I saw this video the other day and was extremely moved by it. Recently, I read a pamphlet that talked about only the negatives of kids meeting “strangers” online. As in this video, we have to shift our thinking that this is always a bad thing. How do we work with our kids to ensure they are safe, but to also create opportunities such as the one below?
I was honoured to have been asked to speak at the TedX BurnsvilleEd event in Minnesota recently. One thing that I have really tried to focus on lately is empowering voice; not simply students, but anyone involved in education who wants something better for students. The power of our stories is imperative in creating a new narrative towards a better future for our students, as I believe there are so many great things that are already happening in schools all over the world. If we want to make great learning viral, it is important that we share and share often.
Below is my talk from the recent event. Thanks for taking the time to watch.
I was a little surprised to see a tweet from someone talking about how we shouldn’t be talking about “being connected” with people anymore because everyone should just be doing it. I found it rather interesting as a great teacher would differentiate learning for students and understand that people are are different points in their journey, not simply say, “you should all get this by now”. It should be no different with educators. Differentiation is not just for kids, and if we treat people like that when we are in an administrative position, you will lose more people along the journey then you will gain. I understand the “push” that many people make, and have been guilty of doing this myself, but the support has to be there.
My mentor would say to me when I was frustrated with what I sometimes felt was a slow pace by others was, “not everyone is you”. Because something makes sense to me, it does not necessarily mean it is common practice for others.
Now I have been in keynotes where I have heard the same message over and over. So what can I learn from this? Well as someone who is in an administrator position, and especially someone who does keynotes myself, the “content” is only one part of what is happening in any presentation. I am a huge basketball fan and decided years ago that I wanted to become a referee. When that happened, the way I watched games changed. I wasn’t watching the games as much as I was watching the referees. My focus had shifted onto something different.
This was made abundantly apparent to me when I recently keynoted a conference in Vancouver and Chris Wejr, a good friend and colleague, noted that although he had seen me speak several times, he was more focused on what I did as opposed to what I said. There are great elements of teaching and leadership in many keynotes/talks/presentations, and if you think that you know all of the content being presented, you need to shift your focus. You can learn from the great speakers as well as the bad ones.
For example, I remember seeing a keynote at a conference who started off with saying something that was totally lost on the audience and was a great way to show he was smart, but he made the audience feel dumb. He lost them immediately. Because of that, I really try to focus on taking something complex and making it simple so that is relatable to people, especially in larger settings.
Now for the great lessons that I have learned from others watching them speak.
My brother Alec, who helped me get into speaking, showed me the power of visuals and media to supplement ideas in a talk and was a great way to engage the audience
Dean Shareski taught me that is important to empower the audience to do something great, not for them to feel lesser in their work.
Jenny Magiera showed me that laughter and learning go hand-in-hand and it is way easier to connect people t with an idea when they are smiling.
Adam Bellow showed me to honour and value the people sitting in front of you and although you can share a similar message, it is important to show that you are focused on that audience.
Will Richardson continuously teaches me to ask tough questions, and to push people to think deeply about their work.
I honestly could not tell you much about their content, because in reality, I feel the people that I have listed talk about many similar things. That being said, all of those lessons can apply to any position, whether you are a speaker, principal, or teacher, or a combination of any of those. There is a lot to be learned even when sometimes we act like we have seen this all before.
Tomorrow I am speaking at Marin County, which is the same place that I found out my dad died. Because I had turned off my phone that day, I had found out through my brother via google chat. I remember looking at my computer, seeing the message, then closing it and walking away. I had no idea what to do. I went to Mary Jane Burke, a person I had met only once, but knew that had the biggest heart ever, and told her. She dropped everything, took me to a room, and made sure that I was able to call my mom. Obviously I was not going to finish my day, and I remember Mary Jane saying, “we really want you to come back some day and speak to us”, so here I am.
It has been a week that I have been needing to happen. That week, I was in the middle of a “vacation”, and had to cut it short (obviously) because of the passing of my father. I decided to come here early, and just be. I don’t want to term it that I needed “closure”, but I guess I just kind of wanted to be here with the thoughts of my dad.
I remember specifically being driven to my hotel (they would not allow me to drive) after the news, and going over the Golden Gate Bridge. As we drove over, I could feel my dad there and not there at the same time. I have no idea how to explain it, but that bridge will always remind me of him. I can see it in a movie and be brought to tears. I took yesterday to spend some time on my own, and on the advice of a good friend, grabbed a bike, and headed out to the bridge. I wanted some time with my dad. As I biked up those steep hills, I got to this point at the top, and no one else was around. Then I saw the sun shine in a way that I had never seen it before. I snapped this picture.
I could feel my dad there, and for some reason, I felt not only the presence of my dad, but that he was proud of me. I am not one for stopping and admiring things, but that moment I was frozen and I took it all in. Again, these are things that I can’t explain, but it was just my feeling at the time. I needed to feel that.
