Category Archives: Embodying Visionary Leadership

Don’t Forget About Local Either #ISTE2015

“I have found my tribe.”

Little comments like this about people connecting around the world are something that really has the potential to make an impact on education around the world. I have often said, that the real power of technology now is not that we have access to all of the information in the world, but we have access to one another.

At #ISTE2015 this year, I asked the room I presented in, “how many of you are NOT on Twitter?”, and one hand rose. It was the person running the audio for the session. For the first time was I in a room where every single teacher was on Twitter. Whether they saw the value of it or utilized it in ways to make an impact on teaching and learning is another story, but I have seen a tremendous shift in the past few years.  The world is at our fingertips and people are willing to embrace it.

There is a huge power in bringing experts into our classrooms, but what about sharing our expertise to the rest of the world? Or even sharing it within our own schools?  The walls in our own schools need to be taken down, as we can utilize these technologies to learn from one another.  The idea of “crowd accelerated innovation”, is powerful, and something we need to embrace by opening our classrooms to the world, and to each other.  I shared this idea recently, and asked a simple question:

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Many people have started global, but we need to think how we can also make an impact locally in our schools.  Transparency to each other can make a big difference in learning and culture.

It is easy to focus on all of the awesome ideas that are shared on Twitter and put educators from around the world on pedestals, but how many times do you see worksheets shared on Twitter? Do we really believe that this never happens in any classrooms?  We often are inclined to share our “best stuff” as opposed to a random sampling of the day-to-day workings of a classroom. Sometimes by focusing solely on the greatness outside of your school, we can sometimes belittle the efforts of those that we work with everyday.

So as conferences like ISTE come to a close, it is great to be inspired by those that we meet at these events, but let’s remember that we can be inspired by those we see every single day. The idea of “you can’t be a prophet in your own land” is something that we as individuals are guilty of because we often choose to applaud the people we see daily the least. We often find greatness in the places that we choose to see it.  The world is at our fingertips, but so are the people in our own organizations. Let’s make sure we look and acknowledge the valuable work that they are doing daily.

Learning is Relational

Sitting in a session with Tracy Clark, about “A Posture of Experimentation“, she asked us to fill in the blanks on the following statement:

Trying something new is like ___________  because _________.

This was a great exercise in having the group think about, and embrace the opportunities for our own growth.

As I thought about it, it is easy to promote the ideas of others embracing their own personal growth, but as educators, both with our colleagues, and our students, do we create environments that are safe for this type of “experimentation”? For example, I walked into a classroom recently and saw the sign that stated, “Do it right the first time.”  This does not promote the mindset.  Although it is easy to criticize this quote, I honestly would have had the same mindset in my classroom as a teacher when I started in 1999. You often create, what you experience.  But the reality is that it is easy to say, “try something new”, without the work of creating an environment that is safe for this type of experimentation.  In education, this is not simply on one person or group, but about us as a whole.

Even this past week, I watched a Twitter account have their grammar corrected by someone (who was thankfully not an educator) online in a very blunt manner.  Was their grammar incorrect? Yes. Did it really matter? No.

Although I saw the tweet and the response and thought it was not the best way to use the medium, I did not know the person behind the account, until they showed up to my session.  They just happened to be a high school student who was actually crushed by the public correction.  Did this interaction, as small and little for one person, help create a mindset in another individual that was open to “taking risks”?  (I did end up tweeting everyone to follow that account and hopefully made them feel a little bit better!)

This happens online though, but I have seen the same interactions in classrooms and meetings as well.  Instead of seeking first to understand, we can often be quick to correct or squash the ideas and thoughts of others, instead of asking questions or seeking first to understand.  This is not about being “fluffy” and not challenging the ideas of others, or even our students, but it is about creating an environment where this feels safe, and is about helping others, not tearing them down.

Learning is relational. It is not simply a transfer of knowledge between two people or parties, so the connections and moments we have with each other are also crucial to growth. This safe environment is necessary if we want people to truly take risks.

3 Long Term Opportunities For Schools Today

After a conference, there is the thought that many need something they can do right away with students.  The demands of being a teacher, while also keep opportunities “fresh”, is something that lends to this way of thinking.  If you go to any conference, there will be a ton of “apps” shared of cool things you can do, but often times, the learning with this is more novelty than depth. Learning that empowers and makes an impact takes thoughtful leadership at all levels, as well as vision.  It also sometimes not only takes a “village”, but the vision of the village to come together.

