Category Archives: Providing Instructional Leadership

Adjusting to the Room

(I was asked about the thinking behind how I design my workshops so I thought I would just write it down for others to see a process.)

As someone who does a lot of professional workshops, I am often asked for an agenda ahead of time.  Although I do have some objectives in my mind of where the group could go, I usually send a rough itinerary to the organizer on a google document.  The reason I share it specifically on a google document is because I know that I won’t be sticking with it, whether it is the time or the activities.  How could I organize the learning for the day for a group without actually meeting the group?

Here is how I usually set up my day for a “new” group, no matter what the objectives are for the day.  The first thing that I do is give some kind of content that I am going to share.  It is important to start with some content, even if it is something that some people “know in the room”.  To make sure I tap into those that “know”, I always use a hashtag so that they can share their ideas with groups, or even challenge some of the things that I am saying.  This helps because it lends to collaboration through a backchannel, as opposed to only learning from the person in the front.

After content is given, what I do is try to give a “reflection break”, where I actually give time to share their ideas on a simple google form, and also connect with people in the room.  I have been in sessions where content is given, and then people are asked to immediately share their ideas with people near them, and for many, this isn’t working, because they need time to process.  Giving them a space not only gives them an opportunity to put their thoughts together, but it also allows other to see their thoughts.  Although I do this in a shared google form that everyone can see, it is not mandatory as some are not comfortable sharing their thoughts openly immediately, and honestly this is fine.

Why I call it a “reflection break” is that I usually give people 25-30 minutes to take time to reflect but to also connect with others in the room informally.  A few years ago when I was in Australia, I noticed that in workshops, there were no breaks that were shorter than 30 minutes in the day, which at first I thought was strange, but then saw the types of conversations that were had during the break that were crucial to the learning.  For years, I have been used to a North American version of professional learning where you grab a snack, go to the bathroom, and are ready to go.  Connecting with people in the room ensures that even if the presentation isn’t meeting the needs of some, the people in the room can fill those voids.

One of the key components during the reflection process is that I either ask participants to share what they would want to learn during the day, or ask them, “What is one big question you have moving forward regarding today?”  The opportunity for participants to share a question, helps me to shape the rest of the day based on the people of the room and their thoughts.  We often learn more from a person’s questions than we do their answers. After I read these results, the rest of the day is shaped based on this feedback.  So basically, the first 1-2 hours have a plan, and after that, we are going with the needs of the people in the room.

Here are some keys to this for a presenter that are almost in contradiction.  First of all, to be able to “go with the room”, you have to know your content area in a very deep manner and be able to push learning on the fly, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, you also have to be comfortable with not knowing everything and learning from the room.  As a teacher, if you want to truly create a “learning community”, you have to create opportunities for others to learn from others, not only the teacher.

As we continue on with the day, I leave spaces that I will add resources I know of, or the participants suggest.  This way, there is time for people to explore after the fact, and to be honest, use the work that we do with others.  Although I have started the day off and again, had some ideas of where we could go, it is great to be able to co-create the day with participants, and I am hoping that they used what they have learned with others, both the content and the process.  Obviously, all of this is happening through a google document so I always make sure to share a shortened link at the beginning of the session (bit.do has become my favourite URL shortener because of the immediate need to customize the link).

Here are a couple of things I think about this process and how it ties to the work we do in the classroom:

Are we comfortable with this same format in a room of learners where learning goes with the ebb and flow of the room, not the teacher?

There is an importance in being knowledgeable and flexible as a teacher.  I don’t understand how people create a year plan for a group of learners that they haven’t even met that is strict dates attached.  The learning in the room should adjust to the groups and individuals.

This would be extremely hard to do with a group of students that didn’t have access to devices of their own.  It does not mean that they will use the device the entire time, but a google document is much more flexible than a piece of paper.

I have usually between 3-6 hours with a group so that we can go deep into the learning and have lots of opportunities for questions and exploration.  Although it would be tougher in a class of 60 minutes, there are definitely variations that could be done.  But, if our schedules are in 60-80 minute chunks, we need to really rethink those time frames and how it lends to deep learning.

I know of one school in Norway that has “all-day” classes and I was told that simply adjusting that schedule created transformational opportunities.  Innovative thinking is needed to create environments (which doesn’t just mean space, but also time) where we can go much deeper with our learning.