There was one other thing that I distinctly remember that day.
Mary Jane came into the office where I was talking to my mom, visibly upset, and she placed a rock on the table that was in the shape of the heart. Honestly, at the time, I thought it was just weird and made no sense, and to this day, it still doesn’t make sense. To not come off as being rude, I took the rock and kept it with me on the ride home. To say I am fidgety would be an understatement, and while driving home, that rock was in my hands and I constantly rubbed it between my thumb and fingers in my right hand. When I saw my dad for the first time after he passed, I did the same thing, and again during his funeral. I had amazing support from family and friends during that time, but that little rock, that made no sense to me, calmed me and made me feel at ease. I took a picture of it and the sight of it can put me into tears, but in a good way. It will always remind me of my dad and that little thing, that made no sense, has helped me more than I could have ever imagined.
Here are some questions that I have been pondering lately in thinking about great organizations and administration.
What if we believed that everything that we had to make great schools was already within our organization and we just need to develop and share it?
What if schools always focused on the notion that we should all be “learners” as opposed to “students”?
What if we did not only promote “risk-taking” to our staff and students, but modelled it openly as administrators?
What if we hired people that did not look at teaching as a “career” but a “passion”?
What if we wanted everyone to pursue their dreams in our organization, not only our students?
What if we focused on connecting and learning both globally and locally?
What if people were always our first focus as opposed to “stuff”?
If these questions were a focus, what do you think schools would look like?
What are your “what if’s”?
If I was to ask a question of an educator and they didn’t know the answer, the tendency would be to google it, or for some, to send out a tweet and ask the question. If they find the answer, they would be considered resourceful.
If I was to ask a student a question on an exam, and they did those same things, they would be considered a cheater.
There is something wrong with this picture.
I have started to believe a few things on the use of mobile devices and their relation to learning, even when it comes to exams.
1. If I can google the answer to the exam, the question is probably too simple and not that good in the first place.
2. Finding the information does not show learning; it is what you do with the information that really shows a deep understanding.
3. We have done “open book” exams for a long time, and this is the “new open book”, it just happens to have people as part of the book.
A couple of questions that have sprung from my own thoughts…
In a world where we are promoting collaboration skills, both online and offline, why is displaying this same ability with the use of mobile devices considered a bad thing?
Do exams have the same validity now as a project or capstone project if we are looking at students developing deep understanding and critical thinking skills?
What do you think?
From several conversations, one of the biggest reasons that many people say that they have nothing “new” to share with an audience. This fear is often confirmed when you hear people say things such as, “Reading blogs is like reading the same thing over and over again.” Pretty tough to jump in when you hear comments like this and the fear of lacking originality is a big deal.
The reality is though, the more connected someone is, the less likely they are to see many new ideas. It is rare that I see any speaker and I haven’t already read their material, looked up their work, and know their message before they deliver it. As a speaker myself, if you read my blog, you probably have a good idea of what I am going to talk about. What I do know is that the majority of people that watch me speak have never read my blog. Whatever I am sharing to the majority of the audience is something that they may not have heard before, or maybe, I am presenting in my own unique way.
One of my biggest struggles with being connected is seeing something that is “amazing” one day, that dominates the sharing online, yet a week later, that same piece is just lost in the shuffle. There are a lot of articles that I bookmark and refer to often and have shared several times, sometimes including my own.
My rationale? What is old to you might be new to someone else.
For example, I just met someone the other day that talked about doing “Identity Day” and how they fell upon this idea only recently. This is something that I had shared almost four years ago but they are only seeing for the first time. The other component that I found interesting? Although I shared this work from our school where it was an “original” idea (I think…I mean it is REALLY hard to have an original idea) from my assistant principal, yet they referenced being inspired by Chris Wejr sharing the idea from the work that he has done at his school.
Now some people would be bothered by this, but I honestly could care less. Chris has always referenced that he got the idea from my former school in his posts but not everyone remembers that in reading his post. Ultimately, if your school is doing this day and it helps your kids, why wouldn’t I want it to be shared? Identity Day was one of, if not the most powerful day I have ever seen with students. I am glad that others are sharing it.
So a couple of things to think about it…
The chance of your work being “original” to everyone, in many cases, is “slim to nil”. But the chance that your work is original to someone is extremely high. There are more people connecting everyday which means there is always a new audience. I am not encouraging that you steal other people’s ideas and use them as your own, but rather crediting where you got the idea from, and sharing it with others. This is part of the “remix” culture that we live in and have to embrace as educators. Sometimes the best ideas at one school, need some tweaking for another. Each iteration of an idea opens opportunities for others.
The other thing is that writing should always start with your own reflection in mind. I use blogging as a way to work through my ideas and knowing that I am reflecting openly pushes me to really clarify. I rarely, if ever, write the exact idea that I started with. The process of writing helps me to connect my ideas and bring them to life.
