Category Archives: Leading a Learning Community

3 Ways to Curate and Share Great Content

One thing that I pride myself on, is the ability to curate and share the work of others.  I have been blessed with a huge network on social media and I want to use that to not only share my voice, but hopefully the voice of others as well.  There are certain blogs that I like reading all of the time, but I also want to find the “best” stuff that is being shared right now, so if I limit it to what I already know, then it is much harder to find that.  That is why I have a few different spaces to find and share content.  Many people ask me how I “find my stuff”, so I wanted to show and share how I curate information.

  1. Inoreader – After Google Reader dissolved (sigh), I wanted to find a great RSS reader that looked similar.  After much research, I settled with Inoreader (inoreader.com), which was a great way for me to add and share blog posts.  With this service, I could easily make my own “bundles” of blogs by any category that I would want to create.  This way I was getting some of my favourite content coming to me, instead of going to it.  Here is how my home page looks:

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What I also loved about this site, was how easy it was to share to social media sites.  On the bottom right of each article is a “share” button, so you can do it directly from Inoreader.  If I know someone blogs consistently I add it to my reader, but if they don’t post for awhile, I don’t have to worry about constantly checking for updates.  It is a minimalist site and that is why I prefer using it.  Less is better sometimes when trying to find information.

2. Zite –  Zite is a mobile app that finds articles for you based on things that are popular in your “network”, or based on topics of your own personal interest.  What I like about this site is that it often helps me find stuff that wouldn’t necessarily be in my blog bundles and it becomes a personalized magazine.  If I don’t like the content being shared, I can give it the “thumbs down” and it will note that for the future.  Here is how the interface looks on my main page.

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Again, nice and clean.

The other awesome aspect is the ease of sharing from your device for the content.  You can share to a plethora of social networks (again, on the bottom right corner).  Zite gives me unique content, but it is important to be aware that if you share or read a blog from any author, it will note that and eventually always share that post.  This is both good and bad, as I try to use that space to find unique information.

3. Tweetdeck –  I love Twitter, but it is very hard to information on any topic unless you utilize hashtags or lists to help you out.  Tweetdeck (tweetdeck.com) allows me to search by hashtags, and even if I am not following someone, if they share to the hashtag that I am following, it is really helpful.  Here is a snapshot below:

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My very good friend and AMAZING leader, Dwight Carter, shared an amazing analogy on hashtags, likening them to “TV channels”.  As shown by the image above, the “channels” I am watching for content (in this example), are #psd70 (my school district), and #cpchat (Connected Principals Chat).  This way I can see what is being shared in my school district, while also seeing what other educators are sharing that they feel is relevant to school administrators.  What is important to note here is that #cpchat is not exclusive to only school administrators sharing to the hashtag, but anyone that feels the information they have found is relevant to school administrators.  I try to help people find content by filtering it for them.  For example, if I find something that is great for kindergarten teachers, I would use #kinderchat.  For science teachers, I would use #scichat in my tweets.  This helps others find great stuff in an area of interest.  (Here is a list of educational twitter hashtags from Jerry Blumengarten to help if this is new to you.)

Many people ask “who should I follow?”  I always try to encourage them to find a hashtag that is relevant to them first.  If you are a math teacher, following other math teachers does not mean that they will share stuff related to the topic. But if you follow #mathchat, the opportunity to find stuff that you are interested in on that topic, is more likely to happen.

This list is not meant to be the only way that you can curate and find content, it is simply part of the way that I do it.  I encourage you to write in the comments any other ways you find content and share it with others.  This is something that I think is important for educators to do, because it is also something students should understand and make part of their learning as well.

Hopefully this helps some people find and share their own content as well.

Taking Notes vs. Taking a Picture of Notes; Which Wins?

