Author Archives: George

Innovation Doesn’t Happen Behind Closed Doors

Whether you are starting off as a new administrator, or you have been in the role for awhile, it is important that you “make your mark” and bring your own style to a position.  Just like your teachers want to make an impact with their students, you want to make an impact with your school community.  Doing something “awesome” is important as administrators should feel that they are contributing to the growth of the school, not simply the management of it.

In my own experience, it is easy to lock yourself in a room, work on some great ideas, and come out with something (you believe to be) new and amazing.  Yet closing yourself off and focusing on being “innovative” often leaves you with great ideas that will get nowhere, because you have not created the relationships needed for people to feel safe trying something new.  If you don’t spend time in the classroom and see what the inner-workings are of what learning looks like every day, your ideas can become great in theory, but unattainable in practice.  It is important to recognize that innovation is a human endeavour, and if you are going to put too much time into something, it should always be people, not stuff.

So what is a great step to help move this forward?  Move your office into a classroom.

Administrators have a lot of managerial duties that they have to get through in a day.  It can honestly be overwhelming.  That being said, it is rare that we don’t have access to an untethered device that we can go sit in a classroom and be a “fly on the wall”.  This helps not only with visibility of students, but will give you a great perspective of what teaching and learning looks like, and what hurdles teachers have to jump through in a day to be successful.  Is the technology working?  Does the classroom have seating that is conducive to different types of learning styles?  Does Wifi work?

Many teachers accept their classroom “as is” and do the best with what they have and they don’t say anything.  This does not make those boundaries acceptable.  By simply spending an hour catching up on emails from a classroom, you will learn a lot more about your school than you would spending an hour in your office.  You don’t have to do this all of the time, but you should do it often.

This isn’t “no office day”.  Although I love the intent behind that initiative, I find the idea of having a solitary day to go spend time in classrooms is not enough.  This should be a weekly process, if not more.  The time you spend just sitting in a classroom builds a comfort and trust level with staff who eventually don’t even know you are there.  That’s kind of the point.  If you don’t have time to go into a classroom, your priorities might be out of order.

Through this process, you might not get as much done, but you will build relationships with teachers in this process that will lead them going over-and-above for you, which in the long run, will not only save you time, but creating better opportunities for your entire school community.

Believe me, the investment is worth it.

Reminders from the #GAFESummit

I had the great honour of keynoting the largest #GAFESummit to date in Ottawa this past weekend.  It was a great experience, and I loved meeting so many amazing educators. Not only was it a massive conference, but it was also the first English and French Google Summit.  When I was first asked to speak, I was told that I would have to do some of the keynote in French.  Since I do not speak the language, I was extremely hesitant.  But as I thought about it, I said to myself, “If I am constantly asking people to push themselves out of their comfort zones, I need to model this myself”, and then I agreed.  Although I was all for it, I was extremely nervous to not only do this, but in front of so many people (over 1200).

With the amazing support of Lise Galuga, we created my presentation together.  I took all of the text on my slides and translated it to French.  Although I used Google Translate to help me at first, I soon realized that it was not accurate at all.  Lise went through every slide and did the proper translations.  We then created a google document that I had my main points of each slide, and she prepared a corresponding French tweet for all of it so that it could be “live tweeted” in both languages.

The final part (and the hardest for me) was to learn how to open the conference in French.

I wrote down what I wanted to say, and also added a joke that Lise suggested (which got huge applause!).  So Lise took what I wanted to say, and translated it properly for me.  Here is the translation:

“Bienvenue au premier Sommet bilingue de l’équipe EdTechTeam. Bien que je ne parle pas souvent le français, je tenais à accueillir les francophones – en français!

Un des objectifs que je souligne souvent est celui d’être un apprenant la vie durant, et je tiens à modéliser cet idéal moi-même. Entre vous et moi, si Stephen Harper est capable, alors j’ai pensé que je devrais l’essayer moi aussi.”

Since I had taken French up until grade 12 (I don’t want to tell you how many years ago that was), I recognized some of the words.  Yet listening to Google Translate did not help.  So Lise and I connected the night before over a Google Hangout, and she listened to me speak, and spelled things phonetically for me.  Here is the text spelled phonetically that helped me say it in front of the audience:

“Bienvenue o prumyay Sommeh bee-lang de l’équipe EdTechTeam. Bien que je ne parle pas souvent le français, je teneh a adressay la paroll o frawn-co-fun preyzawn aujourd’hui!

