Category Archives: Embodying Visionary Leadership

The Myths of Technology Series: “Technology Dehumanizes”

For ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, I will be presenting on the “Myths of Technology and Learning”. As I am really thinking about what I will be sharing at the conference, I wanted to write a series of blog posts that will help myself and others “rethink” some of these statements or arguments that you hear in relation to technology in school.  I will be writing a series of blog posts on different myths, and will be posting them on this page.  I hope to generate discussion on these topics to further my own learning in this area and appreciate any comments you have on each idea shared.

“As the Internet has become more central in our lives, we have begun to witness a revival of the importance of being human.” Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant

One of my favourite books that I have read in the past few years was called “Humanize”, and it really helped me to think of technology in a much different way than I had in the past.  As an assistant principal years ago, I remember actually arguing against the use of technology because of the way that I had seen it used.  Students would often go to a lab, which became an event, and teachers would often have students interact with websites or programs, instead of people.  I watched kids focused on a screen and losing connections with one another.  If I continuously talked about the importance of relationships in schools, it didn’t make much senses to talk about technology this way.

When I became a principal however, Twitter started becoming all the rage amongst educators, although I never really understood it.  Once I started connecting and sharing with real people, I was hooked.  Not only were these people brilliant educators, but they were great people that I connected with.  I learned not about their philosophies and thoughts on education, but about their families, their likes, their interests, and who they were as people.  I don’t come back to Twitter for the technology but for the connection.  If you build relationships in any area of your life, online or offline, you are going to come back.  Relationships are built with people and the people are what brought me back.  The ability to show one’s self was the draw for me.

Although I was proud of all that my school was achieving, while also sharing my own thoughts on education, I decided to show other aspects of my life as well.  People saw through the sharing of my love of basketball, music, and humour, that I was not just a “principal”, but a person who happened to be a principal.  But it was not only the “good” times that I shared.  When I lost my first dog Kobe, or went through another stressful time in my life, and even lost my dad, I felt that the Internet cried with me and gave me a virtual hug.  People came together to help me through trying times, many that would be considered “strangers”.  My willingness to share myself made me more than an avatar, but a human being.  This past weekend when I got engaged to the girl of my dreams,  I got another giant virtual hug.  Because I have been willing to share my ups and downs, I have been able to connect with so many people that I would consider good friends.

I have experienced this, but I have also seen these stories over and over again online.  John Berlin, made a video asking Facebook for his deceased son’s “Look Back” video, and when it was picked up by a Reddit user, people shared and reshared the video, which quickly caught the attention of Facebook and led to the video being released.

There is more good than bad in the world and the Internet has given us the opportunity to really tap into one another as human beings.

As a school administrator, I think often about the opportunity social media gives us to connect in ways that we couldn’t before.  If you look at large school districts such as Peel District School Board in Ontario and Surrey Schools in British Columbia, they have made their world a lot smaller by their use of social media.  In large geographical areas, they have used social media to create a “small town” feeling within their communities. Although you might see their leaders only once in person within the school, you have the ability to connect with them often online.  It is all in the way that you are willing to use the technology.

If a school leader uses social media as a way to simply share messages, and not engage with their community, it will not be very beneficial and does not create much more than existed without the technology.  Recently, I saw my good friend Jimmy Casas (who I met in person first but have become very good friends with because of technology) share a post about being vulnerable.  In it, Jimmy shared an anonymous tweet that was targeted against his work as a principal:

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 11.25.11 AM

 

Jimmy could have simply ignored it and moved on, but instead showed his vulnerability and addressed it openly.  That is courageous leadership.  The ability to openly share and discuss a criticism in a space that is totally open.  The irony of the post is that technology was used in an anonymous way from someone who was not willing to be brave enough to address Jimmy in person.  If you think about it, people dehumanize one another, not technology.  We have to always remember that on the other end of that Twitter, YouTube, Facebook account is a person, and when we choose to use technology in such a manner, we do more harm than any social media account ever could.

I often hear people talk about losing special things such as handwritten cards because we are often focused on teaching technology to our kids.  There is something sweet and sentimental about a card, but then I think about the video my brother shared of my dad below:

I wouldn’t trade seeing my dad in this video for any handwritten card that he could have ever  written.  His humanness shows here and I am reminded of his loving, goofy, and caring heart even though he is not with us anymore.

If you think about it, this type of technology can makes us even more human than we were before, it’s simply on the way we choose to use it.

