Category Archives: Leading a Learning Community

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?

5 Questions To Drive Personal-Professional Learning

Image created by @GregPearsonEDU using Canva.

Image created by @GPearsonEDU using Canva.

In a world where more and more people realize their voice matters, simply engaging people is not enough.  People need to feel empowered in the process of work and learning.  The shift from compliance to empowerment is essential in organizations today.  With that in mind, how do we help people grow? The question is not, how do we motivate them, which is an entirely different idea.  Motivating others is possible,  but it is not long lasting.  We can only truly motivate ourselves for any sustainable amount of time, this is not something that can be done for us.  Leaders need to look at how we create environments that remove barriers, and support the development of the innovator’s mindset in individuals.  Leadership’s job is not to control people, but to unleash talent.  The environment and processes we create are important in helping people find their own way and strengths.

Yet we too often focus on external “motivators” to be the driver for change or even learning.  One of the biggest shifts in my own thinking in the past few years is how learning is such a personal endeavour, yet we try to package it up and decide the paths and passions for others.  Stephen Downes summarizes this sentiment nicely:

“We have to stop thinking of an education as something that is delivered to us and instead see it as something we create for ourselves.”

With that being said, there is a lot of professional development that is working to “incentivize” learning with the use of external motivators.  Immediately doing this, in many ways says that it is not something that is important to learn without the incentive, or else we haven’t take the time to focus on the “why” of the learning.  If people don’t understand why we are learning something, it will not stick.  They need to make their own internal connection.  I understand though that in some areas, I don’t need to really explain “why”, before we move forward.  For example, if there is a safety plan in school, I would have the expectation that people knew how to do it and spend their time learning any procedures that we have in school.  That being said, I have seen states require “credit hours” for professional learning and have watched people show up so they can check off that they were there.  This is not going to create powerful and deep learning, but is simply a checklist in the “game of school“.  If there is no ownership over our own learning, how deep will we really go?

So what would I do differently?

Daniel Pink talks about the important of autonomy, mastery, purpose in motivation, and with that in mind, we should think about developing long term professional learning with that in mind.  Although growth plans are something that have been prevalent in schools for as long as I have been teaching, I think it is important to ask questions that focus on those three elements, while also helping leadership remove barriers to help learners achieve their goals.  As we develop our own professional growth plans for any period of time, here are some questions that I think are important to include.

1.  What would you like to learn? (Autonomy)

Although this question has driven my own professional learning for years, it is still necessary to set the stage for deep learning.  Ownership over the learning is crucial in this process.

2. What questions will be the driver for your learning? (Autonomy)

Inquiry-based professional learning is a powerful process, which helps you to view yourself not only as a problem solver, but also as a problem finder.  It also helps the learner articulate why this learning is important to them and gives them ownership over the process. Here is an example of how these questions can drive growth.

3.  Why is this important to your? How will it help the school? (Purpose)

This is a crucial element to not only a person’s learning, but also to help them use their strengths to improve learning, while helping leadership understand those strengths to tap into.  The best teams in the world build upon individual strengths to bring people together toward’s a common goal; they do not try to mould people to something that they are not.

4.  How will you know (measures) that you have achieved your goals at the end of this time? (Mastery and Autonomy)

Accountability is crucial in this process but helping the person define their own measures not only helps them to define what “mastery” could look like, but also have autonomy understanding their own point “a” to point “b”.

5.  What barriers will you need removed, or what support will you need to be successful? (Unleash Talent)

This question is crucial and necessary to leadership.  A lot of reasons things don’t happen in schools is because of dumb policies and guidelines that make “innovation” extremely hard and simply “hoop jumping”.  One thing that I used to say to my staff all of the time was, “I cannot solve problems that I don’t know about.” That is true, but perhaps I needed to ask them a lot more what the problems were that I could help with.