Uh day zobjectif que je suelinge souvent eh suhlwee (celui) d’être uh napprenant la vee durant, ay je teneh a modaylizay set e-day-al (ideal) moi-maym. Entre vou zay moi, si Stephen Harper eh cap-pab-bla (capable), alors j’ai pensay que je devreh less-say-ay (l’essayer) moi aussi.”

Not all of it is phonetic, only the parts I struggled with.  Lise tailored the learning to me so that I was successful, but she did it with me on Google Hangouts.

Then the day arrives, and I am extremely nervous. I am introduced, go onto the stage, and say the first sentence. HUGE APPLAUSE!  That I was willing to try and do something that was meaningful to the audience meant everything!

Second sentence. HUGE APPLAUSE!

Third sentence. HUGE APPLAUSE!

Fourth sentence. Huge laughter?

I told a joke and they loved it!  I successfully told a joke in a second language.  I was buzzing the rest of the talk and I was humbled by receiving a standing ovation from the audience.  What an amazing feeling.

So from this experience, I either learned or relearned some important lessons.

1. Educators are extremely receptive to others learning. For those that are so nervous to try something new and “put themselves out there”, what I have learned over and over again, is that educators will support someone is going outside of their comfort zone.  Maybe that it is because they do this every day with their students, or that they empathize that they have felt that way themselves, educators are extremely understanding of someone trying something new.  I know my French was not perfect, but wow, did that audience make me feel like it was.

2. What is now easy for us, might be tough for others. Twitter, blogging, google docs, and other technologies are second nature for me, just like speaking French is for others.  I can easily get frustrated by someone who doesn’t get it, but I was reminded that I was once at the point where I didn’t understand any of these things.  All people arrive at different places at different times, so always show patience and gratitude for the effort.

3. The biggest power of technology is not the technology, but it is the people. I used Google Translate for everything and I thought it was awesome, only because I didn’t know any better.  When I connected with Lise through Google Docs, Hangouts, email, etc., she helped me more than any technology I could use, but it was through technology that I could get that help in the first place.  She spent hours helping me and we only met the day of the summit.  As many times as these things happen, it is always mind blowing.

4. When you find someone that believes in you, you start to believe in yourself. The first night I had a Google Hangout with Lise, I tried my French, and it was terrible. I knew it, and I said, “maybe you should get someone else.”. She said, “No, you are going to be amazing. Trust me.” I did. That made me go on and keep working and after the talk yesterday, I was buzzing. I would not have got there if she wouldn’t have shown that she believed in me. We (educators) need this as much as our students.

I just want to thank everyone in Ottawa for being so warm to someone who was nowhere near perfect, but tried.  It was an amazing feeling.  I especially want to thank Lise Galuga for reminding me how teachers, no matter who the student is, can always make a huge impact on the lives of others.

8 Characteristics of the Innovative Leader

“Why are we okay that management hasn’t seen innovation in a 100 or 50 years, but we demand innovation in every other aspect of our lives?” Jamie Notter

As we continue to look at teachers, students, and learning becoming more “innovative”, it is important that leadership changes.  As administrators often set the tone for their district or their building, if they are saying the same, it is not likely that things are going to change in the classroom.  Leadership needs to not only “think” different, but they need to “act” different.

For leaders to be effective in changing a school or an organization, they need to change themselves first.  It is way too easy to go a leadership conference and get ideas of things that you are going to do with your staff.  What is important is changing your own practice first.  So along the lines of what is happening within “pockets” of classrooms around the world, leaders must embody the characteristics that they seek.  As my good friend Jimmy Casas says, “what we model is what we get.”

So with that being said, here are some of the characteristics that I have seen in some of the most innovative leaders that I have encountered.

