Category Archives: Leading a Learning Community

5 Ideas for Conversations on Change

“Teachers don’t want to change.”

I hate this statement.

It does more to end a conversation than it does to start it.

It is a comment I have heard far too often, and honestly, believe less and less and seems to be a way of blaming others for lack of growth in an organization.  We only have a finite amount of time in our day, and because of this, simply saying something is better doesn’t mean others agree.  A lack of change in any organization is often more a reflection on leadership than any group of people, or an individual.  The ability to “sell” change and create systems and a culture where trying something different is not only encouraged, but applauded, needs to be something that people in traditional leadership positions needs to constantly focus on.  Learning is something that never stops or stays stagnate, and because of that, organizations must reflect that we are not only in the business of “people”, but also of being open to and leading change.  It is the only constant.

For example, I have heard many conversations from educators wanting to try something new is met with so much bureaucracy and hurdle-jumping, that it is not worth the effort at the end of the day to try something different.  It is almost as if many schools are blocking their own teachers from being great.  The role of people in leadership and support positions is not to control talent, but to unleash it.

So what about those that may still be resistant to change?  How do we work with them.  As I look back to my best leaders, these are some things that I have noticed in their work in helping people move forward as individuals.

1.  Start every conversation focused on “what is best for kids”.

This is Stephen Covey’s focus on “starting with the end in mind”, but it is imperative that the “end” is explicit to people in any conversation.  The majority of educators are there for children, and if a conversation starts with talking about helping children, it helps to keep our focus on the important work that we do.  If as a leader, we are not able to share why something is best for kids, why would or should anyone embrace it anyway?  Conversations in education always need to start from this point.

2.  Listen.

So many people are constantly trying to sell something to someone else, and our conversations can go off track very soon.  If you really want someone else to move forward, it should not start with what you think it is important, but trying to be empathetic of another person’s situation and ideas.  Once you really understand where they are coming from, you have a totally different starting point from when you started in the first place.  It is also imperative that you are able to implement their point of view in your conversations, not simply separate ideas into “what you think” versus “what I think”.  There are common grounds but we need to listen to one another to find them.

3. Focus on where they are, not where you want to be.

Years ago, I started to really think about helping move people from “their point A to their point B”.  If you are able to break something into measurable chunks instead of having a grand vision of where everyone needs to be, it shows that there is a focus more on process, than product, which has become more of an emphasis in our classrooms.  These smaller wins along the way lead to someone building confidence and competence along the way, which helps leads to success.  As much as there is talk about the importance of “embracing failure”, people want to be successful.  We just have to realize that success looks different for different people, and that if we start where someone is instead of focusing on where we think they should be, people are more likely to be successful.

4. Walk away with a plan moving forward.

There are lots of great conversations that end with no action planned.  This is often a huge loss and can be a waste of time in the long run.  At the end of conversations we should look at what we are going to do because of the time we spent together, and also talk about following up in the future.  Writing something down also makes it more likely to happen, because we become more accountable to what we have shared.  Walking away without a mutual plan can often lead to nothing changing long term as there are so many other things that can get in the way.  It is also crucial for “check-ins” throughout the process.  I have seen a lot of schools have “Professional Growth Plans” that are written at the beginning of the year and then discussed at the end of it.  If you only focused on looking at something twice a year, how successful do you think it will be?

5. Support.

Leaders do not only help others find a path to move forward, but they are in the trenches with them throughout the process.  Checking in and seeing how things are going is one aspect, but actually finding powerful resources for someone else, asking them follow-up questions, suggesting professional learning opportunities for them (and even going with them), or a myriad of other opportunities, are crucial in development.  Saying “do this” is not as powerful as saying “let’s do this together”. People are way more likely to be successful in the change process if they know someone has their back throughout it.

Change can be scary and honestly, stress inducing.  The more people know that we are in this work together and that it is all about supporting our students, the more likely individuals, and ultimately organizations, will be successful.

Feedback or noise?

I don’t know if it is because it is basketball season, but stories from coaching and reffing have been popping up in my head in relation to leadership.  As I was listening to someone tell another story about the “squeaky wheel that gets the grease”, I thought about the coaches you would pay attention to when I was officiating basketball, and why you would really listen.

