Category Archives: Embodying Visionary Leadership

8 Things To Look For in Today’s Classroom (Visual)

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post on “8 Things To Look For in Today’s Classroom”, and it has been something that has helped my own learning, and hopefully others as well.

Sylvia Duckworth, who has been recently putting together a great series of visuals on different articles, made one specifically on the “8 Things” post.  Check it out below.

3 Things Students Should Have Before They Leave High School

There is a great commercial on TV right now, where a candidate for a position goes in for an interview to become an engineer, and as the interviewer is asking him “what makes you qualified for this position?”, which then follows him sitting down and breaking the chair.   The person applying then comments about the design of the chair and how it is not made to hold someone with “all that weight”.  Obviously, the interview is over immediately after that, with the point of the commercial being that it is not enough to just “have the skills” to do the job, but there are so many other skills for any position.  You can understand all of the elements of being a “great teacher”, but knowledge is not only important, but also the skills to do the job, and the ability to even obtain a position in the first place.

So how are schools helping students create opportunities for themselves both during their time in school, and after as well?  In my time in school, I remember going over how to make a resume, and looking at how to create a paper portfolio.  Both were relevant to me at the time, but not necessarily helpful to our students today.  Mashable has an interesting article on “The 10 Reasons Why I Ignored Your Resume”, and a lot of the tips deal directly with a person’s digital footprint and networking:

Job hunting is hard, so don’t make it harder that it has to be. Do yourself a favor and don’t give a company a reason not to hire you before you even get to the interview. Marketing has changed, adapt your job search strategy accordingly!

Although this article is geared towards marketing, there are many elements that would be applicable to a wide range of careers.

I recently saw educator Joti Jando share an article about her business students taking part in a “Dragon’s Den” activity, which went way beyond “creating something” and becoming engaged in the classroom, but giving them real world skills and understanding of the opportunities that exist:

Students presented their business ideas – including a breakdown on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, competition, management and operations, related government regulations and financial analysis – for assessment by the panelists.

This type of real-world exercise raises the level of student engagement, Jando has found.

Textbook and theoretical lessons don’t generate the same kind of enthusiasm or practical experience, she (Jando) suggested. Furthermore, an opportunity to meet and network with successful business people and entrepreneurs may hold as much value as this project-based learning.

So although the examples I have shared seem to be specific to “business”, there are a lot of takeaways for all of our students in helping them to not only learns content and skills in school, but actually helping them to create opportunities for themselves in our world.

Here are three things that I would like to see all students have by the time they graduate from our schools to help create opportunities for themselves.

1.  Students should be connected through a social network with other people in their field of choice.

Teachers love Twitter, and although there is great learning that happens there, many educators have created opportunities for themselves simply being connected and networking with other people.  I know several teachers that have obtained positions in new schools because they had someone interested in their work that they shared through Twitter.  There are a lot of possibilities for anyone.  For our students though, Twitter may or may not be the place.  YouTube, Instagram, Vine, LinkedIn, Google Plus, or probably ones that I don’t even know about, have a plethora of communities in any given profession.  Students should not only be able to learn from people in the field, but also network and create connections with others.  I am sure we have all heard the saying, “it is not what you know, but who you know.”  The adage hasn’t changed, but the opportunities and ease of access to one another has.  We need to help students connect.

2.  Students should have a digital portfolio. 

There have been a lot of articles shared that the “resume is dead“,  and that our social networks are more crucial than ever.  Although a resume has a place in many institutions, a digital portfolio definitely can be seen as giving someone an advantage as it gives a deeper look into someone’s skill sets, and is accessible 24/7.  Recently having my own wedding, if you were a photographer that did not have a digital portfolio of your work, we were not even going to consider hiring them.  They didn’t even exist in our considerations.  Being able to find someone online is one thing, but having the opportunity to look deeper into their actual work is crucial.  Whatever the format, or the medium (written, images, video, podcasts, and so on), it is necessary for an employer to go beyond the resume. A resume can be a part of this, but it only tells a small part of the story.

