Category Archives: Fostering Effective Relationships

“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 Pete 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.

5 Thoughts to Push Learning

I have been trying to reflect on my learning a lot lately and process my thoughts. I use this space not only as a place to share my learning, but to learn.  Writing helps me process my thoughts in a way that I could have never imagined.  The reflection and connection are crucial to my growth, and I appreciate people sharing their thoughts or reading along.  I recently read this quote from C.S. Lewis and was deeply impacted by it:

unlearned

From: http://austinkleon.com/2015/06/14/to-be-a-teacher-and-remain-a-student/

 

I don’t think I will ever be “there” as an expert, but am more comfortable in the role as a learner.  That is why I love using this space to reflect.

Below are some statements that I have thought a lot about in the last year, and I’ll share why they drive my thinking.

1. Technology will never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of a great teacher can be transformational.

Technology is abundant and everywhere, and talked about all of the time.  That being said, it will never replace great teachers.  The best teachers do however use almost anything they can to create opportunities for all the students they serve.  This still focuses on great teaching and learning, but the opportunities teachers are afforded now are truly transformational for our learners.

2. To inspire meaningful change, you must make a connection to the heart before you can make a connection to the mind.

Recently evaluating sessions for a conference, the most common session that was suggested was on “revamping” professional learning.  Although the opportunities are great and the learning abundant, I still believe there is a power when we feel a human connection to learning.  Can we truly change our minds, if we don’t connect our hearts?  This is something that I always think about.

3. Would you want to spend the whole day learning in your own classroom?

I think some of the hardest people to teach in the world, are other educators, If the learning is not for them, they tend to check out because their expectations are so high.  With that being said, I think it is to our advantage if we focus on ourselves as educators in the role of learners, not teacher.  This empathetic approach is key to creating powerful learning environments.

4. We need to help our students not only be ready for opportunities, but to create them for themselves.

When I was a child, there was an importance placed on being ready for when opportunity knocked on your door.  Have a good resume, good cover letter, and even in some cases, a portfolio, and when a job is available, you will have your shot.  With job markets not only becoming more competitive combined with the opportunity of ease to share your voice, it is essential that we teach our students how to not only be ready for opportunities, but learn to create them for themselves.  This is not only about creating jobs, but driving change. A great example of this is Hannah Alper’s blog, who is a young person using her online space to help others.  How do we create schools where this is the norm, not the exception?

5. This is not about technology; it’s about relationships and learning.

Although the talk is often about “new and cutting edge” technology, our focus needs to keep relationships and learning at the forefront of our practice. To some, this is a no-brainer statement, but I still believe that it needs to be said repeatedly. If technology does not accelerate or amplify learning and relationships in schools, then why would we use it?  I love this graphic from Bill Ferriter showing the power of technology for this focus.

Technology is a Tool

What’s driving your learning?

Just because it deals with technology, doesn’t mean we don’t use common sense.

It is interesting that when it comes to technology, many people are nervous about not knowing what to do when something goes wrong. One conversation I had recently, an educator asked me, “What would you do if you found a student was doing something inappropriate on their computer?” I answered a question with a question and asked, “What would you do if they were doing something inappropriate that wasn’t on their computer?”

She nodded her head and understood what I was saying immediately. Far too often, we are worried about the possibility of the unknown online, and think that the punishment should be spelled out ahead of time for students. We are often scared of what we don’t know, but the need for control is something that we are going to have to let go. The best leaders and educators don’t micromanage; they build trust.

Tons of schools have all of the consequences planned out for inappropriate use of technology, but I have never seen a single school do the same thing with a pencil.  Once we see the technology as crucial to learning, as many do with any writing utensil, our views obviously change on how we handle situations.

One of the approaches I have used with students, knowing that there are a lot of bad things that one could find online, is just having an open and honest conversation with them. I remember talking with students and simply saying, “If you find anything inappropriate online, either intentionally or unintentionally, I I want you to talk to me about it. I want to hear it from you as opposed to someone else because then you will have lost my trust. Obviously we all make mistakes and I trust you, so if you make one, I hope you will talk to me about it.”

No list of rules and/or consequences, just open and honest conversations.

Here is the one thing that I can guarantee, without a doubt, 100 per cent; something will go wrong. That being said, it is important to create a culture where students feel comfortable coming to you with the mistakes they have made.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t expectations or consequences for negative actions, it is just about treating people the way we would want to be treated. Sometimes we have to give trust to others before we can earn it ourselves.

Fitting Into the Same Standardized Hole

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

I was having a really interesting conversation with a parent about technology and the thought that it is leading to the decline of intelligence.  She shared with me her belief that many students struggled with reading and writing because of a dependence of use on things such as spell check, and that kids just didn’t seem as “smart” as we were in our youth.  Then she asked me about where she could learn more about this idea, and I simply said “Twitter”.  She responded that she had no idea how to use it, to which I asked her, “Do you think some kids could show you?”  Obviously she responded with the answer “yes”, to which I replied, “to some of those kids, they would think you are the dumb one.”

