Author Archives: George

It’s not about the technology…or is it?

One thing that I believe in deeply in my work is that we should always focus on relationships and learning, before technology, and if technology can’t enhance those things, it is a very tough “sell” to educators.  The focus, although on relationships and learning first, is also on the use of technology.  They are not separate.

Yet I have seen people say that it’s not about “technology”, it’s about “pedagogy”.  In fact, I had this conversation with Brian Aspinall on Twitter recently which sparked this thought. This statement could easily be taken as separating the two ideas of “pedagogy” and “technology”, and can sometimes provide an easy “out” for many educators who see the use of technology as irrelevant in their classrooms.  If it about “pedagogy” and NOT “technology”, then why would I ever have to use it?  I will have to be honest; there are a lot of classrooms that I walk into that have very little use of technology with students in their learning, other than the occasional visit to the computer lab.  Sometimes when the statement is made, “it is not about technology, it is about pedagogy”, you then hear the roars of approval, and off we go on our merry way with nothing changing for many students.

In reality sometimes it is about the technology, and the opportunities that it provides that were not there before for a student.  For example, teaching students how to code is something that is really hard to do without the technology, yet this is not happening with the masses in schools, and it would be extremely hard to learn it in an effective manner with 40 minutes a week in a computer lab.  Is it happening in some classrooms? Absolutely. Is it happening more every day? Absolutely.  Is it happening enough?  I am not sure it is.

I have been reluctant to say things like “technology is just a tool”, because again, the statement often provides an out. If you do not see it as transformative, then why use it?  A video that I have shown to show how technology is more than a tool and can be “transformational”, is this video of this young boy getting his first hearing aid. You can literally see the second the boy’s life changes:

When you look at Lachlan in that video, you can see that as soon as he has the “hearing aid”, a light goes on in his eyes.  I will have to admit,  that there are a lot of students in school who have lost that light.  This is no different from when I was in school, but there are more ways to create that “light” in the eyes of kids because of the use of technology in some cases.  It is about what they need, not what we are comfortable with.

So yes, it is about the learning, but it is also about the technology and the opportunities that it provides us.  They are no longer separate.

If you have the choice, shouldn’t they?

As someone who often leads professional learning opportunities, it is always interesting to try to take notice of the little things that are happening in the room, and then some of the comments that are made regarding student learning and learning environments.

Lately I have noticed the variance of devices and tools that are used by adults in the room.  Although most people are working on either laptops, tablets, or smaller mobile devices (or often a combination of two to three of those things), you will still see several people using a notebook and pencil/pen.  A lot of times, it is not that they aren’t comfortable with using a device, they just prefer a pencil.  Sometimes I will talk with them in front of the larger group, and ask them if they think that I have a problem with them using a pencil, while promoting the use of digital tools?  They often look stunned that I would ask, but realize that I have no issue with what they decide to use.  What I do say though is that I would have an issue with them saying that a student could not use a device that worked for them.  It is not only about having access to a tool, but the choice that is allowed in the first place.

Sometimes a student will choose a pencil and sometimes they would prefer a mobile device, but do we allow them the same choice that we would want afforded to us? Yes, some students will totally be off task from what is happening in the classroom, but so are many adults, whether they are “engaged” or not.  It is not about making blanket rules, but seeing these opportunities as teachable moments, or understanding that all of our brains need a break.

Taking a kid’s pencil away because they used it in an inappropriate way rarely happens because many teachers see it as an inconvenience to themselves. When will we see taking mobile technology away from our students in the same light?

So even if students have the choice, do they have the option?  Schools out there will talk about how they have access to a few desktops in the classroom, or are able to bring in carts, but not necessarily using a BYOD model because they are worried about the inequity that it would bring.  What we need to do is aim for equity at the highest level instead of the lowest.  If you have several students in your classrooms that do not have access to their own technology on a consistent basis, how do you rethink your budget to provide something the have constant access to?  It will not be by replenishing your “computer lab”, but perhaps thinking differently about how that room could be used and how we could ended up getting more devices in the hands of more students.

One of the schools that I worked with in the past year decided to make their old computer lab into a “Starbucks” room that had different levels of seating and was much more of a welcoming learning environment than what the computer lab had been in years prior.  Not only did they go with mobile technology that could be at the point of instruction, they also created an environment that teachers in the school wanted to recreate in their own classrooms.  If you experience something better, you are more likely to implement something better.  This is what that school wanted to create in the “Starbucks” room.

