Category Archives: Leading a Learning Community

“Visibility Creates Accountability”

Often when I am doing workshops on social media in education, I start off the day asking how many people are on Twitter in the room.  More and more hands are going up in education, and people are starting to see it.

Without any prompting or even teaching how to use Twitter, throughout the day, I ask if people signed up during the day and usually several hands go up.

So why is that?

I think a lot of it has to do with the beginning of the day and seeing how many other educators are using Twitter and raising their hands.  Those hands create both a pressure and curiosity in educators that they want to check it out for themselves.  As I discussed this yesterday in my workshop, one of the participants summarized it up in a single tweet:

I loved that thought. So simple yet so powerful.

The more we start showing what is happening in classrooms, and the more visible it becomes, the more I hope it sparks that feeling of both pressure and curiosity in educators to keep pushing themselves to embrace improving their practice.

Blog Posts on Leadership Development

I have really focused on “innovative leadership development” in my work, and have written about it extensively in my work.  Because of this, I wanted to collect all of my posts that have really focused on leadership in a time where leadership really needs to change.  Please feel free to use the posts in any way to help you with your own development, or challenge any of the ideas that I have shared.

The posts are organized into two areas: Developing LeadershipandEmbodying Visionary Leadership“.  It is meant to help develop a vision and understanding, and then to talk about what it actually looks like. (For a static page of these posts, you can check out the “Leadership Deveolpment” page on my blog.)

Developing Leadership

Educational Leadership Philosophy – This is the post that leads to all of other things.  I think it is a great practice to be able to write your own leadership philosophy so people understand why you do what you do.  It is also something that I will revisit and tailor since a leadership philosophy should not stay the same for the rest of our lives.  It should change on based on who we serve, and what we learn.  It should constantly be pushing you to move forward. 

8 Characteristics of the Innovative Leader – As we continue to look at teachers, students, and learning becoming more “innovative”, it is important that leadership changes.  As administrators often set the tone for their district or their building, if they are saying the same, it is not likely that things are going to change in the classroom.  Leadership needs to not only “think” different, but they need to “act” different.  This post talks about some of those characteristics.

5 Questions You Should Ask Your Principal – To develop a powerful vision, it rarely starts with answers, but more often with questions. This post focuses on questions in five crucial areas: Fostering Effective Relationships, Instructional Leadership, Embodying Visionary Leadership, Developing Leadership Capacity, and Creating Sustainable Change.  How do you lead in these areas?

3 Questions To Guide Your Vision – One of the things that I feel is important in a leadership position is that you build capacity and create an environment that eventually will not need you. To create a vision, you have to think about your long term impact, and how you will develop people to create a culture that is not dependent upon a person, but on the community.

Want someone to see your viewpoint? Ask them their thoughts first. – When I believe in something,  I used to spend all of my time trying to “sell” that idea to others and trying to get them to embrace what I saw.  If people didn’t agree with me, or my viewpoint, I would often got extremely frustrated and get nowhere closer than where I was before.  I hear this same approach from so many other people who tell me about the countless hours they try to get people to “embrace change”, and what I have learned is to spend less time defending your position, and spend more time asking questions.

Embodying Innovative Leadership

4 Attributes of a Great Assistant Principal – Being an Assistant (or Vice) Principal, was one of my favourite jobs.  As a principal, my AP’s were amazing and they helped to make me a better leader. They were always open to learn and develop; not only from what I would share to them, but from the experiences that they had with staff, students, and parents.  I expect great Assistant Principals to focus on building relationships with the entire school community, are approachable, are change agents, and ALWAYS have the idea of “what is best for kids” driving their decision-making.

The Need for Courageous Leadership – This is a great example of a leader that models risks for their faculty, and leads through actions, not simply words.  Does your school have the courage to let a student tweet on the behalf of your school account? If not, why?

4 Types of Leaders You Shouldn’t Be – Working with many different organizations, I have heard either the frustration from educators within the organization that feel like they are running on the spot, while also working with administrators that are more focused on holding down the fort as opposed leading with vision.  These are some qualities that you or I could be doing, without even thinking about.  It is so important to take a strong look in the mirror and think about the things that we would hate as an educator in our building.