With that being said, I have been focusing on some initiatives that are new(ish) in some schools, that will need communities to come together. Obviously, ideas like leadership and sharing mutual respect for others, as well as appreciating and celebrating both our similarities and differences, are crucial to our school environments.  Powerful learning does not happen in schools without a focus on relationships and community.

Here are three initiatives that will take time, effort, and community to make happen at the systemic level.

1. A focus on digital citizenship/leadership.  


This above image created by Bill Ferriter, quoting Will Richardson, is one that has made a significant impact on my thinking.  I have often asked educators, if a fight broke out, which subject area teacher would deal with it? They look at me as if I am crazy, and then I mention that is much how we treat the notion of digital citizenship. This is on all of us.

I recently shared the idea of “3 Things Students Should Have Before They Leave High School“, but often remind educators that this is not something that starts in high school, but should be part of the fabric of our schools at all levels.  This is either in modelling or helping students create.  This is not to say that students all have to be using social media, but at least the option is there to ensure that the understand the implications of a positive, negative, or neutral footprint.

Stephen Downes commented on this idea, and I loved his thoughts:

I get the general idea, and support it, but I think the description is way too narrow. I’d rather see people have much more than an page and personal portfolio – I think they should have a wider online presence with credentials, tools, artifacts, and whatever else they need. The same with a social network – but not just a ‘social network’ but wide-ranging interactions with people inside and outside their own field.

I couldn’t agree with him more, but definitely believe there needs to be a starting point and emphasis on teaching this in schools.  The shift from “digital citizenship” to simply “citizenship” (since technology is just part of our world) probably won’t happen without putting an emphasis and placing some of these ideas at the forefront.  This is not the work of “specialty” educators, but something we all have a responsibility towards.

2. Digital Portfolios

Building upon the first idea, I think there is a huge power in “Digital Portfolios” to not only help build a footprint, but transform practices in learning and assessment. We have often seen learning in “chunks” in school practice (grade two to grade three, etc.), but is something that is continuous and messy.

Years ago, I wrote a comprehensive plan on the “blogs as digital portfolios“, and really explored the impact it could have on helping connecting learning throughout the school and amongst different subject areas.  This should not be limited to any specific class or grade level, but something that actually becomes an opportunity to not only reflect, create, and connect, but also helps to provide authentic examples of student owned learning.  That being said, if we are to be successful with this type of opportunity, it would make a huge impact if educators had their own versions of digital portfolios, to really understand the impact this could have learning.  This is a “barrier” that could easily become an opportunity.

3. Embracing the Innovator’s Mindset

For any of these things to happen, or other opportunities, we need to embrace a mindset that is open to conducive learning, while also helping to develop it in our students. The “innovator’s mindset” is defined by the following:

Innovator's Mindset


With ideas such as genius hour, maker spaces, innovation day/week, and a whole myriad of other ideas for powerful creation to connect learning, it is important that we think differently about learning, and help develop that mindset with our students.

I love this idea from the Center for Accelerated Learning on learning as “creation”:

Learning is Creation, Not Consumption. Knowledge is not something a learner absorbs, but something a learner creates. Learning happens when a learner integrates new knowledge and skill into his or her existing structure of self. Learning is literally a matter of creating new meanings, new neural networks, and new patterns of electro/chemical interactions within one’s total brain/body system.

Krissy Venosdale also shared a powerful image on what “learning” looks like.

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This mindset should not be limited to our students, but to all of those involved in education.


To achieve these goals in a meaningful way, we have to realize that it will take a whole community approach, and cannot be left to the few to achieve.  This takes a change in mindset while also creating the need for leadership to remove barriers to unleash talent which leads to innovative opportunities.  What I believe is the real power of these initiatives, is that these ideas I have shared are not an endpoint, but only a beginning. When we create a culture of sharing, innovative flourishes. Embracing the idea that everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learnerand that these roles will change multiple times daily, is the only way that any initiative will truly succeed in our schools today.

Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.

I have had the privilege to speak in Indiana for their “Summer of eLearning” events over the past three years and I have been able to see snapshots of the state, that have given me some perspective.  The growth not only in the conversations, but the opportunities has been significant as a whole.  Years ago there were educators that were pushing the boundaries in the state, but there seem to be a lot more and I know that it is because of the persistence of many levels (top down and bottom up) that have made this possible.