What many schools have now and what many schools want are very different.  This is where the “innovator’s mindset” is crucial.  Expecting to do everything that you used to do in schools and now adding laptops or tablets is not a viable option.  It is not about doing more, but thinking different.  What is crucial though is thinking about how we, as adults, would hate not having the choice of what tools we use for learning, and thinking about how we can create those same opportunities for our students.  Is it okay in our world now for a student to only realize they love using a tablet for their learning once they leave school?  Schools need to not only help students learn, but also help them realize how they learn best.  That will make a much larger impact long past their time in our system.

It’s not always about the decision, but often about how the decision was made.

If you have read this blog before, you have known that I am repetitive on the notion that innovation starts with the question, “what is best for kids?”  We have to do our best to make this a focal point in our decision making, and although it seems redundant to say it so often, sometimes it is forgotten about in our work.

Many schools are pushing new technologies in their schools/districts, to really try to focus on helping students become successful in our world today.  The idea of moving forward, is important, and I think more now than ever, schools are trying to put the tools in place to support staff and students.  Yet I have noticed resistance in the “tools” that are being implemented, since the decisions are made are often from a “top-down” approach, as opposed to a focusing on a servant leadership perspective.

A colleague shared a story with me about two competing technologies that were discussed at a conference in sessions that followed each other.  One of the observations that he made in attending both sessions was that in one room, it was mostly IT department staff, and in the other session, it was mostly educators.  The disconnect between what educators want, and what is actually implemented, happens far too often in schools.

For example, having a suite of tools that central office suggests will be great for teachers, with little or no input from teachers and students is a top down approach that often irritates many educators, no matter how great the “suite” may be.  Learning should always be the primary focus, and then you figure out what technology would support that, not the other way around. You will never make all people happy, but not trying to make as many people as comfortable and empowered in the process as possible with decisions that directly impact teaching and learning, is not a good approach.

Consensus is not always necessary the answer, but a collaborative approach should be the standard.  It is especially hard to ask teachers that work with technology the most or serve in the professional learning of other educators to “champion” tools that they dislike or don’t believe in themselves, especially if they have had no input.  If you can’t get your “champions” excited, good luck with the reluctant learner. (By the way, if you ask for input, get it, and go the same way you were going to go in the first place, don’t waste the time of others.)

The best IT departments that I have worked with focus on questions that directly impact teaching and learning, and find answers in conjunctions with those on the “front lines” working directly with students. The model exudes servant leadership as they start with an empathetic mindset that helps to figure out what will make an impact on learning.  Our IT departments are experts and crucial leaders in creating better environments for our learners, yet is there a focus on implementing with a “top-down approach” or a “bottom up” mindset?  The best leaders remove barriers and unleash talent, not try to control it. The “decision” is often not the issue, but more often, it is the approach in how the “decision” was made.

Leadership is a tough position, where you will always disappoint someone, and sometimes tough decisions need to be made.  But if leaders aren’t open to listening, we often lose the people who would have been our biggest advocates.  As a leader, it is not about “your decision” or “my decision”, it is about making the “best decision”, and the more we know and the more we listen, the more likely we this will happen.

The Power of a Good Lecture

I often think a lot about professional learning, and this week’s #EDUin30 question is asking about what that could look like (here is the response to the question).  Although I have not received any responses as of yet, a lot people will talk about things like EdCamp, MakerSpaces, TeachMeet, and other ideas for really pushing professional learning.  I even wrote about the topic in my posts regarding 8 Things to Look for in Today’s Professional Learningand honestly, “lecture” never made the cut.

So why has “lecture” become a bad word in education today?

Personally, I love a good lecture.  If it evokes story and brings out emotion, I feel that it can not only connect with me in that moment, but for a long time after.  My favourite professor in university (by far), was someone who actually probably didn’t know my name, and never set up any learning experiences that you often hear about in education today, yet I learned so much from him because of the way he told stories.  Although his subject was 20th century history, he connected so much of his own life to the things that he discussed.  It prompted me to major in history, and I still have a love of the topic today.  It was because of that professor who lectured.

I have heard the quote, “the person who is doing the talking, is usually doing the learning”, yet think of how untrue it is in the situation of that professor.  He knew his stuff already, and I didn’t, yet I would write no notes, but think about what he had said for days after.  That being said, I also remember many professors in the area of history who lectured and bored me to tears.  They shared facts, but didn’t tell stories, which elicited no emotion from myself.  I didn’t feel something, I was less likely to learn.  I remember seeing one keynote who within the first few minutes of their talk encouraged people to discuss with someone beside them a certain topic, and I remember thinking,  “I just want to hear a good story and listen to someone who helps me make a connection.”  Should I feel bad that I didn’t want to dive into my “own” learning at this time and just want to be inspired by learning something new?