I didn’t say this to berate her in any manner, but to challenge her thinking that sometimes we base someone’s intelligence on the information we value, not necessarily on what they value and/or know.  To the person that can fix my car, I see them as a genius.  I honestly don’t know if they finished high school or what their grades were, but looking at them as someone who is expert in an area that I have no clue.  Because you know something that I don’t doesn’t make me less intelligent, and vice versa.  We all have different strengths and knowledge, but the question we should focus on is how do we tap into people, instead of trying to fit different shaped pegs into a single standardized hole?

That’s why I look to people like Chris Wejr, who not only focus on developing strengths into students, but also in staff.  Staff that are recognized and encouraged to develop their strengths, also treat their students with the same regard.  So instead of focusing on what people don’t know, schools would benefit from focusing on what they do know and helping them develop those strengths as long with their weaknesses.

It is easy to constantly focus on what is lacking, but it also loses people along the way who do not feel valued.  Knowing and tapping into someone’s strengths often leads to the confidence and competence to learn in other areas.  As learners, we are individuals, and should always be treated as such.

The Impact of a Teacher

It has been hard watching the news and hearing about strike action and funding cuts to education in so many provinces around Canada.  Being a part of education, I am not only seeing educators go out of their way to do more for their students, but also continuously tweak and innovate their practice.  Of course, as in every profession, there are weak parts, but I have been lucky enough to travel around the country and see so many dedicated educators that go above and beyond what is expected of their profession.

This made me think of my own teachers and their impact on me.  There are so many different stories I could share that go way beyond one teacher.  Like my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Stock who was one of the most kind and caring people I have ever known, sending me messages 30 years later congratulating me on becoming a principal.

Or my grade 3 teacher Mrs. Penrose who sparked a love of drama and “being on stage” as an eight year old, that has never left me, who wrote on my report card, “You can achieve any dream you want if you put your mind to it”, and constantly pushed me throughout my entire time in elementary to love music and acting.

Or my grade five teacher Mrs. Sloan who had my class run a business at our school and taught us about “entrepreneurship” long before it became a “21st century competency” and was just the best teacher ever.  She even made lawn bowling seem amazing.

Or my grade eight teacher Mr. Hill, who is the principal of my former elementary school, who made a bet with me that his Seattle Supersonics would beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs one year, and had to wear a Lakers sweater I gave him in 30 degree celsius temperature for the entire day.

Or Mr. Bellamy in grade 10 who inspired us to create commercials in class that I can still remember to this day and wish YouTube had existed because I am sure ours would have got at least 100 hits.

Or the countless coaches that put in so much of their own time to help me explore my passions and teach me way beyond any game.

Or Mr. Steele, my high school principal, who didn’t judge me by the kid I was, but treated me like the person I could be, and believed in me even though I was huge brat for many years in high school.

Or the huge group of teachers that came to my father’s funeral to support my family even though I was the last of my family in school and it had almost been 20 years since that time.

I could go on and on about my teachers that made such an impact on me, and the current educators that I serve every day that make such a difference.  This is not meant to be a political statement at all, but more just showing gratitude to the many educators who have made such a difference in the lives of so many.  I have often said, “if we only teach the kids the curriculum, we have failed them.”  This is something that was not told, but has been shown to me by so many educators throughout my time in school.

Thank you.

(I encourage you to share your stories about your teachers to the #EDUin30 hashtag, as this week’s question asks for that.  My 30 second story is below.)

Drown or swim?

As always, it is an honour to work with schools and school boards to share my learning with them, and in return, learn from their ideas as well.  I always encourage push-back in my sessions because I want to create an atmosphere where we all get better, including myself.  The challenges are crucial to our development as learning organizations.

Recently, I worked with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) and we talked about changing learning and learning environments. What was really special about this day was that there were several high school students in the room as part of the day.  During the first part of the morning, I went and talked to the students and asked them on their thoughts about different things (should teachers use twitter with them, ideas on snapchat, what their learning looks like) and the conversation was so amazingly rich.  As I talked to them, I shared some of the ideas that I was going to present on, but asked them to think critically about what I shared and challenge me after in front of the group.  If I am talking about opportunities for students in learning, it is imperative that I ask them about their opinions and pushback.

What was really inspiring to me was one of the students talked about how it wasn’t really a great idea to use Twitter with students before I talked.  By the end though, she was advocating it’s use to her teachers, because she had seen used in a different way.  I was almost in tears listening to her as she was open to learning and new ideas, and then advocated for herself for something new.