I remember one game in particular, where we were discussing the game plan as officials before we started, and my partner said, “the coach on the visiting team doesn’t say much, but when he does, you need to listen because it is probably legitimate.”  The coach did not argue every call they didn’t like, but they chose to use their voice when they thought it was imperative.  As hard as it is to admit as a former official, there were many coaches that did the exact opposite and were constantly complaining about every single call that was not in their favour.  In a tense environment, it is hard to acknowledge everything coming your way, and the more spread out you are, the harder the job becomes to do well.  Constant complaining is no longer feedback or “picking your battles”, but it can simply become noise that many choose to drown out.

I have read so many articles written on dealing with the “squeaky wheel”, but there are few that discussing how not to be that person.  In a time where a lot of things are either changing or need to change in education, it is easy to complain about how fast or slow things are going, but after awhile, I know that commentary can go unheard if it is just a constant noise.  In the last little while, I have really tried to think about what is important to bring up and push, and what is not necessary at that moment.  There have been times that I wondered how to deal with the squeaky wheel, but I am also thinking about making sure that when I do say something to others, it doesn’t simply become “noise”.

Twitter Equals Growth Mindset?

There is a lot of talk in education about Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset”, in which she discusses the idea that beliefs that “abilities, intelligence, and talents can be developed.” It is an idea that educators have latched on to (for good reason) since this is not something we want to only be able to develop in students, but in ourselves as well, in a world that is constantly changing.  I have even tried to even further this conversation talking about the notion of the “innovator’s mindset” in which this growth leads to the creation of new and better ideas.  With new knowledge, it is important to not only be open to it, but to take it and move forward with it.

This could be something to applied the idea of educators using Twitter.  The “growth mindset” is the openness to learning about the medium, but the idea of the “innovator’s mindset” leads to people creating hashtags to share things that are happening in their classroom, or using it to connect with educators that teach the same discipline as they do.  With the Twitter now implementing video in the service, it will be something that people will not only be open to learn, but I am sure will do interesting and new things with.  With new technologies, people not only learn how to use them, but they repurpose them to create new and better ideas.  It is probably one of the reasons why Twitter moved from the idea of “what are you doing”, to “what’s happening” in the update box.  People were not solely focused on sharing their own personal updates, but started sharing news from their viewpoints, and created movements moving forward.  Twitter became what it is today because of people’s willingness to not only use it, but to further it with ideas that I am assuming the developers could have never imagined.  Our openness to learn and to develop new ideas because of this development was crucial in this process, as with so many other technologies.

Recently though, I read a post by Tom Whitby and was intrigued about the following quote:

Without a mindset for continually learning, or a limited view on what one is willing to learn, it will be difficult to change the status quo in education. Connecting with others may be a great idea that we all agree will make a difference in education, but what good does that do us, if a majority of educators are only comfortable doing what it is they have always done. Of course, it should go without saying that if staying within those comfort zones worked, we would not be having a global discussion on needed reforms for education.

In order to create these much-needed Personalized Learning Networks educators will need to learn about social media and its culture. The ins and outs of Twitter would be the most efficient and effective way to share what is needed for educators. This however takes some time to learn, and it also takes a commitment of at least 20 minutes a day interacting with connected colleagues for anyone to benefit from this. The benefits far outweigh the time and work involved, but the fact of the matter is that not every educator has a growth mindset. Not every educator shows a willingness to leave those zones of comfort. For those reasons Twitter will never connect all educators. The shame of it is that Twitter is probably the best way to share and learn available to us now.

What threw me off when reading this is the idea that it somewhat equated the idea that if you are on Twitter you have a “growth mindset”, and if you aren’t, you don’t, and you are not willing to grow.  This could be lumped into the same area of making statements such as “you are a bad teacher if you use worksheets”; it may spark thought but it could also alienate some really great teachers.

Here is a couple of things on the idea that you have a “growth mindset” if you use Twitter.  First of all, I don’t really believe that the idea people have a “growth mindset” in all areas at all times.  If you took my own viewpoints, with many things in education, I am very open to learning about them and applying them to my own work, but if you took the idea of skiing, my mindset is very fixed.  I have no interest in learning or having the growth mindset towards flying down a hill in snow in freezing Canadian temperatures, all the while so many people tell me how amazing it is. You do not have either a “fixed” or “growth” mindset; you have either a “fixed” or “growth” mindset on certain things, and for most educators.

