Category Archives: Embodying Visionary Leadership

A Higher Chance of Becoming Great? The “Twitter” Factor

I walked into the room and I could tell right away.

This was a teacher I had never met and knew very little about, but the atmosphere in his classroom was great.  As I walked with my colleague, I asked her the question, “Do you think he is on Twitter?”  I wanted her to make an educated guess, and her thoughts were the same as mine; definitely.

How did we know this?

As I walked in, I saw unique seating spaces, posters all over the wall that focused on “taking risks” and encouraging students to think different.  The walls were also covered in information about “Genius Hour” and their recent “Maker Faire”.  At the time, the students were also learning how to play chess with a master player, who also happened to be a grandparent. Notice that there was no technology mentioned above, but just about a different learning environment.  There were multiple, amazing opportunities for learning in this classroom to reach students where they were at, and tap into their strengths and passions.

So when we asked the teacher if they were on Twitter, he mentioned that he was but he didn’t necessarily share that much online.  But it was his access to information that made things look differently in his classroom.  When I asked if he had seen an impact in his classroom from the use of Twitter, he wasn’t sure, but it was a type of “boiling frog” scenario.  The change could have happened so gradually that he did not notice the small steps that could have been made to where he was now.  Just being a “lurker” in that space though, had made a difference.

Now I am not saying that if you are NOT on Twitter, you are ineffective.  There might be several classrooms that look like the one I have briefly described that were designed by a teacher who may not be on Twitter, that receive their information elsewhere.  What I do know is that looked NOTHING like my classroom when I first started teaching, because honestly, I did not have the access to the same information that teachers do now.  Our opportunities have changed and people have taken advantage to benefit themselves, and more importantly, their students.

Isolation is now a choice educators make.  We have access to not only information, but each other. We need to tap into that.

Being on Twitter doesn’t make you a great teacher any more than not being on Twitter makes you ineffective.  There are a lot of great teachers who do some pretty amazing things that do not connect online.

However, I do believe that having that access 24/7 to great ideas through the medium and the connection to other teachers increases your chances on being great.  If you really think about it,  how could it not?

3 Important Shifts in Education

(I really struggled with the title of this post, because I am not really sure if these are “shifts” or just ideas that have evolved that I am paying attention to right now. Also, these ideas are definitely not only connected to education, so take the title with a grain of salt.)

“We’re still in the first minutes of the first day of the Internet revolution.” Scott Cook

The above quote resonates with me strongly, because we are currently living in a culture that not only seems to have endless answers, but endless questions, both which are subject to change.  I think of some of the things that we used to talk about in schools, now shifting to something else.  For example, I remember once working with my students talking about the importance of staying anonymous online, and now we have shifted to working with our students to develop a positive digital footprint where they actually can be found.  I often wonder “what’s next?” Our answers now, may shift, and we need to be able to be adaptable to a constantly changing landscape.

In education, I have noticed some trends not necessarily changing, but shifting in thought. In learning, we have to be open to change and take what we know and think about how to move forward.  Curriculum should not be written in ink anymore, but on a google doc.  It seems to only make more sense as we continue to move forward in both school and education.

Here are a few things I have been thinking about that I am seeing shift right now:

1.  “Digital Citizenship” to “Digital Empathy”

I struggled with the heading for this one because it could simply be “Citizenship to Empathy”, but sometimes we have to focus on the impact “digital” has and also realize that empathy is actually an important part of citizenship. We talk to our students about the importance of being good “digital citizens” and putting their best foot forward online, yet in reality, many of us avoided the same mistakes as a youth not because we know better, but the opportunities to share online didn’t exist.  It was not our wisdom that saved us.

Monica Lewinsky’s recent Ted Talk on “The price of shame”,  she states that we have a “compassion deficit, an empathy crisis”.  People make mistakes, young and old, and we have to realize that being a “good citizen” is also being good to each other, even when it is tough.  It is important to talk to our students about the possible mistakes that we can make online, but it is also important to teach understanding and forgiveness.

One of my favourite quotes is, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”  We have to always remember this.

