The Best Classroom Management Develops Classroom Leadership

At the beginning of a school year, I had a student named Michael (not his real name) who had some issues the previous year, so I decided to welcome him outside the school before he even walked in.  Now I assumed that he might have had this “talk” before, but I wanted to change it up.  Instead of giving him a reminder about his “behaviour” and being an example to others, I asked him to look out for a couple of younger students that were struggling at school.  I told him about his ability to influence others would ensure that he could be my “go-to” to help those other kids.  Showing not only that I valued him, but that he was going to be a part of making the school a better place, empowered him to have a very successful year.

We always talk about “managing” people or students, but you manage “stuff”, not humans.  Instead of trying to “fix” a behaviour, it is important to tap in and try to unleash what people already have.  Think of your own work situation?  Do you not go over and above for a boss that not only values you, but taps into you for the well being of your organization?  The principals that trusted me with leadership were the ones that I would go above and beyond for and would gladly do the things that I once hated.

Kids are no different.

Show that you value them and their strengths, tap into them, and get them to help you create a better environment for everyone.  It won’t necessarily be perfect, but for me, I found it to be so much better.

Before You Move Onto the Next Big Thing…

Often after presentations, I will hear things like, “This is really cool, but what’s the next big thing in education?”

My response?

Shouldn’t we become great at what we are doing now first?

The problem with continuously focusing on the future is that we are often neglecting the present.  The next cool “app” often leads us to going a mile-wide and an inch-deep.  We want our students to have meaningful learning, yet we often want to implement every new thing we hear about or see, that we never really become great at anything.

While we are fixated on things like “school in 2030″, just remember that there are kids in your building that need you to knock it out the park right now.  Just like we want our students to have deep and powerful learning experiences, we have to learn how to create these  same opportunities for ourselves. That takes dedication and long-term commitment, which are the same things we are hoping to develop in our kids.

8 Characteristics of the “Innovator’s Mindset”

Recently I explored the notion of the “Innovator’s Mindset”, and have thought a lot about this idea.  As I look to write on the topic of “Leading Innovative Change” within schools, we are looking to develop educators as innovators.  To be innovative, you have to look at yourself as an innovator first, and to create schools that embody this mindset as a “culture”, we must develop this in individuals first.

Building upon Carol Dweck’s work, I have been looking at the traits of the “Innovator’s Mindset”, which would be summarized as follows:

Belief that abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed leading to the creation of new and better ideas.

To develop students as “innovators” in their pursuits, we must embody this as educators.  As I continue to research and look at different processes where innovation excel, such as design thinking, there are several characteristics that seem common amongst these themes.  Here they are below and why they are important for educators:

