As he used the term “professional development” and the conversation centred around how to make it more meaningful, I thought about the term “professional learning” and these are thoughts that stuck out in my brain.
Professional development is something done to me, while professional learning is something I do for myself (which was reiterated by several people on Twitter).
Professional development seems to be more connected to an “event” (conference) or an objective, where as professional learning is ongoing.
The feelings the term professional development invoke something negative (for me) as opposed to the positive thoughts that professional learning invokes.
Now I am not sharing these as absolute truths, but thoughts. The thing that is essential to understand is that we have shared goals in schools, and time to provide for development in those areas are crucial. But the other aspect that I have been thinking about is do we provide time for our own professional learning? This is not only about what we are learning, but more importantly how we are learning it.
If I wanted to become a better carpenter, I’d go find a good carpenter, and I’ll work with this carpenter on doing carpentry or making things. And that’s how I’ll get to be a better carpenter. So if I want to be a better learner, I’ll go find somebody who’s a good learner and with this person do some learning. But this is the opposite of what we do in our schools. We don’t allow the teacher to do any learning. We don’t allow the kids to have the experience of learning with the teacher because that’s incompatible with the concept of the curriculum where what is being taught is what’s already known.
If educators are going to develop in their profession, we must ensure that we see our own growth as continuous, as opposed to a singular event. It is not about the terms or terminology, as much as it is about the process, but as educators, if we only focus on the product, and not the individual process, we probably won’t create those opportunities for our students to learn beyond the “event” of school.
Today, very little of the work we give students in school provides them with a sense that they are making a contribution to anything other than their own educational progress toward graduation. Indeed, once the grade is recorded, a huge amount of student work is thrown away. It has no more value. Now that we have powerful, easy-to-use design tools and a capacity for worldwide publishing, we have an opportunity to restore the dignity and integrity of a work ethic with redefining the role of the learner as a contributor to the learning culture.
This thinking was evident in my development of our digital portfolio project. As more and more educational technology companies try to break into the “portfolio” market, they seem to be more concerned with where the data is stored, then the students actually having access to keep their information. Both should be considerations, but we often are more concerned on how we report to parents than we are about students developing and contributing learning that we have ownership over.
As we thought about helping staff feel safe with students putting their thoughts out there, while also ensuring students would have ownership over their learning, we decided to go with a blogging platform (specifically Edublogs but this will work for any WordPress hosted domain). I have written extensively on the use of blogs as digital portfolios (please feel free to click to learn more about this process), but one of the considerations I haven’t share was how students would be able to take everything they have done in this space and create their own domain at any point, either during of after their time in learning.
What the hope of the project is a student will be able to share their learning their entire time in school, so you can see them (and they can see themselves) develop over time. At the end of their time with their portfolio in school, they can go into their blog and do the following.
Go to your WordPress Dashboard.
Under “Tools”, select “Export”. It will then download an XML file.
Open your own domain.
Go to the WordPress Dashboard and under “Tools”, select “Import”.
Upload the XML file.
The point of this post is not to “sell” you on Edublogs or WordPress, but more focused on a few questions:
How do you create a space where if something goes wrong educators feel comfortable that they have “control” and can intervene if necessary?
Are your “digital portfolios” something that are created simply for school, or something more meaningful that the world could have access to see if the student chooses?
Is the process of moving from one space to another, something simple enough and can be done by the students themselves?
As you move forward with your own projects, these are questions we should be asking to be proactive, not have students create years of work, only to delete or have under the control of the school. If that is the case, the learning was never theirs in the first place.
If you would have asked me years ago, if I would ever write a book, I would have never imagined it. Yet, diving into my own learning through this blog, has really helped me to try to think and go deeper into what we can do for schools and our kids.
I am truly grateful for so many people that helped and inspired me (and have shared many of them in this book), and for Dave and Shelley Burgess in helping me write a book that I am really excited for others to read. They have been remarkably supportive and I appreciate that they reached out to me. If it weren”t for the people that I have connected with through Twitter and this blog, as well as so many educators around the world, not only would I have not had ideas to share, I wouldn’t have had the the courage to share them. I am grateful to so many that have pushed my learning and helped me create something to share.
I just wanted to say thank you.
