Author Archives: George

More Than Just a “Phone”

“When should my child have a mobile device?”

I am asked this all of the time, and the reality is that there is no one right answer.  As long as kids are different from one another, we will have to figure it out as we go along the path.  Like many things in our world today, it is messy, leaving people with more questions than answers.

The one thing I do remind parents of is that this is not just about having a “phone”, but there are social implications that go along with it as well.  If you remember as a kid, going to a summer camp or meeting friends abroad, your excitement was so high at the time, and you would promise one another to stay connected and be friends forever.  Then you go your separate ways, and most people rarely connected after that.  Did you stop connecting because you grew apart or because the access wasn’t there?  We live in a world that kids will never have to stop talking to other kids they met at summer camp.  They will always be connected as long as they choose to be.

But sitting down and talking with a group of people today, we talked about our childhood and how different it was.  I remember growing up in a small town and we had a few students who were “bus kids”.  They lived on farms out of town, and always had to leave a little earlier than we did to catch the bus (everyone else walked or was able to get a ride), and once they left school, you didn’t talk to them until the next day.  All of my closest friends lived in town because honestly, it was easy to access them (and obviously there were great people!).  There were even a few kids that lived on farms that we could not call because their house was in the “long distance” zone.  It cost money to talk to them so it was rare your parents would actually let you call one another.  It wasn’t that these kids were not awesome people, we just didn’t have the same access, which made it hard to develop any strong friendships.  Maybe this was unique to my town or my situation, but I did think a lot about it in our conversation tonight.   I am sure those same kids had a different peer group, but honestly, I didn’t know much about it when I was in school.

So now when a large group of friends have mobile devices and constant access to one another, I wonder what the implications are for the few that don’t have this same access? Do they lose out on some relationships because they aren’t able to connect?

What I am not saying is that parents should go out and buy their kids mobile devices because they feel guilty that other kids have them. Not in the least.  It’s just that we need to really think about the idea that having a “phone” is more than just having a mobile device.  For many, it is there connection to others and if that is cut off, there could be more of an impact than just losing out on information.

(As I wrote this, I thought of this video that shows what “access” can create amongst kids.)

Why are you doing that again?

There was about 100 educators in front of me, and we were talking about challenging things that we are used to in schools.

I asked them, “How many of you like doing icebreaker activities during staff meetings?”

Three hands went up.

Out of 100.


Knowing ahead of time when I asked the question, that there were not be a jockeying for position because so many hands would be raised sharing their undying love for this practice that happens in so many schools, I then asked them, “so why do so many schools still do them?”

I remember Bruce Dixon once saying, “There is no profession in the world that you watch someone do your job for sixteen years before you do it.”  We have become so ingrained with certain thoughts and dispositions after years of experiencing something as a participant that we often just accept “what is”, as opposed to questioning it.  When teachers become principals, they often make time for that “ice breaker” activity because that was what they saw their former principals do.  If you didn’t like them as a teacher, why would you do this others when you become a principal?

Here’s the thing…You do not need to teach the way you were taught, and you certainly do not need to lead the way you were led.

Ask questions.

Think different.

Do not accept what has always been done is what you will always do.

The biggest barrier to change is often our own thinking. As individuals, we need to change that.

Yes, icebreakers might be good for people and teams because it pushes them out of their comfort zones, but for some people (myself included), it pushes them out of the room (or makes them start contemplating escape routes).

Is this the best way to build team and camaraderie in our buildings?

Are there other ways?

Have we even asked the question?

As mentioned in earlier posts, this is all about having the “innovator’s mindset”.  We need to start asking questions and looking at things with fresh eyes.  It is not only about thinking outside of the box, but thinking differently inside of it.

Should every educator be an “innovator”?

Having a conversation with an administrator, and talking about the notion of the “innovator’s mindset“, they asked me if I thought every educator should be an innovator.  I answered with one word.


