Category Archives: Leading a Learning Community

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?

A conversation starter…

I saw the following image online: Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 7.50.43 AMWhat surprised me about the conversation about it was that most educators (that I connect with) thought the student was ingenious for this “invention” and applauded them.  They were “fighting the power” and found a way to snuck in their device to a classroom. A couple of questions I have when I see this picture… Why would the kid have to create something like this? Why would adults not have to do this?  (I know that if I am disengaged I might gravitate to my device, but I also know that if I am engaged, I also tend to gravitate to my device.) Do you think this is wrong by the student, or cheer them on for their subversiveness? What do you think?

“Leveraging” is the new fluency

I needed some help for a project I was working on this morning, and wasn’t sure how to exactly to do something.  Instead of “googling” for an answer, when I wasn’t really sure of how to word the search, I simply tweeted out the following:

Within five minutes, I received the following answer (I actually received other ones before as well) from Jeremy MacDonald:

That was it…problem solved.

Then I saw this tweet from Derek Hatch that gave me an “A-Ha” moment:

What I thought about is the idea of “literacy to fluency”, and how with something like Twitter, the parallel idea to that would be “use to leverage”.  For example, if I simply would have tweeted out the question, the likelihood of receiving an answer would have been lower than if I didn’t use a hashtag, or not connecting with people that I knew had the answer.  I increased the opportunity to get an answer by doing some very subtle things within a tweet and ensuring that I was able to get what I needed.

Instead of simply emailing Jeremy MacDonald the question and only having one chance to receive the answer, I used an open network that increased my chances exponentially, but also targeted someone I knew who used the technology and the company that created the software in the first place.  By the time HaikuDeck actually responded (and they responded quickly), I already had the answer and did what I needed to do.

One of the NCTE “21st Century Literacies” is, “develop proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology”, and I thought about how we move people to the next step in their use of social networks.  Obviously having a large network helps in leveraging, but creating that network is also part of “leveraging”.  My network did not develop over night and neither would “fluency” in any language.  Simple use of a network should be a minimum now.  “Leveraging” technology is the new “fluency”.

“If you screw up…”

I heard a story about an administrator saying that he now had the ability to deal with teachers that were sharing “inappropriate tweets”.

And we wonder why so many teachers are terrified to use social media or try something new.

So many people share the messages, “If you screw up, we will…”, and then wonder why their organization doesn’t embrace change?

Change comes at a risk, and with that risk, comes the opportunity to screw up.  It is not “if”, it is “when”.  New paths lead to mistakes; it is part of the process.

How do you deal with it?  Better yet, how do you encourage it?

I still believe that many administrators continuously blame teachers and say they don’t embrace change, but I continue to see that many “leaders” are just simply terrible at selling change in the first place.

Easy to blame, hard to do the work.

It’s not me, it’s you.

Really?

Oh and by the way, if you are an administrator and this is your mantra and behaviour with teachers, what do you think the trickle-down effect will be with students?

Nothing amazing will ever happen when you continuously build a culture of fear.

4 Types of Leaders You Shouldn’t Be

First of all, I am going to challenge my own title in this writing as the qualities that I am about to list are not usually people with influence, but people with titles and authority.  Leadership and administration are sometimes not synonymous and if an administrator does not make those around them better, they are not leaders, they are bosses.

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.

Here are some styles you should avoid being or working for if you want to really move forward.

1.  The “Blame Everyone Else” Leader

Ever tried to do something that is new to an organization only to be stopped by an administrator saying that “others” are holding things back?  Often times, they will say things like, “if it were up to me, I would love for this to happen”, or even act as if they are a martyr and trying to save you from getting in trouble from others.  Whatever the case, if someone is blaming others in the organization for not “allowing” you to move forward, trust will be at a minimum.  Most administrators are part of a team and although they might not always agree with one another, they will never blame others for a lack of opportunities for educators.

If you think about if, if  they are going to throw someone else under the bus, including someone on their own administration team, what do you think that they do when you are not around?

2. The “Driven by Policy” Leader 

Policies are often put into place to ensure that students and teachers are safe, yet the process to create them is often long and arduous.  With education moving so quickly, some policies are simply outdated and they are not in the best interest of organizations, and more importantly, students.  Sometimes policy interferes with doing what is right, but sometimes, doing what is right is hard.  It is easy to hide behind policy in this case.

Sometimes obviously we have to stick with policies to ensure safety and I am not saying that we throw them all out the window, but when policy trumps common sense, there are issues.

3.  The “Dead-End” Leader

You come up with a great idea that is new to an organization that you are willing to put in the work and effort.  You approach your boss and share it with you and they tell you why it probably won’t work.  You wait for suggestions.

Waiting…waiting…waiting…

Nothing.

There is nothing that can kill enthusiasm for someone at work when they are simply told “no”.  Great leaders want people to take risks, and although they are trying to protect others, a simple “no” can have harsh repercussions on an individual and ultimately school culture.

This does not mean you need to say yes to everything.  But you should ask for further explanations and help people look for ideas, alternatives, or give them the opportunity to take risks.  A yes rarely needs an explanation, but in my opinion, “no” always does.  But even with the explanation, it is still important that we try to create opportunities to keep that creative flame burning in others and getting involved with an idea or project, or at least offering guidance, says much more than “no”.

4.  The “Lack of Knowledge is Power” Leader

With all of the changes in our world, society, and culture, schools need to change.  With many administrators, this change leads to not only differences in the classroom, but in their own practice.  If administrators do not continuously learn and grow, students lose out.

Yet learning and growth take time and effort, and for some, doing what is comfortable is an easy option.  Some of my best administrators were not people that believed they knew everything, but those that actually showed vulnerability and that they actually didn’t know.

Yet when we admit that we don’t know everything, that means we have to trust others and give our “power and authority” away.  This model of distributed leadership is very tough on some and they end up hiring great people only to micromanage them.  A person that pretends that they know something is much more dangerous than those who can fully admit that they don’t.

So instead of showing humility and a willingness to learn, they often pretend they have an understanding of things that they don’t, which often leads to poor decisions that impact many.  The interesting thing is that those that are willing to get into the trenches and admit that they don’t know always have more credibility than those that pretend they do.

Weakness is not knowing, it is not being able to admit it.

I am sure that everyone of us (including myself) that is in a position of authority has done this.  No one is perfect.  But when these things become the norm, any one of them can be highly detrimental to the culture of a school.  It may not impact students directly, but long term, they will lose out the most.