“One of the reasons social media has grown so fast is that it taps into what we, as human beings, naturally love and need and want to do—create, share, connect, relate.”
Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant

Myths of Technology Series: “Technology Will Replace Face-to-Face Interaction”

For ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, I will be presenting on the “Myths of Technology and Learning”. As I am really thinking about what I will be sharing at the conference, I wanted to write a series of blog posts that will help myself and others “rethink” some of these statements or arguments that you hear in relation to technology in school.  I will be writing a series of blog posts on different myths, and will be posting them on this page.  I hope to generate discussion on these topics to further my own learning in this area and appreciate any comments you have on each idea shared.

A fear for many is that the continuous interactions that we have with one another through technology will replace face-to-face interaction.

Sometimes it seems that we forget our own childhood and that we had many peers that had trouble with interactions before mobile devices were the norm.  Technology did not inhibit them from speaking to others, nor do we need to necessarily think less of someone who may be an introvert.  People have different strengths and some actually thrive in isolation.  Their issue or our issue?

What some teachers have done is use technology to actually give students a voice and options that they didn’t have before.  I thought it was brilliant to see one teacher use Google Forms to do a simple “check-in” with students to give them the opportunity to share what is going on in their lives to ensure that she could help them in any way possible.

What this actually facilitated was the opportunity for the teacher to get to know her students better through the use of technology and she saw it as a way of actually enhancing their face-to-face interactions.  Some students are fine going up to a teacher and sharing some of the struggles that they have in their lives, but from my experience, those students would actually be in the minority.

Instead of accepting that some people are more open than others, we have often tried to force students talk to a point which would be our ideal.  Many educators, including myself, used to give marks for “participation” in class discussions to push our students to talk.  What this would often do would force some kids to speak when they are totally uncomfortable, and not facilitate anything that would be beneficial outside of the classroom.  With others that continued to not talk, tying marks to their “lack” of participation, only makes them feel worse and punishes them for sometimes being shy.  Is this really helping the problem?

We have to see that for some students, technology actually can provide them the voice that they have never had before.  I spoke to one student that said the use of social media actually inspired them to start speaking publicly because they developed confidence through a medium that worked for them.  I think of how many students would benefit and feel more comfortable talking in public when they would be allowed to use a medium that works for them first.

Then you have the other argument that the constant use of technology actually takes away the ability for some students that are already social.  The reality with many people are social, means they will actually connect both online and offline.  Social media has not made me any less social when in an “offline” environment.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  I now feel that I am always comfortable going to any conference on my own as I will know people there that I have connected with through Twitter.  Instead of simply going to workshops and being by myself, I now can easily find a group of friends and connect with them in person.  This only started happening for me when I started using social media and if anything, it has actually made me more social in face-to-face settings.  Before I would have never gone to a conference on my own, and now, I don’t even think twice about it.

What I have also seen is that technology and social media has actually given people the opportunity to connect with others that have similar interests or experiences.  I was moved, as many were, by the video of two girls that were both born with one arm, connecting continuously through Skype.  Although they had never met, they considered each other “best friends”, and talked constantly, even though they were on opposite sides of the world.  The moment they finally met was inspiring, and to say that this relationship is lesser because it started and grew online, would most likely be an insult to these two, as it would be to others who have met some of their best friends and partners online.

It is pretty amazing to see the opportunities we have to connect, see, and learn about one another because of technology, but sometimes the ease of use leads us to take it for granted.  As I see my nephews and nieces grow up through my brother’s sharing of their lives, our conversations are much richer and deeper each time I see them.  I know more about their lives and feel that even though I am living far away, I am still able to watch them grow up.  I would take opportunities to see them in person over online interactions, but since I do not always have that option, I will continue to enjoy connecting with them through technology in-between visits.

Technology can give us the opportunity to enhance face-to-face interactions, not replace them.  We just have to take advantage.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 11.42.29 AM

Myths of Technology Series: “Don’t Talk To Strangers”

For ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, I will be presenting on the “Myths of Technology and Learning”. As I am really thinking about what I will be sharing at the conference, I wanted to write a series of blog posts that will help myself and others “rethink” some of these statements or arguments that you hear in relation to technology in school.  I will be writing a series of blog posts on different myths, and will be posting them on this page.  I hope to generate discussion on these topics to further my own learning in this area and appreciate any comments you have on each idea shared.

As kids, we were continuously told “don’t talk to strangers”, and this generation has been told the same thing.  Times have changed and we have to really rethink this notion.

If you really think about it, everyone you are close with now was a stranger at one point.  Not only does that notion come to play, but as adults, we have to realize that it is much more common for people to meet someone online first.  Online dating has moved away from being “taboo”, it has become the norm.  If you took it even further, many people probably meet friends online first.  My time connecting online, has actually helped me to connect with some of my best friends in the world.  Similar to online dating, many of these friends that I have become closest with have a list of qualities that I was drawn to that I may not have necessarily met if I was only open to “offline” connections.

