Category Archives: Fostering Effective Relationships

Innovation is About a Way of Thinking

The below tweet from Edutopia was shared over and over again through social networks yesterday, because of the power of the idea.

This is a great idea in theory, and obviously one that educators should think about, but often I hear that there is no money to make this happen in schools.  How are we to provide this type of opportunity in organizations where resources are scarce? Where does theory become reality?

To make this happen, it is not about thinking outside of the box, but being innovative inside of it.

If we start with the question, “If we know that educators observing the practice of one another will improve practice, how do we provide opportunities for this on a regular basis?”

Brainstorming ideas (or some variation of it), or even the process of “brainwriting“, might lead to ideas that are not necessarily tied to money, but a shift in thinking.  For example, could we not simply have administrators (principals and superintendents included) take time with classrooms to provide coverage for teachers to be in the classrooms of others.  Not only would this provide the opportunity for other teachers to learn from one another in real-time, it would also strengthen relationships between students and administrators, while also creating (hopefully) an empathy from the administrator that would have the opportunities to teach students, and understand their classroom.

Now this idea might not be innovative to many schools that do this same thing already, but honestly, some schools have never thought about it.  Innovation is something that changes over time to become consistent practice.  If the innovative idea (new and better) does not become the normal practice, it probably was not very innovative in the first place.

The point of sharing this example was to provide the reality that although resources are helpful, it is our thinking that will create meaningful change in schools, not any one technology.  The tools that were once considered “innovative”, will always eventually collect dust in the corner of our rooms.  Innovation will always be about a way of thinking, not the “stuff”.

The Humanity of the Web – Mini Keynote at iPadapalooza 2015

Here is a mini keynote that I did at iPadapalooza 2015 this past June on the “Humanity of the Web”.

Be sure to check out the other great talks at the event. They were all amazing and I was honoured to be a part of it.

Strength in Weakness

“Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness.” Malcolm Gladwell

Personally, I struggled throughout most of my time in school.  Although my early years I did very well, by the time I was in grade seven, I disconnected from the process of school, and honestly do not know if I would have actually stuck it out if it wasn’t for my love of sports.  If I wanted to play basketball and football, I would have to stick it out in school.  

I am also not one of those educators that grew up wanting to be a teacher.  I only decided after my fourth year of university that I wanted to become a teacher.  I loved kids but it was not my first choice as a profession.  Any way that I could avoid school, I would, whether that was missing classes or simply downloading the notes off of a website at the time.  I still have dreams about missing final exams and failing courses that I had no idea that I was actually taking.  This experience, I believe, gives me a certain empathy for the student that hates school, or gets sent to the office, because I was that same kid. Why would I recreate the same experiences for someone that I struggled with myself?

Yet sometimes, I have watched teachers that mastered school struggle with teaching students.  I remember one math teacher who was a genius in the subject, struggle to reach students.  You could see him wondering why kids just didn’t understand the toughest problems, as it became second nature.  His ability and interest in the subject was so advanced, that he would often struggle to understand why others didn’t have the same ability.  

In the context of change, are we more likely to hire an educator that breezed through school and loved the way it was created, or someone who struggled?  If want school to look different, someone who aced school might actually be the person that struggles with changing a structure they accelerated in, whereas someone who struggled, just might be the person who wants to challenge the way we have always done it.  I am not about absolutes, but these decisions are not as simple as the person with the best grades, is going to be the best for the position. Thomas Friedman challenges this idea in the article, “How to Get a Job at Google”:

Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google — i.e., the guy in charge of hiring for one of the world’s most successful companies — noted that Google had determined that “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. … We found that they don’t predict anything.” He also noted that the “proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time” — now as high as 14 percent on some teams. At a time when many people are asking, “How’s my kid gonna get a job?” I thought it would be useful to visit Google and hear how Bock would answer.

Don’t get him wrong, Bock begins, “Good grades certainly don’t hurt.” Many jobs at Google require math, computing and coding skills, so if your good grades truly reflect skills in those areas that you can apply, it would be an advantage. But Google has its eyes on much more.

When administrators look for strengths in what sometimes might be perceived as weakness in their educators, we create an environment where educators do the same for their students. But we might need to also realize that sometimes our greatest strengths might be the thing that is holding us back.  What works and comes natural to an individual might not work for others, and in an organization that should be so learner focused, we really have to try to understand things from the viewpoint of those that we serve, not only the ideas that have been shaped from our own experiences.


Recognizing When to Move On

-The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.-There have been times in my career, where I have spent a lot of time going round and round with someone on a topic where there was no openness to growth. No matter what you say, the argument is already being created on why you are wrong. Oftentimes, it comes not from a place of knowledge, but a lack of it.

What I have learned is that when you realize that you are in that situation, it is time to move on, and focus on those that want to learn.

Now, there is an important difference between the notion of having ideas challenged in the pursuit of learning, as opposed to challenging ideas in order to stand still. One of the things that I believe is crucial to learning is the ability to listen to other ideas and accept challenge. That “pushback” is often an opportunity for both people to grow, as opposed to both standing still. A strong leadership trait is recognizing when the conversation will lead to growth, or to standing still. The time invested in a conversation that goes nowhere, is often better spent in focusing on developing the culture of an organization.

We always need to listen, but sometimes the best answer is to simply say, “thank you for sharing your thoughts”, and move on to the next conversation. We have to understand that learning can be messy, and have it ups and downs, it is still imperative to focus on how we can move forward.

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.


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!!



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!

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.