This isn’t meant to be life changing learning process, but just a different view of the type of learning that can happen in a day when we have access to tools that allow us to adjust so quickly to the room.  The more I have done this, the more I have realized the importance of focusing on the people in the room, and adjusting to them, as opposed to them adjusting to me.  It is something I constantly tweak and think about, but it looks a lot different from the type of learning that used to happen in my classrooms.

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.

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.

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);

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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.

8 Things to Look for in Today’s Professional Learning (Part 2)

(This is the second of two parts on professional learning.  You can read the first part here.  It is based on the visual below that was created by Sylvia Duckworth and adapted from “8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom“.)

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Connected Learning

Rationale: The opportunities for learning in our world today are immense and we need to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to us.  We not only have access to all of the information in our world today, but we have access to one another.  This has a major impact in our learning today. What I have started to notice is that you can see some major benefits of being connected in the classroom for the learning environment of our students. Access to one another can accelerate and amplify powerful learning opportunities.

Alec Couros, shared the following image on the idea of “The Networked Teacher”;

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Although the technologies in the visual can change and how we use them can always be altered, the most important part of this visual, in my opinion, are the arrows that go back and forth.  More and more, educators are becoming both consumers and creators of information, which is accelerating the opportunities for our students.

Idea: The idea for this is simple.  If we see connected learning as something that is having an impact on the learning of our students, we must embed time into our work day and professional learning opportunities to help educators develop professional learning networks (PLN’s) and leading them to resources such as the “Edublogs Teacher Challenges” might help them get started, but face-to-face support is also crucial.  To be honest, the technology to connect is simple once you get the hang of it, but it is developing the habits to think about connecting in the first place that truly make the difference.  Differing between the time when you “google” something versus asking the same question on Twitter can not only help you get better results, but in the long run, save time (which no one has enough of).  To be successful in helping people develop professional learning networks is to narrow the focus on the tools that are being shared with staff.  It is not to limit staff on what they can use, but spending professional learning go deep into the process.  We need to do less, better. Taking the time to connect can make a major difference in the learning of your staff, and ultimately, your students.

Other elements that could be incorporated: Reflection, Voice, Choice, Opportunities for Innovation

Opportunities for Innovation

Rationale: If we want innovative students, we need to focus on becoming innovative educators.  It is not that “innovation” is new in education, but the opportunities that exist in our world today make innovation more possible. To help develop the “innovator’s mindset”, schools and organizations have to embody certain characteristics that create an environment where innovation will flourish. Again, as in all elements shared for professional learning, it is essential that time is provided to help develop this mindset.

Innovator's Mindset

Idea: My good friend Jesse McLean has promoted the idea of “Innovation Week” for his students, but knew to really have this to be successful, educators would have to partake in this type of process. He developed the idea of “Educator Innovation Day”, to give educators the time to tinker and develop innovative ideas both inside and outside of education.  This goes to the idea of developing “intrapreneurs”, and as Jake Swearingen has stated, these intrapreneurs are essential to driving change within an organization.

Chris Wejr also shared his ideas on how to actually embed time through “Fed-Ex Prep” for teachers to encourage time is taken to create innovative ideas within education.  There is also the opportunity to adapt Google’s famous “20% Time” into learning at our schools, for both students and staff.  None of these ideas have to be taken “as is”, but can be adapted to tie into the communities we serve.  What is (again) essential to the success of developing educators as innovators is both the priority and time being put into the process.  In a world where developing innovators and entrepreneurs is essential to the forward movement of our schools, we need to create professional learning opportunities that see “innovation” as a necessity, not a luxury.

If something is missing, we need to create it. In this case, if there are no entrepreneurs, we need to make some. And to make some is to instill the entrepreneurship spirit into our children from the outside through education.” Yong Zhao

Other elements that could be incorporated: Critical Thinking, Choice, Connected Learning, Problem Finders/Solvers

Self-Assessment

Rationale: School has been set up in a way that we have become dependent upon someone else telling us how we are doing in our learning.  It is not only in our report card system, but also our evaluation process of educators.  Students will encounter bad teachers, teachers will encounter bad principals, and principals will encounter weak superintendents.  If we create a system that becomes dependent upon someone above else to tell us “how we are doing”, this quickly falls apart when that someone is not strong.  Having your own understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, is hugely beneficial not only in education, but in all elements of life, whether it is personal or professional.

