Author Archives: George

One Step At a Time

The push to totally change the way school looks, is coming from many that believe that education as it looks today is not sufficient for our kids.  Although I do believe that we have to change some major elements of school, I also believe that there are lots of positive elements that we can build on as educators.  When we say “everything has to change”, we also tell educators that “everything you are doing is wrong”.  We have to build upon our strengths, while also paying attention and developing on our weaknesses.  This does not happen overnight.

Barry Schwartz talks about the “paradox of choice”, and in his Ted Talk (one of my favourites), he talks about abundance of choice often making people miserable.  This would be no different with what is happening to many educators.  When we say “change everything”, people are often overwhelmed and change nothing.  Personally, I understand that although teachers need to question the system, they also need to work with inside of it to make change.

So if we are really going to make powerful long lasting change, we have to realize that this happens one step at a time.  Although we might have a vision of where we want to go long term, successful leaders will help break the BIG VISION into smaller, achievable steps.  With every single step, we move closer to our goals, while building confidence in a “new way of learning”.

My suggestion for people wanting to change what they do?  Focus on one thing at a time.  Look at something you currently do, and ask how you could do that better, and improve learning opportunities for kids.  Once you have seen success, move onto another thing.  I love this story from Will Smith about something he learned from his dad when he was young:

When Will was a 12-year-old kid, his dad gave him an impossible task: rebuild the brick wall in front of his business. It took Will and his little brother a year-and-a-half, but they built the wall.

How did a couple of little kids build a big brick wall? Will explains, “You don’t try to build a wall. You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say, ‘I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built.’ You don’t start there. You say: ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid.’ And you do that every single day, and soon you’ll have a wall.”

Success breeds success, and if you focus on that one brick at a time, soon you will have something that is so much better than what you started.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao-tzu

Transformative to everyone?

If you are in the educational technology field, you have probably heard about the “SAMR Model” and “TPACK” as ways to implement technology in powerful ways in our classrooms.  Many of these models (and others) say something similar; how are we using technology in ways that we couldn’t do before?   For example, should we use technology to write notes (which we could do with a pen) or are we going to use something like blogs so that students can connect with the world? Technology is transformational and the opportunities that exist today in schools are pretty amazing and these “models” encourage teachers to take advantage of that.  This is a good thing.

So when we talk about things like “differentiation” and “inclusion”, how does this apply?  Well if we are expecting all students to do the same “transformative” thing, it feels like we are still expecting all kids to do the same thing.

Maybe instead of asking, “what does the technology allow us to do now, that we couldn’t do before”, maybe we should ask, “what does the technology allow the student to do now that they couldn’t do before”?  The ability to write notes on a document  might not be transformative to all of us, but to the student who does not have the same ability to write using a piece of paper that others might have, this (what many would consider simple) use of technology may be transformative to that student.  In our race to put everything in education into a neat acronym, we often give standardized solutions for individual people.

Perhaps we should step back and see that what technology provides is often the ability for a teacher to help make learning very personal  for our kids and create opportunities that didn’t exist before (for them).  Every standardized solution often seems to reduce our kids to a name on a piece of paper or simply a number, when they deserve so much more than that.

The Value of Everyone Else

I have the honour to be working for the next couple of days with a variety of people that are connected with education but not “educators” with the Peel District School Board.  This would include, but not me limited to, secretaries, finance department, IT staff, facilities, communications departments, and so many other people that do things to help create the best opportunities for our students.

Talking with them, I remember thinking about my school janitor from when I was a kid named Mr. Rohrke.  He was someone who not only kept the school clean, but was someone we loved talking to and connecting with every day as kids.  He was one of those people that made your day better.  He could have easily ignored us and did his “job”, and there were probably many days he had to stay later because we could talk his ear off, but he always loved talking with us.  His job was to make the school a great place to be and he did not that by only keeping the school clean, but also by taking the time to make us always feel welcomed.  If anything, I am glad that he made that time and from people I know that are involved in education, the kids, no matter their position, are part of the reason that they show up everyday.