3.  Students should have an “” page. is a great way to share a “digital business card”, and I have likened it to your Internet cover letter.  It is not overwhelming with information, but it has links to much more.  (Here is an example of a student’s page that was actually featured on the homepage!) Having your link as your email signature is a great way to not overwhelm future employees with some LONG quote at the end of each email, but also gives them the opportunity to connect with more information if they are interested.  The other reason I really like the thought of students creating their own pages is that it actually links to their other social networks, which if they are thoughtful about it, probably be a lot more appropriate if they know potential employers or post-secondary institutions are looking at what they are sharing. In a recent article from US Today, Marymount University coach Brandon Chambers was quoted as saying, “Never let a 140 character tweet cost you a $140,000 scholarship.” Having an page is sending a different message.  It is saying, “here are my social networks and I encourage you to look at them.”  What impact would this have on student’s not only on their future, but their digital footprint today?  I think having the ability to bring everything together could be very powerful for our students.

Of course, there are no absolutes in what a student should walk away with, but if schools focused on these three areas as part of what a student would leave a school with, would it not also help tremendously with many of the “digital footprint” issues that we are seemingly having in schools?  By placing an emphasis on using these tools that are at our students’ fingertips, we hopefully can not only help them share their abilities, but help them make the connections to utilize those same abilities to their fullest.

3 Ideas on Innovation in Education from Vine

I have really started looking at Vine as a social media platform, and have been really interested in how it is being used.  Over the Christmas holidays, I could easily get lost in going through the posts of others and seeing what they have shared, and an hour could disappear in seemingly seconds.

If you don’t know what Vine is, here is the summary from Wikipedia:

Vine is a short-form video sharing service. Founded in June 2012, it was acquired by microblogging website Twitter in October 2012, just before its official launch. The service allows users to record and edit five- to six-second-long looping video clips, and to “revine”, or share others’ posts with followers. Some Vines are revined automatically based on what is popular. The videos can then be published through Vine’s social network and shared on other services such as Facebook and Twitter. Vine’s app can also be used to browse through videos posted by other users, along with groups of videos by theme, and trending, or popular, videos.

When I first heard of the platform, I didn’t think it would ever catch on.  I mean really, what could you do with only 6 seconds in a video?  But quickly, it has become one of the largest platforms for sharing videos, and there are many people (many of them in their teens), who have acquired millions of followers from their highly entertaining videos that they have shared.  Like any social media platform, not all content shared is something that I would be interested in, or even appropriate, but there is a lot of really interesting things being shared through the service.

This one made me really laugh, combining a “viral video” from the past to today’s popular music:

As I look deeper into the idea of “innovation”, especially as it relates to schools, there are some lessons I have noticed from the use of Vine.

1. Innovation can still happen with constraints.  As mentioned earlier, there was not much I thought that could be done with a 6 second video, but people are making some pretty amazing videos. Check out the following time lapse of the Northern Lights:

Or this one of a simple leaf:

Instead of focusing on what people “don’t” have in the use of Vine, they focus on what they do have, and many, try to create something amazing within the system.  There are many people that would love to totally start school from scratch, and sometimes I agree, but the reality of our world is that this is not likely to happen, and we are going to look at what he have to not always think “outside of the box”, but figure out how to be innovative inside of it.

2.  Multiple ideas can often lead to multiple great ones.  Some of the most followed “viners” post something new daily, and although many of the things they share are great, some of them are duds.  Instead of quitting, they continue to share different videos and make something new consistently.  In education, we might try something new and it doesn’t work the way we expected, but we need to continue on pushing new ideas and focusing on what works best for kids.  Even in my own blog, some of my posts are better than others, but I focus on continuing to write instead of focusing on something that I feel did not turn out the way I wanted it to.  Many teachers self-identify as “perfectionists” but here is the reality; if you are waiting for “perfect”, you will be waiting forever.  Being “perfect” and “learning” do not go hand-in-hand, so we have to keep trying and taking the good with the bad in our pursuit of growth.