  1. Empathetic - To create new and better ways of doing things, we need to first understand who we are creating them for.  As educators, innovation starts with the question, “what is best for this child.”  For us to create something better for our students, we have to understand their experiences and this is why it is imperative that we not only talk about new ways of learning, but immerse ourselves in these opportunities.  This way we can understand what works and what does not work from the perspective of a learner, not a teacher.  If anything, teachers have to a deep understanding of learning before they can become effective in teaching.  We need to put ourselves in our student’s shoes before we can create better opportunities for them in our classrooms.
  2. Problem Finders - As Ewan McIntosh talks about, it is important that we teach our kids how to ask good questions instead of simply asking for answers. All innovation starts from a question not an answer.  The invention of the home computer started with the focus of, “How do we bring the experience of a powerful computer into the homes of families?” Many capstone projects developed by students in their classrooms start with first finding, and then solving problems both locally and globally.  How often do we as educators immerse ourselves in a similar process?  If want to be innovative, we need to look at questions first.
  3. Risk-Takers – Many would argue that “best-practice” is the enemy of innovation.  To be truly innovative, you sometimes have to go off the beaten path.  The reality of this is, that for some kids, the “tried-and-true” methods will still work, but others, you will need to try something different.  In a time where many kids are totally checking out of school, is “best practice” truly “best”, or just “most well known”?
  4. Networked – Steven Johnson has a powerful quote on the importance of networks where he states, “chance favours the connected mind.”  Innovation does not happen in isolation, as it is often ideas that are being shared amongst many that lead to new and better ideas being developed.  The best educators have always created networks to learn from others and create new and powerful ideas.  Now though, many have taken the opportunity to take networks to a whole different level through the use of social media to share and develop new ideas.  Isolation is the enemy of innovation.  Networks are crucial if we are going to develop the “Innovator’s Mindset”.
  5. Observant – A practice normal amongst those that would be considered “innovative” is that they constantly look around their world and create connections.  It is normal to have a notebook or use their mobile device to record ideas or thoughts around them and link them to their own ideas.  In education, we often look to solutions to come from “education”, but when organizations around the world share their practices and ideas, we have to tap into their diverse expertise and learn from them as well.  Wisdom is all around us, we just have to look for it.
  6. Creators – So many people have great ideas, yet they never come to fruition.  Innovation is a combination of ideas and hard work.  Conversation is crucial to the process of innovation, but without action, ideas simply fade away and/or die.  What you create with what you have learned is imperative in this process.
  7. Resilient – Things do not always work on the first try, so what are the tweaks or revamping that is needed?  To simply try something and give up as soon as it fails never leads to innovation only a definitive end.  This is something great teachers model daily in their teaching, as they turn good ideas into great ones.
  8. Reflective – What worked? What didn’t?  What could we do next time?  If we started again, what would we do differently?  What can we build upon?  It is important that in education and innovation, we sit down and reflect on our process.  This last point is definitely lacking in many aspects of education as we are always “trying to get through the curriculum”, yet reflection is probably the most important part of education as the connections we make on our own is where deep learning happens.

For educators to embody this, it is imperative that leaders create a culture where this types of characteristics are not only accepted, but encouraged.  It is also imperative that at both the leadership and whole organization level, these characteristics are embodied.  To many, being “innovative” is no more than a buzzword, but if we truly have innovative students, we need to embody the “Innovator’s Mindset” at all levels.

Why We Don’t Truly Embrace Failure

Although it seems to be cliche and commonplace in education to talk about innovation and the importance of “failure” in the process, this thought process seems to be misguided and focusing on the wrong aspect of the process.  Advocates of the importance of “failure” will often point to stories such as that of James Dyson, the inventor of the Dyson Vacuum who, “spent 15 years creating 5,126 versions that failed before he made one that worked.”  Yet the reality of this story is that no one would even mention James Dyson if it wasn’t for that one success at the end.  How many other vacuum inventors can you name and, especially,  how many of the other vacuum inventors that never successfully got a vacuum on the market can you name?

The part of this process that is imperative is resiliency and grit.  Resiliency, in this case, being the ability to come back after a defeat or unsuccessful attempt, and grit meaning a “resolve or strength of character.”  These are characteristics that are important in the innovative process as we need to continuously develop new and better ways to serve our students.

For example, I was recently talking to a learning coach that shared her frustration about working with another teacher who basically tried one process with a student and it didn’t work. When her learning coach asked her whether she tried anything else, the teacher had told her she hadn’t.  The learning coach was obviously frustrated that this was a “one and done” situation.  Later, our group conversation turned to focus on the notion of failure and how it is important that educators “embrace” and be okay with it.  I immediately jumped in and asked the learning coach, “Do you consider the process you described earlier as a failure?”, to which she quickly said “yes”.  I then asked, “and were you okay with that?”, to which she emphatically said, “NO!”  Trying out different things and figuring out alternative options for our students are all part of the “innovator’s mindset“, but accepting failure, especially when it comes to our kids, is not something I, or others, will ever embrace.

When I first started teaching, I remember famously saying to a student, you are going to learn the way I teach.  I could not have been more wrong in my thought process with this student.  A great teacher adjusts to the learner, not the other way around.  This is where resiliency and grit are not only “nice”, but necessary.  Not accepting failure is important to be successful in serving our kids.  What works for one, might not work for another, and as leaders, we need to develop a culture that focuses on doing whatever we can to ensure that we are successful in serving our students.  This “napkin drawing” by comedian Demetri Martin, beautifully outlines this process.