So when we talk about all of the great things that are happening in schools, let’s just remember that there are so many people behind the scenes that never seem to get the credit they deserve to help us create the best conditions to serve our kids.  I know that I have been guilty about complaining about the WiFi not working but also on the other hand, not thanking the same people I have complained to when it works.  I need to get better at that.

With schools changing so much and it happening at an extremely rapid pace, let’s just remember the value of everyone else that are NOT educators that we so often tend to forget.  The more they know they are a valued part of our team, the better we will all be for kids.

The joy of learning

The ability to connect on Twitter has become one of the biggest blessings in my life.  I have connected with some of the best minds, but in reality, I have made my strongest relationships through the medium as well.  It is not just about what I have learned, but it is often about the enjoyment I have in learning with others.  If you look at my Twitter feed at any point, it can range from goofy conversations about Applebees, discussing opportunities in the classroom or leadership, sharing music, or sharing videos of dogs to make people smile.  The balance for me is important.

When we plan for students, we too often focus solely on the “learning”?  If a kid enjoys texting and connecting with friends, and actually becomes more literate, why can’t that be a powerful opportunity for kids?

Sometimes we get so focused on the “stuff” that we forget the “joy” (as Dean Shareski would say) that can happen during informal learning.

How much do you remember from your grade 2 science exam?

Exactly.

I promise you that if learning can be “fun” and have some choice, more people will love to do it.  I love the learning that happens in social media but I know that I keep coming back for the connections and happiness it brings me.

Fun can be a great thing for learning. Let’s not forget that while we are trying to get through a curriculum at the end of the year.  The “stuff” will fade from a kid’s memory, but that connection to their heart won’t.

A conversation starter…

I saw the following image online: Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 7.50.43 AMWhat surprised me about the conversation about it was that most educators (that I connect with) thought the student was ingenious for this “invention” and applauded them.  They were “fighting the power” and found a way to snuck in their device to a classroom. A couple of questions I have when I see this picture… Why would the kid have to create something like this? Why would adults not have to do this?  (I know that if I am disengaged I might gravitate to my device, but I also know that if I am engaged, I also tend to gravitate to my device.) Do you think this is wrong by the student, or cheer them on for their subversiveness? What do you think?

A Little Piece of Yourself

The best teachers in the world connect with their students on some personal level.  

I have always believed that.  It does not mean that you share every element of your personal life, but it does mean that you do share parts.  The teachers that impacted me, I remember knowingmore about them than simply what they taught, and it is the reason I became a teacher.  I wanted to make that same impact.

So why do we believe something different when it comes to social media?  Many people are worried about revealing too much about themselves and that will somehow be an invasion of privacy, yet it is always up to the individual on “what” and “how much” they share.  My personal belief and guideline on social media is the following:

“Whatever you can say to a classroom of students is what you can say online.”

If you follow that, you should not only be fine but you can make some pretty powerful connections.

Which brings me to why I am writing this in the first place…

After a presentation that I had made for Peel District School Board in Ontario, I had an educator approach me and tell me that she wanted me to share a story.  As she teared up, I worried about how I might have offended her or said something wrong.  Actually the opposite.

In my tweets, I have shared music I like to the hashtag #georgetunes.  I am a huge music fan, and although I share the occasional One Direction or Wham song (as a joke…maybe not), I am a huge fan of a lot of very mellow music such as William Fitzsimmons, Iron and Wine, and Keane, which has led people to sharing music from bands from The Avett Brothers.  This is something that I would have shared with students so it is not something I was reluctant to share online.

So as this “stranger” shared her story with me, she told me about how someone suggested that she follow me on Twitter.  Although she shared that she appreciated my educational tweets, she really enjoyed a lot of the music that I shared, as we had similar tastes.

And then her mother passed away.

She took a risk, reached out to a stranger (my email is listed on my blog), and shared that she connected with me on Twitter, loved the music I shared, and told me about how her mom had passed.  She then asked me a suggestion for a song.  Of course, I responded immediately, and gave her a suggestion to which she told me that played at her mom’s funeral.  She thanked me for not only responding, but for being willing to share in the first place.