Below is a summary of the book:
Kids walk into schools full of wonder and questions. How you, as an educator, respond to students’ natural curiosity can help further their own exploration and shape the way they learn today and in the future. The traditional system of education requires students to hold their questions and compliantly stick to the scheduled curriculum. But our job as educators is to provide new and better opportunities for our students. It’s time to recognize that compliance doesn’t foster innovation, encourage critical thinking, or inspire creativity–and those are the skills our students need to succeed.
In The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros encourages teachers and administrators to empower their learners to wonder, to explore–and to become forward-thinking leaders. If we want innovative students, we need innovative educators. In other words, innovation begins with you. Ultimately, innovation is not about a skill set: it’s about a mindset. The Innovator’s Mindset is for you if: You are a superintendent, district administrator, or principal who wants to empower your staff to create a culture of innovation You are a school leader – at any level – and want to help students and educators become their personal best. You are a teacher who wants to create relevant learning experiences and help students develop the skills they need to be successful. You’ll be inspired to: Connect with other innovative educators Support teachers and leaders as learners Tap into the strength of your learning community Create ongoing opportunities for innovation Seek more effective methods for measuring progress And, most importantly, embrace change and use it to do something amazing.
If you want to continue to learn with me, I have created a Facebook Page where I will continue to share news about the book, as well as articles that will continue to push learning. You can also connect through the hashtag #innovatorsmindset (on Twitter) and as well, use the guide for the book on this blog, that will hopefully further the conversation. This will allow me to learn alongside of readers. I am hoping this is the beginning of the learning, not the end, not only for the reader, but myself as well.
Thank you for all of the kind words that have been shared my way. It is greatly appreciated!
P.S. If you are interested in purchasing bulk orders (over 10) for your school or district, please do not hesitate to contact Shelley Burgess directly.
I have really been focusing on the notion of “digital portfolios” and how they can be utilized in a different way than your standard portfolio. I have also had a constant focus on the NCTE Definition of 21st Century Literacies, which are the following:
Develop proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology;
Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought;
Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes;
Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information;
Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts;
Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.
The one focus that I am going to discuss (explicitly) in terms of a digital portfolio is “create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts.”
For example, I want a student to find a video or source that they believe is a good resource for learning. They then may embed a YouTube video into their blog and decide and list the criteria on why the video is powerful, and how it has helped them from learning. It is not necessarily “original” material from the student, but it is showing their learning process and why it is valuable.
The added bonus of having this done in a digital portfolio, not only is the ability to show the process of learning, but it is also the curation of resources that a student could actually have access to at a later date. Since this blog is a portfolio of my own learning, if I want to look up anything that I have written on “educational leadership”, I can simply find this through the search tool of my blog, or even by google searching “George Couros Educational Leadership“, to find my own information (while also building my own digital footprint). Imagine a student finding a video that they found valuable on “probability” and being able to find within their own resources, easily, the same video years later. If we have students doing this in a “scrapbook” or notebook, years later those resources will be lost or inaccessible.
When we look at portfolios, it should not be simply sharing our own work, but curating, critiquing, and analyzing the information that others share as well.
Choice is critically important in learning. If a student feels more comfortable and accelerates their learning with a device, it would not make much sense to force them to use a pencil and paper. This is NOT saying just give a kid device because it will be better for their learning. If we do not think differently about our practices in education, there is no doubt a myriad of other options for kids on a device than there is on a piece of paper. The focus is on (as always) what’s best for learners. We should not limit the opportunities for our kids, nor our adults.
This same choice is also important for adults. I have watched adult learners in sessions have a mobile device, laptop, and pencil and paper, and choose the latter of the three for the majority of the time. This reminds me that this same notion is true for our students. It is not about using devices all of the time, but having access which really makes a difference.
This all being said, there is a “but” about to happen. As educators, we should not only understand what students are learning, but we should understand how they can learn. In fact, as some information can change over time, understanding how we learn is more important in many cases than the “what”. We shouldn’t just have a basic understanding of what we are learning, but more importantly, we should understand how we learn.
As a leader from any position, the best way to help people see there are new and better opportunities for teaching and learning, we have to first put ourselves in a place of discomfort, which helps us to focus from the viewpoint of a learner, as opposed to a teacher. If we truly want to become “master” educators, we must continuously strive to become “master” learners. There is no endpoint to this process.