 

To have a “culture of innovation”, developing educators as leaners is crucial.  Helping them understand their own passions and interests, and giving them opportunities to use them to further the vision of the school is paramount.  But if we see learning as a truly “personal” endeavour, focusing on the ideas of “autonomy, mastery, and purpose” in developing our professional learning plans is crucial into the development of both individuals as well as our organizations.

4 Ways We Can Share Our Stories to Drive Innovation

There is no more human profession in the world than education.

In fact, as content has become abundant, education has become more human.  Fifty years ago, and fifty years from now, relationships will be the most important thing we do in schools.  In fact, with information becoming plentiful, I would actually argue that relationships will become more important than ever.  If I do not feel valued to the place that I come every day, why would I continue to show up?

Yet in some cases, we take this human profession, and reduce our most precious resource, our students, to letters and numbers.  We have done this to teachers as well.  Instead of hearing their stories, we rank and sort so many involved in education, and lose the faces and humanity in our practice.  So many people, whether in government or administrator positions, say that standardized tests are not valued, yet so much is still measured by these numbers, both students and teachers.  The emphasis should be on the people, not numbers.

letter and numbers

This is not to say that accountability isn’t important in education.  Nobody wants bad teachers in the profession, including teachers, yet there is so much more to a story to a person than a letter or grade.  We have to think of different ways that our stories can be shared though and put more of an emphasis on the qualitative data, not the quantitative.  Both have a place in education, but the stories and observations that are shared need to be put in the forefront.

Here are some ways that we can really start to share these stories in a continuous and ongoing basis.

1. Tapping into the power of visuals. – The most powerful camera in the world, is the one that you have with you. Fortunately, most of us have one with us all of the time.  People like Tim Lauer, sharing pictures of his school on Instagram, or Tony Sinanis using YouTube to highlight his students in school newsletters, actually elicits emotional responses when I see what they share.  The old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”, is totally true.  So then what is a video worth?  These accounts are something that not only tell a lot about the happenings in the school, but they also encourage growth in their own school communities, as well as others around the world.  I know many have started Instagram accounts based on Tim’s work, while others have started school YouTube newsletters based on seeing Tony’s account.  I am not even sure where they got the idea, but I know that their sharing has probably made am impact both locally and globally, while sharing their story.

2.  A Year in Photos/Videos – As many schools in North America are either done or winding down their school year, I love the “montage” idea of sharing what has happened in school.  I have seen this happen at end of the year assemblies, but they are not often shared publicly.  Dean Shareski does a “year in review” video every year, that shows so much of what has happened in his year and tells a powerful story. I would love to see more schools doing this.

3.  Telling Your Own Story Through Digital Portfolios –  I am a big believer in the power of digital portfolios.  Not only do they give students the opportunity to reflect, but they give them an opportunity to share their voice and story in a plethora of unique ways. Many schools have focused on “engagement”, yet I believe that we need to empower those that we serve by not only asking them to share assignments, but tell their unique stories through these platforms.  In a world where anyone can have a voice, are we working with our students to help them share their voice with people around the world, or just contain them within the walls of our school, either physically or digitally.  One of my favourite quotes is from Shelley Wright, when she stated, “Kids often defy expectations when you give them the opportunity.” Do we encourage them to share their stories with the world in meaningful ways, or are we simply focusing on “doing school”. (Here are some resources on blogs as digital portfolios.)

4. The Simplicity and Power of a Hashtag – Simply having a hashtag for your school or class, not only taps into the power of sharing, but also helps drive innovation.  A hashtag is not just about communication, but it can be about culture.  You may not have your community all on Twitter, so we have used things like Storify to curate and share our learning and ideas with our community.  Having a Twitter account for your school empowers one voice, but having a hashtag, can empower all.  There is a lot you can tell to a community in 140 characters.

The human side of education is something that is extremely important to me.  Sharing those powerful stories not only paints a different narrative, but it can actually drive innovation. Seeing faces, and hearing voices, elicits a human connection to the work that we are doing.  In a profession that is extremely human, we have to remember the power we have to tap into one another, when we share these stories that tell more than any letter or number ever could.