21st Century Schools or 21st Century Learning? – The mass purchase of devices for schools is happening way too much without the crucial conversations about what learning should look like in the classroom.  This is actually frustrating many teachers that I have spoken with; it just becomes another thing that has been dumped on educators, not something that is going to make learning better.  There is definitely some value in playing with a device and figuring out some of the amazing things it can do, but should we really be doing that by buying devices en masse? Shouldn’t we try to figure out what the learning look like and then discuss the device? 

3 Things We Should Stop Doing in Professional Development – There are a lot of things that we have just accepted as “norm” in our professional development, but we should always deeply look at how we spend our time with staff.  Time is the most valuable currency we have in schools so it is important that we get the most out of every interaction we have together.  In this post, I look at three things that we should not accept as simply the norm.

5 Characteristics of a Change Agent – As a leader, it is not just teaching “stuff”, but it is helping people to see the importance of embracing change in our work in schools today.  We often lament at how people are terrible at accepting change, but in reality, many leaders are just poor at delivering why change is important or crucial. All people want to do something better, but what are the characteristics of leaders that successfully move people along?

Hopefully there are some things that you can take away from these posts, or share with others.

Innovation Doesn’t Happen Behind Closed Doors

Whether you are starting off as a new administrator, or you have been in the role for awhile, it is important that you “make your mark” and bring your own style to a position.  Just like your teachers want to make an impact with their students, you want to make an impact with your school community.  Doing something “awesome” is important as administrators should feel that they are contributing to the growth of the school, not simply the management of it.

In my own experience, it is easy to lock yourself in a room, work on some great ideas, and come out with something (you believe to be) new and amazing.  Yet closing yourself off and focusing on being “innovative” often leaves you with great ideas that will get nowhere, because you have not created the relationships needed for people to feel safe trying something new.  If you don’t spend time in the classroom and see what the inner-workings are of what learning looks like every day, your ideas can become great in theory, but unattainable in practice.  It is important to recognize that innovation is a human endeavour, and if you are going to put too much time into something, it should always be people, not stuff.

So what is a great step to help move this forward?  Move your office into a classroom.

Administrators have a lot of managerial duties that they have to get through in a day.  It can honestly be overwhelming.  That being said, it is rare that we don’t have access to an untethered device that we can go sit in a classroom and be a “fly on the wall”.  This helps not only with visibility of students, but will give you a great perspective of what teaching and learning looks like, and what hurdles teachers have to jump through in a day to be successful.  Is the technology working?  Does the classroom have seating that is conducive to different types of learning styles?  Does Wifi work?

Many teachers accept their classroom “as is” and do the best with what they have and they don’t say anything.  This does not make those boundaries acceptable.  By simply spending an hour catching up on emails from a classroom, you will learn a lot more about your school than you would spending an hour in your office.  You don’t have to do this all of the time, but you should do it often.

This isn’t “no office day”.  Although I love the intent behind that initiative, I find the idea of having a solitary day to go spend time in classrooms is not enough.  This should be a weekly process, if not more.  The time you spend just sitting in a classroom builds a comfort and trust level with staff who eventually don’t even know you are there.  That’s kind of the point.  If you don’t have time to go into a classroom, your priorities might be out of order.

Through this process, you might not get as much done, but you will build relationships with teachers in this process that will lead them going over-and-above for you, which in the long run, will not only save you time, but creating better opportunities for your entire school community.

Believe me, the investment is worth it.

What Our Fear Actually Inhibits

 

Sitting with a principal whom I have the utmost respect for, we talked about how she embraced technology now, which was quite different about how she was in the past.  What she said to me, really stuck out to me.  She told me that it was not that she didn’t see the value of technology, but that she didn’t understand it that well, so it was easy to dismiss it.  I was so appreciative of her honesty, but what I know of her, is that not one person was held back in her tenure as principal because of her fear of the unknown.  She is the type of principal that empowers her people and gets out of their way.  This is not always the case though.

