Category Archives: Fostering Effective Relationships

Finding the Genius

This was a fantastic story, shared and created by Michael Wesch:

What I loved about this was the idea that sometimes our perceptions of students, lead to their new reality.  If we think of a student as lazy, what things do we do that actually feed into that?  But if we look for their strengths and how to build upon them, that perception also becomes a reality.

This is one of my favourite images on that very topic, most likely inspired by the Einstein quote,

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing that it is stupid.”

climb a tree

If we hold a certain knowledge that others don’t hold, it doesn’t make us smarter than them.  It just means that we have different strengths.  In the mechanic that doesn’t have a high school degree, yet can fix my car, I see genius. Finding that genius is part of what great educators do.

“Fads” and Innovation

It is easy to dismiss something as a “fad”.  I hear that a lot and the word is obviously used to dismiss something.  I have used it myself, but I have been really rethinking this idea in the terms of education.

“Growth Mindset” might be considered a fad. The “flipped classroom” might be considered a fad.  “Maker Spaces” even might be considered a fad.

But for any of these things to even be considered a fad, they have to be widely embraced by a large amount of people.  Anything that is widely adopted or embraced, quickly becomes widely criticized as well.  What is important to note is not that we shouldn’t ask questions or challenge popular thinking.  I believe that makes us all better.  But simply dismissing something as a “fad”, especially as an educator, sometimes shows a lack of willingness to learn about the strengths of any one trend.  There are things that I would challenge and question about all of the things I listed (flipped classroom, growth mindset, maker spaces), but what I do know for sure, is that these things have people asking questions about their practice.  That’s a good thing.

Even though no idea is perfect, there are always elements that will help students, if we choose to look for them.  They may not help every student, but I have yet to see any one thing that helps every student.  Learning is extremely personal, and there will be no “standardized” idea that solves all of the problems in education.

Challenging and questioning ideas is great, but simply dismissing them and labeling them as a “fad” might actually alienate the people that are trying to create something better for kids.

Building Relationships Through the Use of Technology

What do you want leaders to do with tech?

This graphic above that I  created with Bill Ferriter is something that I hope sparks conversations, but also stories of how these things are already happening in schools.  I am going to use it as a guide to show how technology can enhance, amplify, and accelerate leadership. I encourage others to share their stories from one of the “better answers” above.

Building Relationships

As I was at an admin meeting as a principal, and listening to something that really had nothing to do with the my own school or building, I remember usually using this time to catch up on email.  Since I had to stay at the meeting, I thought that I would use this time in a valuable way.  One time though, I decided that I would read student blogs since they had just started.  I was blown away by some of the things that kids were writing, so I decided to comment and share some of my thoughts with them.  This was a great way for me to connect with our students while I was out of the building and get a glimpse into their learning.

What I didn’t realize was the impact that this would have on our students.  I remember coming back to school and seeing a few of the students that I commented on their blogs and it felt like they were ready to throw a parade for me.  It was amazing at how excited they were that I simply commented on their blog, but then I thought about it.  I would have been so excited if my principal would have done the same thing when I was a student, but the reality is that when I was a kid that it didn’t exist.  Many of the students appreciated the time that I took to write something simple to them and acknowledge not only what they were creating and sharing, but also how hard they were working.

After this experience, I went out of my way to comment to as many of my teacher and student blogs, no matter what they had shared.  Reading a blog is beneficial to the reader, but commenting actually really connected to the person willing to share their thoughts. Even if it was a simple announcement of something that happened in the classroom, taking the time to read and, more importantly, comment, helped to create better connections when I saw the people trying something new in person. I would not hide myself in my office and comment to student or teacher blogs, but would do this when I had some down time, as I tried to connect in person as much as I could when I was in the building.

What I have truly believed is that technology isn’t meant to replace face-to-face interactions, but if anything, it can enhance them.  Those couple of minutes of commenting, actually created something where my students showed that they appreciated my effort, and I theirs.  Being able to show that you value someone, even from afar, is still showing them they are valued.

Technology used in these meaningful ways can create connections that we might not have necessarily been able to create from afar before.