Another amazing moment was when a student advocated that we spend more time on “life” and less time on school (I almost cheered out loud!).  The analogy that he used for the idea of social media was pretty profound.  He said (paraphrased),

“Social media is like water because it is everywhere in our life.  We can ignore it and watch kids drown, or we can teach kids how to swim.  Which way are you going to go?”

Wow.

I was deeply moved by this experience and I thought to myself, why do we not do this more?  We are talking so much about “what is best for kids”, without any kids in the room.  Innovation has no age barrier, and it is important we not only bring them into the conversation, but tap into their brilliance.  How often are we asking kids to be a part of our workshops or “talks”, and not only telling them to be a part of the conversation, but openly telling them to challenge us?  This should be the norm, not the exception.

If any of those students are reading this post, I just want to thank you for your inspiration and ideas.  I hope you know how much your words were appreciated.

(P.S. Here is my #30SecondReflection on the day below.  I am wanting to do this more to push my own learning.)

Always Let Them Know You Care, Even When it is Tough

This week in #EDUin30, I asked the question, “If there is an incident in school (with a student), how do you communicate with families?“, to help educators that are probably going into the interview process coming up, or to share with educators that have any number of years of experience.  With the number of ways that we can communicate, my fear is that we go away from the things that are most important.  For example, I always caution educators to NEVER deliver bad information through an email.  Without hearing tone or sometimes losing context, this can make a bad situation much worse.  This is one of those examples of things in education that does not need to change.  Face-to-face, or a phone call, is still a much better alternative.

When I was an assistant-principal, I remember my secretary at the time communicating something with me that I still remember to this day.  She said something like, “When you call a parent about something bad that their child has done, just know that you are probably going to destroy their world, even if it is only for a short amount of time.  Make sure they know that you still care about their child.”  This advice never left me.

So when I would talk to students about something that happened that was less than desirable, I would focus on two questions; “Why are you here?”, followed by “What would you do in my position?”  It was important to let the kids talk and work there way through the situation, as opposed to me solving the issue.  I want them to be able to deal with situations without my presence, and these questions created independence and accountability to themselves.

After we would work through the situation, I would call home, with the child in the office.  Why this was important was I would talk to their parent or guardian, and start off by telling them any positives that I saw with their child, but then share with them that they had an incident at school, and then would pass the phone over to the child to explain.  This ensure that they learned to take accountability for their actions while also making sure there was no miscommunication.  They would also share how we would move forward after the fact.  After this conversation, I would talk to the parent or guardian, and share the process, and often, how proud I was of their child for taking accountability and working through their problem, and then often remind them that all of us, make mistakes.  It was important for both the child and the guardian to know that I valued them and that none of us are perfect.  Did I do this 100% of the time?  No, because certain situations called for something different, but this was pretty standard practice, and a far removal from the notion of the school principal yelling at a kid from making a mistake, which I have seen far too often.

There are so many times that things happen in school, and no matter the community, I can guarantee mistakes will be made.  What is important is that we work with our families and communities to let them know that we value each child, and sometimes especially when they screw up.  It is easy to love when all is perfect, but it is more crucial to do it when it is not.  I am forever grateful to that secretary for sharing something with me that has stuck with me for so many years.

(Below is my short video reflection on the topic…Please feel free to share your reflection to the question to #EDUin30 and #EDUin30w10.)

The Words on the Walls

As I walked into a school, I noticed a sign that something similar to, “For the safety of the school, please stop at the office to sign in.”  Immediately, I felt a tinge of anxiety as I wondered if something was there that would make the building unsafe, and I wondered if the students had ever felt the same.  Maybe most of them weren’t worried, but the sign shouldn’t evoke a feeling of the school being “unsafe”.

I remember listening to Martin Brokenleg earlier this year and he had mentioned this exact idea.  He said to think about the tone we set in the building when we have signs like this, compared to a message of, “We would love all visitors to come to the office so we can welcome you upon your arrival.”  The message was the same, but the difference in words sets a totally different tone once you enter the building.

There are so many little things around our building that we don’t notice and hence the importance of trying to look at things with fresh eyes. We encourage risk taking, yet I have seen signs in schools about the importance of not making mistakes.  Risk taking often comes with mistakes, so which one is it?  Saying something once in awhile is sometimes not as powerful as words on the wall that are there all of the time.

Do the words on the walls encourage a welcoming environment, a sense of community, and  opportunities for innovation? Or do they create a cold environment, that sometimes could pressure a fear of making mistakes, or sometimes even for one’s safety?  Ask your students, ask your community, and ask yourself.  What do the words on the walls tell you about the environment that you are trying to create?

P.S. If the words on the walls create a warm and welcoming environment, but your actions don’t, those words don’t matter either.  It is important to align the two.