This is not just outside the idea of education as well, but well within in.  I have challenged people on the ideas of awards for students, and from some of my conversations, some educators have no interest in thinking differently about the process no matter what is presented to them.  It is not about a right and wrong in the process, but more the idea of  “I am good with what we are doing at this present time”.  I used to feel the same way about Edcamp; I did not really understand the appeal of the process and thought it seemingly was a waste of time, even though so many people said the exact opposite.  Having gone to it at one point, I saw how powerful it could be and my mindset towards it moved from a very “fixed” one to an “open”.  On Google Plus I have a pretty “fixed” mindset at this point.  Do I know it can be powerful? Absolutely.  Do I care about learning more about it at this point? Nope. I spend enough time using the social networks that I am currently on that I do not have time to add something that is probably great, but in many ways similar to what I am using.

It is not an “either/or” process, but something that can develop over time.  Some educators were totally “fixed” on the idea of using Twitter at one point, but at some point they had a “growth” mindset that was sparked to try the service.  To get people to that point, it rarely is achieved with a hard push, but often more of an understanding of where they are, and putting them in a place where they can make their own connections.  I think that people are sometimes reluctant to change, but I also think that we can be equally terrible of helping move people to change.

The other notion from the article is the idea that if you are an educators that is on Twitter you have a growth mindset.  There are many educators that actively use Twitter, went through the process of learning it, yet aren’t necessarily open to new ideas, or ideas out of their usual circle that they may connect with.

Not being on Twitter doesn’t mean that you have a fixed mindset, any more than being active on Twitter means that you have a growth mindset.

Learning is a very personal thing, and sometimes we aren’t open to things not because we aren’t open to them, but because we just aren’t ready to take that leap at this certain point.  I would say the majority of educators that are actively using Twitter to share ideas on education, were at one point against the idea of using it.  Learning can be very circumstantial, and sometimes we just aren’t ready for new ideas, no matter how good they might seem.  If we are never open to new ideas, that is a problem, but some of the best educators that I know display a “growth mindset” in so many areas, yet do not use or care to use Twitter.  They still make a major difference for kids and we have to recognize it.

There are many great reasons why we should try new things, but if we (educators) are not open to one thing, it is not about simply lumping people into one category or another, but understanding there is always more to the picture than we might be able to see.  If we really want people to be open to change, I think it is essential that we focus on what they are great at first, as opposed to where they are deficient.  Showing someone that they are valued for what they already do, is important in the process of learning as it builds both confidence and competence, and if we are going to really embrace a “growth mindset” where we are willing to take risks, that feeling of safety with our peers is essential.

A Fine Balance

I was sitting in Starbucks, listening to music, and reading blogs, when I came upon Amber Teamann’s post titled, “Collaboration…who doesn’t have time?”  I thought about her post, and linked it to my own thoughts on collaboration, and honestly, sometimes our over-emphasis on collaboration in schools. We tend to swing from one extreme to another in education, and I think about my own experience in the profession.

As I have become older, I have become more of an introvert, and my time sitting in a coffee shop, with headphones on, NOT talking to anybody has become pretty important to my development as a learner.  Many schools have adopted “common planning time”, with the idea that it is beneficial to work in teams to learn from one another while also ensuring that we work together to create the best learning opportunities for our students, shifting away from “prep” time alone.  In my opinion, a balance is important.  I need time bouncing ideas off of people and having conversations, but it is so necessary for me to make my own connections to my learning.  If you think about a teacher’s work, you are spending the majority of your time with students, then on the times, you are in meetings or professional learning with others. Where do we have built in time for reflection, connecting, or processing, which are so crucial to our learning?  If we don’t build that in to our own professional time, why would we build it into our classroom time?

Years ago, I heard of a school that actually had two hours a month on a professional learning day where you were NOT allowed to talk to anyone else on staff. No conversations, no phone calls, no emails.  You were on your own.  Some people might hate the idea, but in a time where our lives are seemingly becoming faster, the idea of slowing down seems kind of nice.

I spent the weekend with a friend and he was talking to his son about his “quiet” time later in the day.  It wasn’t a time for a nap (necessarily), but just about having some time to be on his own, for his development, not just for the sake of being alone.  It really got me thinking about our time as professionals,  Would slowing down, having some time to process, connect and reflect on our own be as crucial as collaboration for our growth?  Is that time built into our school year?  I think in an “always on” world, the opportunity to just be on your own for some time is crucial.

An Acronym Leading to Empowerment in Schools (CEE)

There are so many acronyms in education, that it could become a little overwhelming.  Not only because they are so many that educators could remember, but because they are often targeted to a specific area, not education as a whole.  Although acronyms are meant to be simple to remember, they can often lead us to focusing on something other than deep learning.