When we went deeper into the conversation, and the comment was made that not every educator is good with technology.   Innovation doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with technology as the two words are not necessarily synonymous, although technology allows us to accelerate and amplify the process if used in purposeful ways.  It is about having a mindset towards continuously developing new and better ideas as outlined below.

Innovator's Mindset

This was obviously built on Carol Dweck‘s work regarding the “fixed and growth mindset”, but it goes further in the notion and is essential in our work with students every day.

For example, you are working with a student and you have learned several strategies that you use to help for reading, yet none of them work for the student.  Do you give up, or do you take what you know (or find out things that you don’t know)  and try to figure out a new way to help this student?  If we simply go with what we know right now, a lot of students will be left behind since there is no one solution that helps every kid.  If there was, we would all know it.

Or what about the administrator that may have budget constraints and work within a system that expects us to do more with less?  If we do not think of new ways that we can do things, then how will we ever move forward?  Innovation is not about “stuff” but more about a way of thinking.  We live in a complex world that needs us to not do just what we have done, but to look for new and better ways to solve problems to help those we serve.  These are the characteristics of the innovator’s mindset.  This way of thinking is by far the biggest game changer in education; it will never be a technology.

This is not about embracing failure, but doing whatever we can to help our students today become successful.  The other idea is that “innovation” is not something reserved for the select few in education, but is something that all levels of our organization, from students to superintendents, need to embrace.

When we look at ourselves in terms of having the “innovator’s mindset” and say “that’s not me”, not only do we sell ourselves short, but our kids.  We need to constantly ask the question, “what is best for this learner?” This is a question we all need to continuously ask in education.

What do you want leaders to do with technology? (Updated Visual)

I worked with Bill Ferriter, who created the visual  “What do you want kids to do with technology?” on this updated version of “What do you want leaders to do with technology?”, adapted from my previous post on this topic.

This morning, Bill sent me the updated graphic that he had created. Bill has a ton of great slides that he also shares with the world, so I was honoured that he would create this for myself and others. You can see his creation in the tweet below:

(You can all see Bill’s original post on Flickr.)

First of all, this is not about “administrators” but about leadership, which can come from any position.  Secondly, all of the items listed on the “better” side can be done without technology and are core elements of great leadership.  Technology though can both amplify and accelerate.

If we are thoughtful on why we use technology and the impact it can have on leadership, all of these things can happen a lot faster with technology than they could without.

The World We Can’t Ignore

The world we live in is messy.

Kids don’t necessarily have the same freedom to screw up that we once did, with the default mode of sharing that is innate in so many.  When I ask educators if they ever drank too much when they were in university or high school, the majority of hands always raise.

When I asked them how many posted it online, zero hands are raised.

We were so much smarter and more mature than the youth of today? Not even close.  The Internet and the ease of sharing that happens today,  did not exist.  Some of the same mistakes so many youth make today, we would have probably done the same if the opportunities were there.

Talking to students often, many of them talk about how unfair it is for them that are held to a much higher standard in many ways than we were as kids.  I agree, but I also remind them that they have opportunities and access to people that I could have not imagined when I was young.  I saw this amazing video of Kevin Durant, one of the best basketball players in the world, connecting with people on Twitter and playing flag football.

I have said often, access to all of the information in the world is pretty amazing, but what is more important, is that we have access to one another.

To be honest though, there are sometimes that I feel uncomfortable with the world that we live in now.  You hear a lot of stories of things happening online, such as how Facebook is cited in so many divorce cases, and I sometimes wonder if we are better off now than we were before. Technology can accelerate everything, both good and bad.  Sometimes the bad can be overwhelmingI get that.

What I do know is that no matter how overwhelming it can become, it is important that schools talk about this with our students and become a part of the conversation.  To ignore it is a disservice to our students.

The world, our world, is really messy and rather complicated.  Although there are so many similarities to kids now compared to when I grow up, there are a lot of differences as well.  Love it or hate, we can’t ignore the world we live in.

A great leader will know when to get out of the way, or help you along the way.