  1. Visionary – When I listen to some superintendents, the vision they share is inspiring and you can tell they see a new vision of school.  Yet what is important about these visionary leaders is that they can take this “powerful vision” and break it down to what it looks like in the classroom.  To create a culture of “innovation”, it takes small steps forward towards a greater vision, not a gigantic leap to the top of the summit.  Innovative leaders help people continuously grow with small steps that build both confidence and competence, so they are more willing to become more innovative themselves.
  2. Empathetic – Along the lines of design thinking, new ideas start with understanding the people they are created for.  When I first became a principal, I did not try to mirror the ideas of the principals before me, but I thought, “If I was a teacher in this school, what would I expect of my principal?”  That trickled down to trying to empathize with being a student in the school, and a parent in the community.  For example, as a teacher, I hated meetings that seemed to go nowhere and went too long.  So to respect the time of others, meetings became shorter and we spent more time learning, than we did on things that could have been simply emailed.  Is having a shorter meeting innovative? No.  But trying to put yourself in the place of those that you serve is where innovation begins.
  3. Models Learning – One of the superintendents that I have the great respect for is Chris Kennedy of West Vancouver.  He has shared his ideas that leaders need to be “elbows deep in learning with their schools”, and I think that is imperative to creating new and better ideas.  It is simple to fall into the trap of doing things that have always been done, or simply going with what you know.  This limits everyone.  If we want to do better things for students, we have to become the “guinea pigs” ourselves and immerse ourselves into new learning opportunities.  We rarely create something different until we experience something different.
  4. Open Risk Taker – This building upon the previous point.  The term “risk-taker” has become quite cliche in our work, as leaders often promote it, but rarely model it.  People are less likely to take risks in doing something different unless they see those above them in the hierarchical structure do the same thing.  If leaders want people to try new things, they have to openly show, that they are willing to do the same.
  5. Networked – Networks are imperative to growth and innovation.  It is easy to think you are doing something amazing when you are not looking beyond the walls of your school.  Great leaders have always created networks, but now this is not limited to face-to-face interactions.  It is also not as limited for those who live in rural areas.  Anyone willing to connect is now able to connect. It is simply a choice.  We can no longer be limited to the ideas in our own school. We need to connect with others outside and choose what works for our organization and remix it to be applicable.
  6. Observant – Great ideas often spark other great ideas.  Things like “Genius Hour” and “Innovation Week”, that have become synonymous with school, were probably sparked by seeing things outside of schools and modifying them to meet the needs of kids.  The power of the Internet is that we have access to so much information, not only from schools, but from outside organizations.  Although a business solution might not necessarily work “as is” for a school, if we learn to connect ideas and reshape them, it could become something pretty amazing.  What I am hoping to see one day is that although we can take great ideas from outside companies like Google, our practices in schools will become so innovative that people will look at borrowing from education.
  7. Team Builder – The least innovative organizations often seem to surround themselves with like-minded people.  Innovation often comes from conflict and disagreement, not in an adversarial way, but in a way that promotes divergent thinking. The idea is not to go with the idea of one person over another, but to actually create a better idea that is often in the middle of the two ideas shared.  If a leader is going to be innovative, surrounding yourself with people that mirror your personality is not the way to get there.
  8. Always Focused on Relationships – Innovation has become such a huge focus of schools, they we often forget that it is ultimately a human endeavour.  I don’t see a smartphone as something that is innovative, but it’s the thinking behind creating a smartphone where the innovation happens.  It is easy to lock yourself in an office, connect with people on Twitter, and appear from your room with some great idea or new thing.  The problem is that if you are want to become an “innovative leader” it is not only about you creating new and better ideas, but your staff.  If you have lost focus on the people in the building, new ideas might appear, but they might not be embraced.  Spending time with people and building solid relationships with them often leads to them going miles beyond what is expected and move away from “what has always been done”.  When people know they are valued and safe in trying new things, they are more likely to do something better.  This is at the core of an innovative school.

Ultimately, an innovative leader should try to create new ideas, but it is more important that they create a culture of innovation.  We often talk about empowering people and then getting out of their way, but what is often missed in the process is removing some of those barriers that they will encounter along the way.  This why it is so important to spend time in the classrooms, see what teaching and learning looks like, and then help to create a better tomorrow for our students and educators.  Again though, at the heart of innovation is people, not stuff.  If we always keep that at the forefront of our work, we are more likely to create an innovative culture.