3.  You are more likely to grow if you support others, as opposed to only focusing on yourself.  One of the things that I noticed about some of the most followed “Viners” is that they don’t just share their content, but the content of others.  It is their way of pushing the community and helping everyone to get better, not just trying to be the best.  In education, the people that are often the most successful are usually the ones that connect and support others.  People are drawn to those that give themselves to others, and that often comes back to the individual when those come back to support them.  In leadership and education, the people that are the most successful, are the ones that support and make those that surround them better.  A teacher’s and leader’s  legacy is not in what they do, but what is made by those they support.

As I wrote this post, I realized that these ideas for innovation that I connected from watching Vine, are universal in so many other areas.  How will you apply them in your work?

An Acronym Leading to Empowerment in Schools (CEE)

There are so many acronyms in education, that it could become a little overwhelming.  Not only because they are so many that educators could remember, but because they are often targeted to a specific area, not education as a whole.  Although acronyms are meant to be simple to remember, they can often lead us to focusing on something other than deep learning.

For example, many educators love promoting the use of the SAMR Model (Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition) for technology use in the classroom.  The idea behind it is solid; what are you doing with the technology that you couldn’t do before? But the idea that a teacher that struggles with technology is going to start talking about “redefinition” in their use of technology is unlikely, and might even scare them away.  I also think that it can also push educators to lose focus on students as individuals, as learning is something that is very personal.  For example, if I am the student, and I write a complex novel using a word processing platform, technically that would fall into the “substitution” category, since a student could have simply written the book with a pencil, but would they have done that?  I write more now than I ever did as a kid, but I don’t necessarily do something I couldn’t do with a pencil. Does that model sometimes get us to focus too much on what we are doing with technology, and not enough on the personal elements of learning?

I know there is more to the SAMR model than what I am probably suggesting, but I still think that some of the best learning that can happen doesn’t necessarily need Internet access or “technology” in the way that educators refer to it. With so many initiatives in so many places (assessment, healthy living, self-regulation, and so many others), is something focused solely on the use of technology in the classroom helpful or does it become another “thing”?

So I was trying to think of an “acronym” that would be applicable to all aspects of learning, although not all-encompassing of all it’s intricacies.  I thought about something that would make people think about how we are getting students to a new level of their learning, and in my head popped up these three words; Compliant, Engaged, and Empowered (CEE). Although I see the three as separate, with empowerment being the most crucial part of this process, they are not necessarily exclusive from one another.

Bill Ferriter really got me thinking about this last year when he talked about how “engagement” and “empowerment” are not necessarily synonymous, and I love this visual that he shared:

Engage or Empower?


And although compliance has become a bad word in education, there are elements of it that are necessary in education and our world today.  For example, I look back at my childhood and wish that I would have stuck with piano although it did not make much sense why I would do at the time.  You do not get to the “deep” learning without sometimes starting at the surface level.  Even if you look at how some people would consider teaching their “calling”, I rarely hear too many teachers talk about their excitement in doing report cards; we often do report cards because we have to, not because we want to.  If schools build a culture that focuses only on compliance with teachers, it is not going to be a place where students want to be.  Empowered teachers often focus on empowering students.

“What we model is what we get.” Jimmy Casas

In some areas, compliance is never something that a person goes through, as they can be immediately engaged (that was how I felt about learning to play basketball), if compliance is the beginning of learning and maintained throughout the duration, it will also be the end.  It is important to move to the point of engagement and ultimately empowerment, although the two are connected.

To try to make more sense of this, I tried to sort “Compliance, Engagement, and Empowerment” into a few areas to go deeper with the idea.  I wanted to try to write some quick definitions of each area in their connection with learning, understand what it looks like in school, put it on the “Simon Sinek” scale of understanding the “why”, and then put it into an example of learning in a particular area (using Twitter for professional learning as the example).  Here is what I came up with:

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 7.59.52 PM

As stated earlier, some of the parts are not mutually exclusive.  You will not be “empowered” unless you are “engaged”, but you can be “engaged” without being “empowered”.  It is also important to note that simply “making” and “creating” does not mean that an individual is empowered.  The process of “making” can still be very compliant if the learner does not connect on a deeper level as an individual or see the process as meaningful to their own work. Creating is not simply “empowerment” unless the learner sees value to what is being created and connects with the learner on an intrinsic level.  Also, being empowered is not necessarily something that is achieved in all areas of learning, but if it is never achieved with a student, then why would they ever want to be in school.  Being “empowered” shows the student they are valued for their strengths and passions.  This is essential to success in all facets of school.