Often we look at our own fear of what we don’t know, and realize deep down that it is often holding us back.  It is easy to dismiss many aspects of learning, but it is also easy to say something is “stupid” when you have never used it.  I used to say that about Twitter, about blogging, about mobile phones, and so on.  I know better now.  How could I make an adequate judgment of something that I had never used or tried?

Working with a student recently, he was telling me how he didn’t see how blogging would be helpful to him and that he saw it as a useless task.  I asked him if he had ever blogged, to which he said he hadn’t.  I then told him that I could give him a million reasons why it was awesome, but I asked him to give it a legitimate try for a month and then he could tell me what he really thought.  But I emphasized that he really had to try and give it a valiant effort.  He happily accepted and I look forward to hearing what he thinks after he jumps in. Blogging is not for everyone and he might hate it, but he will know from experience, not from simply dismissing the unknown.  We can learn a lot from this kid.

Here’s the thing…when we dismiss something because of our fear of the unknown as educators, we don’t just lose out ourselves, but those that we serve lose out as well.  Teachers impact students, principals impact teachers and students, and superintendents can impact everyone.  When our fear holds us back, it often holds others back as well.  Fear often has the power to kill innovation.

One of my favourite quotes on this topic is from Michael Jordan who says, “limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.” What I love about this quote is that limits and fears are used synonymously. Our fears limit us to do less, but in education,we are not the only ones that lose out.

The Innovator’s Mindset

Carol Dweck’s famous book, “Mindset”, was one that was (is) hugely popular with educators, not only in helping shape their work and thoughts on students, but also pushing learning in educator with their peers.  There were two simple concepts shared that resonated with many readers; the “fixed” mindset and the “growth” mindset.

Here is how the two differ according to Dweck:

“In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”

The great thing about Dweck’s work is that she found that you can move from one to the other.  You may have a fixed mindset, but it is not necessarily a permanent thing.  The other aspect is that you do not necessarily have a “fixed” or “growth” mindset and fall into one of those two categories in all elements.  I have a growth mindset on (most things) education, but have a fixed mindset on fixing things around my house.

So what I have been thinking about lately is the notion of the “innovator’s mindset”.  This would actually go one step past the notion of a growth mindset and is looking at what you are creating with your learning.  SImply it would go look this:

Fixed Mindset –>  Growth Mindset  –>  Innovator Mindset

The “Innovator Mindset” looks at all of their learning (in any given area), and they look at what ideas can come out of this.  It is not simply about being open to growth, but focusing on what new knowledge you can create with that growth.  If I think about how this “Innovator’s Mindset”  would work with students, it would always start with the question, “what is best for this student?”  Because of your willingness to learn and have a growth mindset, you would be able to take that knowledge and implement or create something for that student.  You would try different ideas and create different things to help that child to be successful.  No matter the area, the innovator’s mindset would always start with a question, and then from what you know, creating either a singular or myriad of solutions.

I am not sure if this is something that has already been said or shared, but I think it is important to look at how many educators have adopted that “growth” mindset and have learned so much from it.  What we have to develop next is what people do with all of this new knowledge to help their students.

Update
(Here is a picture I put remixed with the idea of the “Innovator’s Mindset”)

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Trickle Down Professional Learning

I had an incredible experience working with Waterloo Regional District School Board (WRDSB) at #CATCCamp14 this past summer.  I was with them for two days, and when I asked them what they wanted me to do, they asked me to open with a keynote and told me the rest would be determined when I arrived.  Obviously I didn’t want to be unprepared, so I was a little uncomfortable with the format at first as I had no idea what they would need from me.  When I arrived though and participated, I absolutely loved the model.

Here is how it went (from my view)…

Groups were created in advance based on things that teachers were interested in and basically there would be time given to explore and build things for the few days that people were there.  With that being said, if you wanted to try something else, you could switch groups easily, similar to the EdCamp notion of “voting with your feet”.  Each group would have facilitators that wouldn’t necessarily teach you, but would often learn alongside of you.  Although the learning was pretty informal, teachers were staying in rooms working on things until long past 9pm because they appreciated the importance of just having time.