Idea: Blogs as Digital Portfolios are an opportunity to not only showcase learning, but an opportunity to take time to reflect and grow from the process.  Having my own digital portfolio for the last five years (this blog), has helped me grow more than most professional learning opportunities that have been given to me.  I have collected and developed resources on both “how” to create a digital portfolio, and the power of learning through this type of self-assessment.  I feel that there is more growth in this type of process because I own my learning; it is not graded by someone else, but also documents my learning process over time so that I can easily see my own growth.

Although there may be “guidelines” that must be done for teacher evaluation (three visits into the classroom, etc.), having educators their own ongoing portfolio is a great opportunity to shift the conversation from the “evaluator” to the “learner”.  For example, the traditional conversation that has happened in evaluations is that observations are shared from the viewpoint of the administrator, to a teacher.  Conversations can be started from these types of evaluations, but from my experience, the focus is far too great on the evaluator than it is on the teacher.  By using a digital portfolio process as part of the (self) evaluation, the conversation can simply be started by asking the questions, “Where are you strong and where do you need to grow?”  The shift in this process is to the learner, and as Dean Shareski has stated, blogging is a great way to develop better educators. Putting an emphasis on this type of self-assessment is not only beneficial to the individual learner, but when shared openly, can help drive change.  The more we are able to see and understand the learning of other educators both inside and outside our organizations, the more we can tap into one another to drive positive change.

Other elements that could be incorporated: Reflection, Voice, Critical Thinking, Connected Learning

Critical Thinking

Rationale: In this video on “Critical Thinking”, this visual is shared to help us better understand elements of the process:

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 10.28.04 AM

In a world where information is in abundance, it is important for our students to be able to take information, understand their own thoughts and biases, as well as develop criteria to evaluate information, while developing questions to challenge conventional wisdom.  The image below shares what developing “critical thinkers” moves us towards;

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Although this is something that we are looking for in our students, do we promote this in meaningful ways with our own professional learning?  Not just by learning about “critical thinking”, but pushing our own organizations by encouraging this within our organizations.  If we are ever to move forward as schools, we need to have leadership open to people asking questions and developing what we already see.  A flattened organization is the only place that this type of thinking will thrive.

Idea: There has been a lot of information shared throughout this document, and I think that this gives us an opportunity to challenge our conventional wisdom of professional learning.  As I stated earlier, these are not “prescriptive ideas”, but my own thoughts on how we can revamp professional learning.  This is not “black and white” but grey.  Is it possible with staff to develop criteria on what successful professional learning looks like, and then develop new ideas on how it could be implemented.

What I would love to see in our schools is this process being implemented on an individual basis where staff share what they believe to be successful personal learning, and provide a plan on how this could be implemented at a personal level.  Is it possible to develop individual learning plans for ourselves to really take ownership of our learning?  Can we take what we know, and apply it to better professional learning for ourselves?

Other elements that could be incorporated: Opportunities for innovation, Voice, Choice, Problem-Solvers Finders

Concluding Thoughts

Professional learning in many places, needs an overhaul.  I see educators go to places like EdCamp and share how excited they are about the opportunities for learning that happens at those types of events, yet it is rare that I see people sharing how excited they are to attend their own PD days.  We need to change that mindset by tapping into the different types of learning opportunities that are present today.

It is not about doing everything that I have suggested, or to be honest, any of it.  Really, it’s  about contemplating why we do what we do, and then thinking about how we do it.  If we do not change the way we do our professional learning, nothing will change in the classroom.


(If you want to read both part 1 and 2 as one piece, here it is on a Google Document.)

 

Quick Guide

Element Activity Links/Resources
Voice #EDUin30 type activityTweeting one thing a day of the learning that is happening in your school What is #EDUin30?
Choice #EDCAMP professional learning day What is EdCamp?
Reflection Embedding blogging time into learning or even something as simple as giving people time to reflect on what they have learned throughout the day Create a survey using Google Forms
Problem Solvers-Finders Inquiry Based Learning Professional Development Inquiry Based Professional Learning
Connected Learning Using Social Media to develop their own learning networks (The networked learner Edublogs Teacher Challenges
Self-Assessment Blogs as Digital Portfolios Resources for Digital Portfolios
Critical Thinkers Developing Criteria for what powerful professional learning looks like and helping to create the day. What is critical thinking?
Opportunities for Innovation Innovation Day or Genius Hour embedded into professional learning time Educators Innovation Day
Fed-Ex Prep Time

 

 

8 Things to Look for in Today’s Professional Learning (Part 1)

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 4.39.24 PM
Over two years ago, I wrote “8 Things To Look for in Today’s Classroom”, and more recently, Sylvia Duckworth created the above visual that has been shared numerous times.  As I am in the process of going deeper into the topic, someone asked me if this is something that we could do in professional development.  As someone who is a big believer in creating experiences for educators where they partake in the types of learning that should happen in the classroom, I thought this suggestion made total sense.