I have not stopped thinking about what she told me and her story.

People have made fun of me for sharing some stuff online (like #georgetunes), but I don’t see myself as an “educator first”, but a person with many sides and interests.  Those connections are what I believed in as an educator, and carry over to what I do online.  I also have been reminded once again that every little thing you share can make a big impact, no matter how insignificant it may seem, so try to focus on the positive.  Who knows what it can do for someone else.

5 Ways To Influence Change

“At the end of the day, what qualifies people to be called ‘leaders’ is their capacity to influence others to change their behavior in order to achieve important results.” Joseph Grenny

In a time where the only constant in education is change, people involved with education need to become “change agents” more now than ever. You can understand pedagogy inside out, but if you are unable to define “why” someone should do something different in their practice, all of that knowledge can be ultimately wasted.  People will take a “known good” over an “unknown better” in most cases; your role is to help make the unknown visible and show why it is better for kids.

Look at the debate over “new math” right now.  Many people, including educators, are pushing back over the new curriculum based on the idea that math was taught in a much better way when we were kids.  Simply explaining the process and the way we teach and learn math is not enough.  It has to go deeper.  Ultimately, you want people to feel that this is so much better than they were kids, and that their children are better off.  Innately, people want what is better for kids.  Tap into that, and people are more likely to move forward.

“To sell well is to convince someone else to part with resources—not to deprive that person, but to leave him better off in the end.” Daniel Pink

So how does this happen?  Below are some things that I have seen effective leaders to have not people only accept change, but embrace it as an opportunity to do something better for kids.

  1. Model the change that they want to see.  Although this might seem extremely “cliche”, it is the most imperative step for any leader in leading the “change effort”.  Many organizations talk about the idea that people need to be “risk-takers”, yet they are not willing to model it themselves.  Until that happens, people will not feel comfortable doing something different.  It is also the difference between talking from a “theoretical” to “practical” viewpoint.  Have you ever seen a PowerPoint on “21st Century Change” from an administrator who does not exhibit any of the learning that is being discussed in the presentation? Me too.  People will feel more comfortable taking a journey to an unknown place if they know that the first steps have been taken by someone else.  Although I believe in the idea of distributed leadership, the idea of “leaders” is that they are also ahead; they have done things that have not been done before.  Chris Kennedy has shared the idea that leaders need to be “elbow deep in learning” with others, not only to show they are willing to embrace the change that they speak about, but to also be able to talk from a place of experience.
  2. Show that you understand the value that already exists. The word “change” is terrifying to some because it makes them feel that everything that they are doing is totally irrelevant.  Rarely is that the case.  I have seen speakers talk to an audience for an hour and people walk out feeling like they were just scolded for 90 minutes on how everything that they are doing is wrong.  It is great to share new ideas, but you have to tap into what exists already that is powerful.  When you show people that you value them and their ideas (and not in a fake way which is pretty easy to read through), they are more likely to move mountains for you., and for themselves.  Strengths-based leadership is something that should be standard with administrators to teachers, as it should be standard with teachers to kids.
  3. Tell stories. Data should inform what we do and is an important part of the change process, but it does not move people.  If you look at major companies like Coke and Google, they use stories to elicit emotion from people.  Of course they have numbers that they use in their process, especially when it comes to stakeholders, but organizations know the importance of telling a story to make people “feel” something.   To inspire meaningful change, you must make a connection to the heart before you make a connection to the mind. Stories touch the heart. What is yours?
  4. Bring it back to the kids. What does a 80% to a 90% tell us about a kid? That they are now 10% better?  Most educators got into the profession because of a strong passion for helping kids, so when we reduce who a child is to simply a number, or teaching simply to a process, we lose out on why many of us became educators. To help kids.  If you ever get the change to see Jennie Magiera speak, watch how she shows kids in her presentations and it shows the impact of her work on them.  A 10% difference does not create the same emotion as watching a student talk about something they learned or have done.  I have shared a video of Tony Sinanis doing a “newsletter” with his students and I have watched educators all over the world engrossed by what they are seeing.  Think about it…it’s a school newsletter.  Imagine if I handed out a piece of paper to educators and asked them to read a newsletter from another school.  Do you think they would care as much as seeing the kids, their faces, and their emotions? Don’t let a grade tell a story; let the kids do it themselves.
  5. Get people excited and then get out of the way.  I have been to schools, watched administrators encourage their teachers to embrace something different in their practice, and they make that change impossible to do.  Giving the answer that “we need to change the policy before you can move forward” not only encourages the detractors, but it kills the enthusiasm in your champions.  When “yeah but” is the most commonly used phrase in your leadership repertoire, you might as well just learn to say “no”; it’s essentially the same thing.  The most successful people in the world rarely follow a script, but write a different one altogether.  Are teachers doing something better “because of you” or “in spite of you”.  If you want to inspire change, be prepared to “clear the path” and get out of the way so that change can happen.