There Should Be More than One “Lead Learner”

(Note…based on the first few comments I wanted to update the post to reflect my VERY strong belief that principals/superintendents should model their learning.  It has been updated below and I appreciate the pushback that helped me to communicate my thoughts!)

The term “Lead Learner” has been one that has been thrown around a lot by superintendents, principals, and other people at the top of the traditional hierarchy, mostly in reference to themselves.  As a principal, I actually used the term referring to myself in a blog post I wrote in January 2011, and am not sure where I heard it, or just used it on a whim.  What I do know now though is that I am reluctant to using the term when talking about a principal or superintendent, and I rarely (if ever) have heard someone else call their principal or superintendent the “lead learner”.  Does that say something about the term?

I do however, understand why it is being used so often though.  Principals, superintendents, and other traditional “bosses” see their roles changing, and see this as part of flattening the organization, or at least that is how I saw it when I first used it.  I wanted to model that I was a learner just like everyone else in my school, and, as Chris Kennedy would say,  I wanted to be “elbows deep in learning” with them.  The reality though is that the term still refers to one person being in an authority position, and for me now, evokes the ideas that the principal is seen as the “holder of all knowledge”.  This was not how my school worked at all.  There were not only people who knew a lot more than me in many areas, but they were also more passionate about going deeper in the topic.  I was definitely not the “lead learner” in many areas, nor did I want to be.  If you think about it, in any school a “lead learner” could be in any area, and can be any person, and is often our own students.  In a culture where “everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner”, the term “lead learner” could and should be applied to many.

The role of principal is evolving, but I also know that some people need the principal to be the principal.  There is a point where people need to know that in tough situations, they can count on someone to back them up and be there for them.  I had many principals step in for me when I didn’t know what to do, or supported me in tough situations.  I didn’t need them to be the “lead learner”, I needed them to be the principal.  Great leaders don’t get consensus on all decisions, but sometimes have to make the tough ones on their own.  This comes as part of the role and sometimes it is important to know who to go to when there is a struggle.

The title does not necessarily make the role, only how you do it.  

Yet words mean something and if we are truly to create a culture where all people can step up and explore their passions and we believe that everyone has the potential to lead and bring out their best, the term “lead learner” should never be reserved for one person.

Should the principal/superintendent still openly share their learning?  Absolutely.  With technology now, that is easier than ever, but note I used the term “model” their learning.  Administrators have been learning forever but it was hard to communicate and share their learning on an ongoing basis.  That being said, there is a difference between a “leader that learns” and a “lead learner”, as one creates the notion that there is a “top learner”, where we should create an environment that in organizations, both inside and outside, learning by all is essential to success.

Questions to Drive Growth #3QuestionsEDU

I am blessed to work in a school district that has done some really great work, but is constantly asking questions of where we can go.  Over the last few days, having conversations with principal Karen Stride-Goudie and my superintendent, Tim Monds, I have been really thinking about the questions that are driving my work and focus right now.  As I thought about these questions, I was reminded of Ewan McIntosh’s idea of “Problem Finders”, as opposed to simply “Problem Solvers” and how this connected to our own growth plans.  In the past, my own professional growth plans have focused more on what I am trying to learn, as opposed to what questions I am going to focus on.  This has really encouraged me to think about the questions and “why” they are important to me.

There are so many questions that I have, but if I want to be successful in my work, it is imperative that I narrow my focus to a few that will ultimately drive my work and learning.  I encourage others to think about your own roles and think of three questions that may drive your work now or into the upcoming school year.  The process I am choosing to use is to pose these three questions to drive my work and discuss why they are important.  No matter what your position in education, this process can really help you focus on what you learn, and the more questions that are shared in an open network, the better we can all become.  I encourage anyone to share a reflection through either a video or blog post (or whatever you are comfortable with) to the hashtag #3QuestionsEDU.

Mine questions to drive growth are the following:

 

  1. How do we a create a culture where the “innovator’s mindset” is the norm instead of the exception? (Or, how do we move from “pockets of innovation” to a “culture of innovation”?)