For example, many educators love promoting the use of the SAMR Model (Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition) for technology use in the classroom.  The idea behind it is solid; what are you doing with the technology that you couldn’t do before? But the idea that a teacher that struggles with technology is going to start talking about “redefinition” in their use of technology is unlikely, and might even scare them away.  I also think that it can also push educators to lose focus on students as individuals, as learning is something that is very personal.  For example, if I am the student, and I write a complex novel using a word processing platform, technically that would fall into the “substitution” category, since a student could have simply written the book with a pencil, but would they have done that?  I write more now than I ever did as a kid, but I don’t necessarily do something I couldn’t do with a pencil. Does that model sometimes get us to focus too much on what we are doing with technology, and not enough on the personal elements of learning?

I know there is more to the SAMR model than what I am probably suggesting, but I still think that some of the best learning that can happen doesn’t necessarily need Internet access or “technology” in the way that educators refer to it. With so many initiatives in so many places (assessment, healthy living, self-regulation, and so many others), is something focused solely on the use of technology in the classroom helpful or does it become another “thing”?

So I was trying to think of an “acronym” that would be applicable to all aspects of learning, although not all-encompassing of all it’s intricacies.  I thought about something that would make people think about how we are getting students to a new level of their learning, and in my head popped up these three words; Compliant, Engaged, and Empowered (CEE). Although I see the three as separate, with empowerment being the most crucial part of this process, they are not necessarily exclusive from one another.

Bill Ferriter really got me thinking about this last year when he talked about how “engagement” and “empowerment” are not necessarily synonymous, and I love this visual that he shared:

Engage or Empower?

 

And although compliance has become a bad word in education, there are elements of it that are necessary in education and our world today.  For example, I look back at my childhood and wish that I would have stuck with piano although it did not make much sense why I would do at the time.  You do not get to the “deep” learning without sometimes starting at the surface level.  Even if you look at how some people would consider teaching their “calling”, I rarely hear too many teachers talk about their excitement in doing report cards; we often do report cards because we have to, not because we want to.  If schools build a culture that focuses only on compliance with teachers, it is not going to be a place where students want to be.  Empowered teachers often focus on empowering students.

“What we model is what we get.” Jimmy Casas

In some areas, compliance is never something that a person goes through, as they can be immediately engaged (that was how I felt about learning to play basketball), if compliance is the beginning of learning and maintained throughout the duration, it will also be the end.  It is important to move to the point of engagement and ultimately empowerment, although the two are connected.

To try to make more sense of this, I tried to sort “Compliance, Engagement, and Empowerment” into a few areas to go deeper with the idea.  I wanted to try to write some quick definitions of each area in their connection with learning, understand what it looks like in school, put it on the “Simon Sinek” scale of understanding the “why”, and then put it into an example of learning in a particular area (using Twitter for professional learning as the example).  Here is what I came up with:

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 7.59.52 PM

As stated earlier, some of the parts are not mutually exclusive.  You will not be “empowered” unless you are “engaged”, but you can be “engaged” without being “empowered”.  It is also important to note that simply “making” and “creating” does not mean that an individual is empowered.  The process of “making” can still be very compliant if the learner does not connect on a deeper level as an individual or see the process as meaningful to their own work. Creating is not simply “empowerment” unless the learner sees value to what is being created and connects with the learner on an intrinsic level.  Also, being empowered is not necessarily something that is achieved in all areas of learning, but if it is never achieved with a student, then why would they ever want to be in school.  Being “empowered” shows the student they are valued for their strengths and passions.  This is essential to success in all facets of school.

What is also important that this acronym (for lack of a better descriptor), is not exclusive to technology, nor should it be.  I asked a friend to put in their thoughts with the same table on the subject of learning “dance”.  This is what they came up with:

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 8.10.35 PM

Remember “square dancing” when you were in school (or was my school the only one doing this)?  That is something that I did because I was told to do, and even though we “choreographed” our own dances, this was not an “empowering” time for us in school.  Looking back, I wonder if this was taught because “dance” was in the curriculum and this was the easiest way to teach us, because I am not sure why we spent so much time every year doing this.  Now with all of the different options that we have to learn different styles of dance from sources like YouTube, from people all over the world, it is more likely that there will be something that our students will connect with, and want to create on their own.  I have seen our students want to dance more than I ever did, and I think options matter when we are looking to empower our students.