The other aspect of the camp that I absolutely loved was that they would have meetings after every meal and they would just get feedback and thoughts from participants on what their needs were and what they were interested in learning about.  WIth the release of Google Classroom, they had an impromptu group that explored the platform. Or they had time to explore how to create newsletters with video. Or explore social media.  None of those sessions were planned, but just happened in this basic “just-in-time” learning model. It was an incredible learning experience.

In my keynote, I talked to people about the model and challenged not to only take the stuff they learned from their time there, but to also explore how they could do similar models to the “camp” with their students.  There are many engaging and new (to some) models of professional learning such as “TeachMeet” and “EdCamp”, or even Ted Talks, and I am wondering not only about the learning that happens at these events and how it makes an impact on students, but also the models themselves.  There are things such as “Genius Hour” and “Innovation Day” that are starting to trickle into classrooms, but we need to provide some of these alternative options for our students, much more often.

I have started to see some teachers role out “EdCamp” for their students” and I would love to hear more about those experiences.  I would also love to see more opportunities for students to be the “teachers” in these events, and think it would be extremely powerful if teachers took part to learn in student delivered sessions.  Can you imagine the community that type of activity could build?

We still have to teach a curriculum and work within a system that politically could take a long time to change.  But within the system, we need to find innovative ways that we can implement these models into learning for our students.  If it works for us, why wouldn’t it work for them?

PowerPoint Doesn’t Suck; 10 Ideas To Make it Great

I have often heard of people saying, “we shouldn’t just keep teaching our kids PowerPoint anymore”‘ as if it is some terrible technology.  Presentation software (PowerPoint, HaikuDeck, Keynote, Prezi, etc.) is actually pretty simple once you get the hang of it, but as with many things surrounding the technology, we need to go way past how to create something, and focus on how we use it.

For example, if you create a PowerPoint with tons of text that is hard to read, and you simply copy and paste mass amounts of information into slide after slide, with no compelling visuals, the use of the technology is weal, not the technology itself.  It has done its job.  Now if we teach our students to use limited amount of characters, with great accompanying images, videos, and then work with them to have the ability to tell a story from those visuals, you would probably have much deeper learning from not only the student that created it, but also the students that have been able to hear the presentation as well.

If I wanted to read an essay, I wouldn’t necessarily want to read it from a PowerPoint.

Here are some of the quick tips that I would suggest in teaching these presentation skills:

  1. I like to use a simple font throughout that is easy to read and consistent throughout.  That is a personal preference.
  2. Try to stay away from text on a page longer than a tweet. There will be times where you will have to go beyond, but quick quotes can add a lot to a presentation.
  3. I try to make “one point” per slide.  This is following the “less is more” idea where it is better to go deeper than to share a ton of ideas that no one will remember.  We want ideas to resonate.
  4. Visuals with text are helpful if they help tell the story. I use Creative Commons to find images, rather than going to Google Images since it is important that we teach our students to use “copyleft” materials and provide attribution.
  5. A visual on it’s own should be a mental cue for a point being made.  It should be something that resonates with yourself making it more likely it will resonate with the audience.
  6. When using visuals, try to use an image that will take up the entire page.  A picture in the middle of a black or white background is not as powerful as a whole image.
  7. If you are using videos, they should illustrate your point.  Try to keep them under one minute if possible, but two minutes as a max.  If I want to watch a five minute video, I can do that on my own time.
  8. The only time I like to go over 140 characters is a “quick summary” slide that reminds people of the discussion points.  I like a way of bringing everything together.
  9. Most importantly, find your own style.  Your personality should shine through in your presentation, not someone else’s.
  10. Finish strong.  I like to use a video or image that is powerful to end a presentation, but I never let a video have the “last word”. Try to think of something that will resonate with your audience. “Last impressions” are sometimes as important as your first impression.
  11. BONUS: Think of your audience…if they can see themselves in the presentation and it is relatable to them, it is much more powerful.