To all of the people that complain that there are new original ideas out there on Twitter or in the blogosphere, just remember that once those ideas were once totally new to you while old to someone else. And those same “old ideas” probably sparked you to action then, as they might spark someone to action now.
As I was sitting in a workshop, the presenter referenced a Seth Godin blog post.
My instinct? Google the post, read the link, and tweet it out and share it with others.
The instinct of the person beside me? Write down the link in a notebook, and (perhaps) go look at it later.
My mind was blown by the process and it made me do a lot of thinking.
First of all, how do we get kids to explore their own learning in deeper ways if they don’t have access to all of the information the Internet provides. That being said, it also made me think about is it better to have that immediate access?
When I brought this up in my workshop, I asked one person that was writing notes in her notebook on what she was going to do with them. She looked at me as if she was “caught” and said, “probably nothing.” I, like so many others, have done that exact same thing. Write down a ton of stuff that a presenter says in a book, only to never look at it again. Do our kids often do the same?
What I challenged the group to do was to create or openly reflect on what they have learned. I think that I would rather have someone listen to me for 20 minutes and write a blog post about what they learned then to simply listen to me an hour, write it down in a notebook, and never do anything with it. I think content is important, but it is what you do with that content that really leads to learning.
So why openly reflect? If I had a 100 people in a room, that all did this, and they just chose to read posts from five others, how much would their own learning improve? What other ideas would it lead to? I think a ton.
Ultimately this has nothing to do with whether I had easy access to the post (although it did help tremendously), but what I do with what I write down. Does it matter if I started in a notebook? Probably not, but the access to so many opportunities to create something and connect learning does have advantages.
What do you think?
It has been almost one week since I spoke at #Edscape in New Jersey, and it was a tremendous honour to have that opportunity. Not only because I was able to connect with amazing educators in the area, but because I was asked by my friend Eric Sheninger. Eric speaks around the world, inspiring people all over, has written books, and is one of the most known educators in social media. For him to ask me, was a great honour.
But what was fantastic about the experience for me was, as it is always, the opportunity to learn from so many other educators, and to be able to spend time with Eric. There is so much that we learn from informal conversations, and to be able to have three days with Eric, both professionally and personally, I learned that he is the real deal.
Here are some of the things that I was most impressed with.
The first night I connected with Eric, he took me to a restaurant in the community near to the school and it was fantastic to see how close he was with people in his community. The owner of the restaurant came over and talked about how Eric always brought them opportunities to the school, and in return, the restaurant put money back into the events that were happening. It isn’t one taking from the other, but mutual support.
The focus on community continued as Eric took me to his school’s football game late on a Friday night. This had nothing to do with me being in the area. In fact, Eric gave me one choice about what to do that night; go to the school’s football game. This is vital to his work.
As you go into Eric’s school, you see a VERY old facility (I think he told me it opened in 1929), that has a lot of desks and looks nothing like some of the innovative spaces that I have seen in my time. In fact, some of the spaces seem so old that it was criticized by someone on Twitter about the 20th century space. The thing is, while so many administrators focus their funds and efforts on redesigning classrooms spaces and bringing in all of these other amazing elements in the classroom, Eric has put money and time into people.
Unfortunately in education, we sometimes have to make some tough choices, but the best answer is always put time and money into people. The other things we can get later, but if people do not understand why or how to use these things, it doesn’t matter. We need to create such a deep understanding of the opportunities that technology and innovative school design create for students that we create a need for these things in the classroom. This is what Eric focuses on.
What I loved about #Edscape was that it was exactly what the people there needed. It was not necessarily the same types of conversations that happen at Educon (which is another amazing conference), but it is what the people are interested in that are at the conference. Many people that attended are just jumping into using technology in their classroom and are shifting their thinking about what they are doing as teachers and learners, and the feedback from their experience was fantastic.
The vision of the conference, created by Eric and his staff, was to start with where people are, but to push them to their next level. The best leaders have a larger vision, but they break it down into smaller steps so people develop confidence and understanding along the way. That is what happened in the sessions at Edscape.
As all leaders, Eric focuses on relationships first, and builds from there. Seeing the growth and development of his school, you see how vital this is to growth. But what I also loved about Eric is that he knows there is still a lot of work to be done, and that the best organizations continuously grow and learn. The best leaders celebrate their accomplishments, but build off of them. As soon as you spend too much time patting yourself on the back, you find that you become Blockbuster. Eric was proud of where his staff and students have come, but also has a vision of where they can still go.
I learned a lot from my time with Eric and I hope I have been able to share a few of those “nuggets” with others.
The big take-aways from spending time with Eric:
1. Focus on relationships and building community.
2. Change can happen in “old” environments if you focus on changing mindsets and developing educators as learners first.
3. Start with people where they are at, but help them get to their next level, wherever that may be.
Thanks to Eric and his school community for putting on a great conference and leading by example!