Author Archives: George

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:

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 9.35.24 AM

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.

5 Questions You Should Ask Your Principal

 

I was recently asked by a superintendent if I had some questions to ask his principals to start off the year.  The questions I gave him were based on the following areas:

  • Fostering Effective Relationships
  • Instructional Leadership
  • Embodying Visionary Leadership
  • Developing Leadership Capacity
  • Creating Sustainable Change

In my opinion, the principal is probably the most important job in an educational organization.  There are many studies that reiterate this, but I think it is that they have the most authority closest to kids.  It is not to say that teachers aren’t important; they are absolutely vital.  But a great principal will help to develop great teachers, and a weak principal will do the opposite. They also tend to push great teachers out of schools, although most of the time unintentionally.  Bad leaders tend to drive away great talent.  A great teacher can become even better with a great principal.  As the very wise Todd Whitaker says “when the principal sneezes, the whole school gets a cold.”

Even though the questions were developed for superintendents to ask principals, I think that they should be questions any educator, parent, and even student should be able to openly ask their principal.

1.  What are some ways that you connect with your school community? (Fostering Effective Relationships) – When asking a principal this question, it is important to look for answers that go beyond the basic answers like staff meetings, emails, etc.  I would look for answers that go above and beyond what is expected.  For example, one of the best principals that I knew spent every morning welcoming staff and students to the school at the main doorway.  He would ask questions about their family, talk to them about their lives, and get to know them in a much deeper way than what was expected.  Although this principal has been retired for a few years, many of his staff refer to him as legendary because of the way that he would go above and beyond connecting with kids and community, before and after school.

2. What are some areas of teaching and learning that you can lead in the school? (Instructional Leadership) Covey talks about two important areas for leaders; character and credibility.  Many principals are great with people, yet really do not understand the art and science of teaching, or have lost touch with what it is like to be in the classroom.  Although a leaders does not need to be the master of all, they should be able to still be able to walk into a classroom and teach kids.  They should also definitely be able to lead the staff in workshops that focus directly on teaching and learning.  If teachers understand that a principal understands teaching and learning, any initiatives are more likely to be seen as credible in their eyes.

3.  What are you hoping teaching and learning looks like in your school and how do you communicate that vision? (Embodying Visionary Leadership) – There are many leaders in schools that often communicate a BIG PICTURE of what schools should look like, but can’t clearly communicate what it looks like for teachers and students. It is important to be able to discuss elements of learning that you are looking for in the classroom.  Not only is important to hold this vision, but to help develop it with staff and be able to communicate it clearly.  Many new educators walk into schools thinking that “quiet and order” are the expectations for classrooms, so even though they are doing some powerful work in their classrooms that looks quite messy, they are worried that it does not fit in with the vision of their boss. Due to this, many will often try to tailor their work to look like what they think the principal wants because they really don’t know what is expected.  Having a vision is important but clearly communicating and developing that with staff is also essential.

4. How do you build leadership in your school? (Developing Leadership Capacity) - Many principals are great at developing followers, but fewer are great at developing more leaders.  There has been this notion for years that you do everything to keep your best talent at all costs, but in reality, it is important to figure out ways to develop people, even if that means they will eventually leave. Great schools have become “leadership” hubs that they are continually losing great people, but they often get a reputation of being places where leadership in all areas is developed, which actually tends to attract some great people.  Wouldn’t you want to work with someone who is going to try to get the best out of you? There is a great quote that I’ve shared before (paraphrased) on this exact topic.

Many leaders are scared about developing people and then having them leave.  They should be more worried about not developing people and having them stay.

Again, great leaders develop more leaders.  What is your plan to make this happen?

5. What will be your “fingerprints” on this building after you leave? (Creating Sustainable Change) This has been a question that was asked of me years ago by my former superintendent, and has been one that has always resonated.  What she had shared with me is that she should be able to walk into my school and see the impact that I have had as the leader of the building.  This is not to say we throw out what the former leader has done, in fact, quite the opposite.  Great leaders will not come into maintain the status quo, but will bring their unique abilities to a school that will help them get to the next level.  They will build upon what has been left, but they will work with a community to ensure that their impact on a school lasts long after their time serving the community.  This where all of the other questions above truly come together, but it takes time and dedication to make it happen.