If we can teach our students and ourselves how to make high impact presentations, you will find that PowerPoint isn’t so bad (although Keynote is way better!).  It is our teaching and learning that makes the impact here, not the tool.

(Please feel free to add any suggestions you have for making presentations in the comments.  I would love your feedback!)

Why are we waiting for tomorrow?

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When I recently was visiting a school, I noticed their “motto” on the wall that talked about “developing today the leaders of tomorrow”, or something similar.  This was not unique to this school, and I could tell you from connecting with that staff, that these are some amazing educators that have created an amazing culture of learning and leadership.

The one challenge that I gave to them was by the asking the question, “Why are they not ‘leaders’ today? Why are we waiting for tomorrow?”

I understand the idea behind it and the age-old notion that as educators we are developing the “next generation”, but I also believe that if we want students to make a difference, why wait for it to happen later?  Why can’t they go out and make an impact in our schools and community, both locally and globally?  They have the world at their fingertips and playing “Candy Crush” on Facebook now doesn’t necessarily mean that one day they are going to be leaders because it’s “their turn”.  We need to empower their voice.

We are defined by our actions today, not our potential for tomorrow.

Kids needs time to grow up and be “kids”, but that doesn’t mean they cannot make a difference in our world.  I am hoping that stories like the one of Martha Payne become the norm and these kids aren’t simply outliers.

Words matter.

Our expectations matter.

If a kid makes a difference today, aren’t they more likely to do it tomorrow as well?

There is no need to wait.

4 Ideas To Have A Successful First Year as Principal

I am so intrigued with the number of people that are jumping into principal positions as I think it is truly one of the best jobs in the world.  It is also one of the toughest.  Isolation within a school (even though that is a choice that we now make ourselves) has been kind of a norm in past years, so to have a shared focus as a school is foreign territory for many (including principals).  Yet with a constant focus on “change”, many principals bring people together, but often for the wrong reasons.  If you move to fast, that can often lead to strained relationships within a school and resentment towards the new “leader”.  As much as principals want to make it “our school”, many admin really try to make it “their school”, or at least, that is the picture that they paint to their staff.  Sometimes you need to move slow to go fast.

Here are some things that I have learned from my time in both success and failures.

1. Build strong relationships first.  If you did a “Wordle” on my blog, I am guessing the term “relationships” would be the word that is in the top five for being most used.  Although this may seem redundant, to emphasize the importance of this over and over again, is something that cannot be understated.  The investment you make in your staff, students, and community will come back tenfold, but it takes time to build trust.  I have watched administrators like Patrick Larkin, Kathy MeltonJason Markey, Amber Teamann, and Jimmy Casas show and share the significance that they put into people.  This is not just your teachers either.

Every single person on your staff is an important part of the team and should be treated in that same manner.  Make sure that you connect with every person on that staff and know something that goes beyond the building.

One of my favourite things to do with the community was to wait for the busses and talk to kids and parents as they arrived to school.  Talking to kids is huge and a great proactive way to avoid issues later, while also being visible to the community.  It also builds credibility with staff.  Relationships, relationships, relationships.  Trust me, it is the most important part of the job and the foundation that all great schools are built upon.

2. Find the value of every staff member.  I tweeted the following yesterday:

Principals often want to make a splash with staff and bring in “gurus” to move them ahead, but I truly believe that most schools have everything they need within the building, we just have to find a way to bring it all together.  It is not that you shouldn’t look for outside help ever, as a differing perspective helps sometimes, but you should also balance that with having your own staff deliver professional development as well.  This builds capacity and relationships (see number one) within your building.

Every person in your organization has something to offer.  What is it? This is fundamental to “strengths based leadership” and people that know they are valued will go above and beyond. There is a difference between “developing” and “unleashing” talent; a great principal does both.

Great leaders develop great leaders.