Although I have seen this picture before, I saw it tweeted again recently:

Taking Notes

Although this seems like a no-brainer as a method to quickly capture information, there is also the challenge that if you want to “retain” information, writing it down is a much better method.  In an article titled, “Want to retain information? Take notes with a pen, not a laptop”, the author shares the following:

To examine the possible advantages of longhand note taking, researchers from Princeton and UCLA subjected students to several TED Talks and then – after a break featuring “distractor tasks” designed to disrupt memory – quizzed them on their recall of the content. Students were equipped with either (internet-free) laptops or paper notebooks while they watched the talks and instructed to take notes as they normally would for a class. Test questions included both factual recall (names, dates, etc.) or conceptual applications of the information.

Because the quantity and quality of notes have been previously shown to impact academic performance, students’ notes were also analyzed for both word count, and the degree to which they contained verbatim language from the talks. In general, students who take more notes fare better than those who fewer notes, but when those notes contain more verbatim overlap (the mindless dictation issue) performance suffers. As one might expects, students who watched the TED Talks equipped with laptop were able to take down more notes, since typing kicks hand-writing’s butt in terms of speed. However, the luxury of quick recording also resulted in the typed notes having significantly more verbatim overlap than the written ones, and this was reflected in test scores. While, laptop and longhand note takers both fared similarly on factual questions, those taking the tedious pen-and-paper notes had a definite edge on the conceptual questions. So while laptops allowed students to generate more notes (on average a good thing), their tendency to encourage writing down information word-for-word appeared to hinder the processing of information.

So one is easier and much less time consuming, and one seems to improve the ability to “retain” information and be able to share it back.  So which one is better for learning?

How about neither?

The ability to simply obtain information and recite it back is not necessarily learning as much as it is regurgitation.  I might better be able to retain the facts shared, but it doesn’t mean I understand them.  On the other hand, if I am taking a picture, putting it in my camera roll and doing nothing with that information, then really, what good is that?

What is important here is how you make your own connections for deep learning.  Taking a picture is obviously much less time consuming (why would not just give the information over in the first place?) than writing notes, so with the extra time, the ability to do something with the information is where the powerful opportunities for learning happen.  For example, taking this picture and writing a blog post on it, will help me more than simply retweeting the picture out in the first place.  When I speak, I try to challenge people to create something with the information I have shared, whether it is write a blog post, reflection, podcast, video, or any other type of media.  If they really want to process what I have shared, they will need to make their own connections, not the connections I have made for them.

Having easy access to the information is great, but what we do with it, is what really matters.

“The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it).” Thomas Friedman

What about the title of “teacher”?

There is an interesting conversation that was started by Daniel La Gamba on Twitter, regarding the terms “sage on the stage” and “guide on the side” in reference to the changing role of the teacher.  It started with the following tweet and his attached blog post:

Daniel facilitates some great discussion on the topic and the following conversation on Twitter that has gone on for a few days, reminded me of why I love the medium so much.

In the pursuit of creating the new cool title for a teacher, maybe it is more important that we understand the role of a teacher, instead of trying to give it a new name.  Instead of saying, “You shouldn’t be a ‘sage on the stage’, but a ‘guide on the side'”, maybe it is about understanding the fluidity of the role.  That sometimes a teacher is the sage on the stage, and sometimes the teacher is the guide on the side.  Sometimes they are an “architect of learning experiences” but sometimes, they let the student design the experiences themselves.  Sometimes teachers can lead the learning, and sometimes they have to take part in the learning (in the classroom). Sometimes it is doing both at the same time.  This also doesn’t recognize when a teacher has to decide between when to be firm, and when to soften up.

Maybe we need to realize that for years, the title of “teacher” encompasses all of these things (and more), and instead of renaming the role, we just have to talk about the shifts that are happening, and how the best teachers in the world have always recognized that the title of “teacher” means a lot more than what we have given the term credit for.  Some of the best teachers I have ever known have done all of the things that I have discussed and so much more, and the title of “teacher” was one that was defined by how they brought the role to life, not how someone else named and defined it.

If we embrace  and understand that the role of the teacher can change multiple times daily, and that the title does not mean any one singular thing, we might spend less time trying to change the title, and more time focused on the actions that make it so meaningful in the first place.