What is also important that this acronym (for lack of a better descriptor), is not exclusive to technology, nor should it be.  I asked a friend to put in their thoughts with the same table on the subject of learning “dance”.  This is what they came up with:

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 8.10.35 PM

Remember “square dancing” when you were in school (or was my school the only one doing this)?  That is something that I did because I was told to do, and even though we “choreographed” our own dances, this was not an “empowering” time for us in school.  Looking back, I wonder if this was taught because “dance” was in the curriculum and this was the easiest way to teach us, because I am not sure why we spent so much time every year doing this.  Now with all of the different options that we have to learn different styles of dance from sources like YouTube, from people all over the world, it is more likely that there will be something that our students will connect with, and want to create on their own.  I have seen our students want to dance more than I ever did, and I think options matter when we are looking to empower our students.

This idea is in it’s early stages and I am still trying to wrap my head around it, but with all that we do in schools, I am hoping that this is simple enough to help us think about how our learners feel about their experiences in school and what we are creating.  I am hoping “simple” leads to “deep”. 

Motivation is key to learning, and this table could be used easily in terms of leadership (I am planning to write about that in the near future), but in school, compliance should not be the standard that we are looking to achieve, and engagement is not enough.  A student that is empowered will know that they are valued and are more likely to be successful in so many areas.  That is the ultimate success.

The “Answer” is Not Always the Right Answer

I was listening to an interesting interview from CBC shared on Jordan Tinney’s blog discussing the use of “letter grades” in school.  This is an interesting topic because it is something that is so deeply rooted in tradition in our schools, and to change this, there will be a lot of challenging conversations.

In the podcast, one of the people calling in (at about 17 minutes), has an interesting comment:

“…these children will eventually graduate into a workplace where it doesn’t matter how hard you try, if you don’t have the right answer, you don’t have the right answer, and that’s all there is to it.”

This argument, that is often used about the “real world” and the workplace is not as simple as it seems.  Yes, people need to know information, but information changes and it is more important that we are able to think than simply know an answer.  Thomas Friedman has a great quote on what our “world” is looking for in his article about on “How To Get a Job at Google”:

“The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it).” Thomas Friedman

The interesting thing about the article is that from Friedman’s research, “grades” or “test scores” are not a determining factor for success with the company:

Google had determined that “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. … We found that they don’t predict anything.”

The culture at Google is known for many “soft skills” that cannot simply be graded, and are  more focused on a person’s ability to be able to think, lead, be creative, be flexible and adaptive (which are really tough to grade). According to Superintendent Chris Kennedy, the word “smart” doesn’t mean what it used to mean.

This is just not at Google.  Many organizations are focusing on people to think beyond the “answer” and go outside of the lines, to be honest, in fear of losing profits long term.

Here are two situations that I personally encountered where the “answer” wasn’t the right answer.

Just recently I was collecting stamps for a Starbucks specialty drink promotion over the Christmas break.  I was only needing one more to reach five and get a free drink, when I was informed that the promotion was over, and then they wouldn’t be handing out any more stickers.  When I said, “Aww that sucks..I already have four and just needed one more.” Immediately the barista went to her colleague, grabbed a stamp, and gave me the last sticker for a free drink.  She didn’t have to go to the manager, she just went to someone who had the stickers and gave me one.  That simple.

At Avis recently, they have a policy that if you bring the car back an hour after the designated time you are supposed to return the vehicle, the customer will be charged for an extra day.  Arriving late to the airport due to weather, I was 90 minutes late for my deadline, and without hesitation, the employee waved the fee although I had signed a contract stating the rules.  They didn’t have to talk to a supervisor or ask permission, they just knew what was best.

