Sitting and listening to Chris Lehman’s speech to his first graduating class at the Science and Leadership Academy, I thought a lot about where our school is going, especially in the next year. We are moving to a new school web community and we are being thoughtful about the process. I will be the first to admit that this is something that I believe in firmly as a principal and want to help lead my staff in this direction. Buy in is important as well as support. I can guarantee that as principal I will do everything in my power to provide support to people so that the whole community can succeed, while also being thoughtful of the needs of each staff member in our building and their journey. Support and identifying the “why” will help with the buy in.
I could tell you a lot about the “what” and “how” of this project, but I have been more focused on the “why”. The “why” creates the opportunity to start with the end in mind (if you haven’t watched this great Ted Talk on the importance of “Why”). A quote that sticks with me from the Simon Sinek video is the following: “it is those that start with why have the ability to inspire others, or to find others that inspire them”. If I can start with focusing on the why, it will be easier to understand why we are moving forward with this project.
Simply, the “what” is that we have built an online meeting place using Buddypress. This site will be an online community where students, staff, and parents can meet to share ideas online. They will also eventually have a safe environment where they can create online portfolios where they can share their learning growth along with things that they are most passionate about.
The “how” is in participating in an online community that is safe. To move forward in these communities, it is important that anyone who is reluctant feels safe and comfortable with not only the technology they are using, but also the forums in which they are sharing their ideas. It is important that we give the tools to people to use this technology but we will not move forward if the community does not feel safe.
Most importantly, the “why”. These ideas are not my own, but come from a ton of collaboration and speaking with staff on not only technology innovation, but critical thinking, digital identity and safety, along with leadership. Through our shared conversations and learning, here are my reasons for the “why”:
- Collaboration - When I speak of collaboration, I am not only talking about student to teacher, or even student to student in the classroom, but I am talking about all people in the Forest Green Community. It is great that a student will be able to chat with others in the school and share ideas. I have learned so much from my own Professional Learning Network and their own experiences; eventually we want to equip our students to be able to collaborate in an effective way with everyone they associate with including the global community.
- Social Relevance - The truth is that more students are comfortable using technology. Many grow up with at a very young age and it is not right to ask them to turn off when they come to school. Technology is not the why we do things in school, but it is an important part of the how. To engage students in their own learning, we have to truly make it their own, not necessarily ours.
- Digital Citizenship and Identity – Whether you like it or not, students are going online. What are we doing to ensure that they are doing it in safe and effective manner. It is our duty as teachers to help them along their journey so that they are not only safe, but they know the importance of their own digital identity. These are elements of our world that we need to ensure we teach in the classroom.
- Critical Thinking Skills – Creating student electronic portfolios can be something that looks nice, but it is more than that. If you are truly improving learning in your classroom, students need to reflect deeply but their own learning and thoughts and start to create their own “why”. This technology is all around us and gives us the simple answers to questions, but we need to ensure we are helping students to think critically about the technology that they are using.
- Leadership for All – Everyone can be a leader. Please do not mix this up with “everyone can be in a role of authority”. Leaders can be in any area, whether it is public speaking, art, technology, sports, or a multitude of others. Great leaders in my belief have something that is extremely important; passion. If we can provide students the opportunity to be passionate about their own learning and experiences, or to share their passions through their portfolios. we are giving opportunities for all students to be leaders. This is so important for our kids.
- Opportunity for Creativity – A personal story that I can relate in the classroom. I am a horrible artist. I have always felt this way about myself and been reluctant about art projects since I have been in school. One of the things that I dreaded this year was that I knew all principals had to create a “Mind Map” about our school year. As I saw many great works of art in the past, I was worried about how I would measure up. I asked my superintendent (who is amazing), if I could try something a little different this year in my version. Instead of doing a traditional mind map, I decided to create a prezi presentation of our school year and vision. It was a lot of work but I loved being creative in this process and it really helped me align my thoughts and celebrate our school year. At an administrator supper the past week, I was recognized for having the most creative mind map and almost went into tears. This was the first time that I had ever felt that I had a “canvas” that I could really display my vision. Although not all students will excel in the form and can use other ways to be creative, it is important we ensure that it is an option. By taking away this opportunity from students, are we really differentiating learning? Every child deserves the opportunities and right to be creative. If you don’t believe me, just ask Ken Robinson.
This project is not about technology. It is about opportunities for learning and caring for our students. Chris Lehman’s goal for his students is the same as mine. It is important for me that all of the students at our school become “thoughtful, wise, passionate, and kind”. Hopefully we are providing more opportunities for this to happen.