“Hard Work is No Guarantee of Success”

This is a post where I am trying to write to understand and process my thoughts.  I think it is important that we try to make the process of learning visible, not just what we have learned.

One of my favourite speakers of all time is Jim Valvano. His speech at the ESPY’s where his famous words of “don’t give up, don’t ever give up”, remain powerful so many years later. I love watching his other speeches as well, and in this one, he shares something his dad shared with him;

Hard work does not guarantee success, but lack of hard work guarantees that there will be no success.

I have noticed this theme in some articles that have passed through my feed as of late. James Harrison, a football player with the Pittsburgh Steelers known for his amazing work ethic, while also having one of the greatest touchdowns in Super Bowl history, shared how he took the trophies away from his children that they received for participating. He shared this on his Instagram below which has gone viral.

This is not about demeaning the effort of people “showing up”. In myself, I am trying to get back into better shape, but going to the gym is not enough. It is what I do with that time that matters, and how I eat. It is a struggle. Waking up early to go to the gym means something, but not if I slack off while I am there, and do not achieve results.

This is also understanding that winning isn’t everything as well, but how we develop as people under adversity.  As a coach for many years, I would try to communicate to my team that at the end of the year, only one team would ultimately be the “champion”, so if we deemed success as winning it all, we would most likely fail.  But if we looked at how we developed as people, how we would look at working together as a team, and how we were when we faced adversity, those were things that were really important.  How you are when you win and how you are when you lose, in my opinion, are both equally important.

In an article titled, “Iterate, Iterate, Iterate, Innovate”, they share a story of how WD-40 came to be, it shares the name that the “40” comes from the number of times it took to get the formula right.

The term WD-40 is derived from “Water Displacement, 40th formula”.  It was the 40th formula the chemists tried before finding success. The product is produced by the Rocket chemical company and is distributed in over 160 countries.

If the company stops at 39, this is not being shared, but since it kept going, here we are talking about it.

I have shared before that failure is nor the thing that we should be celebrating, but the grit and resiliency to move forward. But “showing up” is only part of the story. I believe that school should be enjoyable, but I also believe that it should be challenging. “Flow” is something that we should constantly strive for in our learning with ourselves and our students, but it takes hard work.

Whether it is “success” or “innovation” or both that we are striving for, the common element is the work ethic that it takes to get to that point up. It goes way beyond showing up, and is important that we help to instill that into ourselves as well as our students.

Don’t Over Plan Day One

Leaders Today

Lately, I have been doing more and more workshops starting with nothing on my agenda.  I have a topic that I suggest we talk about and an idea of what we can work on, but what I have noticed is that we never stick to the agenda as a group, so why am I spending an inordinate amount of time putting something together that we are not doing.  My focus does not start with the learning, but with the learners.  Their questions and thoughts now lead the session, not only what I think they should learn.  Although, I don’t over plan my sessions, I believe that my understanding of the topic allows me to go in different directions.  That being said though, I will never know everything on any topic, whether I am deemed an expert or not, but because of this crazy invention called the “Internet”, and all of the people that are in the room, I know we can figure out whatever we need for that time.

As I thought about this process, I connected it to my first days of school as a teacher, when I first started my career in education. It was basically the exact opposite.  I would spend days preparing my classroom and decorating it, and even though, I would say it is “our classroom”, the items on the walls were my choice.  I would even have each child’s name written down as a welcome on a basketball, because I wanted them to feel welcome.  The problem is, the basketball was about what I loved, not what they loved.  If you hated playing sports, and you walked into a classroom that featured your name on a basketball, you might not feel very welcomed at all.

Then came the icebreaker activities.  If you are an introvert, day one is going to be extremely tough for you, because we are going to make you get up, walk around, ask and answer questions that totally make you feel uncomfortable, because the student being uncomfortable doing something they hate, is not as important as me feeling safe that the entire day is planned out with things to do.