Now my circumstance with these two companies might not be the norm (although they have been with me).  Simply put in both cases the “answer” was not the “answer”, but was on a sliding scale dependent upon the circumstance.  Some facts are not “concrete” and change over time, but the ability to think is something that is needed consistently.

You might think that both of these cases were simply a matter of common sense, but in the past for many organizations, “common sense” was not allowed as it would lead to a loss of money.  If you look deeper though, it is only a short term loss.  Starbucks lost five dollars because they gave me a free drink when they didn’t have to and Avis lose fifty dollars by having an employee changing the “answer” on the fly, but long term they created loyalty because they were allowed to change what the “answer” was and think for themselves and do what is best in the situation.  Short term loss was worth long term gain.  More and more companies are understanding this and they need people that don’t simply know the answer, but can think for themselves and understand the best thing to do in any situation.

I like to think that both of these people that I encountered thought about the situation, put themselves in my situation, and thought about if the roles were reversed.  Barry Schwartz talked about how this type of empathy is crucial to “wisdom”:

“Most of us think about empathy as a “feeling” or an “emotion.” It is. To be empathetic is to be able to feel what the other person is feeling. But empathy is more than just a feeling. In order to be able to feel what another person is feeling, you need to be able to see the world as that other person sees it. This ability to take the perspective of another demands perception and imagination. Empathy thus reflects the integration of thinking and feeling.”

The “answer” is not always the right answer. The “real world” is expecting people to be able to think for themselves and not simply follow a manual, but to do what is best, sometimes in spite of what the answer tells you.

School vs. Learning

I have been thinking a lot about the “traditional” model of school and how people actually learn. If done the wrong way, school can actually go against what is needed for learning.  There are a lot of schools and classrooms that are doing amazing jobs at really promoting there students become learners as opposed to learning stuff.  

Here are some of the ways where school and learning can become divergent.

School promotes starting by looking for answers.  Learning promotes starting with questions.

School is about consuming.  Learning is about creating.

School is about finding information on something prescribed for you.  Learning is about exploring your passions and interests.

Schools teaches compliance.  Learning is about challenging perceived norms.

School is scheduled at certain times.  Learning can happen any time, all of the time.

School often isolates.  Learning is often social.

School is standardized.  Learning is personal.

School teaches us to obtain information from certain people.  Learning promotes that everyone is a teacher, and everyone is a learner.

School is about giving you information.  Learning is about making your own connections.

School is sequential.  Learning is random and non-linear.

School promotes surface-level thinking. Learning is about deep exploration.

I know that the statements above are not 100% true on either side of the spectrum, but what if you combined the statements to make something new?  Would schools become a place that is truly developing learners that are flexible and agile in a world that is constantly changing?  For example, take the statement:

School promotes starting by looking for answers.  Learning promotes starting with questions.

… and change it to this:

School promotes developing your own questions and finding answers.

What would school look like if we really focused on developing our own statements that focus on the power of developing learners?  I would love your thoughts on this.


Here is an image that Sylvia Duckworth created to correspond with the post.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 4.44.10 PM

Student-Driven Schools

The term “data-driven” is one that keeps coming up in conversations on education continuously, and I will have to admit, the way I am hearing it being used often bothers me.  The best teachers have always been data-driven, just not necessarily seeing students as numbers or as a set of scores.  Too many correlate the word “data” to “numbers”, but there is so much more to any child’s story.

Numbers and grades are such a small part of the  conversation when we are talking about our students, yet we often use that the argument that the “real world” still sorts people with numbers.  When Thomas Friedman spoke to the person in charge of hiring for Google, “numbers” seemed to be a small part of the equation in their hiring practices:

Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google — i.e., the guy in charge of hiring for one of the world’s most successful companies — noted that Google had determined that “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. … We found that they don’t predict anything.” He also noted that the “proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time” — now as high as 14 percent on some teams.

