is, “What would the students say about this year ten or twenty years from now? What impact will this year have on their lives?” Every moment is precious and while so many are so focused on the future, it is greatly important to remember to also be fully immersed in the present. This year could mean all of the difference to many students.

What about the title of “teacher”?

There is an interesting conversation that was started by Daniel La Gamba on Twitter, regarding the terms “sage on the stage” and “guide on the side” in reference to the changing role of the teacher.  It started with the following tweet and his attached blog post:

Daniel facilitates some great discussion on the topic and the following conversation on Twitter that has gone on for a few days, reminded me of why I love the medium so much.

In the pursuit of creating the new cool title for a teacher, maybe it is more important that we understand the role of a teacher, instead of trying to give it a new name.  Instead of saying, “You shouldn’t be a ‘sage on the stage’, but a ‘guide on the side'”, maybe it is about understanding the fluidity of the role.  That sometimes a teacher is the sage on the stage, and sometimes the teacher is the guide on the side.  Sometimes they are an “architect of learning experiences” but sometimes, they let the student design the experiences themselves.  Sometimes teachers can lead the learning, and sometimes they have to take part in the learning (in the classroom). Sometimes it is doing both at the same time.  This also doesn’t recognize when a teacher has to decide between when to be firm, and when to soften up.

Maybe we need to realize that for years, the title of “teacher” encompasses all of these things (and more), and instead of renaming the role, we just have to talk about the shifts that are happening, and how the best teachers in the world have always recognized that the title of “teacher” means a lot more than what we have given the term credit for.  Some of the best teachers I have ever known have done all of the things that I have discussed and so much more, and the title of “teacher” was one that was defined by how they brought the role to life, not how someone else named and defined it.

If we embrace  and understand that the role of the teacher can change multiple times daily, and that the title does not mean any one singular thing, we might spend less time trying to change the title, and more time focused on the actions that make it so meaningful in the first place.

“Hard Work is No Guarantee of Success”

This is a post where I am trying to write to understand and process my thoughts.  I think it is important that we try to make the process of learning visible, not just what we have learned.

One of my favourite speakers of all time is Jim Valvano. His speech at the ESPY’s where his famous words of “don’t give up, don’t ever give up”, remain powerful so many years later. I love watching his other speeches as well, and in this one, he shares something his dad shared with him;

Hard work does not guarantee success, but lack of hard work guarantees that there will be no success.

I have noticed this theme in some articles that have passed through my feed as of late. James Harrison, a football player with the Pittsburgh Steelers known for his amazing work ethic, while also having one of the greatest touchdowns in Super Bowl history, shared how he took the trophies away from his children that they received for participating. He shared this on his Instagram below which has gone viral.

This is not about demeaning the effort of people “showing up”. In myself, I am trying to get back into better shape, but going to the gym is not enough. It is what I do with that time that matters, and how I eat. It is a struggle. Waking up early to go to the gym means something, but not if I slack off while I am there, and do not achieve results.

This is also understanding that winning isn’t everything as well, but how we develop as people under adversity.  As a coach for many years, I would try to communicate to my team that at the end of the year, only one team would ultimately be the “champion”, so if we deemed success as winning it all, we would most likely fail.  But if we looked at how we developed as people, how we would look at working together as a team, and how we were when we faced adversity, those were things that were really important.  How you are when you win and how you are when you lose, in my opinion, are both equally important.

In an article titled, “Iterate, Iterate, Iterate, Innovate”, they share a story of how WD-40 came to be, it shares the name that the “40” comes from the number of times it took to get the formula right.

The term WD-40 is derived from “Water Displacement, 40th formula”.  It was the 40th formula the chemists tried before finding success. The product is produced by the Rocket chemical company and is distributed in over 160 countries.

If the company stops at 39, this is not being shared, but since it kept going, here we are talking about it.

I have shared before that failure is nor the thing that we should be celebrating, but the grit and resiliency to move forward. But “showing up” is only part of the story. I believe that school should be enjoyable, but I also believe that it should be challenging. “Flow” is something that we should constantly strive for in our learning with ourselves and our students, but it takes hard work.

Whether it is “success” or “innovation” or both that we are striving for, the common element is the work ethic that it takes to get to that point up. It goes way beyond showing up, and is important that we help to instill that into ourselves as well as our students.

Maybe Not Tomorrow, but When?

I just read a great post by Alice Keeler, titled “In the Real World“, where she discusses the irony of the idea that schools need to prepare students for the “real world”, yet many of the things that happen in our schools do not necessarily mirror the current realities of the world we  live in at the moment.  Here is a sample of some of what she listed as the world’s current realities:

In the real world, we look things up on Google.

In the real world, YouTube is one of the most popular tools for learning.

In the real world, collaborating is not cheating.

In the real world, finding information on the internet is a resource.

In the real world, my job does not ask me things I can Google. I need to use critical thinking.

In the real world, I use my phone for everything.

It is a great post meant to push thinking, and she even crowdsources more ideas, if you are so inclined to add your own.