My own feelings on this topic, might not be true for everyone.  Some might feel that hearing a story just doesn’t connect with them in any way.  But I will also tell you, that the “maker spaces” I have seen do not connect with myself either.  This doesn’t mean I don’t believe they are powerful learning opportunities for others, but it just reminds me that learning is a very personal thing, and for us to say something is “bad”, might only mean that we don’t see the relevance for learning in our own situations.

Anything done too much, will lose it’s impact.  This could be true of any type of learning.  Variety is powerful, but what works for you, doesn’t mean it works for someone else and we have to remember that sitting and hearing a great story, can make a huge impact on learning.  A great lecture is like an art form, and making a personal connection to content, helps others do the same for themselves.

“Telling someone about your experience breathes new life into it, moving it out of the inchoate swirl of unconsciousness into reality. It takes on form and allows us to examine it from all angles.” - Mandy Aftel

There is still some value in a great lecture and a powerful story.  Let’s not forget about that.

The Words on the Walls

As I walked into a school, I noticed a sign that something similar to, “For the safety of the school, please stop at the office to sign in.”  Immediately, I felt a tinge of anxiety as I wondered if something was there that would make the building unsafe, and I wondered if the students had ever felt the same.  Maybe most of them weren’t worried, but the sign shouldn’t evoke a feeling of the school being “unsafe”.

I remember listening to Martin Brokenleg earlier this year and he had mentioned this exact idea.  He said to think about the tone we set in the building when we have signs like this, compared to a message of, “We would love all visitors to come to the office so we can welcome you upon your arrival.”  The message was the same, but the difference in words sets a totally different tone once you enter the building.

There are so many little things around our building that we don’t notice and hence the importance of trying to look at things with fresh eyes. We encourage risk taking, yet I have seen signs in schools about the importance of not making mistakes.  Risk taking often comes with mistakes, so which one is it?  Saying something once in awhile is sometimes not as powerful as words on the wall that are there all of the time.

Do the words on the walls encourage a welcoming environment, a sense of community, and  opportunities for innovation? Or do they create a cold environment, that sometimes could pressure a fear of making mistakes, or sometimes even for one’s safety?  Ask your students, ask your community, and ask yourself.  What do the words on the walls tell you about the environment that you are trying to create?

P.S. If the words on the walls create a warm and welcoming environment, but your actions don’t, those words don’t matter either.  It is important to align the two.

Have a bad boss? Ask them for their advice.

I received an interesting question in a workshop the other day that I have heard before, but had never written down.  The question was based on working with an administrator that maybe isn’t the strongest, and how you work with them from a position lower on a traditional hierarchy.  I will have to admit that this isn’t the first time that I have heard this question, and I gave them the best advice I could.  Ask them for help.

So why would you want to ask someone who may be weak at their job or struggle for their advice?

For the same reason that many of us thrive under; the notion of being valued.  Asking someone for their advice in a situation or their help, suggests that you actually value what they have to say and are willing to take the time to listen to them.  This is something that is important and a way that most of us should feel, especially in a culture where we suggest that everyone is a teacher, and everyone is a learner.

Having spent time being a principal myself, I will openly admit that I had some really tough days on the job, and it is a lot harder to be in that position when you don’t feel valued.  But to me, the need of feeling valued is something that we should try to instil in people, no matter their position or authority.  One of the best things that I see in great leaders (from any position), is that when you see them talking to anyone, no matter if they are “above” or “below” them in the hierarchy of an organization, is that they treat everyone with respect and care.  Bosses need this as well, and when they frustrate us, it is easy to lose perspective.  Everyone wants to be acknowledged and seen for their strengths; that never changes no matter what position you may have.

There are a lot of bad bosses who know they are not doing the best job possible, and sometimes showing that value in them could be the push in the right direction that they need.  It may not always work, but I know that showing that you value someone is usually a safe bet.

 

The People You See Every Single Day

It is easy to connect with people on Twitter.  Many of them people that I have made connections with share a lot of the stuff that I love, and really push my thinking.  There is a real power in that.

And then you go back to your school and sometimes you might feel like no one gets you or wants the same things that you want in education or think differently about the notion of “what’s best for kids.”

But are we sometimes the cause for the disconnect?

It is easy to connect with people on Twitter that you don’t talk to and see everyday.  The relationships in your school though take a lot more work, as does any relationship that you see people every single day. We have to keep asking questions and engaging in conversations.  The worst thing we can do is just say the people we work with don’t get it and give up.  If we are not willing to do it, “they” are not the problem.

I saw something once that said the word “love” is not a noun, but a verb.  It is an action and it takes work to make happen in our world.  It is not just something that exists because we say or hope it does.