Why is this a focus?

What I have noticed in a lot of the work that I have done is that either the communications from the school or district level, really focuses on sharing the stories of a few educators and their classrooms, as opposed to being the norm in schools.  Even doing visits in schools around the world, I am often asked to go visit specific teacher classrooms who are deemed “innovative”, as opposed to being able to randomly walk around and see that is the norm.  I do not see this as an educator problem, but a leadership problem.  What conditions must we create to really create an “innovative culture”?

  1. Within the current confines of school infrastructure, how do we create environments that promote innovative teaching and learning?

Why is this a focus?

The physical structure of schools, especially older buildings, does not necessarily create an environment that is conducive to innovative learning.  When I think of the best “learning spaces” in the world, schools rarely pop into my mind.  With that being said, it is impossible to think that we are going to tear down our buildings in the near future and be able to start from scratch.  Instead of always asking people to think “outside of the box”, I am trying to think, how do we be innovative inside of it.  There are many educators around the world have created innovative learning environments within the “traditional” spaces of the classroom.   Environment is often as important as mindset, so how do we create spaces for kids that really promote innovative learning.

  1. How do we create professional learning opportunities that our staff are excited to be a part of on a consistent basis?

Why is this a focus?

When educators experience something different, they often create something different.  Unfortunately, I do not see educators flocking to their own professional learning opportunities, unless there is an awesome lunch being served that day,  This is a problem.  We have to rethink what learning looks like for professionals so that they experience the learning that can happen with our students and that they see themselves as lifelong-innovative learners.  To be a master teacher, you need to become a master learner, and this again falls upon the shoulders of leadership (leadership is from any position) in creating different experiences for staff, and ultimately helping them to create those learning experiences for themselves.

So there is a quick synopsis of the questions that are going to drive my thinking and keep me up at night.  What are yours?  I think this is a good practice whether you are a superintendent, teacher, secretary, or any other position, and hopefully this is something that could trickle down to students.

 

Please share your three questions to the hashtag #3QuestionsEDU in any form. I would love to see what is driving the learning of others.

It’s not about the technology…or is it?

One thing that I believe in deeply in my work is that we should always focus on relationships and learning, before technology, and if technology can’t enhance those things, it is a very tough “sell” to educators.  The focus, although on relationships and learning first, is also on the use of technology.  They are not separate.

Yet I have seen people say that it’s not about “technology”, it’s about “pedagogy”.  In fact, I had this conversation with Brian Aspinall on Twitter recently which sparked this thought. This statement could easily be taken as separating the two ideas of “pedagogy” and “technology”, and can sometimes provide an easy “out” for many educators who see the use of technology as irrelevant in their classrooms.  If it about “pedagogy” and NOT “technology”, then why would I ever have to use it?  I will have to be honest; there are a lot of classrooms that I walk into that have very little use of technology with students in their learning, other than the occasional visit to the computer lab.  Sometimes when the statement is made, “it is not about technology, it is about pedagogy”, you then hear the roars of approval, and off we go on our merry way with nothing changing for many students.

In reality sometimes it is about the technology, and the opportunities that it provides that were not there before for a student.  For example, teaching students how to code is something that is really hard to do without the technology, yet this is not happening with the masses in schools, and it would be extremely hard to learn it in an effective manner with 40 minutes a week in a computer lab.  Is it happening in some classrooms? Absolutely. Is it happening more every day? Absolutely.  Is it happening enough?  I am not sure it is.

I have been reluctant to say things like “technology is just a tool”, because again, the statement often provides an out. If you do not see it as transformative, then why use it?  A video that I have shown to show how technology is more than a tool and can be “transformational”, is this video of this young boy getting his first hearing aid. You can literally see the second the boy’s life changes:

When you look at Lachlan in that video, you can see that as soon as he has the “hearing aid”, a light goes on in his eyes.  I will have to admit,  that there are a lot of students in school who have lost that light.  This is no different from when I was in school, but there are more ways to create that “light” in the eyes of kids because of the use of technology in some cases.  It is about what they need, not what we are comfortable with.

