It’s not always about the decision, but often about how the decision was made.

If you have read this blog before, you have known that I am repetitive on the notion that innovation starts with the question, “what is best for kids?”  We have to do our best to make this a focal point in our decision making, and although it seems redundant to say it so often, sometimes it is forgotten about in our work.

Many schools are pushing new technologies in their schools/districts, to really try to focus on helping students become successful in our world today.  The idea of moving forward, is important, and I think more now than ever, schools are trying to put the tools in place to support staff and students.  Yet I have noticed resistance in the “tools” that are being implemented, since the decisions are made are often from a “top-down” approach, as opposed to a focusing on a servant leadership perspective.

A colleague shared a story with me about two competing technologies that were discussed at a conference in sessions that followed each other.  One of the observations that he made in attending both sessions was that in one room, it was mostly IT department staff, and in the other session, it was mostly educators.  The disconnect between what educators want, and what is actually implemented, happens far too often in schools.

For example, having a suite of tools that central office suggests will be great for teachers, with little or no input from teachers and students is a top down approach that often irritates many educators, no matter how great the “suite” may be.  Learning should always be the primary focus, and then you figure out what technology would support that, not the other way around. You will never make all people happy, but not trying to make as many people as comfortable and empowered in the process as possible with decisions that directly impact teaching and learning, is not a good approach.

Consensus is not always necessary the answer, but a collaborative approach should be the standard.  It is especially hard to ask teachers that work with technology the most or serve in the professional learning of other educators to “champion” tools that they dislike or don’t believe in themselves, especially if they have had no input.  If you can’t get your “champions” excited, good luck with the reluctant learner. (By the way, if you ask for input, get it, and go the same way you were going to go in the first place, don’t waste the time of others.)

The best IT departments that I have worked with focus on questions that directly impact teaching and learning, and find answers in conjunctions with those on the “front lines” working directly with students. The model exudes servant leadership as they start with an empathetic mindset that helps to figure out what will make an impact on learning.  Our IT departments are experts and crucial leaders in creating better environments for our learners, yet is there a focus on implementing with a “top-down approach” or a “bottom up” mindset?  The best leaders remove barriers and unleash talent, not try to control it. The “decision” is often not the issue, but more often, it is the approach in how the “decision” was made.

Leadership is a tough position, where you will always disappoint someone, and sometimes tough decisions need to be made.  But if leaders aren’t open to listening, we often lose the people who would have been our biggest advocates.  As a leader, it is not about “your decision” or “my decision”, it is about making the “best decision”, and the more we know and the more we listen, the more likely we this will happen.

The Power of a Good Lecture

I often think a lot about professional learning, and this week’s #EDUin30 question is asking about what that could look like (here is the response to the question).  Although I have not received any responses as of yet, a lot people will talk about things like EdCamp, MakerSpaces, TeachMeet, and other ideas for really pushing professional learning.  I even wrote about the topic in my posts regarding 8 Things to Look for in Today’s Professional Learningand honestly, “lecture” never made the cut.

So why has “lecture” become a bad word in education today?

Personally, I love a good lecture.  If it evokes story and brings out emotion, I feel that it can not only connect with me in that moment, but for a long time after.  My favourite professor in university (by far), was someone who actually probably didn’t know my name, and never set up any learning experiences that you often hear about in education today, yet I learned so much from him because of the way he told stories.  Although his subject was 20th century history, he connected so much of his own life to the things that he discussed.  It prompted me to major in history, and I still have a love of the topic today.  It was because of that professor who lectured.

I have heard the quote, “the person who is doing the talking, is usually doing the learning”, yet think of how untrue it is in the situation of that professor.  He knew his stuff already, and I didn’t, yet I would write no notes, but think about what he had said for days after.  That being said, I also remember many professors in the area of history who lectured and bored me to tears.  They shared facts, but didn’t tell stories, which elicited no emotion from myself.  I didn’t feel something, I was less likely to learn.  I remember seeing one keynote who within the first few minutes of their talk encouraged people to discuss with someone beside them a certain topic, and I remember thinking,  “I just want to hear a good story and listen to someone who helps me make a connection.”  Should I feel bad that I didn’t want to dive into my “own” learning at this time and just want to be inspired by learning something new?