Kids are also starting to create those environments for themselves as well.  Danah Boyd discusses in her book on “Networked Teens”, how kids are using social media to connect with peers that have similar interests.  One example I have seen was a student in a small community who had a unique interest in gaming, use his Instagram account to connect with other gamers.  None of these people were in his class, and could have lived in different countries, yet they were all people that this student identified with and gave him a sense of belonging.  There are many kids in our schools that would benefit from a sense of belonging.

As I continue to do workshops with students, I have continuously asked them, “How many of you have met someone online first, and them met online.  Years ago, my guess would be that the percentage would be very low, but I consistently get above half of the room raising their hands.  I would also guess that several students chose not to raise their hands because they have been continuously told that this is something that they shouldn’t do, while we as adults, continue to do this ourselves.  Safety should always be our number one concern, so if we are going to help kids be safe in a networked world, we have to think differently.

One suggestion that I have given students is that they have connected with someone online that they want to meet in person, they should talk to their parents first and arrange a video chat with their mom or dad in the room.  Not hovering over their shoulder, but so that it is obvious that the parent is present.  They could arrange to meet somewhere where their parent drops them off, and is around.  Obviously this depends upon the age of the child, and some still might scoff at the idea, but it is a lot safer than pretending this could never happen and covering our eyes.  We have to start thinking about different approaches to keep our kids safe in such a networked world.

Many educators, such as Kelli Holden from Parkland School Division, understand the power there is connecting with “strangers” and has focused on modelling the power of social media with her students, which has made a tremendous impact on their learning.  Using a classroom Twitter account, Kelli will ask questions of the “world” that are often developed with her students, and they will learn a great deal about the rest of the world.  Using the hashtag, #whatsdoesyourspringlike, her students displayed a picture of the weather outside in Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada, and received responses from around the world, including Palm Springs, Washington,  Norway , Tokyo, amongst many others.  If we want our students to have a “global awareness”, we have to teach them how to safely connect with others.

If I think about my experience with a subject such as science, I remember losing interest quickly.  This lack of passion for the subject probably spilled over to my own students in my first few years of teaching, as I never really understood or developed a love for the subject.  But now, with the ability to connect with biologists, physicists, astronauts, or even classes around the world, there is an opportunity to learn about science from “scientists”.

If we let our notion of what a “stranger” is and decide not to connect with these people, we are taking away tremendous opportunities from our students.  Instead of the idea that we “shouldn’t talk to strangers”, maybe we need to focus on Bill Nye’s notion that “everyone you meet knows something you don’t” and teach our students how to be safe in a world that is powerfully connected.

Would you want to be a learner in your own classroom?

There has been a lot of talk about this video that was anonymously shared by a teacher from Chicago Public Schools:

The outrage shared by many educators is that this is a terrible way of professional learning and it really undermines teachers.

It is almost like we are treating them like children…right?

I just wonder how many hits that video (over 130,000 at the time I am sharing it on this blog) would have received if it was a classroom full of students doing the same thing? Would people have cared as much? They should. I also wonder if someone in that session will use the same techniques with their own students? Often we teach the way we were taught and if we do not change the experiences teachers have in their own professional development, we can’t really expect them to change anything in their own classroom.

The question I have been asking a lot lately is, “would you want to be a learner in your own classroom?

If this wouldn’t work for me (which it wouldn’t), then it is not going to work for my students.

Choosing Not to Know

I had two administrators approach me yesterday and start a conversation.

One told me about how their IT department had closed all social media in their school and about how their fear that if they were to open it.  The fear shared was that their would be so many more issues of cyberbullying, inappropriate content shared, amongst other things.

The other told me about how their school district has all social media sites open to their students and have very few issues.  In fact, he had shared that since the network was opened, the issues lessened because of their focus on teaching digital citizenship.

Huh.

The question that came to my mind was, are these districts talking to one another?  My other thought was, do the districts that have things opened even try to talk to the ones that are open?  Seriously, people have open networks and have very few issues yet so many others with closed networks talk about the fear of what could be if schools decided to open their network.

Does looking only within our own organizations and focusing on the “fear factor” really help our students?  I am guessing you can figure out what I think.

If you are interested, here is a simple rubrics to start a conversation on this topic: Is Your School’s DIgital Citizenship Practice a Pass or Fail?

“The world only cares about what you can do with what you know.”