I was deeply influenced by a video that was shared on the “Harvard Business Review” simply titled, “To Innovate, Disrupt Your Routine”. In it, author Frank Barrett talks about the importance of disruption in thinking, and shares the story of an airline dealing with a great deal of complaints on their customer service. What they did (which is normal for both business and educational organizations) is had a retreat on how to create a better experience for their customers. Yet what they did during that retreat was where their routine was truly challenged. While they were in meetings on the first day, the Vice-President of marketing took out the beds of their hotel rooms and replaced them with airline seats, which they had to sleep in that night. Needless to say, they came up with some “radical innovations” on how they would change the seating on an airplane to become more comfortable for their customers. Their “discomfort” in experiencing what their customers had shared, led them to a new understanding.
When professional learning opportunities are happening in our schools, do we put people in this place of discomfort. One of the things that I have suggested for these times is making them paperless. Not providing “handouts” to staff almost encourages using a mode of learning that we grew up with and many know inside out. By sometimes forcing our hand, we are more likely to use devices than the more traditional medium. Some may be disappointed in this approach, and I always suggest you teach them how to print for themselves. This is not saying we shouldn’t honour our adult learners, but as educators we have to not only understand, but immerse ourselves in new learning opportunities.
Even with digital tools, I have seen perpetuating the “old” over the “new” in our approach. I have watched administrators encourage the use of something like Google Apps for Education by sending out a Word document. Does that make any sense? If we want people to try different opportunities for learning, we need to model them as leaders.
If we are not willing to disrupt the way we have always done things in our own learning, we will not see much change in the classroom.
Discussing initiatives such as BYOD or 1-to-1 technology initiatives, there is often a lot of fear about “balance”. First of all, the notion of “balance” is something that I truly believe should not be determined for anyone other than yourself. What is “balance” to one, might look significantly different to someone else. When we talk about kids having “balance”, do we imply something unique to them, or our own belief on what “balance” is?
Secondly, the notion that a student will always use a device because they have one, is not necessarily a reality. Kids still do physical education, go outside, and do many of the same things that I did in school, even with pencil and paper. Providing a device doesn’t mean the student will be using it all of the time, but could have access all of the time. This is a pretty powerful concept. When I was in school, if I wanted to learn more about a certain country or animal, I would wait until we had “library time” to be able to further explore this concept, unless that was the week the teacher brought resources into the classroom on that topic. Even when those resources were provided, they were limited. With a device at your fingertips, the possibilities are endless. It does not dismiss the books that are available, but it can complement them.
It is not that we have access to find information, but to also create it. Often ideas will come to me, and having a device in my pocket allows me to share my thoughts to different applications that I have access to on any other device. I do not have to worry about guarding a piece of paper with my life, or having my stuff somewhere else. In fact, this blog post came from writing a few notes from my phone on Google Docs, and then accessing them from my computer. Even with paper, I was not able to do this, not only because of the lack of access, but it was not something I was in the habit of doing because of how I struggled with organizational skills with paper as a kid. The access has changed everything.
So when we look at a kid that struggles with writing with paper and pencil, but accelerates using technology (or honestly vice versa), we have to look at what “access” creates. If the goal is to read and write, providing access to different options and opportunities, will ensure that more of our students learn a way that works best for them, not necessarily us.
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
Just an idea…would this not be an amazing project to do with students if they talked about their hopes and dreams for both long term and short term? What would they hope for at the end of the school year? What would they hope for ten years from now?
Developing the questions for themselves would be powerful as well. This could make not only for a neat project, but it could help you understand the hopes and dreams of the students that we serve, and build relationships with students in a pretty powerful way.
As the new year is upon us for many teachers and students in parts of the world, a question I always think about is, “What would the students say about this year ten or twenty years from now? What impact will this year have on their lives?” Every moment is precious and while so many are so focused on the future, it is greatly important to remember to also be fully immersed in the present. This year could mean all of the difference to many students.
These three questions are ones that could create some amazing passion based learning opportunities for our students, and help shape them as learners as much or more than any curriculum could in the year. They are not something that you only necessarily have to do answer only once in a year, but they will help to shape some of the learning that your students will create for themselves throughout the year. I will go further into detail on each one.