“Increase your power by reducing it.” Daniel Pink

The change process is a tough one but simply being knowledgeable is not enough.  Some people that actually “know less” but “influence more” create more change than some of the smartest people you know.  Education is not about “stuff” but about “people”.  Tap into that and you are more likely to see the change that you are hoping to see.

“Leveraging” is the new fluency

I needed some help for a project I was working on this morning, and wasn’t sure how to exactly to do something.  Instead of “googling” for an answer, when I wasn’t really sure of how to word the search, I simply tweeted out the following:

Within five minutes, I received the following answer (I actually received other ones before as well) from Jeremy MacDonald:

That was it…problem solved.

Then I saw this tweet from Derek Hatch that gave me an “A-Ha” moment:

What I thought about is the idea of “literacy to fluency”, and how with something like Twitter, the parallel idea to that would be “use to leverage”.  For example, if I simply would have tweeted out the question, the likelihood of receiving an answer would have been lower than if I didn’t use a hashtag, or not connecting with people that I knew had the answer.  I increased the opportunity to get an answer by doing some very subtle things within a tweet and ensuring that I was able to get what I needed.

Instead of simply emailing Jeremy MacDonald the question and only having one chance to receive the answer, I used an open network that increased my chances exponentially, but also targeted someone I knew who used the technology and the company that created the software in the first place.  By the time HaikuDeck actually responded (and they responded quickly), I already had the answer and did what I needed to do.

One of the NCTE “21st Century Literacies” is, “develop proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology”, and I thought about how we move people to the next step in their use of social networks.  Obviously having a large network helps in leveraging, but creating that network is also part of “leveraging”.  My network did not develop over night and neither would “fluency” in any language.  Simple use of a network should be a minimum now.  “Leveraging” technology is the new “fluency”.

Jumping to Conclusions

Google Glass is stupid.

There I said it.

I have been thinking this since I first saw someone wearing them at a conference and tried them on.  They were hard to work and took a long time to get to do anything.  They also looked weird.  Really weird.  “Cyborg from the future” weird.

These are all things I thought but didn’t say.

I am a pretty outspoken person so why wouldn’t I say it out loud to others?

Well, because I also thought Twitter was stupid, as well as Instagram, and Facebook. Pinterest was also something that I thought was stupid but man is it helping Paige and I plan a wedding.  I said all of those things out loud.

I have been wrong before and have openly said that something is “stupid” without using it or understanding how it could be used.

I waited for something to prove me wrong with Google Glass.

And waited.

Then I saw the video below:

I was moved. I was in tears.  It was a great way to tell a story.  It was powerful.  Although I know this was made for Google by students at USC, I could finally see the potential.

I know that I waited and even though they are still pretty expensive, they could have some pretty amazing potential in schools.  I just had to wait long enough to see it and I know better to not jump to conclusions so fast.

I have done that before and will not to do it again.

P.S.  Except for Snapchat. That’s stupid. ;)

(Prove me wrong!)