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Success is messy, as is learning.  Although I love this picture, the one thing that needs to be pointed out is that on both sides of the drawing, the endpoint of the arrow is pointing in the same direction.  Towards a better way in the end.  Yet in many educational institutions, their “line” would not look like either.  It would simply be a plateau where we have done the same things over and over again; no better no worse.  We all know what a “flat line” means in the medical profession.  Schools can’t mirror that or we might face the same outcome.

The Innovator’s Mindset

Carol Dweck’s famous book, “Mindset”, was one that was (is) hugely popular with educators, not only in helping shape their work and thoughts on students, but also pushing learning in educator with their peers.  There were two simple concepts shared that resonated with many readers; the “fixed” mindset and the “growth” mindset.

Here is how the two differ according to Dweck:

“In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”

The great thing about Dweck’s work is that she found that you can move from one to the other.  You may have a fixed mindset, but it is not necessarily a permanent thing.  The other aspect is that you do not necessarily have a “fixed” or “growth” mindset and fall into one of those two categories in all elements.  I have a growth mindset on (most things) education, but have a fixed mindset on fixing things around my house.

So what I have been thinking about lately is the notion of the “innovator’s mindset”.  This would actually go one step past the notion of a growth mindset and is looking at what you are creating with your learning.  SImply it would go look this:

Fixed Mindset –>  Growth Mindset  –>  Innovator Mindset

The “Innovator Mindset” looks at all of their learning (in any given area), and they look at what ideas can come out of this.  It is not simply about being open to growth, but focusing on what new knowledge you can create with that growth.  If I think about how this “Innovator’s Mindset”  would work with students, it would always start with the question, “what is best for this student?”  Because of your willingness to learn and have a growth mindset, you would be able to take that knowledge and implement or create something for that student.  You would try different ideas and create different things to help that child to be successful.  No matter the area, the innovator’s mindset would always start with a question, and then from what you know, creating either a singular or myriad of solutions.

I am not sure if this is something that has already been said or shared, but I think it is important to look at how many educators have adopted that “growth” mindset and have learned so much from it.  What we have to develop next is what people do with all of this new knowledge to help their students.

Update
(Here is a picture I put remixed with the idea of the “Innovator’s Mindset”)

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Why We Need The Echo Chamber

 

I read a great post about the “echo chamber” (I encourage you to read the whole thing) from Corrine Campbell, a teacher and Assistant Principal from Sydney, Australia, that shares the importance of disagreement in learning.  There are many great points about how there are so many similar conversations on Twitter (I agree with her on this), that we need to really focus

The beauty of genuinely engaging with someone I don’t agree with, rather than trying to argue against them, is that it stretches me. It forces me to re-examine my beliefs and put them under scrutiny. I may emerge with an even stronger commitment to a particular stance, or I may find my self shifting on issues and adopting a new position. This is healthy, and it is to be encouraged. For me, encountering ideas that force me to re-think my own, is what keeps Twitter a vibrant place of professional dialogue and learning.

Unfortunately, I agree with her :)

I really believe that it is important to value the “naysayer and antagonist“, as opposed to discrediting their thoughts and simply being dismissive.  It is easy to go to extremes, but we should really look for solutions that are closer to the middle.

But in the spirit of Corrine’s post, I decided to pushback (she had lots of comments agreeing with her…OH THE IRONY), and challenge why the echo chamber is sometimes needed.  Here is my comment below (that I might have edited a bit since I wrote it a little too quick on her blog!):

Just for fun…I am going to push back :)

What do we do about the echo chamber in our own schools that sometimes promote the opposite of what many say on Twitter? I think a lot of educators go on to Twitter to share their views because they might actually be in the minority of the “echo chamber” in their own schools.

Personally, that echo chamber helped me a great deal in my work.