Isolation Is the Enemy of Innovation

 

In my last post, I wrote about the transformational power that we have in our hands through technology, and how we need to look past the “tool” and the opportunities that we can provide.  On the post, Kelly Christopherson, who is as thoughtful of an educator that you will ever connect with, shared a great comment:

From personal experience of having a child with speech and learning disabilities, the story is with the person not the tools. It’s a lived experience over many years of growing, trying, failing and trying again, going beyond what anyone expected because of the incredible human spirit within a little girl that wouldn’t allow failure or setbacks to deter her. So, I get the message in the videos but it’s only a small piece of an incredible human story. It’s about the people and the continued desire to go on, the “never-give-up”. Yes, we need to foster an innovative mindset but it’s about the human element, not the tool. Unfortunately, if we only believe that teachers can be transformational now that they have tools, we’re selling short the transformational power of great teachers of the past. Sometimes, when we say that technology allows us to be transformational, we miss the incredible opportunity to see people as a whole with unlimited possibilities with or without the technology and enter transformational moments at any time. Great teachers see transformational moments and enter into those moments as learners with their students, technology aided or not…Kids have been doing inspiring things for a long time and inspiring others as they do. In order to do some of that, they will use the tools of their generation, the tools available to them, as it has always been.

I couldn’t agree more with Kelly’s comments (read them in their entirety).  Great teachers have been “innovators” long before any of the current technologies existed in our world.  It was always about doing something better with what was available, to help kids.  Kelly’s wisdom shows the importance of teaching in the future, but remembering the power of the past.

What I think is different now, and where the technology really gives us an opportunity to be more innovative than ever, is the ability to use the technology to connect with one another.  As Kelly stated, it is about “people”, but now we have the opportunity to go beyond the “stuff” and tap into one another, more so than ever.

For example. I remember growing up in a small town, and then teaching in a small rural area for the first part of my teaching career, I had some great mentor teachers, but was limited to their knowledge.  I often wonder if I looked to them for guidance, who did they have the opportunity to look to for themselves?  Large centres have always been seen as the “hubs” of innovation, not because of their access to stuff, but because of their access to one another.  Many teachers did not have that, where as now, it is easy to connect with people across the world.  I do truly believe that isolation is now a choice that educators makeand isolation is often the enemy of innovation.

So have teachers always been innovative? Absolutely.  In large groups though?  I am not sure of that.  Now, we have the chance to move away from “pockets” and move to a “culture” of innovation, but as Kelly reminded me, innovation is a human endeavour. Now though, we just have more of an opportunity to accelerate the opportunities for our kids.

We Need to See beyond The “Tool”

I have ensured that I never say, “Technology is just a tool”, because I know the power it can have when used in meaningful ways.  Don’t believe me? Watch as this boy hears for the first time and see how technology will transform his life from here on out.

Does technology seem like just a “tool” to the boy who spent his life with a stammer and then had a teacher give him an iPod that empowered him to speak in front of his classmates?  (By the way, he ended up getting his own show.)

Or just a tool to Martha Payne, the young blogger who raised “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to feed children in Malawi?

Or even the girl who had an author she admired comment on her blog without even trying?

Or so many other stories of people having incredible new opportunities that technology afforded them.

Yes, any technology is a “tool” if we are going to argue over semantics.  But I rarely hear people talking about referring a pencil or a pen as a “tool” because we know that the ability to read and write is transformational to lives.  But with new technologies, we can go a lot further than we have ever imagined.  That is why I have been so focused on the idea of the “Innovator’s Mindset” recently;  if we think differently about what these “tools” can afford our students, we can help them create opportunities that we could not have even imagined or had to access to when we were kids.

To create “different”, and ultimately “better”, we need to think different.

Sometimes I feel that when we say “technology is just a tool” as educators, we forget that our roles are much more than teaching a curriculum, but to not only help transform the lives of our students, but to help them create a better world.  I believe that we need to inspire our kids to do something better, and ultimately, what they do, will inspire right us back.  That takes a lot more than what any curriculum offers.  That is why I become a teacher.

Technology will never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of a great teacher can be transformational.  

There is so much more we can do now with and for our students; we need to embrace that.