To be honest with you, professional learning in many cases needs an overhaul.  If the best thing that professional learning has to offer is lunch, we need to think different.  But how many educators are really excited about the types of professional learning opportunities that are offered in their school?  Like, “wake-up-in-the-morning-and-can’t-wait-to-get-to-work” excited? What is promising though, is that many schools are moving away from the traditional types of professional learning that weren’t working for staff, and trying some new ideas.

Below, I am going to offer some of my own thoughts, not solutions, to different ways that professional learning can happen in schools and districts.  This is more “thinking openly” for myself than anything, but I wanted to try to go deeper into this process.

So where I thought I would start is taking each one of the elements shared in the “8 Things”, and try to share an idea that focuses on one of the elements specifically, but obviously, each idea can have multiple elements.

Here is each element with the corresponding letters to identify them in each activity.

Voice (V), Choice (C) , Connected Learning (CL), Problem-Finders/Solvers (PFS), Reflection (R) , Self-Assessment (SA), Critical Thinking (CT), Opportunities for Innovation (INNO)

Below is each element, with the rationale on why it is important, and then one or two ideas, either large or small, and not necessarily delivered on a typical professional development day

Voice

Rationale: Sharing ideas with others openly, can lead to what Chris Andersen would refer to as “crowd-accelerated innovation”.  Empowering only a few voices often leads to ideas only from a few people, which does not tap into the ability that we have to flatten our organizations in our world today.  Sharing “voice” openly also helps educators to be more cognizant of their digital footprint.

Idea: Similar to the #EDUin30 initiative, staff could share through video reflections something that they have learned at a professional learning day, or on a monthly basis that could easily be compiled into a Storify document to be shared with the community.  Some people are not comfortable sharing on video, so they could easily share to a hashtag a picture, a blog post, or any other type of media. This really taps into the “wisdom of the room”, and could have a major impact on the culture and community, when we see everyone as a teacher and a learner.

What if every teacher tweeted one thing a day that they did in their classroom to a school hashtag, and they took five minutes out of their day to read each other’s tweets?  What impact would that have on learning and school culture?

Other elements that could be incorporated: Reflection, Connected Learning, Self-Assessment, Critical Thinking


Choice

Rationale: “Owning the learning” helps to ensure that the learning actually happens, yet a lot of professional learning is top down and decided for individuals. A.J. Juliani, in his post “The Struggle to Do Work that Matters”, shared this quote from Simon Sinek.

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Tapping into one’s passions for learning, is more likely going to lead to people not only going deep, but embracing what they have learned, and giving them the opportunity to lead, hopefully developing “intrapreneurs” and innovators within the organization.

Idea: EdCamp has been sweeping the entire world, and is a great way for educators to have ownership of their learning.  Sessions are developed, created, and led, by educators that partake in the event, which lead to rich and deep conversations, because the people in the room are passionate about the topic.  The EdCamp format is something that should happen a lot more in professional learning days with schools.  Many would say that this is not something they have time to do with a limited amount of time for professional learning, but if “learning” is the priority of the school, creating time and opportunities for deep learning should be the norm, not the exception.

Other elements that could be incorporated: Voice, Reflection, Critical Thinking, Opportunities for Innovation, Problem Finders-Solvers

Reflection

Rationale: Reflection is not only powerful for learning, but powerful for personal growth, and should be embedded into all of our professional learning days.  Although collaboration is an important process to growth of an organization, people need time to process ideas and thoughts, and without actually having that time to think, we lose out on many voices.  Also, learning is deeply personal, and without reflection time and having the opportunity to connect your own ideas and personal learning to what is being shared, it is harder to go deep into ideas.

I reflect, therefore I learn.  

This is something that is necessary in our learning environments today.