What I have been thinking about how we have to realize that it is not only learning that is differentiated, but at the rate that we are accepting of change.  For some, change is happening too slow, but for others it is happening too fast.  It is the Goldilock’s conundrum that we are facing; how do we make it happen so the pace of change is just right?

Short answer? We can’t.

We have to realize that in educators are not simply educators. They are mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters.  There are so many other things that are happening around them that many of us can’t fathom.  I have good friends that are doing amazing things in spite of the things that they are dealing with at home.  In fact, sometimes they do these amazing things because it helps take away from some of those things they have to deal with.  I know that sometimes when I struggle personally, it is easy to bury my head and drive forward professionally. Sometimes when I struggle personally, professionally I also struggle.  It is dependent upon many factors.

This is a profession where humans are dealing with humans.  The amount of variables that we deal with daily are infinite as a profession.  

So do we give a pass to those that aren’t open to change? Not a chance.  Change will happen with or without people, but it is up to ourselves to evolve, adapt, and thrive.  What is important that we need to recognize when people are moving forward, not necessarily their endpoint.  One of the ideas that I have embraced in my role is that we help move people from their point ‘a’ to their point ‘b’. Movement forward is necessary.

Sometimes it is easy to think education has not changed in the past few years, but if we sat back and took snapshots, I know I have personally seen growth in the profession.  The conversations on assessment, learning-centred classrooms, innovation, and mindfulness are things that were not the norm when I started teaching.  This doesn’t mean that we can’t be frustrated with many of the barriers that are still in the way to help us move forward.  I encourage you to continuously challenge them.  What is important though is that we sometimes take a step back and appreciate some change that has happened.  I know personally that we move a lot further forward when we focus on strengths and show appreciation for one another, than we do when we criticize.

And just so you know, if education is truly learning focused, we will never get there (wherever “there” is).  Growth and change is part of the process of learning, and as organizations and individuals, we will need to embrace that.

Thinking of my dad on this Fathers’ Day, I looked at his actions, and the one thing he always reminded me of through his actions is that change is an opportunity to do something amazing. The more we embrace that notion, the better we will all be.

Change is an opportunity to do something

Personalize, Not Standardize

I received the following question in one of my sessions today:

How do you engage the teachers and students who think it is “easier” to just do it (learning) on paper?

My response? Let them do it on paper.

The thing that is powerful about technology is the opportunity to personalize, not standardize. There are some really amazing things that you can do with a computer or mobile device, but the power is often more about the “choice” than the medium.  We have the opportunity to reach more students now than ever, not because of “technology”, but because of the options that we are now provided.

Below is one of the tweets from a session at the conference I was just recently at:

I talked to Jenny after, and she was obviously very comfortable using technology, but she chose to personalize a lot of her learning through paper and pen. That is what worked for her and that is what is important.  What is also necessary is that in her classroom, she creates the same opportunities for choice as well.

People like Sylvia Duckworth amaze me with their ability to draw and connect their learning in a way that is so appealing to many.  Her collection of SketchNotes that she creates and shares openly are absolutely amazing and not only appeal to her, but to so many others. She actually helped my learning by sharing a Sketchnote she created on the “8 Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset”.

Image created by @SylviaDuckworth

Image created by @SylviaDuckworth

The idea that all learners need to use “tech” is not necessarily a step in the right direction. The opportunity to create learning experiences for yourself that are personally driven, as opposed to created for you by someone else, is one of the benefits that we need to really recognize in schools today.

I promise you that I will not take away your pen and paper to learn, if you let me use my computer to do the same. Deal?

The Acceleration of Leadership and Learning

I am a lot smarter now than I was five years ago.

Simply saying that out loud to people, tends to throw them off and sometimes even suggest there is a certain arrogance in the statement, but I am comparing myself only to myself, not to others.  That being said, I distinctly remember a few years ago a long time friend of mine who is a principal, was listening to me talk in a conversation, turned to me and said, “What happened to you? When did you become smart?”  Simply stated, putting myself into spaces where I had not only access to information, but more importantly, the thoughts of others, accelerated my learning in areas of interest.

I pride myself on being a “sponge”, and look for others to connect with that highlight that same attribute.  Do I know it all? Not even close.  But I am willing to not only grow, but apply what I know.  Any person in a leadership must embrace both the concepts of not knowing everything, while also having a willingness to learn.  Too many schools are limited to the idea of “we don’t know what we don’t know”, but don’t try to find out.