I read a fascinating article from Thomas Friedman on the weekend (read the whole thing) on what Google looks for in hiring employees.  Here is the last paragraph:

Google attracts so much talent it can afford to look beyond traditional metrics, like G.P.A. For most young people, though, going to college and doing well is still the best way to master the tools needed for many careers. But Bock is saying something important to them, too: Beware. Your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job. 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). And in an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, it also cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.

A couple of thoughts…

First of all, as a principal, I rarely if ever looked at a person’s marks from university when hiring them.  It was not a determining factor especially since I saw that some of the worst teachers from my time in school had the best marks in university.  This is not always true, but when someone has mastered the way school has been done, the notion of school looking different for students is pretty tough to swallow.  The skills that Friedman referenced that Google looks for are similar to what I looked for in hiring a new teacher, and I am guessing, it would be similar to most employers today.

Secondly, if these skills (leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn)  are so important for a company like Google, will this skill-set not become the norm for others? And if they are, how will a system that is so focused on grades and marks deal with developing skills that can’t be easily measured?

The Small Ripple

Working with my good friend Shaye Patras, Principal at Blueberry School, I have had the opportunity to do one-on-one visits with his school in the last 12 months.  A few years ago, one of my suggestions I made to many administrators, Shaye included, in the area of using Google Apps, was to move all of your work you do as a principal to using Google Apps with staff. Although this is a little change, it can make a big impact.  Doing simple things such as sending agendas out to your staff on a Google Document, or asking for feedback through a Google Form, can make a big impact.  It doesn’t make much sense to encourage the use of Google Apps for Education by sending your staff a Word Document.

This goes back to the notion that if you want to innovate, you must disrupt your routine.  It also lends to the idea that if you want to change things in the classroom, you have to change the way we do things organizationally.  People are more likely to embrace change when they experience it.

So with these opportunities of visiting every three months or so, I have seen HUGE changes not only in skill level, but openness by staff and students to try different things.  I give a ton of credit to the teachers in the school for being open and wanting to grow, but with Shaye willing to try something new and model that he was willing to take risks, he opened the door for his staff to do the same.  You can never expect people to take risks unless leaders model it; saying it is not enough.

With little changes in the way that we do the things we have always done, you can start a ripple that can lead to a big wave.

The Global Teacher

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 11.20.08 AMI have talked about the notion of “classroom teacher” vs. “school teacher” in posts before, and have begun to rethink this notion.

Simply put, a “classroom teacher” is someone that focuses on their classroom and students only.  Although there can be a huge benefit to their own students, this often leads to weaker relationships with other students.  They often see other kids as someone else’s issue and will avoid dealing with them.  They also keep their practices to themselves and have their classroom door closed, sometimes literally, but most often figuratively.

Then you have the “school teacher“.  This to me was the ideal as this teacher connected with every student in their classroom, as well as students and educators around the school.  They see supervision as an opportunity to connect with others and build relationships with kids.  They share their practices openly with others because their focus is always on “what is best for kids“.  If they can share something, and you can take it, remix it, and use it for your students, they make everyone better.  They think of the school as a village and their expertise and experience is shared exponentially not to only help their kids, but all kids in their school.

So now I have started to think about the “global teacher“.  The global teacher has the best elements of the classroom and school teacher, but their focus is on “what is best for kids”, no matter if is their own kids, kids in the school across the street, or across the ocean.  They got into teaching because they love students and want to help every single one of them, no matter their situation or location.  They care for the kids in their classroom, they share openly with others in their school and connect with kids, but want to make things better past their own situation.  They inspire change whether it is with one classroom in another school, or thousands.  They also tap into others and bring the best to their students. The more we look at what others are doing, the better we can become for the students closest to us.

Global teachers (should) care about education as a whole, as well as their school and their classroom.  I just want to iterate that if the person only looks at sharing and learning globally, but cannot connect with those in their classroom or school, I would not consider them a “global teacher”.  They just know that we are better when we work together, not just taking, but contributing.  They know what they share makes a difference for others, as well as knowing what they learn from others makes a difference for their school and students.

So where are you on the spectrum, and what type of teacher would you want in your school?

5 Reasons Your Portfolio Should Be Online

“My prediction is that in the next ten years, resumes will be less common, and your online presence will become what your resume is today, at all types and sizes of companies.” Dan Schawbel, 2011

Having a conversation with teachers and administrators, I asked how many of them still had “paper portfolios”. Surprisingly, it was over half of the room, and many of them had developed it in university, updating it only when job opportunities arose.  I remember actually having a paper portfolio and applying for jobs, and hating the process of dusting off a binder, adding a ton of great information into it, only to walk into an interview and have the person hiring not even look at it.  It was extremely frustrating as I had put a lot of work into it, only to have it ignored, and I never really understood why.