3.  Show instructional leadership. There used to be a belief that “those who can’t teach, become principals”.  This drives me crazy.  The other idea is that the principal should be the best teacher in the school.  That is also a fallacy.  Some teachers are absolutely amazing and have no interest in becoming principals; there is nothing wrong with that.  You do however, need to show credibility in your role as principal.  This could be in delivering professional development to your staff or teaching a class, or even a combination of both.  Teachers connect well with teachers, and when they see that their principal, no matter the position, is still a teacher, it shines a different light on them.  When you teach, it also reminds you that the “change” that we try to implement is not as easy as it sounds with 25 kids in a classroom.  It is possible, but it takes time and this perspective that you gain by staying current in your own teaching practices is important.

4.  Don’t focus on “change” as much as you focus on “growth”.  Change and growth are often synonymous but the words sometimes the words evoke different emotions.  If you walk into a school and constantly talk about “change” or how you are going to create the “best school yet”, you are disrespecting the work that has been done prior by the same staff that you are now serving.  I agree that there are lots of things that need to “change” about schools, but I also know there are lots of great things that have already happened in many organizations.  Growth is different.  We expect it from kids and we should expect it from ourselves.  You may have seen the light and changed your teaching practice, but my guess is that you didn’t change every aspect of what you used to do.  You probably got better.  And when you ask for “growth”, make sure you model how you are growing as an administrator as well.  Say when you screw up, admit mistakes, apologize, learn openly, and do things that show you want to get better in your role to model what you want from your staff.  Modelling growth moves from saying, “do this”, to “let’s do this together”.  Very different ideas with the latter being much more effective.

Everyone wants to make a big splash when they are starting a new job, and administrators are no different.  Yet sustainable growth takes time and as Covey states, it is important as a leader to show “character and credibility”.  Both of these things take time.  You may have a vision of where you want school to go but the best leaders hold that vision and break it down in smaller steps so that people can gain confidence and competence in the process.  If you want to create something great, it will take time and will only come from the people that are a part of your learning community.  Honour and tap into them and you will move further than you could have ever imagined.

Where’s the evidence?

This is one of those posts where I might just ramble on but I am trying to clarify some thoughts in my head…

When talking about new and innovative ways to teach students, a question that I constantly get is “where is the evidence that this works?”  The problem with trying something new, there is rarely evidence to support it because it is new.  That being said, I am seeing many educators be the “guinea pigs” themselves and trying out new strategies for learning on themselves and with staff.  If there engagement and learning is improving from their own experience, it is more likely to make an impact on students.  We have often believed that teachers should be experts on “teaching” when the reality is that they should be experts on “learning” first.  Immersing themselves into learning opportunities will help them get closer to that standard than simply reading about teaching techniques.

As I have started to think about the “where is the evidence” question, I am wondering if it should be asked right back.  Where is the evidence that what we used to do was knocking it out of the park for all of our kids?  When I went to school, many students struggled then in school and it wasn’t the utopia that so many people have made it out to be.  Are grades the measure?  If they are, do we look at factors such as socio-economic status and their impact on test scores?  Do we believe that any one thing is a direct result to improved grades?  If you look at any school division that has improved, do they usually only have one initiative that they can directly correlate to a numerical improvement, or are there multiple factors?  Does critical thinking improve learning? Does helping students make healthy choices improve learning?  Or would a combination of both have an impact?  Or would one make an impact on one student, while the focus on another might be the different for another student?  It is tough to make standardized assessments on individuals; each person is unique and needs different things.

This brings me back to a conversation this morning that I had with one educator who had mentioned that her admin “didn’t think that kids would do well with this type of learning”.  What I told her is that we should never limit a kid to what we, as adults, think that they can or can’t do.  There is a saying that “whether you think you can or you can’t, you are usually right.”  It is one thing to have this mindset for ourselves, but when we decide our kids “can’t” before giving them a chance or showing a belief in them, their opportunities to grow and achieve something great are limited.

So I guess the next time when I am asked, “Where is the evidence that this works?”, my response might be that nothing works for all people. It never has and it never will.  Some kids will do better with pen and paper, and some adults will do better with a laptop; we have to be able to provide options that work for our students, not just ourselves.  I also believe that sometimes our faith in our kids could be as important (if not more) as some of the evidence we collect.  If we believe we can help our students do amazing things, continuously grow, and make the world better, isn’t it more likely to happen?