Don’t Over Plan Day One

Leaders Today

Lately, I have been doing more and more workshops starting with nothing on my agenda.  I have a topic that I suggest we talk about and an idea of what we can work on, but what I have noticed is that we never stick to the agenda as a group, so why am I spending an inordinate amount of time putting something together that we are not doing.  My focus does not start with the learning, but with the learners.  Their questions and thoughts now lead the session, not only what I think they should learn.  Although, I don’t over plan my sessions, I believe that my understanding of the topic allows me to go in different directions.  That being said though, I will never know everything on any topic, whether I am deemed an expert or not, but because of this crazy invention called the “Internet”, and all of the people that are in the room, I know we can figure out whatever we need for that time.

As I thought about this process, I connected it to my first days of school as a teacher, when I first started my career in education. It was basically the exact opposite.  I would spend days preparing my classroom and decorating it, and even though, I would say it is “our classroom”, the items on the walls were my choice.  I would even have each child’s name written down as a welcome on a basketball, because I wanted them to feel welcome.  The problem is, the basketball was about what I loved, not what they loved.  If you hated playing sports, and you walked into a classroom that featured your name on a basketball, you might not feel very welcomed at all.

Then came the icebreaker activities.  If you are an introvert, day one is going to be extremely tough for you, because we are going to make you get up, walk around, ask and answer questions that totally make you feel uncomfortable, because the student being uncomfortable doing something they hate, is not as important as me feeling safe that the entire day is planned out with things to do.

Wrong.

What if you wanted to learn the student’s names, you asked them to create their own art to display it on which represents something they love?

Instead of decorating the room with what you think should be on the walls, ask the students what they would like the room to look like, and plan how you could shape and decorate it, over time.

Instead of planning the entire day, why not create opportunities to talk to them and learn about them, and get a feel for what your year, or even the day could look like?

If I really think about how the year started for me as a teacher, it was more about the students to get to know me, than it was about me getting to know them.  There actually should be a balance.  Trust and respect are reciprocal feelings; they are not earned only from one direction.

This is not to say don’t plan anything, but to really think about the tone you are setting at the beginning of the year with what you are doing.  Is this more about you, or the students?  Looking back at my own practices, the answer was definitive.  I am trying to get better.

The major shift here is from engagement to empowerment.  I wanted to make sure the students had enjoyed their day, but now I see the importance in not only saying that it is their room, but making it their room.  If we want to create the leaders of tomorrow, there is no better time to develop our students as leaders than today.

Simple Words

I love seeing the different things shared at “opening days” for schools and districts. I have learned so much from experiencing this and it is a great opportunity for people not only to connect, but also set a tone for the year and hopefully fuel inspiration.

Today as I sat and observed opening day in Mcalester, Oklahoma, I was inspired by the “vision” that set the background for the year, that shows schools shifting in a much more “empowered” direction.

What I have also noticed more now than ever, is districts are tapping into the power of student voice to kick off the year.  Who better to set the tone for what we do in a school year than the people we are ultimately there for.  I have seen this more and more, and am always inspired, but today, the young lady that addressed her teachers was so unbelievably inspiring.

What really resonated with me, was her openly emotional speech sharing the impact of her teachers. Within moments, her passion brought me to tears and created such an excitement within me for our future as I could see it so brightly in this student. She talked about how her teachers empowered her to be the leader she is today, so that she can continue to be a leader in the future.

The simple tweet I shared above, followed by my own comments to the entire audience about how inspiring her and her peers were, was a simple acknowledgment of how powerful her words were.  I never thought much of it, because I just said what I felt.  But by the end of my talk, a teacher had approached me, and profusely thanked me for my comments on her daughter (I had no idea her mom was there), telling me that they had experienced a tough year and that it truly meant a lot.  She was very emotional and extremely grateful for my kind words.

It was yet another reminder, that if we have the opportunity to say something kind and sincere, we should, always.  You never know what simple words you share, can mean the entire world to someone else, whether it is a student, a colleague, a family member, or anyone. One moment can sometimes make all of the difference.