1. What will I learn?
Years ago, watching John Medina speak, the writer of “Brain Rules“, he shared the idea of the importance of content in learning. He shared the analogy of learning to play the guitar and how basically not knowing how to play the chords would actually lead to simply mimicking playing the air guitar. Our learning of knowledge is important for us to create from it. You may know how to play the chords, but eventually creating music could be the goal. What is important in this process is having the opportunity to learn something that you are interested in.
In Josh Kaufman’s talk on “The First 20 Hours to Learn Anything“, he talks about how we can learn basically how to do anything within 20 hours. You might not be at the top of your field as shared in the notion of “10,000 hours”, (although if you google “10,000 hours” you will find that this might be a myth), but you will have a good understanding of this. a “20 hour project”, could be something where students have the opportunity to learn something that they are interested in, without the pressure of solving the world’s problems. Content is much more engaging to explore when we are actually interested in the topic.
Things that students will need to consider in this opportunity is not only where they will find information but who will teach them? This could give students the opportunity to learn to network and connect with others to help share ideas that they want to learn about. This could create some very powerful learning opportunities for our students.
Currently, the world’s education systems are crazy about problem-based learning, but they’re obsessed with the wrong bit of it. While everyone looks at how we could help young people become better problem-solvers, we’re not thinking how we could create a generation of problem finders.
Thinking about this, students could look at problems that they can find within the school, local, or even global community, and share how they have solved it. Sharing ideas such as “capstone projects”, where students pose a problem that they are trying to solve and then share how they learned it, could be a powerful way to really influence not only innovation and entrepreneurship in our students, but also help them to develop empathy for others. Whey they have the chance to try and see problems from the perspective of others, that does not help them develop as learners, but also as better people.
“When school leaders tell me “our school is building a $25 million Makerspace,” I am concerned that Makerspaces may exacerbate educational iniquity. While there are expensive pieces of hardware that may need to be secured, I want the bulk of making to permeate every corner of a school building and every minute of the school day. Teachers whose Makerspace is in a few cardboard boxes are doing brilliant work. Making across the curriculum means students as novelists, mathematicians, historians, composers, artists, engineers–rather than being the recipient of instruction.” Gary Stager
With this in mind, students should have the opportunity to create something of interest to them, and share that process. This could be in any field, whether it is inventing a process or product, composing music, developing a health initiative, or writing a novel. This is an opportunity for a student to develop the “Innovator’s Mindset“, and go much deeper than learning, but going to where the magic happens in creation.
If we embraced and worked with our students on these three questions, it would be amazing to watch them develop as learners. What would be crucial in all three of these questions is the opportunity to constantly reflect on each one throughout the year and have opportunities to create documentation which would not only create evidence of learning, but show growth over time. This could be done through audio, video, written, or whatever the student felt comfortable with, but there would definitely be a benefit in the reflections being accessible to more than simply the teacher.
There would be lots of logistics in creating opportunities for these three opportunities to come to life, and as educators, that it is why it is imperative to be innovators ourselves. We will have to take what we work with, and create opportunities for our students where learning is truly meaningful and powerful for them; great teachers find a way.
I received the following question in one of my sessions today:
How do you engage the teachers and students who think it is “easier” to just do it (learning) on paper?
My response? Let them do it on paper.
The thing that is powerful about technology is the opportunity to personalize, not standardize. There are some really amazing things that you can do with a computer or mobile device, but the power is often more about the “choice” than the medium. We have the opportunity to reach more students now than ever, not because of “technology”, but because of the options that we are now provided.
Below is one of the tweets from a session at the conference I was just recently at:
I talked to Jenny after, and she was obviously very comfortable using technology, but she chose to personalize a lot of her learning through paper and pen. That is what worked for her and that is what is important. What is also necessary is that in her classroom, she creates the same opportunities for choice as well.
The idea that all learners need to use “tech” is not necessarily a step in the right direction. The opportunity to create learning experiences for yourself that are personally driven, as opposed to created for you by someone else, is one of the benefits that we need to really recognize in schools today.
I promise you that I will not take away your pen and paper to learn, if you let me use my computer to do the same. Deal?