You have a great idea.

It has been brewing around in your head for days and days, and although it is something you have never tried before, you see it as something that could be great for your students.

You decide to bring it to your boss to make sure it is okay to try.

You are crushed when they say, “I don’t think that is going to work.”

Not only did you just hear “no” now, but you probably won’t even ask in the future.

Sometimes “no” is not only a conversation killer, but it can be a relationship killer.  It makes people feel that they aren’t trusted or that they are doing something wrong.  When people make an effort to go above and beyond, and we stop them before their first step, it creates a reluctance to even try something different again.

Great leaders don’t necessarily always say “yes”, but they rarely say no.  The best leaders I have ever had have said things like “go for it”, or “I think you have a great starting point, but have you thought about this?”  They work out ideas with you, or they let you fly on your own, supporting you any way they can along the way to be successful.

A great leader will know when to get out of the way, or help you along the way. They alternate accordingly between both spaces.

In a culture that promotes “innovation”, new ideas are not only welcomed, but they are encouraged.  It’s the only way as educators we will ever create something different.

Crowd Accelerated Innovation

Sitting with a group of administrators yesterday, discussing having a school hashtag, I asked the following;

What if every teacher tweeted one thing a day that they did in their classroom to a school hashtag, and they took five minutes out of their day to read each other’s tweets?  What impact would that have on learning and school culture?

As I thought about it, this seems simple yet could have a major impact.  Not only would we get a daily window into each other’s classrooms and accelerate learning, but this could accelerate relationships amongst staff, students, and community.  We would not only share our stories, but we would partake in short reflection every single day.

It reminded me of a quote from Chris Anderson:

Crowd Accelerated Innovation – a self-fuelling cycle of learning that could be as significant as  the invention of print.  But to tap its power, organizations will need to embrace radical openness.”

The tools are all there to make it happen, we just need the thinking and the action.  Could this simple thing make a big difference in culture and community?

Individualized and Personalized Learning

Listening to Dr. Yong Zhao recently at a conference, he talked about the idea of “”individualized” and “personalized” learning. This is how I understood the differences between the two:

“individualized” learning is having students go through different paths to get to the same end point.  How you get there is different, but the destination is the same.

“Personalized” learning is having students go through their own paths to whatever endpoint they desire.  How you take the path and where you end up is totally dependent upon the strengths and interests of the learner.

So which path should schools focus on?  Honestly, there should be both elements in the process of school as we know it.

Individualized learning only works if the learner has ownership on the way they get to a certain point.  Currently, we are tied to a curriculum, but the way we achieve objectives is open-ended.  For example, if a student needs to show their understanding of a science objective, aren’t there several ways that this can happen?  Podcasts, videos, written assignments, whatever, can all be suggestions that are made to the student, but as a teacher, I would always leave the option of “other ways that you see suitable to share your learning on this objective”.  This allowed for students to go above and beyond what I could think of on my own, and gave them autonomy on the process.

Personalized learning really taps into the passions of students.  Initiatives like “Genius Hour“, “Edcamps for Students“, “Innovation Week”, or “Identity Day” provide opportunities for students to really shine and share what they are interested in.  Although these activities should not be simply an “event”, it is important that we do implement them at some level with our students as a starting point in schools to show how powerful these opportunities are in the first place.

Both of these elements of “individualized” and “personalized” learning should be evident in the environments in our school, and our crucial to student success both during and after their time in school.

When a student leaves school, they should not only have a comprehension of what they have learned, but more importantly, how they learn.  Isn’t that what we are striving for?


5 Ideas for Conversations on Change

“Teachers don’t want to change.”

I hate this statement.

It does more to end a conversation than it does to start it.