Sometimes I would share an idea to my staff and they would think it was not a great direction, yet someone in my network would share the same idea with a different spin or context, and then I would share their post or video with my staff and they would think it was genius. Often, it was basically the same thing that I had said several times. Many suffer from the fear of expertise in their own midst (personally I hate that and try to promote as many people that I work with as experts), and sometimes that echo chamber offers a different voice with the same opinion. What I believe is that even though the ideas might be the same, the delivery is often different. That is needed for different people.  What appeals to me, might not appeal to someone else, and vice versa.

That being said, if we are truly going to be innovative, we need to push back on each other’s ideas. We would be annoyed if our students posted on each other’s blogs and all that they said was “great job!” because they are not pushing conversations or learning from one another. The key, again, is delivery.

There are many educators on Twitter that push back and that is good, but if we don’t listen to each other and just keep yelling our beliefs and seeing who can be the loudest, that is not respectful of learning or each other. Your model of asking questions (seek first to understand) of one another is so crucial. We need to understand viewpoints and context of differing situations. What is brilliant and works for your school, and more importantly, your students, might not be useful to mine, or vice-versa. If anything, we should know now more than ever that there is no standard solution to education; it is more about personalization than standardization. But in every conversation, we need to be open to learning from each other, whether we agree or disagree.

Great post!

My question to you is, is not why the echo chamber is bad, but why it is needed?  Is it something important in our work in our own schools?  I would love your thoughts.

Character, Credibility, and Social Media

Stephen Covey talks about the idea of “character and credibility” being essential to successful leadership.  Character is how people perceive you as a person, and credibility is how they perceive your ability as a leader.  Years ago, while many principals were against the use of social media due to hearing things about online safety, cyberbullying, and a myriad of other issues, you saw many administrators against the idea of using social media.  Yet, there were a many administrators that saw these new “tools” had the potential to not only build their own credibility as leaders, but also create a deeper connection into their own character.

The expectation for school leaders is that they are instructional leaders. Although long before social media existed, many administrators were actively learning and enhancing their craft, it was hard to exhibit the characteristics of “lifelong learners” that we promote so actively to our students.  Instead of simply going with sharing their learning at the sporadic staff meeting, administrators are now actively sharing their learning through Twitter, blogging, Google Plus, and a plethora of other tools.  They are showing not only their expertise, but their growth as learners in a much more open example of transparent leadership.

To be a leader in schools, you need to be a learner first.  Where are your examples?

But how do we show character?

Social media is not only about sharing our learning, but it gives a view into our outside interests as well.  Principals are not just principals.  They are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, music lovers, pet advocates, and a whole host of other things, that they can now show their community.  In Rita Pierson’s Ted Talk, she states, “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like”.  This goes for adults as well.  The best teachers in the world connect with their students on some personal level; this is point that should not be lost on the connection leaders have with their schools.

Who is the leading thinker in education?

 

Recently I was having a conversation with educators and they asked me the question,  “who is the leading thinker in education right now?”

I thought a lot about it and I couldn’t come up with one name.

In fact, quite the opposite.  I could come up with too many to name just a few.  They range from researchers, science teachers, speakers, kindergarten teachers, math teachers, principals, vice principals, grade 4 teachers, and more.  There is no end to the list of who we can learn from now.

There are so many educators that are both in and out of schools, that are influencing my thinking now.  It is hard to say that one person is influencing me more than another because it depends upon what we are talking about, what facet of school is being discussed, so on and so forth.  There are so many different elements of school that no one person could be an expert on all of them.  Really, there is no need.

In the past, “leading thinkers” were those that wrote books, that were used as the guide to providing great opportunities for education.  A lot of what was shared in the past was by names such as Dewey and Papert, who had research  that is as relevant today as it was when it was written.  We have always looked to “researchers” more than we have looked to each other. This is probably partly due to “prophet in your own land” thinking, but also because it was hard to get a glimpse into what was happening in each other’s classroom.  Now with blogs, Twitter, and a myriad of other publishing tools, we are getting amazing information from anywhere and everywhere.  Whether you have 10 followers on twitter or 100,000, the “active research” that is being shared by educators that is real-time, is invaluable to what we do in schools.

