Category Archives: Embodying Visionary Leadership

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.

Yes.

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.

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.

Questioning the Data

Proven methods of working with students are something that are important when working in schools, but there are a few things that I question when I hear schools talk about solely “data driven”.

First of all, nothing works for everyone. Nothing.  So when we look at “proven methods”, we are often looking at something that is more focused on the “system” than an individual, kids still get left behind.  We might get a better “grade” at the end as a system, but we are still failing kids.  If something worked for 100% of kids, we would all know it, and we would all do it.

Secondly, there are often so many things that are going on in school, how can we really compartmentalize the “one thing” that works?  For example, let’s say your school is focusing on the thoughtful use of technology in classroom, health and wellness, and improved assessment, and you see an increase in grades through the school.  Which initiative led to the increase or how much did anyone single initiative lead to whatever score you are looking for?  Unless you isolate something it is hard to tell what is successful.

This leads to another issue…what is the measure of success?  You may see an increase in test scores but kids might hate coming to school every day, because it is easy to teach to a test, while also killing a love of learning in our students.  You can also see that you can improve a score in anything if you put a massive focus on it. If you have a school or district focusing solely on “literacy scores”, leading to more hours focusing on traditional literacy (reading and writing) in the classroom, other things get lost in the shuffle.  Many organizations are looking for people who are creative, yet you see many programs in arts education that promote this creativity getting cut in search of “better test scores”.  So then what? When we focus on becoming great at one thing, something else usually gives.  So what is important and what isn’t?

But maybe I am way off with these thoughts.  I am not saying that data is not necessary, but more importantly, that we question how we got the data in the first place. I recently read a blog post titled, “The Lack of Evidence Based Practice; The Case of Classroom Technology“, where the author talks about how the use of technology has not increased “academic achievement”, and I would not argue this at all.  Adding technology to your schools often only makes your it “school plus computer”.  If you are not looking to change teaching and learning practice because of these technologies, obviously nothing will change.  But there is to more what is happening than any number can tell us, and that is why questioning the data in the first place is extremely important.  I also think there is a great irony that many school district statements “vision and mission statements” say very little about test scores, but when they measure if they are successful, that becomes the biggest driver.

So it is essential to find a balance.  We have to still look at “what works” from other places, and ask questions to dive deeper.  But we also have to still develop the “innovator’s mindset” in educators to encourage them  to develop new ideas that may help the kids in front of them right now.  If we wait for everything to be researched before we use it, we are going to lose a lot of kids.  Before something was researched, somebody tried it first with no data to support if it would be successful or not.  That is why relationships are so important in education.  Understanding who the learner is in front of you will often lead to creating new solutions for that child.  They don’t have the time for you to wait.

Data is important, but so is the ability to be adaptive and flexible.  We have to look at what works, what has worked, ask questions why it worked, but also look to create new and better opportunities for the students in front of us.  If we don’t look to people within the education system to be innovative, why would we expect kids leaving the system to do the same?

What do you want leaders to do with technology?

Recently in a workshop, I asked the group how many people thought Twitter was “stupid”, to which had seen several hands raised.  I followed up with the question, “How many of you think it is beneficial to learn from other teachers?” This has 100% of hands up in the air.  So, if we think that learning from other teachers is beneficial, and we can use Twitter to do that, it seems like a no-brainer.

This made me think about how so many people often focus on the technology (Twitter), not the aspect of learning from others, which is so much more important. The fact of the matter is, that many educators/administrators that are labeled as being “great with technology”, are maybe not as savvy as it may seem.

I asked a colleague if they thought they were really good with technology (they knew it was a trick question), so she didn’t know how to answer.  What I said is that many educators/administrators that are deemed as very tech savvy, are really not as good with the technology as we think.  Personally, I have a minimal amount of knowledge on coding (very minimum), and if I was to take apart a computer, I would have no idea how to put it back together.  I would however know that I could look it up on YouTube, but I am not sure when I would be in that situation.  I know how to Tweet, use Google Apps, blog, and do some other things, but so does a large portion of the population.  I know it is cliche to say, “it is not about the tool”, but it isn’t; It is about something much more.

The way I look at it, is that it is more about using some of these simple technologies, to do powerful things.

Serendipitously, as I tried to put these thoughts into my head, someone shared this graphic from Bill Ferriter on, “What do you want kids to do with technology?.  I then thought, what is it that we want leaders to do with technology, and based on Bill’s original idea, I put down my own thoughts:

What do you want leaders to do with technology

This post is not about measuring one’s ability with technology if they are able to use Twitter or write a blog post.  It is about something much deeper.  If the purposeful use of technology can enhance or accelerate those ideas above, shouldn’t more leaders look at how these tools can be used in their own practice?

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 “about.me” page.

About.me 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 about.me homepage!) Having your about.me 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 about.me 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 about.me 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.