My own feelings on this topic, might not be true for everyone.  Some might feel that hearing a story just doesn’t connect with them in any way.  But I will also tell you, that the “maker spaces” I have seen do not connect with myself either.  This doesn’t mean I don’t believe they are powerful learning opportunities for others, but it just reminds me that learning is a very personal thing, and for us to say something is “bad”, might only mean that we don’t see the relevance for learning in our own situations.

Anything done too much, will lose it’s impact.  This could be true of any type of learning.  Variety is powerful, but what works for you, doesn’t mean it works for someone else and we have to remember that sitting and hearing a great story, can make a huge impact on learning.  A great lecture is like an art form, and making a personal connection to content, helps others do the same for themselves.

“Telling someone about your experience breathes new life into it, moving it out of the inchoate swirl of unconsciousness into reality. It takes on form and allows us to examine it from all angles.” - Mandy Aftel

There is still some value in a great lecture and a powerful story.  Let’s not forget about that.

The Words on the Walls

As I walked into a school, I noticed a sign that something similar to, “For the safety of the school, please stop at the office to sign in.”  Immediately, I felt a tinge of anxiety as I wondered if something was there that would make the building unsafe, and I wondered if the students had ever felt the same.  Maybe most of them weren’t worried, but the sign shouldn’t evoke a feeling of the school being “unsafe”.

I remember listening to Martin Brokenleg earlier this year and he had mentioned this exact idea.  He said to think about the tone we set in the building when we have signs like this, compared to a message of, “We would love all visitors to come to the office so we can welcome you upon your arrival.”  The message was the same, but the difference in words sets a totally different tone once you enter the building.

There are so many little things around our building that we don’t notice and hence the importance of trying to look at things with fresh eyes. We encourage risk taking, yet I have seen signs in schools about the importance of not making mistakes.  Risk taking often comes with mistakes, so which one is it?  Saying something once in awhile is sometimes not as powerful as words on the wall that are there all of the time.

Do the words on the walls encourage a welcoming environment, a sense of community, and  opportunities for innovation? Or do they create a cold environment, that sometimes could pressure a fear of making mistakes, or sometimes even for one’s safety?  Ask your students, ask your community, and ask yourself.  What do the words on the walls tell you about the environment that you are trying to create?

P.S. If the words on the walls create a warm and welcoming environment, but your actions don’t, those words don’t matter either.  It is important to align the two.

Have a bad boss? Ask them for their advice.

I received an interesting question in a workshop the other day that I have heard before, but had never written down.  The question was based on working with an administrator that maybe isn’t the strongest, and how you work with them from a position lower on a traditional hierarchy.  I will have to admit that this isn’t the first time that I have heard this question, and I gave them the best advice I could.  Ask them for help.

So why would you want to ask someone who may be weak at their job or struggle for their advice?

For the same reason that many of us thrive under; the notion of being valued.  Asking someone for their advice in a situation or their help, suggests that you actually value what they have to say and are willing to take the time to listen to them.  This is something that is important and a way that most of us should feel, especially in a culture where we suggest that everyone is a teacher, and everyone is a learner.

Having spent time being a principal myself, I will openly admit that I had some really tough days on the job, and it is a lot harder to be in that position when you don’t feel valued.  But to me, the need of feeling valued is something that we should try to instil in people, no matter their position or authority.  One of the best things that I see in great leaders (from any position), is that when you see them talking to anyone, no matter if they are “above” or “below” them in the hierarchy of an organization, is that they treat everyone with respect and care.  Bosses need this as well, and when they frustrate us, it is easy to lose perspective.  Everyone wants to be acknowledged and seen for their strengths; that never changes no matter what position you may have.

There are a lot of bad bosses who know they are not doing the best job possible, and sometimes showing that value in them could be the push in the right direction that they need.  It may not always work, but I know that showing that you value someone is usually a safe bet.

 

The People You See Every Single Day

It is easy to connect with people on Twitter.  Many of them people that I have made connections with share a lot of the stuff that I love, and really push my thinking.  There is a real power in that.

And then you go back to your school and sometimes you might feel like no one gets you or wants the same things that you want in education or think differently about the notion of “what’s best for kids.”