This idea is in it’s early stages and I am still trying to wrap my head around it, but with all that we do in schools, I am hoping that this is simple enough to help us think about how our learners feel about their experiences in school and what we are creating.  I am hoping “simple” leads to “deep”. 

Motivation is key to learning, and this table could be used easily in terms of leadership (I am planning to write about that in the near future), but in school, compliance should not be the standard that we are looking to achieve, and engagement is not enough.  A student that is empowered will know that they are valued and are more likely to be successful in so many areas.  That is the ultimate success.

Fresh Eyes

One of my favourite, non-education blog is “Marc and Angel Hack Life“.  It is filled with quick reads that are uplifting and sometimes give me the exact motivation I need to go on with whatever point I am at during life.  I love this story that they recently shared:

“Four monkeys were placed in a room that had a tall pole in the center.  Suspended from the top of that pole was a bunch of bananas.  One of the hungry monkeys started climbing the pole to get something to eat, but just as she reached out to grab a banana, she was sprayed with a torrent of cold water from a hose.  Squealing, she scampered back down the pole and abandoned her attempt to feed herself.  Each of the other three monkeys made similar attempts and each one was drenched with cold water.  After making several attempts, they all finally gave up.

The researchers then removed the water hose and one of the monkeys from the room and replaced her with a new monkey.  As the newcomer began to climb the pole, the other three grabbed her and pulled her down to the ground.  After trying to climb the pole several times and being dragged down by the others, she finally gave up and never attempted to climb the pole again.

The researchers continued to replace the original monkeys, one by one, and each time a new monkey was brought in the others would drag her down before she could reach the bananas.  In a short time, the room was filled with four monkeys who had never received a cold hosing.  None of them would climb the pole or allow other monkeys to climb the pole, and not one of them knew why.”

This is such a great story, especially for any school culture that thrives off of the idea, “but we have always done it this way.”

Recently speaking to a group of principals, one of the challenges that I shared with them was the idea of walking into their schools with “fresh eyes”, no matter how long they had been there for.  What this means is to take a step back, look at what you are doing in your school or even your own practice, and just ask the question, “why do we do this?”  This is not just for the practices that you may perceive as negative, but positive as well.  In fact, this might be especially the things that you may perceive as positives.  “Awards” used to be one of the things that I only thought positively about in schools, but after taking a step back and trying to look at it with “fresh eyes”, something didn’t seem right with the process and I have thought differently about it ever since.

And it is not just about looking at schools or classrooms with this perspective, but also your own habits that you have as well.  Jon Spencer has one of my favourite blogs because he constantly questions both old and new practices, organizationally and personally.  His open thinking helps me to look at my own beliefs and practices and take a step back from myself as well.

Through the process of stepping back and trying to understand “why”, it is crucial that we are willing to be persuaded into a new way of thinking.  I recently saw a tweet that suggested a very useful activity for schools where you would describe the last time someone changed your mind on something, and how they did it and what they said.  If you can’t come up with an example for yourself, what does this say?

One of the hardest things to do in education is to not change others, but to change ourselves.  If we are willing to take a step back and ask questions, just like we encourage our students to do, we might see something that we hadn’t before.

3 Questions To Shift the Focus to the Learner

The teacher evaluation process sometimes seems a little ridiculous.  For many boards, a principal will formally “visit” a teacher 2-3 times, and from those observations (and obviously some other observations throughout the school year), they will write an evaluation on that teacher.  As a new teacher, it is tough to feel comfortable with an administrator in the room so they often get “the show” which is not really reflective of what teaching and learning looks like in the classroom.  I did the same thing as a teacher. Those few observations didn’t really resemble what I did throughout the year, and it was often a reflection of what I thought my administrator wanted to see (kids quiet, sitting in rows, respectful of my dynamic up in the front teaching with my amazing lesson), not how I taught the majority of the year.  I don’t think my teaching was ever a “lie” during that time but often an exaggeration.  It is easy to get nervous during this process.

Although many boards still have to do the three observations, I think that the process needs to focus more on the learner.  For example, instead of telling someone how they taught based on those observations, I challenge administrators to ask the following questions:

What are you strong at?

Where do you need to improve?

What are some things that you are going to do to become a better educator?