Educator = Trajectory Changer

I have been thinking a lot about the word “trajectory” and it’s relevance to what we do in education.  Every interaction we have with so many, changes trajectory in some way, similar to the idea of the “butterfly effect”.  As someone who speaks, I think about this a lot and what I hope happens in my talks.  I hope for a positive upward change from those interactions that we have in workshops or talks, and that someone does something better after our encounter.  This can be a tricky thing when we want to push someone’s thinking.  Their is a fine balance between challenging someone while also still showing that you value their thoughts as well as their journey.  Sometimes our actions, wrong words, or phrasing might push someone into the negative, even though that was never the intention.  My hope is that I can do everything I can to change trajectories for the positive.  Sometimes it might be a blip, sometimes it could be a large leap, but as long as it is positive, I am happy.

I think about how educators are these trajectory changers.  How those daily interactions may not always lead to a positive, but overall, the best educators make an impact on students long after their time in their classrooms.  I remember so many teachers that I have had that made such a positive impact on me, and sometimes, it was after the fact, thinking about what they had done to go out of their way for me but I did not realize until I grew up.  Sometimes the impact is not instant, but it eventually comes.  Educators are trajectory changes, always. The only thing that matters is whether or not that change is positive or negative.

You could say this is of any profession, but in education, our impact on a daily basis with so many, alters their destination which can alter so many others.  My good friend Holly Clark, recently shared an email that she received from a participant at a conference after speaking in South Africa:

Hi Holly,

I had to sit and type you a quick email to tell you how excited I am about changes I have made in my class.

I attended the ICT conference in Kloof (KwaZulu Natal, South Africa) at the beginning of the school holidays. I actually attended two of your workshops and listened really carefully to your keynote address.

Although we are a “tablet/device” school, I was noticing that our girls were choosing to leave their devices at home, as they weren’t using them at school. Which is SO sad and frustrating! Many teachers battle to integrate the devices, and I think that I have had a light bulb moment when I say it isn’t about the APPS! It’s about finding a way of incorporating the technology to make it work for you.

I arrived back this term with a renewed energy. Firstly, I rearranged my desks and we now sit in groups, we engage and it is fantastic! New rule… devices on desks! When I teach – students may take notes and then we save to Google Drive! Google Drive has changed my life!!

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I have many girls using it! YAY!!! My Grade 9s have already submitted their brainstorming ideas into a shared Drive Folder and I am marking it from my PC. The excitement when they realised that I had received and looked at it was quite cute. At school we have a “library of devices” so girls who don’t have them can use ones I have in my classroom. These were gathering dust in a storeroom and not being used. Not anymore!

You cannot believe the energy and excitement in my classroom! A student commented today when she looking at my chart of apps we use in my class and said  “Finally a teacher who understands us and is allowing us to use our devices for learning!”

Attaching a few pics!

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Thank you so much for inspiring me!

Holly is one of the kindest, humblest , and most authentic people that I know, and what I was reminded of in this email is that educators don’t just teach stuff, but they connect with people.  It was not only the willingness of Holly to share information, but more importantly, how she did it.  This participant left feeling that they could change the world, and I guarantee they are for their students, because that is what great educators do.  Holly’s impact on him, will now impact so many students, who will impact so many others.  The ripple effect is endless.

You can be the smartest person in the world, but if we forget how we communicate and who we do this work for, it doesn’t matter what we know.  Great educators make a positive change in trajectory with so many others and I am proud to work with so many great people that do this every single day.

Greatness is often in the smallest of details.

The phrase “don’t sweat the small stuff”, is one that has stuck with me for a long time and something that I have honestly worked on a lot as a leader and a person.  The “small stuff” can get to you, and sometimes you have to let it go.

On the other hand though, sometimes you need to sweat the small stuff.

I was talking with a former superintendent, who was also an athlete, and he was discussing the sport of swimming.  He said that swimming was an amazing sport because it is about who can do the movements perfect, fastest.  Every little detail in swimming is crucial to success.

So I started to think about how I present and the slides I create.  There is a consistency in the font.  I prefer using Keynote because it allows me to better manipulate videos on when they start, and how quiet or loud they are.  The design process of creating the keynote is almost as important as the delivery, and it is something that I put a lot of focus on. Does it really matter if one slide is in “Georgia” font and the other is in “Times New Roman”? To me it does.