But are we sometimes the cause for the disconnect?

It is easy to connect with people on Twitter that you don’t talk to and see everyday.  The relationships in your school though take a lot more work, as does any relationship that you see people every single day. We have to keep asking questions and engaging in conversations.  The worst thing we can do is just say the people we work with don’t get it and give up.  If we are not willing to do it, “they” are not the problem.

I saw something once that said the word “love” is not a noun, but a verb.  It is an action and it takes work to make happen in our world.  It is not just something that exists because we say or hope it does.

You Don’t Have to Do it All

Voxer is something that is being brought up over and over again as a great way to collaborate with people all over the world and have deeper conversations.  I love reading posts like this one on “How School Leaders are Collaborating Over Voxer“, which I tweeted out last week.  What I noticed immediately was both people jumping in on how they use it, while also talking about wanting to explore it more.

What was my reaction? I shut it down.

When one of the people shared how they used it to listen to conversations on their way to work in the car, and I immediately felt overwhelmed with that thought.  My morning drive is filled with listening to music, or podcasts about ANYTHING other than education.  I have realized how I need that more than anything lately.

Here are two pictures that push my thinking.

The following is an image of a bunch of people at a concert that I took several years ago who are creating and sharing content to others all around the world.

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People look at this picture and many will say how kids are not “living in the moment”, or they are so connected to their devices that they are missing out on life.

Then I show this picture:

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 4.48.01 PM

Two points that I make here…the people in the second picture are actually not talking to anybody, where in the first picture, they are connecting with people, but it just looks different from what we have been accustomed to as adults.  The second point, which to me is more crucial, is how is that I am not really in a place to judge.  I look back at my time listening to music, reading a book, or going to the gym, and I actually love the solitude.  In fact, sitting in a coffee shop, listening to music and writing this post, is not only something that gives me the opportunity to reflect, but it also has some therapeutic aspects in the way it allows me to release my thoughts.  What is important is that I find what works for me and sometimes a personal learning network pushes people towards “group think”, where I need to find what works for me to become successful, at different points of the day.  That self-assessment and reflection is critical to people in our world today.

Do you have to do the same thing and ignore something like Voxer? Not at all.  The point of the “personal” in “personal learning network”, is that you make it what you want.  There are definite advantages of being on Voxer (this article talks about the power of podcasts for your brain, which many people have started using Voxer for), but as I see it, there are advantages of not being on it for myself as well.  Ignoring it at this point is what works for me.  Do I see educational uses of Vine? Absolutely.  But I also see it as a way to check out and watch ridiculous videos that are there for me to not think.  I need that and although I am extremely interested in the medium, I am trying to stop trying to “edufy” every social media site I see.  The appeal for social media in many cases was to have fun and sometimes I think that it is easy for myself to lose that initial idea and appeal that drew me to things like Facebook in the first place.

What I believe is that it is important to be in spaces that you can connect with other educators and grow as a teacher and a learner, but those spaces and the use of them, is up to the person. If you hang around in those different spaces, the best stuff will find you.  I have no doubt about that. But one of the NCTE 21st Century Literacies is to, “Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information”, and I wonder if sometimes “managing” them is by choosing not to be on them in the first place?

There is a lot of great information out there in the world, but in a world where we need to focus more and more on developing the “whole child”, if our entire life revolves around education all of the time, I am not sure we are modelling “appropriate use” ourselves.  Not using something is also part of the appropriate use as we move forward.  There will always be something “awesome”, but to try to use everything is not possible or helpful in the long term.

The Opportunity To Further Bring Parents Into the Learning

My friend, Mark Renaud, took this short video of me speaking about the opportunity that social media has given to us to change the conversation at home between child and parent.

If social media is used in a thoughtful way to make learning visible, the hope is to change the conversation from “What did you learn today””, followed by the usual “nothing”, to something much more powerful.

Thanks to Mark for sharing this!

Similar but different?

As I was walking through several schools today, I noticed objectives and goals that could have been the same when I went to school. How we get there today and what they mean, may be different, especially as we learn more about pedagogy, but also connect learning and opportunities to the changes that have happened/are happening in our world.

Here are some questions that I have that are pushing my thinking.