Is it always top quality information? Nope.  But neither were some of the books that I have read in the past.  We have to start seeing past “names” and looking at the information is being shared.

We can learn from anyone, whether they teach currently or not, and make it applicable to what we do in schools.  That’s the power of the web.  But I hope we are at the time that we quit focusing on only looking for “names” and start realizing the power that we have to learn from one another.

Trickle Down Professional Learning

I had an incredible experience working with Waterloo Regional District School Board (WRDSB) at #CATCCamp14 this past summer.  I was with them for two days, and when I asked them what they wanted me to do, they asked me to open with a keynote and told me the rest would be determined when I arrived.  Obviously I didn’t want to be unprepared, so I was a little uncomfortable with the format at first as I had no idea what they would need from me.  When I arrived though and participated, I absolutely loved the model.

Here is how it went (from my view)…

Groups were created in advance based on things that teachers were interested in and basically there would be time given to explore and build things for the few days that people were there.  With that being said, if you wanted to try something else, you could switch groups easily, similar to the EdCamp notion of “voting with your feet”.  Each group would have facilitators that wouldn’t necessarily teach you, but would often learn alongside of you.  Although the learning was pretty informal, teachers were staying in rooms working on things until long past 9pm because they appreciated the importance of just having time.

The other aspect of the camp that I absolutely loved was that they would have meetings after every meal and they would just get feedback and thoughts from participants on what their needs were and what they were interested in learning about.  WIth the release of Google Classroom, they had an impromptu group that explored the platform. Or they had time to explore how to create newsletters with video. Or explore social media.  None of those sessions were planned, but just happened in this basic “just-in-time” learning model. It was an incredible learning experience.

In my keynote, I talked to people about the model and challenged not to only take the stuff they learned from their time there, but to also explore how they could do similar models to the “camp” with their students.  There are many engaging and new (to some) models of professional learning such as “TeachMeet” and “EdCamp”, or even Ted Talks, and I am wondering not only about the learning that happens at these events and how it makes an impact on students, but also the models themselves.  There are things such as “Genius Hour” and “Innovation Day” that are starting to trickle into classrooms, but we need to provide some of these alternative options for our students, much more often.

I have started to see some teachers role out “EdCamp” for their students” and I would love to hear more about those experiences.  I would also love to see more opportunities for students to be the “teachers” in these events, and think it would be extremely powerful if teachers took part to learn in student delivered sessions.  Can you imagine the community that type of activity could build?

We still have to teach a curriculum and work within a system that politically could take a long time to change.  But within the system, we need to find innovative ways that we can implement these models into learning for our students.  If it works for us, why wouldn’t it work for them?

The Balance of Digital Footprint and Having Empathy

You might have heard of “Vodka Samm”.  She was a student at the University of Iowa who was extremely intoxicated, taken to jail, and then live tweeted from her phone about her experience.  Her story quickly went viral, and as we teach our kids about the perils of their “digital footprint”, you can see in the screenshot below the Google search of Samantha Goudie:

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Not the most flattering “footprint”, and by any accounts, she might struggle getting a job if any employer was to Google her.

But before we judge too harshly, check out part of this video that is on the first page of results when you google her name.

Does she seem like a really horrible person or just someone that made a mistake in university?  Does this one action posted online determine her character for the rest of her life?

t is very easy to become judgmental as a society and jump on people when they screw up, but honestly, did you ever drink too much or do something that you regretted?  I know that I am guilty of making many mistakes in my life, and perhaps I was just lucky that social media did not exist when I was in high school or post-secondary.  We teach a lot about “Digital Footprint” but do we teach our kids and ourselves enough about empathy?

I think there has to be a balance of teaching our kids the perils of posting inappropriate things online and the impact it could have on their lives, while also having an empathy for one another and realizing that we are all human meaning fundamentally, we are all flawed.