Wrong.

What if you wanted to learn the student’s names, you asked them to create their own art to display it on which represents something they love?

Instead of decorating the room with what you think should be on the walls, ask the students what they would like the room to look like, and plan how you could shape and decorate it, over time.

Instead of planning the entire day, why not create opportunities to talk to them and learn about them, and get a feel for what your year, or even the day could look like?

If I really think about how the year started for me as a teacher, it was more about the students to get to know me, than it was about me getting to know them.  There actually should be a balance.  Trust and respect are reciprocal feelings; they are not earned only from one direction.

This is not to say don’t plan anything, but to really think about the tone you are setting at the beginning of the year with what you are doing.  Is this more about you, or the students?  Looking back at my own practices, the answer was definitive.  I am trying to get better.

The major shift here is from engagement to empowerment.  I wanted to make sure the students had enjoyed their day, but now I see the importance in not only saying that it is their room, but making it their room.  If we want to create the leaders of tomorrow, there is no better time to develop our students as leaders than today.

Change Agent vs. Change Advocate

Change Agent (1)

In 2013, I wrote an article about the “5 Characteristics of a Change Agent”, with the characteristics and descriptions below:

1.  Clear Vision – A “change agent” does not have to be the person in authority, but they do however have to have a clear vision and be able to communicate that clearly with others.  Where people can be frustrated is if they feel that someone is all over the place on what they see as important and tend to change their vision often.  This will scare away others as they are not sure when they are on a sinking ship and start to looking for ways out.  It is essential to note that a clear vision does not mean that there is one way to do things; in fact, it is essential to tap into the strengths of the people you work with and help them see that there are many ways to work toward a common purpose.

2. Patient yet persistent – Change does not happen overnight and most people know that.  To have sustainable change that is meaningful to people, it is something that they will have to embrace and see importance.  Most people need to experience something before they really understand that, and that is especially true in schools.  With that being said, many can get frustrated that change does not happen fast enough and they tend to push people further away from the vision, then closer.  The persistence comes in that you will take opportunities to help people get a step closer often when they are ready, not just giving up on them after the first try.  I have said continuously that schools have to move people from their point ‘A’ to their point ‘B’not have everyone move at the same pace. Every step forward is a step closer to a goal; change agents just help to make sure that people are moving ahead.

3. Asks tough questions – It would be easy for someone to come in and tell you how things should be, but again that is someone else’s solution.  When that solution is someone else’s, there is no accountability to see it through.  It is when people feel an emotional connection to something is when they will truly move ahead.  Asking questions focusing on, “What is best for kids?”, and helping people come to their own conclusions based on their experience is when you will see people have ownership in what they are doing.  Keep asking questions to help people think, don’t alleviate that by telling them what to do.

4.  Knowledgeable and leads by example – Stephen Covey talked about the notion that leaders have “character and credibility”; they are not just seen as good people but that they are also knowledgeable in what they are speaking about.  Too many times, educators feel like their administrators have “lost touch” with what is happening in the classroom, and many times they are right.  Someone who stays active in not necessarily teaching, but active in learning and working with learners and can show by example what learning can look like now will have much more credibility with others.  If you want to create “change”, you have to not only be able to articulate what that looks like, but show it to others. I have sat frustrated often listening to many talk about “how kids learn today” but upon closer look, the same speakers do not put themselves in the situation where they are actually immersing themselves in that type of learning.  How can you really know how “kids learn” or if something works if you have never experienced it?

5. Strong relationships built on trust – All of the above, means nothing if you do not have solid relationships with the people that you serve.  People will not want to grow if they do not trust the person that is pushing the change.  The change agents I have seen are extremely approachable and reliable.  You should never be afraid to approach that individual based on their “authority” and usually  they will go out of their way to connect with you.