2.  “Student Voice” to “Student Leadership”

Student voice has always been something that has been valued in our world, but do listen to students to only hear what they say, or do we truly bring them into the conversation and tap into their wisdom for growth in our system?  In a recent TedX from Kate Simonds, she calls on schools to not only listen to students, but to empower them in the change process.  If innovation starts with empathy, who better to tap into  then the people that we are trying to serve in the first place.  The typical thought when the term “student leadership” is about students leading amongst their peers, not necessarily at the system level.  It needs to go further.

Listening to students is not enough; we must bring them into the change process.

3. Growth Mindset to Innovator’s Mindset

Carol Dweck’s work on the “growth mindset” has been something embraced in the field of education and has made a major impact on the learning of so many, educators and students alike.  One of the quotes that has really resonated with me is from Thomas Friedman who states, “The world only cares about what you can do with what you know.”  As educators, who now have access to not only all of the information in the world, but to each other, we have a greater opportunity to come up with new and better way of serving our students.  Shifting our thinking and embracing “the innovator’s mindset“, allows us to create better opportunities and serve learners in powerful ways.  Isolation is the enemy of innovation and we have to be willing to tap into one another to create a better today and tomorrow for our students.

Like I said earlier, these are not necessarily movements from one extreme to another and many of these ideas are correlated.  Being a great “citizen” means to be caring and empathetic.  Without listening to student voice, leadership doesn’t happen. An “innovator’s mindset” does not exist without embracing a “growth mindset”.  This is more about taking what we know and pushing forward to think about what is possible.

What are you seeing changing or moving forward in our world today?

Innovation has no age barrier.

Recently, I was blown away by this TedX Talk from Kate Simonds, talking about the importance of tapping into student voice.  Her talk was so simple yet so powerful, and as a speaker, I was so impressed by her talk.

Kate discussed not only celebrating the students that blow you away with incredible projects or inventions, but tapping into all students.  She goes beyond “hearing” their voice, but actually tapping into the wisdom of our students.  She implores the audience to tap into youth who may have a different way of looking into a problem.  She also challenges the audience to really think of what we want from students, and what our system promotes:

“As students we have no say in what we learn, or how we learn it, yet we are expected to absorb it all, take it all in, and be expected to run the world some day.  We are expected to raise our hands to use the restroom, then three months later, be ready to go to college, or have a full time job, support ourselves, and live on our own. It’s not logical.”

Powerful stuff.  Are we listening?  Even if we are, are we doing anything about it?

She also referenced a quote from her teacher that was quite sarcastic, but seemingly true:

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 1.28.23 PM

The problems that we currently have in education, were made by the same people now trying to solve them.  She has a very valid point.

Kate’s approach and belief of tapping into students is powerful, and I have seen areas tap into this.  Ontario currently has a “student trustee” on every board in the province, that has a voice in the organization, yet this is one province that I know of, with a minimal percentage of the board represented by a student.  This needs to be expanded.

Way too often, “leadership” taps into a very small amount of people to generate ideas.  The smaller group, the more limited we are in hearing different ideas. Once you decide the group that you listen to, you limit yourself to the ideas from those voices.  This is why it is so important to open up communication and garner those ideas from anywhere.  Innovation best flourishes in a flattened organization.

One of the things that happens in Parkland School Division is that we have a student committee that looks at what is happening in our schools, and encourages them to discuss and share ideas.  Recently, the students were encouraged to take a visual created based on my work to start a conversation with the teachers at their school (shared below).

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 4.39.24 PM

If this is their education, it is important that they have the opportunity to discuss it, but also help guide the direction and help come up with new ideas.  I would love to see more schools encourage students to sit on leadership teams, professional learning opportunities, and whatever other opportunities we have so that we can learn from each other.  We often forget to tap into the best resource we have in our schools; our students.

The conference I attended this past week (MACUL in Detroit, Michigan), had a student showcase right outside the main hall.  Students were not only discussing their learning, but were empowered to teach adults as well.  This should be the standard, not the exception.

I am proud to say that in my TedX Talk a couple of years ago, I wanted to tap into “our voice”, which was not limited to educators, but was really about also empowering the voice of our students.  Kate reminds me deeply why this is important.

Whether you are 5, 50, or 100, you can have a great ideas, and we need to recognize that we are lucky enough to have curious and creative minds in education at all ages.

Innovation has no age barrier.

(Please take time to watch the TedX Talk below from Kate Simonds. Share it, discuss it with your staff and watch it with your students.  I would love to hear the thoughts of others on this brilliant talk.)