If we promote students learning in a “safe” environment, do we mean only in school or in learning?  Does ignoring technology in a world where we learn so much from “strangers” keep our kids truly safe?

If we want students to be literate, what does that look like today in schools?  How does it go beyond basic “reading and writing”?

If a school has a focus on “citizenship”, how does a world where we are all connected to one another change what that looks like?

If parent participation is beneficial to the learning of a child, how do we use technologies that are easily accessible to both schools and parents to tap into our community?

If you look at the key components of each question, they are the following:

1. Keeping Kids Safe.
2. Promoting Literacy
3. Citizenship and Social Responsibility
4.  Parents as Partners in Education

If I would have shown you those as objectives in a school in 1980, they might not look any different in the wording, but in practice, they look significantly different.  I was taught over and over again how to cross the street so that I could access what was on the other side, but do we teach kids how to keep their information safe while they are connecting to others across the world?  The idea of “safe” has changed.

There is a lot of areas where schools have changed, but some of the objectives are the same.  How do we make sure that we are keeping up with what our students need for today and tomorrow?

What do you think?

 

The Mindset of an Innovator

The notion of the “Innovator’s Mindset”, and what it actually looks like, is something that I have been thinking about a lot lately.  The more I dig into the topic, the more I believe that this should be the norm in education.  Innovation is not something new to education, but it is something that we can do better.  The access to people and information changes a lot of the opportunities that are available both for students and educators, which calls for all of those being involved in education to see ourselves as learners.

As I thought about this, I wanted to write some statements on what this means, and what it looks like in our world today, ultimately leading to one statement for myself.  This is what I came up with:

I am an educator.

I am an innovator.

I am an innovative educator and I will continue to ask “what is best for learners”.  With this empathetic approach, I will create and design learning experiences with that question as a starting point.

I believe that my abilities, intelligence, and talents can be developed, leading to the creation of new and better ideas.

I recognize that there are obstacles in education, but as an innovator, I will focus on what is possible today and where I can push to lead towards tomorrow.

I will utilize the tools that are available to me today and I will continue to search for new and better ways to continuously grow, develop and share my thinking, while creating and connecting my learning.

I focus not only on where I can improve, but where I am already strong, and I look to develop those strengths in myself and in others.

I build upon what I already know, but I do not limit myself to myself. I’m open to and willing to embrace new learning, while continuously asking questions to move forward.

I question thinking, challenge ideas, and do not accept “this is the way we have always done it” as an acceptable answer for our students or myself.

I model the learning and leadership I seek in others. I take risks and try new things to develop and explore new opportunities. I ask others to take risks in their learning, and I openly model that I’m willing to do the same.

I believe that isolation is the enemy of innovation, and I will learn from others to create better learning opportunities for others and myself.

I connect with others both locally and globally to tap into ideas from all people and spaces. I will use those idea along with my professional judgement, to adapt the ideas to meet the needs of the learners in my community.

I believe in my voice and experiences, as well as the voice and experiences of others, as they are important for moving education forward.

I share because the learning I create and the experiences I have help others. I share to push my own thinking, and to make an impact on learners, both young and old, all over the world.

I listen and learn from different perspectives, because I know we are much better together than we could ever be alone. I can learn from anyone and any situation.

I actively reflect on my learning, as I know looking back is crucial to moving forward.

I am an educator.

I am an innovator.

I am an innovative educator and I will continue to ask “what is best for learners”.  With this empathetic approach, I will create and design learning experiences with that question as a starting point.

This is meant to be more of a process of my own thinking, as opposed to a finished product.  But going through this process made me realize that similar to how we are dropping the word “digital” off of many terms (digital leadership, digital citizenships, etc.) because it is becoming invisible and just implied, will we get to the point where what we see as being “innovative” simply become the norm in what we do in education?  Is there anything above that is out of the realm for any educator?  I hope not.

3 Things That Have Slowed the Change Process Down in Education (And What We Can Do About It)

There has been a lot of talk on the idea that education as a whole takes a long time to change.  As an educator, this is a challenging notion, since we are seeing many people doing some amazing things that did not exist when I was a student.  Change is happening but sometimes it is hard to see when you are in the middle of the process.