As a principal, I never looked at grades as an indicator for someone to become a successful teacher and a part of the decision making process in hiring someone.  In fact, I have seen teachers with excellent grades in university struggle significantly because school worked for them, so change and flexibility could be a challenge in a system that needs to change.  Grades are not always the narrative on whether a teacher is strong or not, but some of the best teachers that I have ever met really struggled in school, so they work hard to provide different learning opportunities for their students that are going through the same process.  Would a teacher who struggled in school have more empathy for a student going through the same struggles?

So why are numbers so important to education?  If I was to take a guess, it wouldn’t be because numbers are the most important, but that they are the easiest to collect.  As humans, we tend to like to sort and rank to show accountability to our public, but through this process, we have seemed to be the least accountable to the people that matter the most; our students.  Throwing a multiple choice test through a “scantron” to mark is a lot quicker than having a conversation with a student, but does not accurately assess their understanding of a topic, but more on their ability to do a multiple choice test on the subject.

For a few years now, we have been moving towards digital portfolios as providing a lot more of the “data” in our schools.  They are more of a story and tell you a lot about what a child is understanding as well as their growth over time.  Elisa Carlson recently shared a post on Surrey School’s initiative to really change assessment in their schools and provide a “window” into learning.  Elisa explains why this is so important for education to move forward:

The district, as part of this CSL project, is undertaking this inquiry – Making Learning Visible – to explore whether digital documentation of student learning could become a new standard. Our teachers are at the front edge of transforming education through their practice. They are the champions. These teachers believe there is a better way to communicate student learning that aligns with our understanding and research. The district is taking steps to explore what is possible. In the words of Buckminster Fuller, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” We are creating a new model, because, truly, now is the time.

Although portfolios are a great way to capture the story, there is and has been so much “data” being collected by teachers every day that is essential to the success of each one of our student’s.  The best data is always obtained by starting with the question, “What is best for this child?”  Every conversation in education needs to start with that question.  But sometimes the data being collected by a teacher has nothing to do with “school” and everything to do with a child’s well being.  Sometimes the worst thing we can do to a child is give them a test when their world is crumbling around them.

If we were “student-driven”, the number that we needed to collect for the sake of a score would not be primary over any student’s needs, yet our system has put many teachers in between a rock and a hard place.  Should teachers, who go to school every day and care for so many kids, ever be put in a place where there students needs for growth become secondary to what our system says it needs?

I am not saying numbers don’t have a place in school and the work that we do.  Again, they are a part, although a small part, of the story.  There is so much more to our kids than a number and the data we collect everyday is essential to seeing our students become successful.  I am reminded of this quote which puts into perspective why we teach:

“No school teacher has EVER had a former student return to say a standardized test changed his or her life.” Joe Martin

When our schools become so number-driven that we focus more on a grade than we do on the kids standing in front of us, we, and more importantly our kids, are in big trouble.

What do we lose?


“We must never assume that an appeal to the masses represents illiteracy. In fact, it implies a high degree of literacy. And in the new century, that increasingly means visual media.” Stephen Apkon

Greystone Centennial Middle School is hosting their fifth “Innovation Week” (if you want to learn more, connect with Jesse McLean on Twitter), where students suggest things they want to learn, create, make, during the week, and have time to explore and develop.  In the last week before holidays, it is amazing how engaged the learning is within the school.  It is a pretty powerful experience for students and it is a glimpse in what school could look like all of the time, not just  a couple of weeks.  From the work that is happening at the school, I know the experience has shaped and reshaped the learning that is happening year round.

As I walked around looking at what the students were doing, I saw one student using a program that I had never seen before called “Blender” in which he was designing a prototype for a car.  It kind of blew me away to see what he was doing and how he was doing it, because I guessed that no one showed him how to use the software before.  When I asked him how he learned to use it, he just simply replied with one word; “YouTube”.

I was quickly reminded of this Will Richardson quote:

I don’t disagree that a lot of professional development monies are wasted. And truth be told, teachers should be responsible for their own PD now. Kids wouldn’t wait for a blogging workshop. Adults shouldn’t either.