 

 

What Our Fear Actually Inhibits

 

Sitting with a principal whom I have the utmost respect for, we talked about how she embraced technology now, which was quite different about how she was in the past.  What she said to me, really stuck out to me.  She told me that it was not that she didn’t see the value of technology, but that she didn’t understand it that well, so it was easy to dismiss it.  I was so appreciative of her honesty, but what I know of her, is that not one person was held back in her tenure as principal because of her fear of the unknown.  She is the type of principal that empowers her people and gets out of their way.  This is not always the case though.

Often we look at our own fear of what we don’t know, and realize deep down that it is often holding us back.  It is easy to dismiss many aspects of learning, but it is also easy to say something is “stupid” when you have never used it.  I used to say that about Twitter, about blogging, about mobile phones, and so on.  I know better now.  How could I make an adequate judgment of something that I had never used or tried?

Working with a student recently, he was telling me how he didn’t see how blogging would be helpful to him and that he saw it as a useless task.  I asked him if he had ever blogged, to which he said he hadn’t.  I then told him that I could give him a million reasons why it was awesome, but I asked him to give it a legitimate try for a month and then he could tell me what he really thought.  But I emphasized that he really had to try and give it a valiant effort.  He happily accepted and I look forward to hearing what he thinks after he jumps in. Blogging is not for everyone and he might hate it, but he will know from experience, not from simply dismissing the unknown.  We can learn a lot from this kid.

Here’s the thing…when we dismiss something because of our fear of the unknown as educators, we don’t just lose out ourselves, but those that we serve lose out as well.  Teachers impact students, principals impact teachers and students, and superintendents can impact everyone.  When our fear holds us back, it often holds others back as well.  Fear often has the power to kill innovation.

One of my favourite quotes on this topic is from Michael Jordan who says, “limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.” What I love about this quote is that limits and fears are used synonymously. Our fears limit us to do less, but in education,we are not the only ones that lose out.

4 Reasons People Don’t Blog and Ideas to Help Change Their Mind

A lot of work that I do is not only showing people how to do “stuff”, but more importantly, trying to help them embrace change. One of the most powerful ways to not only change the teaching profession as a whole, but also as individuals, is through the act of blogging.  One of my favourite articles on the topic of blogging is from Dean Shareski, which he shares how he believes blogging makes better teachers.

Thousands of other blogging educators could echo similar words. In fact, I’ve yet to hear anyone who has stuck with blogging suggest it’s been anything less than essential to their growth and improvement. I’ve no “data” to prove this but I’m willing to bet my golf clubs that teachers who blog are our best teachers. If you look at the promise ofProfessional Learning Communities that our schools have invested thousands, more likely millions to achieve, blogs accomplish much of the same things. The basic idea of the PLC is to have teachers share practice/data and work in teams to make improvements. A good blog does this and more. While the data may not be school specific, great bloggers know how to share data and experience that is both relevant and universal so any reader can contribute and create discussion.

Yet fear of the unknown is a powerful thing.  I have learned how hard it is to move people from a “known average” to an “unknown amazing” because of fear.  So for some of the arguments I have heard against the idea of blogging, I wanted to provide some of my counter-arguments on the topic.

 

1. Blogging is useless. – The thing with this argument is that I have rarely (if ever) heard this from someone who has consistently blogged on their teaching and learning for any amount of time.  As I was talking with a student the other day in a school who was about to start his own blog in class, he argued with me on the merits of the activity.  I asked him, “have you ever blogged?”, to which he replied “no”.  I challenged him to give it one month, and a legitimate try and then offer me his thoughts, to which he said, “I will.”  Even in Dean’s article, he uses the same argument:

So here’s my plan. Hire a teacher, give them a blog. Get them to subscribe to at least five other teachers in the district as well as five other great teachers from around the globe. Have their principal and a few central office people to subscribe to the blog and five other teachers as well. Require them to write at least once a week on their practice. Get conversations going right from the get go. Watch teachers get better.

Try that. If it doesn’t work after a year, you get my golf clubs.

PS. The only people allowed to criticize or challenge this idea are people who have blogged for at least one year and written at least 50 posts. The rest of you can ask questions but you can’t dismiss it.