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” John F. Kennedy

When I first went into administration, my former principal shared with me the idea that I would become a much better teacher if I went to teachers classrooms.  Access daily to seeing great teachers teach, would give me an opportunity that I didn’t have as a teacher.  The problem was that I didn’t need to necessarily become a better teacher, but I needed the teachers in my school to become better.  Instead of seeing a practice in a classroom that we would share days or sometimes weeks later ensured that great teaching and learning would NOT go viral.  Instead of waiting, teachers would blog or tweet about their practice, and this openness would accelerate not only the learning, but the conversations that would happen in the staffroom.  People would start asking questions about what they saw through social media while they were in the staffroom; we did not depend solely on the scheduled professional learning days; we had access to the thoughts and practices of one another 24/7 and removed the isolation that had been so prevalent in schools years prior.

As a leader, this willingness to learn is essential to the growth of all those that you we serve.  My knowledge, or lack there of it, impacts all those around me.  Ignorance or a lack of willingness to learn from leadership often leads to slower growth from any organization.  Accelerated learning is crucial to accelerated leadership. As we grow, so do our organizations.  These ideas are correlated not only in education, but in all areas.

Some of the questions that drove this growth…

How are we breaking down both the time and physical barriers that have led the field of education to be “isolated”?

How does the ownership of my own learning impact those that I serve?

How do we make great teaching and learning practice go viral in our organization?

The old practices of waiting for the staff learning day for the growth of individuals and our organizations are no longer acceptable in a world where transparency and openness are becoming the norm.  If we want to accelerate innovate leadership and learning, closing our doors and mindsets to the technology that is afforded to us to create this openness in learning and leadership, is no longer acceptable.

Education, Academia, and Learning

My friend Amanda Dykes, shared this slide from a presentation on Instagram:

YouTube is the #1 educational site in the world. Sooooo why is it blocked in most schools???

A photo posted by Amanda Dykes (@amandacdykes) on

I thought it was an interesting tweet,because I am not sure of the accuracy in the wording.  As Amanda stated, for a site to be the number one “educational” site, schools wouldn’t block it.  If you changed the word to “educational” to “learning” though, that is something that I would definitely believe.  People use YouTube for learning all of the time.  Just the other night, I was trying to learn to play a song, and based on habit, one of the sites that I would look at is YouTube.  There is so much information listed on there that it is a shame that so many schools block it, prompting the “School vs. Learning” argument.

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This tweet from Leif Rask caught my eye though:

Again, “learning” and “academics” are not necessarily the same thing. In fact, when I googled the definition for “academic” one of the definitions was “not of practical relevance; of only theoretical interest.” This only fuels the “School vs Learning” debate.

If schools are a place that promote learning, not learn about “school stuff”, but actually learn,to ignore the places where most of the world learns doesn’t make much sense.  We easily say things like “we need to teach a way a child learns”, yet we too often ignore the places where so many of them are going to do that.

Your Social Media Guidelines in One Sentence

Social media is becoming the norm as opposed to the exception in many schools.

With that happening, many administrators are rushing to make a list of policies and guidelines to ensure that teachers are using the medium wisely.  Yet the more policies and guidelines we have, the more we deter people from using social media.  I even recently saw a profile that explicitly stated that all students will be blocked from seeing their accounts as per district guidelines.  When we do that, we limit the opportunity to model what “appropriate use” could look like.

To me, your social media guidelines can be summed up in one sentence.

“Anything you can say to students in class, you can say online.”

That’s it.

Saying it online is similar to saying it to a student. No personal versus professional, just understanding that the context of social media and that anything online would be considered a public space.

Too many rules and guidelines can deter innovation or even using the space in the first place.

The simpler we make social media, the more likely it is that it will be used.

Empathy for the Learner as a Learner

Empathy is the characteristic where innovation begins.  It is crucial to put yourself in the place of those that you serve if we are going to create something that is better moving forward. This was highlighted in a great article I recently read titled, “Innovation, Empathy, and Introspection” (it is really an interesting read). I loved the part about “novelists” being masters of empathy.

Novelists are the world’s masters at empathy. We can learn a lot about empathy by looking at their work.

In a long novel, published in 1951, entitled Memoirs of Hadrian, the French writer Marguerite Yourcenar set herself a huge task around empathy. She wanted to write not simply about the Roman emperor Hadrian, she wanted to write from his point of view. And to do that she’d have to enter imaginatively into what it was like to be him. She was a woman, living in a small flat in New York, used to taking taxis and boiling the kettle, whose direct experience of power might have been limited to hiring someone to repaint the bedroom. Hadrian was master of the known world. 