The important part of this process is to really let the learner talk.  If the focus is on their teaching, then the learner should be the one sharing what they know.  If administrators started to do this, what would the “trickle-down effect” be in the classroom?  What if you asked the same questions of your students (modified for age level obviously)?  Would this not be the type of assessment that not only summarizes learning but actually an assessment to improve learning?

I would love to hear the practices for teacher evaluation that are happening in schools that go against the traditional model.  What do you got?

3 Assumptions We Shouldn’t Make About Educators

I haven’t had my own classroom of students for a few years, but I always try to remember what it was like to be a teacher, and always try to start from that viewpoint.  It bothers me when I see posts or videos talking about how so many teachers are not willing to do something better for their kids, when every single person that has “embraced change” was at some point doing things previously that they would question now.

I talk a lot about the importance of using technology to enhance learning and relationships, but I didn’t always believe it was important.  It took a lot of suggestions and support from others before I started doing things differently in my practice; it did not happen overnight.  That being said, just like so many other educators, I still have a lot of room to grow in so many areas.  There are so many aspects of education that are important to the development of our kids, and teachers are juggling so many things that they have to do, many of which have little to do with teaching in a classroom, but are admin tasks.  Instead of wondering “why aren’t people moving faster?”, we have to take a step back and get rid of some of the assumptions that people make about educators.  Below are a few that stick out in my mind.

1. Educators are not willing to embrace change.

I think for many educational leaders, this is an easy way out.  It puts the blame others instead of looking at something internal.  Simply telling someone that they should change their practice, and it reminds me of how sometimes people are just bad at selling change in the first place.  I have seen a lot of people talk about the importance of change, but by the end of listening to them, you feel terrible about what you haven’t done as opposed to inspired to do something better.

\Making people feel like crap is not the key to getting them to do something different and will not lead to sustainable change.  What is important is that people experience something different themselves, but also that they are valued for what they do.  If an educator knows that the change is something that will be better for kids, they are more likely to start doing something different.

There are so many things that an educator has to do, so I think it is actually good that many of them are critical about what they put their efforts into.  Have you ever had an initiative in your school that has come and gone and shown no impact on students?  Not all change is good, but I believe if an educator can see the value in it for their students, they are more likely to embrace it.

2. Educators don’t want what is best for kids.

Educators know that they are going into a very giving profession, where the pay is traditionally not that great.  The majority of them want to make a difference.  It is cool when some students get opportunities like Innovation Week, but sometimes kids show up with no food in their stomachs, and making it through their day is a huge accomplishment.  Doing the “innovative ideas” might not be possible for that kid.  There are so many variables to our day as educators, and teachers are rarely ever just teachers.  They take care of kids in so many different ways because of they didn’t, there is no way some kids would be successful in any aspect of their lives.  If every classroom and group of students looked exactly the same, teaching would be easy, although in my opinion, not very rewarding.  The diversity is what makes education so great.  That being said, most educators are doing what they believe is best for their kids.  No one wakes up in the morning wanting to be terrible at their job.  We need to always remember that.

3. That all educators do is teach.

It disheartened me to see an educator friend, who is brilliant and I would want teaching my own children, talk about how they had to get another job to make ends meet.  I have heard this from several people.  To think that a person who would have to work two jobs (one of them serving children all day) would not only have the time or the energy to learn new things, is pretty presumptuous.  Just being a teacher, takes a lot out of you.  We can’t assume that all of our efforts go simply into teaching.  There are so many other aspects of our lives.

It is not only the cases where teachers are juggling another job, but also other aspects of their life.  Many people have so many things going on in their lives, yet we assume that so many should put all of their time and energy into becoming the greatest teacher of all time.  Some people are lucky if they can make it through the day because of whatever is going on in their lives.  This is not only in education, but in all professions.  We want to be great friends, partners, parents, siblings, or whatever, and sometimes teaching needs to take a little bit of a backseat to the other things in life.  Does this mean a teacher doesn’t care about what they do? Not at all.  But I am firm believer that I would rather have a teacher that is focused on being a whole person, than simply focusing on being a teacher.  Personally, some days it is/was hard for me to get up and do my job because of other things going on in my life.  We always have to remember that there is more to a teacher than being a teacher.

Do some teachers not fall in line with what I have shared? Absolutely.  There are bad people in every profession.  I guess my point is that when we make generalized assumptions about others in our profession we are already starting in a deficit.  Trusting someone is doing the best they can before they prove it to you, is an important part of leadership. We have to give trust before we earn trust in many cases.  Assuming the worst of others will not get us to grow as a profession.