The old notion is that teachers and students are accountable to a principal is one that is dying (thankfully).  Great principals know that to be truly successful, it is the principal that is accountable and serves the community.  They will help create a powerful vision but will also ensure that they do whatever work is needed to be done to help teachers and students become successful.  I encourage you to talk to your principal, no matter what your role, and ask her/him their thoughts on some of these questions provided.

“Ensuring Equity”

A question and concern that I often hear in my travels is “what about the kids that don’t have devices in school?”

These educators want to create “equity” among students and don’t want students to feel left out if they don’t have access to technology.  Interestingly enough, one of the goals of the Ministry of Education in Ontario is on the notion of “ensuring equity”:

All children and students will be inspired to reach their full potential, with access to rich learning experiences that begin at birth and continue to adulthood.

What I love about this is that it is focusing on ensuring high standards for what we provide our students.  There are many students that do not have access to devices or the Internet at home which means it is MORE IMPORTANT to provide these things for them at school.  We would never take a library away from a school because students don’t have books at home.  In fact, we would do the exact opposite.  We would provide more opportunities for kids to read rich resources.  So not finding ways to provide devices and access to the biggest library in the world (which happens to fit in your pocket) to our kids, in my opinion, is unacceptable.

If we are to ensure equity for our students, let’s make sure we do it at the highest levels possible.

Digital Parent Volunteers

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit schools in Sydney, Australia and on one of these days, I was asked a few questions about where schools are going, and specifically, about getting parents more involved in school. I shared a wonderful idea that I first heard from the brilliant Tracey Kracht, on the idea of “Digital Parent Volunteers”. It is simple, but could be extremely powerful and hopefully I caught the essence of it in this short video.

Moments

I jumped into a cab to get to the Sydney airport and my driver looked very familiar. As I sat in the car, his phone rang and he started to talk to his son in Greek. Scattered in English and Greek, I listened to him give advice to son, talking about not frivolously spending money, and then asking about his grandkids. I could not help but to start crying in the back because it was like listening to my own dad. When he got off the phone, I asked him where he grew up, and he told me he was from Tripoli which is very close to where my parents grew up and in the same area. I showed him pictures of my dad and he was so moved by what I shared.

I miss my dad so much every day but for a moment I could hear his voice and it was so comforting. I will miss all of the advice he gave me, even though I know I should have listened a lot more.

I saw this cartoon on Imgur the other day and it really hit home so I just wanted to share it.

dad

Jumping In First

 

A common thing I hear in regards to technology and our understanding of it goes along the lines of, “Kids are amazing…we can just learn it from them!”

Although I really believe in the power of learning with our students and that in the area of technology, I wonder sometimes if we use that thinking as an excuse to get out of learning.

Let me explain…

The ability for us to connect and learn from a vast amount of information in a highly networked world is daunting for most, including our students.  Navigating some of these murky waters, can be extremely complicated.  Because of that, I think this is all the more reason that we have to jump in ourselves and learn so we can help guide our students through these networks.  SImply saying, “I am going to learn from our kids”, leaves us often waiting for those moments and we could possibly miss out on many opportunities that we could have created for our students.  Sometimes we “don’t know what we don’t know”, and when we wait for our students to “teach us”, we might miss out on what we can show them as well.

Do I think that we can learn from kids? Absolutely.  I highly encourage it as it empowers our students to act as both teachers and learners.

Is it possible for us to know about all of the technology out there? Not a chance.  Even the most tech savvy educators in the world will not know every facet of technology.  There is just too much stuff.

But for us to simply wait for our kids to teach us, we could miss so many amazing opportunities that we could have helped create in our school if we would have jumped into those waters on our own first.