She did lots of research. She found out about Roman history, she read up on their religious assumptions, the background horizon and politics, the structure of family life, what they had for dinner, how the postal-system operated and how many slaves an emperor might have. But she wasn’t only trying to find out about Hadrian’s world. She was asking a more radical and creative question: what would it be like actually to be him?

This really pushed my thinking on the importance of subjects like english, that have a focus on developing empathy, being crucial to innovative pursuits for students.

It also pushed my thinking on the notion of not necessarily separating students from teachers, but seeing everyone as “learners” (although we obviously have different functions within the organization of schools). When educators view themselves in the same light as a student (as a learner), this practice is not only crucial, but necessary to innovation in teaching and learning.  I have noticed in my workshops lately, when asked by educators about the concerns of some things that we might be able to do with students, I often answer the question with a question; how would you feel as a learner in that same situation?  We often say things like,  “kids can share a device amongst three of their other peers”, while having 2-3 devices sitting in front of us at a professional learning opportunity.  Our mindset becomes different when we put ourselves in the place of “learner”, as opposed to separating student from teacher.

I remember once doing an activity with students where I asked them to write down on a whiteboard all of the ways they wanted to be perceived “offline” by others.  When they wrote all of the attributes down (respectful, kind, helpful, humorous, etc.), I then asked them to write how they want to be perceived “online”.  Their answers (obviously) were the same, although the reason the activity happened in the first place, was at the time, their actions did not align with how they said they wanted to be perceived.  What if we wrote down what we wanted for ourselves as learners on one side, and then followed it up with what we want to create for the learners we serve (our students).  Would those answers be any different?  What do our actions say?

Only when we look at it from the point of view of those we serve, can we truly be innovative in teaching, learning, and leadership.

Unexpectedkindness is themost

What Innovation Is and Isn’t

presenting (1)To simplify the notion of innovation, it is something that is both new (either invention or iteration) and better. Innovation is not about the “stuff”, but about a way of thinking.

For example, it is not the iPhone that is innovative, it was the thinking that created it in the first place.   Innovation is about mindset more than anything. In fact, if you made an iPhone that looked more like the first version than the current one, it would no longer be innovative, but simply replication.  There is no new thinking, nor is it better than what we have now.

Yet often, innovation is often used as a synonym for technology (which it is not), or to describe something that is simply “new”.  Innovation can happen in all areas of our world today, both inside and education.  There are many people that are designing assessment practices that extremely innovative, because they are both new and better in the way they improve learning. The ideas behind these innovative assessment practices also start from the viewpoint of the learner, not the teacher.  In fact, sometimes the newer assessment practices, although better for students, are often more work for the teacher.  It is simple to throw a subjective grade on a report card comparatively to the rich type of assessment teachers are helping to develop students to drive powerful learning.

Think about the idea of the “flipped classroom”.  Many would say this is an “innovation” in the world of teaching and learning, but if this new practice truly is, what makes it “better” (for the students)?  To understand that, what “better” means (is it test scores, student engagement, deeper learning) has to be articulated as well.  If it is just a new way of teaching, without the “better”, it is not innovative.

Here is an example of a new practice that is happening in health that may not be innovative, at all. Many schools are wanting students to eat healthier, so they are taking their current vending machines, and replacing “junk” food with healthier options.  The hope in this case in many places is that the lack of the option of the unhealthy food in a vending machine, will give students no choice but to eat healthy.  What this has done in many cases is actually not led students to eating healthier food, but actually sometimes leaving school and choose unhealthier options at things such as convenience stores, that actually have larger portions of the unhealthier food.

Although this is a new idea, if kids are actually eating less at school and still making unhealthy choices, is it better?  The voice that has often been missing in these health initiatives is that of the students.  To help people change, it is important to understand what drives their habits in the first place.  Simply replacing “A” with “B” is sometimes not only NOT innovation, it could actually lead to something worse then what we had before.  Designing solutions with the end in mind (the person/people you are serving), is crucial for any innovation to be successful.

Innovation is about a way of thinking, and if we do not design something that is both new and better, we are not thinking with an innovator’s mindset, but simply different.  The idea that Apple is famously known for of  “Think Different” was a start, but not enough. Different for the sake of different is not only something that could eventually be a waste of time, but could sometimes even leave us worse off from where we started.