I love this quote on design from Steve Jobs on the things you might not even see:

“When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”

Sometimes the small stuff is the difference between “good” and “great”.

So what about the small stuff in the terms of leadership?  At one point, the small stuff could be the thing that keeps you up at night.  You will sometimes have people upset with a decision, but if it is based on the focus of “what is best for kids”, then you will have to let it go, or else those “small things” will get to you.

But the “small stuff”, such as making sure you learn student names, go visit teachers, taking time to get to know your community, might seem like little things, but they are the small things that lead to excellence.  In no educational leadership competencies does it tell you that you need to go out of your way to know the names of all the students of your school.  But that seemingly overlooked idea can be all of the difference in your school.

I truly believe that if you are an educator, whether an administrator or teacher, that every single student or teacher you pass in the hallway, you acknowledge in some way, whether you teach them or not.  Going out of your way to talk to a student, might seem “small” to you, but it could be a world of difference to a student that day.  The “small stuff”, sometimes is the most important stuff we do; we have to learn when focusing on the little things will make all of the difference.

Greatness is often in the smallest of details.

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 11.19.13 AM

“Not Everyone Is You”

This is one of those posts where I am trying to learn through my writing, not necessarily share my learning, so please excuse me if it seems to ramble on…

I read this post from Doug Peterson regarding some of the things that we are still saying in 2015.  Here is a snippet from his post but I encourage you to read the whole thing:

Over and over, I’d read “So and So says that it’s about the pedagogy and not the technology”.

So, why is “So and So” at the conference then?  Well, from this seat, many are people who write books and speak publicly for a living and are trying to get a little notoriety.  Good for them and obviously the credibility has been developed with some to the point that what they say is important.  But how many times do we need to hear it?

I mean, really?

It’s the year 2015.

We’ve lived through so many models and so many attempts to perfect the educational system.  We know that or have always known that learning is a community event with all kinds of social actions and, importantly, relevancy in the eyes of students and parents.  Students so that they maintain focus and parents who want success and will stand fully behind a teacher that engages and pushes students to be constantly learning and improving.

The comments on the post are interesting as well, and based on them and the post, I made the following comment:

I think this is an interesting conversation. Colin stated the following in his above comment:

“We’ve been hearing this message for years. It was pretty exciting the first time you heard someone else echoing your thoughts, but come on.”

How do we know that someone who shared this at ISTE didn’t hear it for the first time? I remember a major shift in my thinking about six years ago and wondering why everyone else was not at the exact same point I was at that moment. While so many others were thinking about me specifically, “why didn’t he pick up on this earlier?”

The reality of it (and what I realize now) is that everyone gets to a different place at a different time, and we have to appreciate that they are ALL moving forward. There were many years as an educator that my major focus was using as many cool tools as possible, and not really thinking about powerful learning as the driver. Are you telling me this still doesn’t exist? Apple Watch was out for like 18 seconds before you saw posts on how to use the Apple Watch in schools. Sometimes the thing we have heard ten million times is needed to be heard once more. You never know who your message will reach at the time when they need it most.

I agree with you Doug that nobody goes to the conference looking for some piece of technology to replace their teaching, but why are the “50 Tools” Sessions so popular at many conferences? ISTE has always been criticized for those type of sessions but what does it say when they are packed? And sometimes, the technology does come first, and changes the learning (I saw this on Twitter which for the first year I used this technology, I used it to keep up with Shaquille O’Neal and Ashton Kutcher).

As long as people are moving forward, that is what matters, not necessarily where they are. The conversations that may seem redundant to someone, might be the first time someone else has heard them. I no longer think that everyone should be where I am, because I also realize that someone is wondering when I specifically will catch up to them.

The nice thing about a blog post  or a tweet is that we each take a little piece of it, and can make our own connection.  It is the same thing about conferences.  When I present, I am always surprised when people come up and talked about what “resonated” with them.  Sometimes it was a statement I made, or something about my dad, or even that something stuck with them that made them think differently as a parent. What you knew yesterday and might be your “common sense”, might be something new to someone else and changes that person today.  A mentor of mine would always say to me, “everyone is not you”, reiterating the idea that we are all different paths on our journey.