So yes, it is about the learning, but it is also about the technology and the opportunities that it provides us.  They are no longer separate.

The Power of a Good Lecture

I often think a lot about professional learning, and this week’s #EDUin30 question is asking about what that could look like (here is the response to the question).  Although I have not received any responses as of yet, a lot people will talk about things like EdCamp, MakerSpaces, TeachMeet, and other ideas for really pushing professional learning.  I even wrote about the topic in my posts regarding 8 Things to Look for in Today’s Professional Learningand honestly, “lecture” never made the cut.

So why has “lecture” become a bad word in education today?

Personally, I love a good lecture.  If it evokes story and brings out emotion, I feel that it can not only connect with me in that moment, but for a long time after.  My favourite professor in university (by far), was someone who actually probably didn’t know my name, and never set up any learning experiences that you often hear about in education today, yet I learned so much from him because of the way he told stories.  Although his subject was 20th century history, he connected so much of his own life to the things that he discussed.  It prompted me to major in history, and I still have a love of the topic today.  It was because of that professor who lectured.

I have heard the quote, “the person who is doing the talking, is usually doing the learning”, yet think of how untrue it is in the situation of that professor.  He knew his stuff already, and I didn’t, yet I would write no notes, but think about what he had said for days after.  That being said, I also remember many professors in the area of history who lectured and bored me to tears.  They shared facts, but didn’t tell stories, which elicited no emotion from myself.  I didn’t feel something, I was less likely to learn.  I remember seeing one keynote who within the first few minutes of their talk encouraged people to discuss with someone beside them a certain topic, and I remember thinking,  “I just want to hear a good story and listen to someone who helps me make a connection.”  Should I feel bad that I didn’t want to dive into my “own” learning at this time and just want to be inspired by learning something new?

My own feelings on this topic, might not be true for everyone.  Some might feel that hearing a story just doesn’t connect with them in any way.  But I will also tell you, that the “maker spaces” I have seen do not connect with myself either.  This doesn’t mean I don’t believe they are powerful learning opportunities for others, but it just reminds me that learning is a very personal thing, and for us to say something is “bad”, might only mean that we don’t see the relevance for learning in our own situations.

Anything done too much, will lose it’s impact.  This could be true of any type of learning.  Variety is powerful, but what works for you, doesn’t mean it works for someone else and we have to remember that sitting and hearing a great story, can make a huge impact on learning.  A great lecture is like an art form, and making a personal connection to content, helps others do the same for themselves.

“Telling someone about your experience breathes new life into it, moving it out of the inchoate swirl of unconsciousness into reality. It takes on form and allows us to examine it from all angles.” - Mandy Aftel

There is still some value in a great lecture and a powerful story.  Let’s not forget about that.

You Don’t Have to Do it All

Voxer is something that is being brought up over and over again as a great way to collaborate with people all over the world and have deeper conversations.  I love reading posts like this one on “How School Leaders are Collaborating Over Voxer“, which I tweeted out last week.  What I noticed immediately was both people jumping in on how they use it, while also talking about wanting to explore it more.

What was my reaction? I shut it down.

When one of the people shared how they used it to listen to conversations on their way to work in the car, and I immediately felt overwhelmed with that thought.  My morning drive is filled with listening to music, or podcasts about ANYTHING other than education.  I have realized how I need that more than anything lately.

Here are two pictures that push my thinking.

The following is an image of a bunch of people at a concert that I took several years ago who are creating and sharing content to others all around the world.

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 4.47.52 PM

People look at this picture and many will say how kids are not “living in the moment”, or they are so connected to their devices that they are missing out on life.