It is a comment I have heard far too often, and honestly, believe less and less and seems to be a way of blaming others for lack of growth in an organization.  We only have a finite amount of time in our day, and because of this, simply saying something is better doesn’t mean others agree.  A lack of change in any organization is often more a reflection on leadership than any group of people, or an individual.  The ability to “sell” change and create systems and a culture where trying something different is not only encouraged, but applauded, needs to be something that people in traditional leadership positions needs to constantly focus on.  Learning is something that never stops or stays stagnate, and because of that, organizations must reflect that we are not only in the business of “people”, but also of being open to and leading change.  It is the only constant.

For example, I have heard many conversations from educators wanting to try something new is met with so much bureaucracy and hurdle-jumping, that it is not worth the effort at the end of the day to try something different.  It is almost as if many schools are blocking their own teachers from being great.  The role of people in leadership and support positions is not to control talent, but to unleash it.

So what about those that may still be resistant to change?  How do we work with them.  As I look back to my best leaders, these are some things that I have noticed in their work in helping people move forward as individuals.

1.  Start every conversation focused on “what is best for kids”.

This is Stephen Covey’s focus on “starting with the end in mind”, but it is imperative that the “end” is explicit to people in any conversation.  The majority of educators are there for children, and if a conversation starts with talking about helping children, it helps to keep our focus on the important work that we do.  If as a leader, we are not able to share why something is best for kids, why would or should anyone embrace it anyway?  Conversations in education always need to start from this point.

2.  Listen.

So many people are constantly trying to sell something to someone else, and our conversations can go off track very soon.  If you really want someone else to move forward, it should not start with what you think it is important, but trying to be empathetic of another person’s situation and ideas.  Once you really understand where they are coming from, you have a totally different starting point from when you started in the first place.  It is also imperative that you are able to implement their point of view in your conversations, not simply separate ideas into “what you think” versus “what I think”.  There are common grounds but we need to listen to one another to find them.

3. Focus on where they are, not where you want to be.

Years ago, I started to really think about helping move people from “their point A to their point B”.  If you are able to break something into measurable chunks instead of having a grand vision of where everyone needs to be, it shows that there is a focus more on process, than product, which has become more of an emphasis in our classrooms.  These smaller wins along the way lead to someone building confidence and competence along the way, which helps leads to success.  As much as there is talk about the importance of “embracing failure”, people want to be successful.  We just have to realize that success looks different for different people, and that if we start where someone is instead of focusing on where we think they should be, people are more likely to be successful.

4. Walk away with a plan moving forward.

There are lots of great conversations that end with no action planned.  This is often a huge loss and can be a waste of time in the long run.  At the end of conversations we should look at what we are going to do because of the time we spent together, and also talk about following up in the future.  Writing something down also makes it more likely to happen, because we become more accountable to what we have shared.  Walking away without a mutual plan can often lead to nothing changing long term as there are so many other things that can get in the way.  It is also crucial for “check-ins” throughout the process.  I have seen a lot of schools have “Professional Growth Plans” that are written at the beginning of the year and then discussed at the end of it.  If you only focused on looking at something twice a year, how successful do you think it will be?

5. Support.

Leaders do not only help others find a path to move forward, but they are in the trenches with them throughout the process.  Checking in and seeing how things are going is one aspect, but actually finding powerful resources for someone else, asking them follow-up questions, suggesting professional learning opportunities for them (and even going with them), or a myriad of other opportunities, are crucial in development.  Saying “do this” is not as powerful as saying “let’s do this together”. People are way more likely to be successful in the change process if they know someone has their back throughout it.

Change can be scary and honestly, stress inducing.  The more people know that we are in this work together and that it is all about supporting our students, the more likely individuals, and ultimately organizations, will be successful.

Innovation in Schools (Podcast)

I had the opportunity to talk about some of the things that are happening in classrooms in Alberta and around the world with a Calgary radio show.  It was really good conversation, and I appreciated the hosts really being curious about what is happening in schools today.  It was a great conversation and I was really excited to share some of my thoughts.  It also reminded me that we have these types of conversations with other educators all of the time, where we should have more of these conversations with our entire community.

Check out the podcast below.  I would love your thoughts.