Confidence and Competence

“Schools kill creativity.”

“Innovation is crucial in education.”

“We are preparing students for jobs that don’t currently exist.”

“Education needs disruption.”

These are all statements that you might have heard on a Ted Talk, at a conference keynote, or on any professional learning day.  They push thinking, make people feel uncomfortable, and are tailored towards systems thinking.  A powerful vision for education is needed in our world today.

Yet what comes after these statements?  Many school districts around the world are rushing to revamp outdated mission and vision statements to reflect these changes in society, yet if nothing changes in student learning, these statements becomes  only new words followed by previous actions.

“A vision without execution is an hallucination.” Jeffrey E. Garten

To be an effective leader, it is necessary to be able to take these statements and give concrete examples of possibilities.  “Systems thinking” is useless if it is not turned into action.  Robert Sutton, author of “Good Boss, Bad Boss”,  talked about the importance of helping move people along a continuum to a larger vision.  Small steps are necessary to help people build success along the way, which leads to building confidence and competence.  I wrote and revisit a post that I shared a couple of years ago on “8 Things To Look for in Today’s Classroom“, because I wanted to go deeper into a vision for the classroom today.  How could I be an effective leader at the organizational level if I didn’t understand the opportunities for students today?

One of the benefits of mobile technologies is that no leader is tethered to any room at any time. Spending time in classrooms, seeing great practice in action, and being both a part of the teaching and learning, is not something that is only recommended, but is necessary to move organizations forward.  Model in what you seek.

Systems thinking is important. but if you aren’t able to go deeper into a vision and articulate what it could look like for the learners we serve, all of those statements become only tweetable moments as opposed to actionable items.

8 Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset (Updated)

(This is an updated version of a previous post simply sharing the graphic created by Sylvia Duckworth.)

Image created by @SylviaDuckworth

Image created by @SylviaDuckworth

Recently I explored the notion of the “Innovator’s Mindset”, and have thought a lot about this idea.  As I look to write on the topic of “Leading Innovative Change” within schools, we are looking to develop educators as innovators.  To be innovative, you have to look at yourself as an innovator first, and to create schools that embody this mindset as a “culture”, we must develop this in individuals first.

Building upon Carol Dweck’s work, I have been looking at the traits of the “Innovator’s Mindset”, which would be summarized as follows:

Belief that abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed leading to the creation of new and better ideas.

To develop students as “innovators” in their pursuits, we must embody this as educators.  As I continue to research and look at different processes where innovation excel, such as design thinking, there are several characteristics that seem common amongst these themes.  Here they are below and why they are important for educators:

  1. Empathetic - To create new and better ways of doing things, we need to first understand who we are creating them for.  As educators, innovation starts with the question, “what is best for this child.”  For us to create something better for our students, we have to understand their experiences and this is why it is imperative that we not only talk about new ways of learning, but immerse ourselves in these opportunities.  This way we can understand what works and what does not work from the perspective of a learner, not a teacher.  If anything, teachers have to a deep understanding of learning before they can become effective in teaching.  We need to put ourselves in our student’s shoes before we can create better opportunities for them in our classrooms.
  2. Problem Finders - As Ewan McIntosh talks about, it is important that we teach our kids how to ask good questions instead of simply asking for answers. All innovation starts from a question not an answer.  The invention of the home computer started with the focus of, “How do we bring the experience of a powerful computer into the homes of families?” Many capstone projects developed by students in their classrooms start with first finding, and then solving problems both locally and globally.  How often do we as educators immerse ourselves in a similar process?  If want to be innovative, we need to look at questions first.
  3. Risk-Takers – Many would argue that “best-practice” is the enemy of innovation.  To be truly innovative, you sometimes have to go off the beaten path.  The reality of this is, that for some kids, the “tried-and-true” methods will still work, but others, you will need to try something different.  In a time where many kids are totally checking out of school, is “best practice” truly “best”, or just “most well known”?
  4. Networked – Steven Johnson has a powerful quote on the importance of networks where he states, “chance favours the connected mind.”  Innovation does not happen in isolation, as it is often ideas that are being shared amongst many that lead to new and better ideas being developed.  The best educators have always created networks to learn from others and create new and powerful ideas.  Now though, many have taken the opportunity to take networks to a whole different level through the use of social media to share and develop new ideas.  Isolation is the enemy of innovation.  Networks are crucial if we are going to develop the “Innovator’s Mindset”.
  5. Observant – A practice normal amongst those that would be considered “innovative” is that they constantly look around their world and create connections.  It is normal to have a notebook or use their mobile device to record ideas or thoughts around them and link them to their own ideas.  In education, we often look to solutions to come from “education”, but when organizations around the world share their practices and ideas, we have to tap into their diverse expertise and learn from them as well.  Wisdom is all around us, we just have to look for it.
  6. Creators – So many people have great ideas, yet they never come to fruition.  Innovation is a combination of ideas and hard work.  Conversation is crucial to the process of innovation, but without action, ideas simply fade away and/or die.  What you create with what you have learned is imperative in this process.
  7. Resilient – Things do not always work on the first try, so what are the tweaks or revamping that is needed?  To simply try something and give up as soon as it fails never leads to innovation only a definitive end.  This is something great teachers model daily in their teaching, as they turn good ideas into great ones.
  8. Reflective – What worked? What didn’t?  What could we do next time?  If we started again, what would we do differently?  What can we build upon?  It is important that in education and innovation, we sit down and reflect on our process.  This last point is definitely lacking in many aspects of education as we are always “trying to get through the curriculum”, yet reflection is probably the most important part of education as the connections we make on our own is where deep learning happens.