It is easy to criticize something you have never done (all of us our guilty of this, including myself), but to me, a viewpoint is not truly valid unless you have experience.

2. I have no time. – We all have the same amount of time and it is not like those who blog have 26 hour days, compared to the rest of the population.  It is not about time, but more about priority.  If people see it as important, they will make time.

So one of the things that I try to focus on is the importance of blogging for not only reflection, but open reflection.  The art and practice of reflection can help make ourselves better educators and learners.  For us to truly help students, we need to be masters of learning before we can become master teachers.  Reflection helps in that process. But “open reflection” helps others and not only pushes our profession forward in a communications aspect, but also in making each other better.  Clive Thompson wrote a quote on how blogging makes us all smarter:

Having an audience can clarify thinking. It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.

This “audience” helps us to really think about what we write and go deeper in our learning.

But that being said, it is hard to find time in your day to start the practice.  What I focus on is helping educators not focus on doing everything that they are already doing plus blogging, but looking at doing something different.  For examples, many teachers use what is called DEAR Time (Drop Everything And Read), where students take a certain amount of time to read. Many teachers model the importance of reading during this time and take part in the practice.  Could you not change the “R” to represent the word “Reflect”?  If we had “Drop Everything And Reflect” time embedded in our week, could you not find the time to model the importance of reflection for your students by sharing what you have learned?

There are things that you are already doing (writing emails to others, putting things in word documents) that can be easily thrown onto a blog instead. Again, it is not about more as much as it is about different. Find what you are already doing in your practice, and think about how you can add that into a blog.

3. I’m a private person. – Blogging does not mean giving up privacy.  There are things in my life that I keep totally private in my life and don’t share on my blog and I choose what I am comfortable with.  You do not have to share your most personal secrets just because you have started a blog. Your level of comfort with sharing will change over time, whether you share less or more.  Every person is unique in what they are comfortable with sharing.

But it always freaks me out when teachers close their doors and don’t want anyone to see what is happening in their classrooms.  This does not mean that bad things are happening in the classroom, but sometimes the perception because of this practice paints a different picture then what is actually happening.  When we are taking care of other people’s kid throughout the day, I think that we have to try and find some comfort level in what we share.  I understand that this is a tough one for so many people (and understandably so) because it is easy to be criticized and have our words morphed online, but that being said, working with a generation of students where public is the “default” mode of practice, should we not put some of ourselves online to understand the importance of developing our own digital footprint?  Many teachers think that not sharing anything online will ensure they never have a footprint, but the only thing that is a certain as that they will never have a footprint that they create.  These are some of the realities of our world that we do have to help kids navigate as educators, and we should try to find a way to put some of ourselves online.

4. No one cares what I have to say. - Out of all of the arguments listed, this one bothers me the most.  First of all, if I was to ask the same teacher who uses this argument to not blog an interview question along the lines of, “what learning can you share with the rest of our staff that will help us become better as a school?”, I highly doubt their response would be “nothing”, and if it was that, I would struggle to hire them.  Yet too many educators, sharing feels like bragging, and modesty often trumps their comfort level in posting their teaching and learning online.

I get it.

But if we are really here to help kids, does it matter if they are in our grade, our school, our class, our world, or anywhere?  Whatever we share can help someone else, maybe not everyone else, but someone.  They may not take what we share exactly the way it is written, but if they turn it into something to help their kids, is that not worth it.  Just remember, if you impact only one teacher, you often impact at least 20 kids, if not a whole lot more.

One of my favourite videos on this topic is, “Obvious to You, Amazing to Others”, which has a great message on the impact we can have on one another:

Our impact on one another as teachers should never be underestimated.

 

I am not in the camp that says, “Everyone should __________”, with any tool or platform. People have different lives and situations, and I have learned to honour that.  Blogging may not be for you.  But for some, they are right on the cusp, and giving them an alternate viewpoint to the one thing holding them back might just change their mind.  I have learned a ton not only from my own blog, but from benefitting from others that have been willing to share their teaching and learning with me, and because of that, as Dean Shareski stated, I am better off for the willingness of others to share.