And then I became a principal.

When I would look at applicants for interviews and have a limited amount of time to talk with them and interact, the thought of flipping through a binder with them sitting in the room in front of me, seemed a little ludicrous.  I wanted to spend as much time getting to know them as possible.  At the end of the interview, sometimes they would offer to leave the portfolio with me to peruse at my leisure and they would either come back to pick it up or I would have to mail it (does anyone go to the post office anymore?).  I might have been the exception in my process a few years ago, but this is becoming more of the norm now, not only in education, but all aspects.  A portfolio could be great for the process of an interview, but shouldn’t the things you do help you get the interview in the first place?  Sending mass binders out to potential employers doesn’t make much sense.

I believe it is time (it has been for awhile) to ditch the paper portfolio and move it online.  Here are some reasons below.

1. The Google Factor – We talk to students a lot about developing their digital footprint, yet how often do we help them build this footprint in schools?  A digital portfolio is hugely beneficial to this type of work as it helps you to create your own online presence and shares the great work that you, or your students are doing.  The nice thing about a digital portfolio is that it is also not limited to text, but can be anything that you can see or create.  If I want to be a photographer, animator, actor, athlete, or anything else, digital can help share that information and make it accessible to others.  A portfolio that is able to bring together all of these different elements into one space will make your “footprint” that much better and easier to find.

2.  Searching and Organization - My own blog is a “portfolio” of my work (if you want to see how it is set up, check out this video) that I have been working on for over four years, in a constant and continuous basis.  That is a lot of information over time, but with thoughtful “tagging” and “categorizing”, I am able to google myself and find my own work.  For example, if I want to find any time that I referenced “Daniel Pink”, I simply do a search for his name om my blog and voila!  Even using something as simple as “Command + F” (“Control + F” on Windows) can help me find a word instantly on amy page.  This is much easier than flipping through pages in a binder.

3. Anywhere, any place, any time access - If you were to have a paper portfolio and I asked to see it while you did not have it in hand, how would you get it to me?  If you ask my for my portfolio, I would simply give you the URL to my website and peruse away.  This was the nice thing about applicants that had an online portfolio to share with me.  It was accessible before, during, and after an interview and at my convenience.  In a world where there is always a shortage of time, accessibility at a time of your convenience is important.

4.  Creating opportunities instead of looking for them - In a market where jobs are scarce and a university degree guarantees nothing, the competition for positions is tough.  With a online portfolio, especially one that continuously invites people to look at it (every time I write a blog post and you read it, you are looking at my portfolio), you have the ability to have opportunities come to you, instead of the other way around.  I know many people that have simply shared the work that they have always done on their online portfolio, and then were asked to speak at conferences or consult with schools, simply because their work was visible.  Simply sharing your work is not enough to create those opportunities, but you will never know what is the one thing that you share that someone else will deem valuable to their organization and call in your expertise.

5. Continuous learning - One of the most powerful things I have found by doing an online portfolio is the growth in my own learning that I have done by sharing.  By simply knowing that other people will see what I write or share, I put a lot more thought into what I am doing.  I also find tremendous value in the comments and conversation that is started from some of the things that I share; they push my learning.  If we are to look at online portfolios as both a way to “showcase” and “learn”, they are hugely beneficial to our growth.

Although I have listed several reasons why an online portfolio is beneficial (and I am sure I could list a lot more), many educators are happy where they are in their career, and would argue that there is no need for them to have an online portfolio themselves as they will never apply for another job.  My belief is that if we are truly doing what is best for kids, we have to learn how to do it ourselves to help our students in the future.  Wayne Gretzky once said, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”  We need to look ahead for our kids sake.

Another question that I get is, “Well what if no one googles me?  Then I have done all of this work for nothing.”  To be honest, if you get not one single opportunity from an online portfolio and only went deep into your own learning, isn’t that still a pretty good thing?  The other suggestion I would make is that when you submit a resume, right at the top of it share the following:

“For more information, please refer to my portfolio located at…”.

This ensures that you lead people to the great work that you have already done.

In my view, there is a difference between a “digital” and “online” portfolio.  An online portfolio is usually digital, but it is not necessarily the other way around.  There are many benefits to both professionals and students to share our work in an open way.  As Chris Lehmann has said before, ”it is no longer enough to do powerful work if no one sees it”.

Where can I see your powerful work?

Resources

If you are interested in some help for Online Portfolios, here are some links:

Blog as Portfolio Workshop

Blog as Portfolio (Video)

Digital Portfolio Project (Write Up)