The “Want” and the “Way”

In my work with a school in Ontario, I met a teacher who had a story that really resonated with me.  As we were talking about the changes in school, she had shared with me and publicly with the group, how after three years on a maternity leave, she came back to a totally different place (school) from what she had remembered.  If you think about all of the times that we see “school isn’t changing”, in many places, three years might seem like 30.  It is a long time to be away.

The really powerful part of what she shared with everyone really took me back.

She told me that she was teaching “Mitosis” to her students with an overhead projector using transparencies, and Lisa told me, “It sucked so bad that I was bored”.  It bothered her.  You could see it in the way she told her story.  She wanted to do better, but she wasn’t sure how to get there.  I spent some time showing her and others some of the learning that can be done by connecting with  experts (other teachers) through social media, and I explicitly told her that I was the last person to give her tips on teaching science, but I could help her connect with other science educators.  She was amazed by everything that was out there.  You could see her wheels turning and her eyes becoming wide open.

The best part  of this story, is that this was only about three weeks ago.  Then last week, she sent me the following tweet:

 

How awesome is that? I showed her the “Twitter in 60 Seconds” video and in a very short time, she had her students create “Mitosis in 60 Seconds” videos.

In an extremely short time, she was shifting the focus from her teaching to their learning.  I was so proud of what I had saw that I teared up when I saw it.  Can you imagine when a teacher gets really excited about their learning, the difference that makes on their students?  Lisa, in short, is awesome.

This just was a reminder that with so many educators the “want” is there, but sometimes they just need help to find the “way”.  

Talking with Doug Peterson, he shared a story about how no educator gets up in the morning wanting to do a terrible job.  The vast majority of teachers want to do great stuff for their kids, and we need to help each other to show the opportunities that exist now for ourselves and our students to really embrace better learning opportunities.  I really believe that this single step for Lisa, is the first of many leading to some really great learning.  When we want to get to greater heights, every step leads to building confidence and competence, and for many, that first step is the toughest.  Watching Lisa, and feeling her enthusiasm for what she is doing, reminded me why I do what I do, and that change doesn’t need to take forever.  That excitement from her is contagious.

Sometimes, that first step is all you need to go on to do something great.

Questioning Forward

I had the honour of addressing the Trillium Lakes District School Board in Ontario recently, and I was amazed by the culture of learning they have created.  They were an enthusiastic group and seemed to just want to keep pushing themselves to get better and better.  These days are awesome for me as an educator because I feel I really grow through the process even though I am the one “delivering” the workshop.

I was inspired in listening to Andrea Gillespie, one of their superintendents, the night before, and the board’s vision of constantly moving forward and growing as a learning organization.  You could tell by her stories that this was not just something they said, but something they lived.  The feeling I got was that they were not a board that felt they had “arrived” because they know that great organizations never stagnate.  Education will always have a target just out of reach because of the consistency of of change, and instead of being frustrated by this notion, they build upon it.  It is not that they aren’t a great organization, if anything, quite the opposite.  Growth is continuous as is learning and this is something that they are aware of and embrace.  It was refreshing.

One of the ways they keep this momentum moving forward is by starting their professional learning opportunities by stating the following:

“We are a board questioning our way forward.”

EEK!  I love this!

This sets quite the tone and embraces the notion of the innovator’s mindset of constantly learning and creating better opportunities for students.  This phrase really struck me and is something that we need to embrace in our work.

When I thought about it deeply., there is a difference between saying, “we need to ask questions” and “questioning our way forward.”  Often, when I hear questions, they are more like statements about how this won’t work disguised as questions.  For example, I will hear things like this:

“This is great, but what about standardized tests?”

or…

“You showed me some really great stuff, but when we are going to find time for this?”

Both of the above are questions, but seemingly leading to a dead end.  What if we tweaked these questions to ask the same thing but to find solutions instead of looking for problems?

“How do we move forward with these initiatives while still ensuring that our students are doing well on standardized tests?”

or

“What are some suggestions you have to create time to make this happen?”

Again, both questions but they are not dwelling on problems but instead looking for solutions. Simple tweaks that make a world of difference.

Questions are so crucial to our growth, but I think we need to focus on phrasing them in a way to find ways to move forward, not to stand still.  In education, stagnation is the equivalent of moving backwards and in a world where change is the only constant, asking questions to move forward is something we need to not only teach our kids, but embrace ourselves.