Then I show this picture:

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 4.48.01 PM

Two points that I make here…the people in the second picture are actually not talking to anybody, where in the first picture, they are connecting with people, but it just looks different from what we have been accustomed to as adults.  The second point, which to me is more crucial, is how is that I am not really in a place to judge.  I look back at my time listening to music, reading a book, or going to the gym, and I actually love the solitude.  In fact, sitting in a coffee shop, listening to music and writing this post, is not only something that gives me the opportunity to reflect, but it also has some therapeutic aspects in the way it allows me to release my thoughts.  What is important is that I find what works for me and sometimes a personal learning network pushes people towards “group think”, where I need to find what works for me to become successful, at different points of the day.  That self-assessment and reflection is critical to people in our world today.

Do you have to do the same thing and ignore something like Voxer? Not at all.  The point of the “personal” in “personal learning network”, is that you make it what you want.  There are definite advantages of being on Voxer (this article talks about the power of podcasts for your brain, which many people have started using Voxer for), but as I see it, there are advantages of not being on it for myself as well.  Ignoring it at this point is what works for me.  Do I see educational uses of Vine? Absolutely.  But I also see it as a way to check out and watch ridiculous videos that are there for me to not think.  I need that and although I am extremely interested in the medium, I am trying to stop trying to “edufy” every social media site I see.  The appeal for social media in many cases was to have fun and sometimes I think that it is easy for myself to lose that initial idea and appeal that drew me to things like Facebook in the first place.

What I believe is that it is important to be in spaces that you can connect with other educators and grow as a teacher and a learner, but those spaces and the use of them, is up to the person. If you hang around in those different spaces, the best stuff will find you.  I have no doubt about that. But one of the NCTE 21st Century Literacies is to, “Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information”, and I wonder if sometimes “managing” them is by choosing not to be on them in the first place?

There is a lot of great information out there in the world, but in a world where we need to focus more and more on developing the “whole child”, if our entire life revolves around education all of the time, I am not sure we are modelling “appropriate use” ourselves.  Not using something is also part of the appropriate use as we move forward.  There will always be something “awesome”, but to try to use everything is not possible or helpful in the long term.

Similar but different?

As I was walking through several schools today, I noticed objectives and goals that could have been the same when I went to school. How we get there today and what they mean, may be different, especially as we learn more about pedagogy, but also connect learning and opportunities to the changes that have happened/are happening in our world.

Here are some questions that I have that are pushing my thinking.

If we promote students learning in a “safe” environment, do we mean only in school or in learning?  Does ignoring technology in a world where we learn so much from “strangers” keep our kids truly safe?

If we want students to be literate, what does that look like today in schools?  How does it go beyond basic “reading and writing”?

If a school has a focus on “citizenship”, how does a world where we are all connected to one another change what that looks like?

If parent participation is beneficial to the learning of a child, how do we use technologies that are easily accessible to both schools and parents to tap into our community?

If you look at the key components of each question, they are the following:

1. Keeping Kids Safe.
2. Promoting Literacy
3. Citizenship and Social Responsibility
4.  Parents as Partners in Education

If I would have shown you those as objectives in a school in 1980, they might not look any different in the wording, but in practice, they look significantly different.  I was taught over and over again how to cross the street so that I could access what was on the other side, but do we teach kids how to keep their information safe while they are connecting to others across the world?  The idea of “safe” has changed.

There is a lot of areas where schools have changed, but some of the objectives are the same.  How do we make sure that we are keeping up with what our students need for today and tomorrow?

What do you think?

 

3 Things That Have Slowed the Change Process Down in Education (And What We Can Do About It)

There has been a lot of talk on the idea that education as a whole takes a long time to change.  As an educator, this is a challenging notion, since we are seeing many people doing some amazing things that did not exist when I was a student.  Change is happening but sometimes it is hard to see when you are in the middle of the process.

Some things are out of the hands of schools. Budgets and government decisions can make creating new and better learning environments for students tough, but not impossible.  Educators are not powerless, and in some cases, more powerful that ever.  The story of education can not only be told from the perspective of educators, but also from the students that are currently in the system.  Although there is still a lot of work to do (as there always will be in organizations that focus on continuous learning and have an emphasis on becoming “innovative”), there are also opportunities in education, now more than ever, that we will need to take advantage of and create a different path.