What is most important about all of these characteristics, is the last point on relationships.  There is a difference between a “change agent” and a “change advocate”.  If you hold the first four qualities on this list only, you are someone advocating for change, but not necessarily making it happen.  All the vision and knowledge in the world means nothing if we are not able to connect with others; it is the equivalent of shouting into the wind.  Having the fifth quality focused on relationships, is what makes someone a “change agent”.  The only way to help people move forward is by building relationships and understanding where their journey begins, not focusing solely on where you want them to be.

Learning and Leadership

In the day of any conference, the conversations are fast and furious, and I can sometimes get overwhelmed by so much flying at me at once.  I do my best to spend time connecting with people, but sometimes the conversations that are had don’t stick with me at first, but resonate with me after I have had some time to decompress.

One of the things that has stuck with me from one event, was a person in an administrative position, approaching me and saying, “after I listened to you and thought about what you were saying, I realized, I am the barrier that is holding us back.”  I am not sure what her position was, but I was amazed by the honesty of her reflection.  She also shared that she did not want to be that person anymore, and was going to try and create different opportunities for those that she served.  It was a humbling conversation that has really been stuck in my brain.  I honestly can’t stop thinking about it because of the courage that she had in sharing that or even being able to say it out loud.

Something I have been saying lately in some conversations I have been having is the following:

“There are people in this room, no matter how compelling of evidence or ideas that I have shared, or the experiences that I have tried to create, will do nothing different tomorrow.  Are you that person?”

It is a comment meant to challenge and push people out of their comfort zone, while also imploring them to reflect on their learning.  I have learned that ideas and my own thinking changes over time, and by being open to challenge and growth in my learning, is how I model what I hope to see in others.  I am never expecting someone to do exactly what I have shared or even not challenge my thoughts, but I am hoping they take action and ownership on how they can move forward.

But with that being said, I am hoping that people not only think about what they have learned, but also how their learning impacts others.  Every single person involved in education is in some type of leadership position in the way that we serve the needs of others, whether it is students or adults, and our willingness or lack thereof to grow, impacts not only ourselves, but others.  This one administrator reminded me of that in her brave way she shared her self-realization.  The willingness to be able to reflect and to identify how your actions and growth are affecting others, is a powerful trait of a leader who wants to make a difference.

“In education, our learning not only impacts our own growth, but the growth of others that we serve.”

 

Resilience and Innovation in Education

“The person who says it cannot be done, should not interrupt the person doing it.” Chinese Proverb

Oh if it were that easy!

The reality of the work of someone with the “innovator’s mindset” is that the work is going to be questioned because it is something new and can often make those around them uncomfortable. Comments like “let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater” are often disguises of a fear of moving forward. If you really think about change, many people are comfortable with a known average, than the possibility of an unknown great.  With that in mind, to be innovative, we will have to focus on moving forward even when there is risk of failure and being criticized involved.

Trying something new is always going to be up for a challenge, and I have watched so many struggle when that challenge becomes public.  It is not about ignoring the naysayer (sometimes you should really listen to them), but about having the conviction to push forward and do something that you believe will make a difference.  As I listened to the first episode of the podcast “Startup”, one of the things they talked about is the importance of passion and conviction to become successful.

If you don’t believe in your idea, why would anyone else?

One thing that I have learned from my experience as an educator is to always focus on the question “what is best for kids” when thinking about creating new ideas to further your work in schools.  If you are trying something new in the context of learning, and this question is at the forefront of how you make your decisions, you are doing the right thing.

The other pushback you may face from trying something different is actually from the students.  As stated earlier, many of our students are so used to “school” that something outside the lines of what they know terrifies them just as much as any adult.  If school has become a “checklist” for our students (through doing rubrics, graduation requirements, etc.), learning that focuses on creation and powerful connections to learning, not only take more effort, but more time, which sometimes frustrates many students.  Yet if we do not challenge our students in the learning they do in school, what are we preparing them for? What mindset will we actually create in our students?  It is important, if not crucial, to really listen and act upon student voice, but it is also just as important to help our students become resilient and face adversity in the school environment.