The student wanted to learn about the program, so he went and learned about the program.  This is not in this case, but in so many, whether it is learning how to play an instrument, do a dance, or build something new.  There is a ton of learning opportunities out there, they just might not all be related to the curriculum.  Is our job to teach students how to learn a curriculum, or our students how to learn?  Maybe it is more a combination of both, but more importantly, it is the latter.

I then started to think about how so many schools have blocked sites like YouTube because of all the “distractions” that are on the site.  I admit, I can get lost surfing the web and it is easy to get sucked into something totally different than what you first started looking for, but we lose so much when we take such a robust platform full of information away from our kids.

“Among the more than three billion videos watched each day on sites such as YouTube, there is undoubtedly a lot of garbage. But in what medium is there not?” Stephen Apkon

(As I wrote the above paragraph, I thought about how we have so many books in a library that are simply there for the pleasure of the reading, yet we wouldn’t pull out every novel and replace it with non-fiction, because we see reading is directly correlated to learning, whether it is for the purpose of school or not.  Is there a parallel to the videos we consume as well?)

I know that video sites can become a distraction, not only for kids, but adults as well.  It is rare that there are only positives with any form of technology and I wonder what we lose when we block sites like YouTube (and a myriad of other sites that have a lot to do with learning and maybe not so much to do with school), not only from the perspective of preparing kids for the world we all live in,  but also for the powerful learning that can take place. I can guarantee that if I looked hard enough today, I could have found a student using it and being totally off-task from what they were working on. It is obvious that still exists. But if we looked at sites like YouTube as a library filled with knowledge that we still have to teach our students to navigate, would schools still thinking about banning it from their students?

In a world that is extremely digital, we need humanity more than ever.

This is just going to be all over the place so I apologize in advance but this is writing to learn more than writing to share my learning.

Our world is awesome.

Technology allows us to do things that we could never do before.  We can video chat with people around the world simply, for a much cheaper rate than we could have called them years ago.  I have memories of my dad that I can relive over and over again, even after his passing. Every time we press “tweet” or “publish” it gets around the world instantly.  There is a power in our hands and in our pockets that we could not have imagined.  But with every step forward, we sometimes lose things along the way.

I can now call pretty much any services I have and I can get to anything I want through an automated machine that is often much quicker than any person I could talk to, yet when I get on the line, every single time, I press “0” immediately.  For all that technology gives us, I still want to talk to a person.

I love that I can do online banking, but I also love the interactions that I can still have in the bank.  That choice matters to me.  One time though, I distinctly remember going into the bank to make a deposit and being asked if I was interested in a tax-free savings account, followed by RRSP’s, and so on.  I saw the teller was not looking at mean and reading off their computer a list of questions that were suggested based on my financial situation. In my conversation with a person, I had been reduced to an algorithm.  When I actually called them out on this, they were embarrassed not only because of me saying something, but because their company put them in the situation in the first place. This example is crucial to the work that we do in education.

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, relationships will be the most important thing we do in schools.

I am guessing that some parents feel this same way when they call schools to report of the absence of their child.  Yes, the technology makes it convenient, but sometimes a person needs to talk, and sometimes they need to be heard.  The “tech” sometimes leaves them lacking the piece of mind that they needed from that phone call.  It is not simply about what is convenient, but sometimes what is needed.

Although I think technology is so crucial to our roles today, I think the more digital we are the more “human” our schools and leadership needs to become.  Sharing our stories and connecting through social media brings a lot in creating a human connection, but I still love the teacher that welcomes kids to their classroom every morning and has a conversation with them, or the principal who stands in the middle of the hallway to have conversations with kids about almost everything except for school.  Although things like supervision might seem like an “add-on” to our day, I started to look at it as an investment into people.  Talk to someone for ten minutes and take a sincere interest in their lives, and that ten minutes will come back to you exponentially.