Idea: One of the practices that I have done at my workshops, is that I will share ideas and some of my thinking, but then give an extended break with reflection time embedded into that time.  I will use something as simple as a “Google Form” to give people an opportunity to process their thoughts, while also tapping into the power of open reflection.  Knowing that your thoughts are going to be open to not only each other, but the entire world, sometimes help people process and think deeper about the ideas that they are about to share.  As Clive Thompson suggests;

“Having an audience can clarify thinking. It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.” Why Even the Worst Bloggers are Making Us Smarter

The one element of this that is really important is asking people to not only share their thoughts, but to ask questions moving forward.  Asking questions is often more important to learning than knowing answers because they drive us forward.  As I have said before, school should not be a place where answers go to die, but questions come to life.  Asking questions is imperative in the reflection process.

Other elements that could be incorporated: Voice, Self-Assessment, Critical Thinking, Connected Learning

Problem-Finders/Solvers

Rationale:  Ewan McIntosh has a brilliant Ted Talk discusses the notion of “problem-based learning” and how it is not beneficial to give students problems that aren’t real.  Instead, he focuses on the idea that students need to be “problem finders”; being able to find some tough challenges and then being able to solve those problems. If we are to ask students to find and solve problems in the classroom, it is essential that we put ourselves in situations where we are doing the same in our work.  How often are we put in situations as a staff where we are asked to identify and solve problems as a staff on our pursuit to creating better opportunities for our students? Short answer; not enough.

This visual by Krissy Venosdale should not only be reserved for our students, but everyone involved in education as we are all learners:

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These are all crucial characteristics of the problem finder/solver, and something that we should work to develop at both the individual and organizational level.

Idea: Recently, I wrote a post on the idea of “Inquiry Based Professional Learning”, and tweaked the introduction from Alberta Education on Inquiry Based Learning to reflect the importance of the process for staff;

“Effective inquiry is more than just asking questions. Inquiry-based learning is a complex process where students learners formulate questions, investigate to find answers, build new understandings, meanings and knowledge, and then communicate their learnings to others to create real solutions to improve learning and the environment of the classroom(s) and school.  In classrooms a school where teachers administrators emphasize inquiry-based learning, students staff are actively involved in solving authentic (real-life) problems within the context of the curriculum and/or community.  These powerful learning experiences engage and empower students staff deeply.”

If you read the comments from the post shared by others, you will not only see ideas from schools around the world that are already doing variations of the process, but finding it powerful in their professional learning. By looking at not only challenging the way schools are, but empowering our community to act upon their solutions, this could be a very valuable process in helping our organizations move forward, while modelling the type of learning we want to happen in our classrooms.

Other obvious elements that could be incorporated: Critical Thinking, Voice, Choice, Opportunities for Innovation

Moving Forward

The deeper I go into this topic, the more I realize how important it is to really think about professional learning and how our experiences, shape opportunities for our students. Please feel free to comment and share your ideas/thoughts/questions below.  I will look at the other four elements in the next blog post.

Inquiry Based Professional Learning

What if we created professional learning opportunities that were not only engaging, but also empowered educators in the change process?

“Inquiry Based Learning” is something that I have been spending a lot of time looking into lately, not only from the perspective of how it could be done in the classroom, but for staff professional learning.  I found a great document from Alberta Education on the topic, and although I am not probably saying something new, I was thinking about how if we want schools to do this type of learning with their students, it is more likely to be successful if teachers had the opportunity to participate in this type of professional learning. (If you do “Inquiry Based Learning” in your professional learning, I would love for you to leave a link in the comments.)

Here is the quick introduction on “Inquiry Based Learning” from Alberta Education:

“Effective inquiry is more than just asking questions. Inquiry-based learning is a complex process where students formulate questions, investigate to find answers, build new understandings, meanings and knowledge, and then communicate their learnings to others.  In classrooms where teachers emphasize inquiry-based learning, students are actively involved in solving authentic (real-life) problems within the context of the curriculum and/or community.  These powerful learning experiences engage students deeply.”

Let’s modify it for the purpose of this blog post:

“Effective inquiry is more than just asking questions. Inquiry-based learning is a complex process where students learners formulate questions, investigate to find answers, build new understandings, meanings and knowledge, and then communicate their learnings to others to create real solutions to improve learning and the environment of the classroom(s) and school.  In classrooms a school where teachers administrators emphasize inquiry-based learning, students staff are actively involved in solving authentic (real-life) problems within the context of the curriculum and/or community.  These powerful learning experiences engage and empower students staff deeply.”

As I thought about the potential for this process, it was not only to have teachers understand deeply the potential of inquiry based learning for students by immersing themselves in the process, but it was also to tap into their knowledge and wisdom to be a part of the change process of a school or system.