Being a huge basketball fan, I remember watching Phil Jackson coach the Lakers, and when the other team had some success against them and most coaches would have called a timeout, Phil Jackson made them struggle to learn to work their way out of it; they could not be dependent upon someone coming in to save them (Phil Jackson has the most championships of any coach in NBA history). Do we create spaces for our own students that pushes them out of their comfort zone and they have to work themselves out of it, or do we provide the solutions for them?  It is important to understand when to help a student back up, but it is also important to help them sometimes figure it out on their own.

Resilience is not only needed to be developed as an “innovator”, but just as a human. Life is full of ups and downs, but how you recover and move forward is not just important to how we learn, but how we live.

IN TO THE

Competition Is Great Depending on Who Wins

“Collaboration” is one of the words that is often discussed in what is crucial for our students today.  There are so many variations and quotes surrounding the idea that we are better together, and with that, I would totally agree.  The problem sometimes with this is that collaboration is often seen as the opposite of competition. In reality, the two should actually support one another.

Here is when competition is bad…

School “A” is competing with school “B” for students.  Because of that, they are not willing to share the things that they are doing with other schools because these are now “trade secrets”, and giving them away to the “competition”, might actually reduce enrolment.  Although the idea of not sharing your stuff to gain a competitive advantage, is sometimes a fallacy (if no one knows you are doing anything great, why would they come?), this mindset is not about helping kids, but helping ourselves.

And here is where competition is great…

I was having a conversation with a district level coordinator that told me about two high schools using the same hashtag to share amongst their schools for the same subject.  The collaboration between the schools was beneficial to not only the teachers, but more importantly the students.  The competition came in when one of the schools did an activity that the other school was not doing and the kids thought it was amazing.  Not wanting to be outdone, the other school quickly had their own similar activity, with some tweaks to make it better.  Both of these schools are more than willing to help one another, yet not wanting to be outdone.  Who is the ultimate winner of this competition? The kids.

I don’t know one teacher that wants to have the classroom that kids don’t want to go to, yet I have seen a lot of teachers that are reluctant to share. When we see “sharing” as something that both supports and pushes us to be better, the big winner will always be our students.

Competition is only a bad word in education if our students are the ones losing out.

When we see sharing as something that

Blogging for Staff Professional Learning

I have been really thinking about the idea of using social media to make local impact, not just global.  It is easy to get caught up in the opportunity to connect with classrooms around the world, that we sometimes forget about the teacher across the hall.

A little realization I had this morning when I received a comment on my blog post, “Does Brainstorming Lead to Innovation?“, was how often we are not asked to really think and dissect  something before we get together at a staff.  Often, people are asked to read articles or excerpts, but how often are we asked to share our thoughts prior in some sort of open reflection? This makes all of us smarter, not just the person reflecting.

From the original post, John Spencer shared his thoughts by writing, “Seven Ways to Fix Brainstorming“. Comments on the post shared subtle pushback, or alternatives as well.  What was important was the time to dissect, and actually share something that would be seen by others, ultimately helping people think more critically about their responses.

Clive Thompson

So what if we were to do this?

The week before (maybe more, maybe less) a professional learning opportunity, we had a school/staff blog that had an idea that was going to be discussed with staff.  People would be encouraged to write, create, write a comment on the original, or do whatever they wanted to respond, as long as it was linked back to the original.  This way, you are not limited to one person’s point of view, but are open to learning from others.  Would this not make for a much richer discussion that dives deeper into learning when we would actually connect face-to-face with one another?

My view on brainstorming has changed simply because people were willing to take the time and share their thoughts and ideas.  If you read them, not one of them challenged me, but challenged the ideas that were shared.  That’s the power of a blog.  What is important is to not only give people the opportunity to share their thoughts, but also give them time to create and connect their own learning.  Obviously, the hope for any professional learning is that this trickles down into the classroom with our students, and I think this could be a powerful way to really dive in deep to our own thinking, as well as the thinking of others, in our buildings and organizations.