5 Critical Questions for the Innovative Educator

Technology is a crucial part of what is happening in the classroom, and whenever a new hardware or software comes out, educators are thinking, “How could we use this in the classroom?” Although we should have different ways and options to reach all students, we far too often start thinking about the “stuff” instead of what our students need. For learning to be “student-centred”, then our questions should often focus on the student experience in the classroom.

Here are some questions that can help us create new and better opportunities for our students in their learning:

1. Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?

In my experience teaching professional learning opportunities, one of the hardest audiences that we can teach are educators. They have truly high expectations of their own learning, not only because they create those same environments for their own classroom, but their time is limited. Educators always have things that they could be doing, so if the professional learning is not engaging and meaningful, we often start thinking about all of the other things that we could be doing with our time to help our students.

These high expectations are something we need to tap into for our students. If we asked this question and started to empathize with the experience our students have in the classroom, it would really help us think about learning from their point of view. For example, if worksheets were handed out in a professional learning opportunity, some teachers would be bored to tears, yet do we do the same thing to our students? That type of learning is not about what is better for kids, but what is easy for teachers. We have to try and think about the experience from our student’s perspective.

2. What is best for this student?

When I think about my experience in school, I had some amazing teachers, but I don’t know if I really understood the way that I learned most effectively. I remember later on in school and university, that I would write notes from my teacher and go over them later (which would never actually happen) not because that is what worked for me, but that is what every other student did. Again, this was more about the teacher than the student. It is important to not only think about the perspective from the class as a whole, but to know each student and what works for them.

How do they learn best? What are some ways that they can show their learning? For example, if a student is trying to share their understanding of any curriculum objective, is writing it down every time the only way they can show what they understand? Could they create a video, share a podcast, create a visual, or something else? There are different ways that kids can learn so it is important that we not only know that, but they know it as well.

3. What is this student’s passion?

When I was in school, I remember constantly being asked to read novel after novel, even though it was not something that I found interesting. I know it important that in school we are exposed to different things, but I was never once asked to read any non-fiction in school, even though that is what I was interested in most. It was near impossible to get me read to a novel, but at any point in a day, I would head off to the library and read every Sports Illustrated that I could get my hands on, cover-to-cover. This is something that should have been tapped into in my school experience.

Relationships are the foundation of every great school, so we need to learn more about our students and what they love, and tap into them, One of the best experiences that I have ever had in school as an educator was “Identity Day”, where kids would share things that they loved outside of school in a type of display or presentation. There was such an enthusiasm to share their interests, and it is important that from this knowledge, we help to create better experience for our students that taps into these passions.

4. What are some way that we can create a true learning community? 

I remember once hearing someone say, “Why is it that when kids leave school, they have a ton of energy, and teachers are tired? Why is not the other way around?” The reality is, we often create experiences that students become dependent upon the teacher for learning. What would be beneficial for not only our students and ourselves, is if we can have them tap into the expertise of one another, not just the teacher. Things such as blogging, edmodo, google apps, and using twitter hashtags in the classroom, help us to open our students learn from one another. We need to embrace the idea that everyone in our classroom is a teacher and a learner, and tap into this community, especially in a world where we can learn so much from networks.

5. How did this work for our students?

At the end of the year, I would always ask for feedback from my students on my teaching. This would really help improve my teaching for the next set of students, but did nothing for the kids that were in my classroom that year. Getting feedback often throughout the year, not just in the form of grades, but through conversations, both open and anonymous to ensure our students feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, helps us to reflect on how we are serving our students that in currently in the classroom. Reflection is a crucial part of becoming a better educator and learner, and should be a process that we embrace as teachers so that we can also see the benefits of reflection in learning for our students.

Again, to create new and better opportunities for our students, it is important that we empathize with the experience of our students and try to understand what it is like to be a learner in our classroom. Teachers need to be experts in learning first, before they can be truly effective teaching. Just because a pencil or a computer works for us in our learning, doesn’t mean that it works for each student. We have to remember that each kid is different and unique, and the more we know about them as learners, the better they will do. But it is also important that through this experience, it is not only teachers that understand how their students learn, but the students themselves. After their time with us, if they have a deep understanding of how they learn, they will be able to continuously grow after our time with them. That is a true measure of teacher effectiveness.

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.