There is something that we lose sometimes in our interactions on social media.  Many people (and rightfully so) do not share many aspects of their lives through what they share online.  For me, I share with people that the safest “guideline” to follow on social media is that you would not say anything online that you would not say to a group of kids.  Yet that doesn’t mean that people share their lives openly online, but what they are comfortable with other people that they may consider “strangers”.  You might not see the whole picture and there is so much more to a person than what they share online.

With a world that is increasingly digital, our “humanness” is more crucial than ever.  I am reminded of Charlie Chaplin’s speech in the “Great Dictator” in 1940, and how some elements of that speech from that movie made years ago are as relevant as ever.

We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind.

We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery ,we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.

So with all the talk of technology, we just need to remember that there is so much more to schools and some of the best things in “20th Century Education” are just as relevant today.  If you are a school that does not focus on building relationships, you are on a faster road to irrelevance than one that doesn’t use technology.  In a world where information is easy to access and I can always find better content online than I can in school, the refocus on relationships is more crucial now than ever.

Embrace technology; it will provide people opportunities that we could have dreamed of when we were kids.  But just remember that people will always be the most important part of the education system.  As soon as we reduce everyone to a number or an avatar, we will have lost more than we could have ever gained.

3 Ways Social Media Can Improve School Culture

I was having a great conversation the other day with a good friend, and she was sharing how many boards aren’t really worried about “social media” because they are needing to actually focus on improving their culture first.  I thought a lot about what she said, and to be honest, if you cannot have conversations with people in your own organization, Twitter is going to be the last thing in your mind.  That being said, I have seen a lot of school organizations use social media to actually improve their culture significantly.  It is not the only way, but if used in powerful ways, it definitely can have an overall impact on your school or district.

Here are three ways that I have seen an impact (although I encourage you to look at some of the responses on this tweet when I asked the question).

1.  Increased Visibility

In large boards (especially), it is tough for directors, superintendents, principals, etc., to actually physically be in all places at all times.  Visibility is an important part of leadership, and I love when I see leaders in schools or in classrooms, but social media actually allows you to not only see leaders in a different light, but also see their thought process.  Through tweets, blog posts, and more(Superintendent Chris Smeaton is a great example of this, although I could have chosen from a large lists of administrators), you get to see visible thinking of leaders, but also other aspects of their lives that make them more “human”.  If you are a superintendent, and you walked into one of your schools, and many of your teachers had no idea who you are, isn’t that kind of a problem?  Social media, used effectively, can help increase this visibility.

2.  Increased Accessibility

Now being more connected can have both a positive and negative impact on a person.  If you are connected to your device 24/7, that might be great for your school, but bad for your personal life (and health).  We have to be able to shut off.  That being said, when teachers can tap into one another and learn from each other,it not only improves learning, but it also builds relationships.  I have watched in my own school division, the difference in the past few years with the increased use of social media, a greater connection between staff from different schools when seeing each other in person, because the accessibility to one another online doesn’t replace face-to-face interactions, but can enhance them.  Teachers that connected online, have ended up meeting face-to-face to plan EdCamps, Innovation Week, and talk about a whole host of other things to help improve learning.  The accessibility to not only ideas, but one another, improves learning and relationships.  They are not mutually exclusive.

3. A Flattened Organization

I really believe in the idea in schools that everyone’s a teacher and everyone’s a learner, and that these roles are interchangeable throughout any and all days.  Watching great schools, I have seen superintendents learn from teachers, teachers learn from parents, principals learn from students, and any other combination you can think of within a school community.  As Chris Anderson would call this “crowd-accelerated innovation”, and it is so important to embrace this notion of learning from anyone and everyone, if we are going to improve the culture of our school’s.  When you work for an organization and you know that no matter what role you play, that your voice is valued, don’t you think that would have a significant impact on culture?

Concluding Thoughts

If you are looking at improve school culture, open learning is essential to our environments.  I don’t want to only know what the decisions are that are made, but about the people who are making them, and their thoughts behind these decisions.  That openness is crucial.  Only in an organization where voices are not only heard, but also valued, will you ever see significant improvements in school culture, and with the tools that we are provided in our world today, that pace of culture change can be significantly faster than it was without this same technology.