Here are some of the challenges we have had in the past and how we can tackle them

1. Isolation is the enemy of innovation. 

Education has traditionally been an isolating profession where we get some time together, but not nearly enough.  Even if we wanted to change this significantly, in most cases, the current physical structures do not allow us to work with other educators.  Some administrators have been very innovative in their planning of teacher prep time and have embedded collaboration time into the regular school day, but it is not necessarily enough to make a significant impact.

How so many educators have shifted this “norm” is by using social media spaces to connect and learn from educators all over the world, and making a significant difference in their own classrooms, and creating much more engaging and empowering learning spaces.  Isolation is now a choice educators make. Where the shift really has to happen is using things like Twitter is for educators to connect and share learning that is happening with educators in their own school.  I challenged people to do the following (as shared in this visual from Meredith Johnson);

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 11.50.26 AM

We need to make this happen and create transparency in our own classrooms.

How does a song like “Gangnam Style” go so viral that most people around the world not only know the words but the dance moves?  Social media.  If a song can spread so quickly, so can great learning.

Make it go viral.

2. A continuous focus on what is wrong, as opposed to what is right.

Think about the traditional practice of what school has done with many of our students.  If they struggle with the subject of math, we often send the more math homework to do at home.  Does this really make sense?  If they are struggling at school, making them struggle at home with the same content is often counterintuitive.  It is not that we shouldn’t struggle, but it is important that we are very thoughtful of how we spend our energy.

The shift that has happened with not only our students, but also our schools, is focusing upon building upon strengths as opposed to focusing solely on weaknesses.  This is imperative as building upon strengths often helps us to not only build competence, but also confidence which leads us to the mindset that we are more open to tackle our other challenges along the way.

I love this quote from Forbes on putting people in the right positions to be successful:

Leadership is a privilege, not a right, and we need to treat it as such. Leadership means encouraging people to live up to their fullest potential and find the path they love. That, and only that, will create a strong culture and sustainable levels of innovation.

Many organizations outside of education are hiring not on need, but finding the best people and empowering them based upon their strengths.  Schools should try to do their best to follow suit and put people to be in the best situations to not only do well, but to lead.

3.  Experience is a very powerful teacher.

I remember sitting and listening to Bruce Dixon at a conference and something he said has always stuck out to me:

In no other profession in the world do you sit and watch someone else do your job for 16 years before you go and do it yourself.

Wow.  That is a powerful message and shows why so many new teachers aren’t coming into school with all of these “innovative ideas” and changing our school system like so many people predicted.  Many educators simply replicate their experience as a student. If you think about it, at least one-third of many teachers educational experience is as a student, not a teacher.  That is a tough thing to overcome, but not impossible.

Innovation has no age barrier, and if we can tweak the experience for educators in their professional learning, they are more likely to change the experience for their students.  Writing ideas about “21st century classrooms” on gigantic pieces of paper with a felt marker is not going to create cultural shifts; changing experiences will.

People are starting to look differently at professional learning, and create experiences that are much different from what I first experienced as a teacher.  I think a major reason for this shift (going back to point 1) is that educators are seeing the shift in practices in so many other organizations, and are trying to create a different practice where more educators are not really focused on teaching as much as they are about learning.  This empathy is crucial since to become a master teacher, you must become a master learner.  

Changing experiences to shift the focus on the learner from the teacher helps to disrupt routine.  If you would want to create an environment where students would want to be a part of your classroom, we have to experience what learning could look like for ourselves and start from a point of empathy.

One shift that was not mentioned was the mindset of looking at obstacles as opportunities. As mentioned earlier, not everything is in our control, but as educators know, they can make an impact every single day.  It is not always easy, and teaching can be a very daunting and tiring job, but I believe that every day we can make a difference if we choose.  Having that mindset is the only way that we will ever truly be able to make a powerful change for ourselves and our students.