You Don’t Have to Do it All

Voxer is something that is being brought up over and over again as a great way to collaborate with people all over the world and have deeper conversations.  I love reading posts like this one on “How School Leaders are Collaborating Over Voxer“, which I tweeted out last week.  What I noticed immediately was both people jumping in on how they use it, while also talking about wanting to explore it more.

What was my reaction? I shut it down.

When one of the people shared how they used it to listen to conversations on their way to work in the car, and I immediately felt overwhelmed with that thought.  My morning drive is filled with listening to music, or podcasts about ANYTHING other than education.  I have realized how I need that more than anything lately.

Here are two pictures that push my thinking.

The following is an image of a bunch of people at a concert that I took several years ago who are creating and sharing content to others all around the world.

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People look at this picture and many will say how kids are not “living in the moment”, or they are so connected to their devices that they are missing out on life.

Then I show this picture:

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Two points that I make here…the people in the second picture are actually not talking to anybody, where in the first picture, they are connecting with people, but it just looks different from what we have been accustomed to as adults.  The second point, which to me is more crucial, is how is that I am not really in a place to judge.  I look back at my time listening to music, reading a book, or going to the gym, and I actually love the solitude.  In fact, sitting in a coffee shop, listening to music and writing this post, is not only something that gives me the opportunity to reflect, but it also has some therapeutic aspects in the way it allows me to release my thoughts.  What is important is that I find what works for me and sometimes a personal learning network pushes people towards “group think”, where I need to find what works for me to become successful, at different points of the day.  That self-assessment and reflection is critical to people in our world today.

Do you have to do the same thing and ignore something like Voxer? Not at all.  The point of the “personal” in “personal learning network”, is that you make it what you want.  There are definite advantages of being on Voxer (this article talks about the power of podcasts for your brain, which many people have started using Voxer for), but as I see it, there are advantages of not being on it for myself as well.  Ignoring it at this point is what works for me.  Do I see educational uses of Vine? Absolutely.  But I also see it as a way to check out and watch ridiculous videos that are there for me to not think.  I need that and although I am extremely interested in the medium, I am trying to stop trying to “edufy” every social media site I see.  The appeal for social media in many cases was to have fun and sometimes I think that it is easy for myself to lose that initial idea and appeal that drew me to things like Facebook in the first place.

What I believe is that it is important to be in spaces that you can connect with other educators and grow as a teacher and a learner, but those spaces and the use of them, is up to the person. If you hang around in those different spaces, the best stuff will find you.  I have no doubt about that. But one of the NCTE 21st Century Literacies is to, “Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information”, and I wonder if sometimes “managing” them is by choosing not to be on them in the first place?

There is a lot of great information out there in the world, but in a world where we need to focus more and more on developing the “whole child”, if our entire life revolves around education all of the time, I am not sure we are modelling “appropriate use” ourselves.  Not using something is also part of the appropriate use as we move forward.  There will always be something “awesome”, but to try to use everything is not possible or helpful in the long term.

The Opportunity To Further Bring Parents Into the Learning

My friend, Mark Renaud, took this short video of me speaking about the opportunity that social media has given to us to change the conversation at home between child and parent.

If social media is used in a thoughtful way to make learning visible, the hope is to change the conversation from “What did you learn today””, followed by the usual “nothing”, to something much more powerful.

Thanks to Mark for sharing this!

Similar but different?

As I was walking through several schools today, I noticed objectives and goals that could have been the same when I went to school. How we get there today and what they mean, may be different, especially as we learn more about pedagogy, but also connect learning and opportunities to the changes that have happened/are happening in our world.

Here are some questions that I have that are pushing my thinking.

If we promote students learning in a “safe” environment, do we mean only in school or in learning?  Does ignoring technology in a world where we learn so much from “strangers” keep our kids truly safe?

If we want students to be literate, what does that look like today in schools?  How does it go beyond basic “reading and writing”?

If a school has a focus on “citizenship”, how does a world where we are all connected to one another change what that looks like?

If parent participation is beneficial to the learning of a child, how do we use technologies that are easily accessible to both schools and parents to tap into our community?

If you look at the key components of each question, they are the following:

1. Keeping Kids Safe.
2. Promoting Literacy
3. Citizenship and Social Responsibility
4.  Parents as Partners in Education

If I would have shown you those as objectives in a school in 1980, they might not look any different in the wording, but in practice, they look significantly different.  I was taught over and over again how to cross the street so that I could access what was on the other side, but do we teach kids how to keep their information safe while they are connecting to others across the world?  The idea of “safe” has changed.

There is a lot of areas where schools have changed, but some of the objectives are the same.  How do we make sure that we are keeping up with what our students need for today and tomorrow?

What do you think?