The beautiful thing about a “personal learning network” (PLN), is that it is personal.  It is about what you need at that time and something that you can create for yourself.  My experience using social media to connect with others has really taught me that it is not only the “network” that is personal, but learning in itself.  This is not to say that we shouldn’t challenge thinking, but it is more about how we do it.  I have really tried to get better at asking questions to understand a differing viewpoint, as opposed to simply making statements against thinking that is different than mine.  Covey’s philosophy of, “seek first to understand”, is something that I try to keep in the back of my mind, and am focusing on getting better at.  If I want to be a great leader, it is essential that I focus on listening more and understanding where someone is coming from and working from there, as opposed to trying to get someone to where I am currently.

The Power of “I Don’t Know”

My idea of a leader or an administrator when I was starting early on in my career, was that they were “all knowing”, like some type of “Wizard of Oz” figure.  What I realized was that not only was this not possible, but something is actually lost when we do not feel comfortable to say “I don’t know”.  I have noticed some administrators, when told of a new idea, feel the need to say, “I thought of that a long time ago”, are playing a game where they feel the need to always assert their status as “leader”, when in fact, it actually disconnects.

Think of the difference between saying, “I had already thought of that idea”, as opposed to, “I never thought of that…that is a really great idea”.  Essentially you are not only giving power over (which some are afraid of losing), but you are showing value in the ideas of others.

With a lot of things that I have found myself thinking about, I am not as much “black or white”, as I am somewhere in the middle of grey.  Lately, I have more questions than answers, but the point is that I am trying to understand new and complicated ideas. “Not knowing” is part of this journey.

This post was inspired by Dean Shareski’s latest blog posts on having conversations, where he keeps using the word “trust”, which is needed to really go deeper into our own learning.  This tweet nicely summarizes some of my thoughts on the topic:

Think of that student that is in your class, that tells you something, to which you respond, “I did not know that! Thanks for sharing that with me.” Once they realize they were able to teach something new to the person of “authority” in the room, it creates a much more powerful dynamic in the relationship.  Adults are no different, especially when they feel they can teach the “expert” something that they didn’t know.  To gain trust, we have to give up power.

Empathy is crucial in developing the innovator’s mindset, and that takes listening, and trying to understand someone else’s viewpoint, while being able and open to learn from them as well.  It is not about who can shout the loudest, but often who can listen best. Being open to learning from others, is crucial to our own development.

Image created by @SylviaDuckworth

Image created by @SylviaDuckworth

Being able to say, “I don’t know” and being willing to be able to go find out, is much more conducive to building relationships than “I already knew that”.  Great leaders often show vulnerability, which in turn, helps develop teams that feel their contributions are not only valued, but necessary. Learning organizations value learning together over learning from one. Saying “I don’t know”, is crucial to not only our own curiosity, but shows an authenticity that helps to build relationships with those that we serve.

 

Ask Questions and Listen

Carol Dweck’s work on “mindsets”, has been one that (justifiably so) educators have gravitated towards. The idea of “fixed” and “growth” mindsets are ones that are crucial to our development as learners.

Innovators - Fixed vs growth

Yet here’s a trend that I have noticed though in some conversations.  We talk about one way of learning and the power it may have, then someone doesn’t agree with our point of view, and sometimes label others with a lack of a “growth” mindset.  Not agreeing with a person doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t have a “growth” mindset. All that it means is that they don’t agree with you. When I speak to educators, I explicitly state that I don’t expect them to agree with me, but that they are open to my point of view as I will be to theirs.  Our best answers are sometimes not on the far edges of a spectrum, but sometimes closer to the middle.

To help others embrace this type of mindset, it is important we model it.  When someone doesn’t agree with our point of view, it is crucial not to label, but to listen.  Covey’s idea of “seek first to understand” is crucial in learning from others.

Ask questions and listen.

That displays and models the “growth mindset” since we sometimes can learn a lot more from those that disagree with us, than those that do.  If we truly want others to grow in their learning, it is important that they feel valued and that their perspective matters as well. This relational piece to learning is as important, if not more so, than any ideas that we could share.