For educators to embody this, it is imperative that leaders create a culture where this types of characteristics are not only accepted, but encouraged.  It is also imperative that at both the leadership and whole organization level, these characteristics are embodied.  To many, being “innovative” is no more than a buzzword, but if we truly have innovative students, we need to embody the “Innovator’s Mindset” at all levels.

New Project: #EDUin30

Image created by Tracy Mulligan  (@iMacMulligan)

Image created by Tracy Mulligan (@iMacMulligan)

Running seems to give me inspiration, clear my mind, and inspire new ideas.  Knowing that Twitter has recently created an option to share videos up to 30 seconds, I thought about creating a new project to get people to share ideas and things that they are doing, going beyond the 140 characters.

What I thought of is the idea of #EDUin30; an opportunity to not only share practices in a different format, but to also connect more to the educational community.  Here is the introductory video:

To be honest, it felt a little uncomfortable to share myself in a video. That was actually kind of the point. To stretch myself in this format as well. So I asked the question for week one, “what is a practice that you would like to share with others?” To model what I seek, I shared the question and an answer of my own.

Tweaking the project, I thought it would be great to use the initial hashtag of #EDUin30 in all of these tweets, but to also add a hashtag specific to the week’s question. So for week one, it is #EDUin30w1 (next week it will be #EDUin30w2, and so on). Since you are not sharing many characters, two hashtags should work fine. Here I am explaining that process.

So why do this? First of all, I think it is imperative that we make reflection a part of our work as educators. Thinking and processing thoughts on what we can do will only make us better, and everyone has 30 seconds in their life to share a quick reflection. The next reason is that we need to model growth.  I see a lot of people complain that other’s don’t move fast enough, yet are we ourselves continuing to push our growth and learning? This new addition to the medium means there are more opportunities of how we can learn from one another.  My hope is that educators partake in this for their own learning, and then think of ways that they can do this type of reflection with their kids.  If you want to become a master teacher, you have to become a master learner.  This means going out of your comfort zone. The final reason is the most important one to me.  It is easy to forget there is a person behind the avatar, and using video gets you to hear voices, see faces, and get to know people on a different level.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a video?  This can connect us in different ways. It was nice to see other people starting to share right away.  I was able to hear great ideas, but get to see them as well.  Here is one from Kevin Zahner:

And another from Jeff Dahl:

It was great to hear not only their ideas, but their voices. It is a nice way to better know our educator community.

So for the next few weeks, I am going to share a question to the #EDUin30 hashtag on the weekends. This question will be for the week, and you can share when you have the opportunity. You can also see others as well by following the hashtag. I would love for people to partake, hear actions and perspectives, but also would love to get your ideas for questions that talk about actions.

It would be great if you could share this idea with others so we can learn from each other.

Update

Tweets like this are why I wanted to do the project.

Please take time to check out the first week of responses and add your own at #EDUin30w1.

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?