Some things are out of the hands of schools. Budgets and government decisions can make creating new and better learning environments for students tough, but not impossible.  Educators are not powerless, and in some cases, more powerful that ever.  The story of education can not only be told from the perspective of educators, but also from the students that are currently in the system.  Although there is still a lot of work to do (as there always will be in organizations that focus on continuous learning and have an emphasis on becoming “innovative”), there are also opportunities in education, now more than ever, that we will need to take advantage of and create a different path.

Here are some of the challenges we have had in the past and how we can tackle them

1. Isolation is the enemy of innovation. 

Education has traditionally been an isolating profession where we get some time together, but not nearly enough.  Even if we wanted to change this significantly, in most cases, the current physical structures do not allow us to work with other educators.  Some administrators have been very innovative in their planning of teacher prep time and have embedded collaboration time into the regular school day, but it is not necessarily enough to make a significant impact.

How so many educators have shifted this “norm” is by using social media spaces to connect and learn from educators all over the world, and making a significant difference in their own classrooms, and creating much more engaging and empowering learning spaces.  Isolation is now a choice educators make. Where the shift really has to happen is using things like Twitter is for educators to connect and share learning that is happening with educators in their own school.  I challenged people to do the following (as shared in this visual from Meredith Johnson);

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We need to make this happen and create transparency in our own classrooms.

How does a song like “Gangnam Style” go so viral that most people around the world not only know the words but the dance moves?  Social media.  If a song can spread so quickly, so can great learning.

Make it go viral.

2. A continuous focus on what is wrong, as opposed to what is right.

Think about the traditional practice of what school has done with many of our students.  If they struggle with the subject of math, we often send the more math homework to do at home.  Does this really make sense?  If they are struggling at school, making them struggle at home with the same content is often counterintuitive.  It is not that we shouldn’t struggle, but it is important that we are very thoughtful of how we spend our energy.

The shift that has happened with not only our students, but also our schools, is focusing upon building upon strengths as opposed to focusing solely on weaknesses.  This is imperative as building upon strengths often helps us to not only build competence, but also confidence which leads us to the mindset that we are more open to tackle our other challenges along the way.

I love this quote from Forbes on putting people in the right positions to be successful:

Leadership is a privilege, not a right, and we need to treat it as such. Leadership means encouraging people to live up to their fullest potential and find the path they love. That, and only that, will create a strong culture and sustainable levels of innovation.

Many organizations outside of education are hiring not on need, but finding the best people and empowering them based upon their strengths.  Schools should try to do their best to follow suit and put people to be in the best situations to not only do well, but to lead.

3.  Experience is a very powerful teacher.

I remember sitting and listening to Bruce Dixon at a conference and something he said has always stuck out to me:

In no other profession in the world do you sit and watch someone else do your job for 16 years before you go and do it yourself.

Wow.  That is a powerful message and shows why so many new teachers aren’t coming into school with all of these “innovative ideas” and changing our school system like so many people predicted.  Many educators simply replicate their experience as a student. If you think about it, at least one-third of many teachers educational experience is as a student, not a teacher.  That is a tough thing to overcome, but not impossible.

Innovation has no age barrier, and if we can tweak the experience for educators in their professional learning, they are more likely to change the experience for their students.  Writing ideas about “21st century classrooms” on gigantic pieces of paper with a felt marker is not going to create cultural shifts; changing experiences will.

People are starting to look differently at professional learning, and create experiences that are much different from what I first experienced as a teacher.  I think a major reason for this shift (going back to point 1) is that educators are seeing the shift in practices in so many other organizations, and are trying to create a different practice where more educators are not really focused on teaching as much as they are about learning.  This empathy is crucial since to become a master teacher, you must become a master learner.  

Changing experiences to shift the focus on the learner from the teacher helps to disrupt routine.  If you would want to create an environment where students would want to be a part of your classroom, we have to experience what learning could look like for ourselves and start from a point of empathy.

One shift that was not mentioned was the mindset of looking at obstacles as opportunities. As mentioned earlier, not everything is in our control, but as educators know, they can make an impact every single day.  It is not always easy, and teaching can be a very daunting and tiring job, but I believe that every day we can make a difference if we choose.  Having that mindset is the only way that we will ever truly be able to make a powerful change for ourselves and our students.