This being said, I am not about absolutes.  In my own experience, I have seen more schools open up sites like YouTube, and encourage students to not only bring their mobile devices, but encourage them to use them in meaningful ways for learning.  There is a definite shift happening in education. Yet I am sometimes baffled how one organization can block things like YouTube stating that it is unsafe for students to have access, while other organizations in nearby areas have the same site open.  I always wonder why they don’t just talk to each other?

There are many schools that are starting to understand that they are closing powerful learning opportunities down for their students, and they want to get to the place where students are encouraged to bring their own devices, or free up access to social media and sites like YouTube to create powerful and collaborative learning opportunities.  My advice to them? Don’t do it tomorrow, but you need to set a date of when you want to create some of these opportunities.

What is important to understand that simply flicking a switch and unblocking opportunities from students does not mean anything will change about the teaching and learning in the organization.  It should not be teaching plus a mobile device, but it should significantly change the way learning looks like in the organization.  Why I am adamant that there is a time frame is that we do not ignore and constantly put tomorrow out of reach.

For example, I created the following “rubric” on whether your school’s digital citizenship practice is a “pass or fail”.

dc

In reality, this is not meant to be an evaluative tool as much as it is a conversation starter and guide.  One possible way you can use this is to have a discussion on where you want to be, how you are going to get there, and when you are going to be there by.  Obviously nothing is perfect, but having a date creates an accountability to not only yourselves, but your students.

As John C. Maxwell says, “change is inevitable, but growth is optional”. As we manage change, it is necessary to have the critical conversations to not necessarily get to where we need to be (because it is a constantly moving target in education as it is with all organizations) but to move forward.  Each community is unique, and differentiation is not just for students and teachers, but schools as well.  Creating a plan of how to move to the next step is paramount if we are to take advantage of the opportunities for innovative learning that lay in front of us.

Closing Our Eyes in the Pursuit of Innovation

Just as I was finishing a presentation in Minnesota a few years ago, I knocked a glass of water over onto my computer and completely fried my computer.  Even though I had a presentation the next morning, I wasn’t that concerned because I knew that I had everything on either dropbox of google drive, and everything was saved.  What was important at that moment was that I had access to my presentation for the next day.

I went to the Apple store, and was able to get a new computer, and while my hard drive was working, I knew the old computer wouldn’t work for the presentation.  My presentation was over 1gb and as the people and Apple and myself, all comfortable with technology, waited for it to move over from Dropbox to my account, it seemed painfully slow.  We tried to figure out ways to move the file over using other cloud services, such as Google Drive, or other cloud storage sites.  No matter what we were doing, it was not uploading.  As the store was about to close, and my presentation was not completing the upload, I started freaking out.  After three hours of waiting, I turned to the other three people I was with and said, “Do any of you have a USB stick?”  One minute later, my presentation was uploaded and I was on my way.

In the pursuit to be “innovative” and use the latest and greatest, we miss the obvious answer right in front of us.  Sometimes the best way is the most direct, yet we can easily complicate things.  Far too many people in leadership try to overcomplicate ideas, yet the ability to simplify is often the easiest route to success.  One of the most important qualities of being innovative is having the ability to find the simplest route to solve a problem, not the “coolest”.

Let’s not ignore the direct route when it is right in front of us.

Building Relationships Through the Use of Technology

What do you want leaders to do with tech?

This graphic above that I  created with Bill Ferriter is something that I hope sparks conversations, but also stories of how these things are already happening in schools.  I am going to use it as a guide to show how technology can enhance, amplify, and accelerate leadership. I encourage others to share their stories from one of the “better answers” above.

Building Relationships

As I was at an admin meeting as a principal, and listening to something that really had nothing to do with the my own school or building, I remember usually using this time to catch up on email.  Since I had to stay at the meeting, I thought that I would use this time in a valuable way.  One time though, I decided that I would read student blogs since they had just started.  I was blown away by some of the things that kids were writing, so I decided to comment and share some of my thoughts with them.  This was a great way for me to connect with our students while I was out of the building and get a glimpse into their learning.

What I didn’t realize was the impact that this would have on our students.  I remember coming back to school and seeing a few of the students that I commented on their blogs and it felt like they were ready to throw a parade for me.  It was amazing at how excited they were that I simply commented on their blog, but then I thought about it.  I would have been so excited if my principal would have done the same thing when I was a student, but the reality is that when I was a kid that it didn’t exist.  Many of the students appreciated the time that I took to write something simple to them and acknowledge not only what they were creating and sharing, but also how hard they were working.

After this experience, I went out of my way to comment to as many of my teacher and student blogs, no matter what they had shared.  Reading a blog is beneficial to the reader, but commenting actually really connected to the person willing to share their thoughts. Even if it was a simple announcement of something that happened in the classroom, taking the time to read and, more importantly, comment, helped to create better connections when I saw the people trying something new in person. I would not hide myself in my office and comment to student or teacher blogs, but would do this when I had some down time, as I tried to connect in person as much as I could when I was in the building.

What I have truly believed is that technology isn’t meant to replace face-to-face interactions, but if anything, it can enhance them.  Those couple of minutes of commenting, actually created something where my students showed that they appreciated my effort, and I theirs.  Being able to show that you value someone, even from afar, is still showing them they are valued.

Technology used in these meaningful ways can create connections that we might not have necessarily been able to create from afar before.