This tweet from Andrew Campbell reminded me of how often we don’t listen to the people that are in the system on ways that we can move it forward.

So what could this look like in the context of professional learning?

I was thinking about having an overlying question to guide other questions.  This question would be, “Why do we…?” For example, a question that could be created by a group of staff based on interests is, “Why do we have student awards?”, or “Why do we use report cards as our main assessment tool?”  Not all of the questions necessarily need to start with “why”, but it is mainly to challenge the assumptions that we have about the process of school.  They could also be along the lines of, “Does the process of school impede on deep learning?”  The importance of this process is that we start to look at ideas with fresh eyes, ask questions that we are passionate about, actively research new ideas and solutions, and have staff be crucial in the change process of school.  Change is more likely to happen when we are active contributors to the change process; it is not something that can be done to us. 

As my friend Jesse McLean would say, this goes beyond simply looking at best practice, but it is looking at creating innovative solutions and ideas for what school could look like.  Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant talk about the block that “best practice” can sometimes have on innovation:

“Innovation has an inherent distaste for best practices because it is about new solutions, not copying existing solutions.”

What is imperative in this process is to empower staff, not only by providing time to create this type of work (this could be an example of a 20% time initiative in your school/district), but also that if they are willing to go deep into the research and provide powerful new solutions, looking at how they can be implemented at the school or district level.  If their question that they start with is a “non-negotiable” and something that you will never be able to change, that needs to be communicated up front.  If the group or individual still wants to pursue their question, then at least they know the drawbacks at the beginning.

As I see, there are several benefits to this type of professional learning:

  • Experiencing a powerful learning opportunity as an adult to understand what it could look like in the classroom.  To be a master teacher, you must first be a master learner.
  • Unleashing the innovative potential of the adults in the building and creating an environment where risks are not only encouraged, but time is created to actively take them.
  • Focusing on the importance of research based on passions as an important element of learning.
  • Empowering staff in the creation of improved learning environments and giving them real opportunities to lead in the change process.

This is not meant to be an idea that is taken and implemented as is, but a starting point of something that you could do to transform professional learning and provide autonomy to staff, the research that is necessary for mastery and deep understanding,  while also tapping into the importance of purpose in developing the future of schools.  Three elements (autonomy, mastery, and purpose) that Dan Pink would state are crucial to motivation. This might be something that is risky as an administrator, but if we want to create an environment that staff take risks in their learning, we need to not only encourage it, but more importantly, model the process.

To think different, we need to create  opportunities that immerse ourselves in new experiences that make us act and feel different first.

If you are scared of change, ask yourself this question.

People are terrified of change.  Not just of change, but the process of change and what it entails you.  You cannot change your practice without work, time commitment, and sometimes shifting priorities.  In leadership positions, this is the same with helping people move forward and having them invest their time in a new project or initiative.  You will want to guard them from all of the work that they will have to do when time is precious.  So when you go through the process, ask yourself this question:

Is this best for kids?

If you can answer unequivocally that the answer is “yes”, then the change process is necessary.  It might not be easy, it might take time, it might be messy, but it needs to happen.

If you are unsure if the answer is “yes” or “no”, use that same question to guide your search.

If it helps our students, it is worth doing.

That simple.

Individualized and Personalized Learning

Listening to Dr. Yong Zhao recently at a conference, he talked about the idea of “”individualized” and “personalized” learning. This is how I understood the differences between the two:

“individualized” learning is having students go through different paths to get to the same end point.  How you get there is different, but the destination is the same.

“Personalized” learning is having students go through their own paths to whatever endpoint they desire.  How you take the path and where you end up is totally dependent upon the strengths and interests of the learner.

So which path should schools focus on?  Honestly, there should be both elements in the process of school as we know it.

Individualized learning only works if the learner has ownership on the way they get to a certain point.  Currently, we are tied to a curriculum, but the way we achieve objectives is open-ended.  For example, if a student needs to show their understanding of a science objective, aren’t there several ways that this can happen?  Podcasts, videos, written assignments, whatever, can all be suggestions that are made to the student, but as a teacher, I would always leave the option of “other ways that you see suitable to share your learning on this objective”.  This allowed for students to go above and beyond what I could think of on my own, and gave them autonomy on the process.

Personalized learning really taps into the passions of students.  Initiatives like “Genius Hour“, “Edcamps for Students“, “Innovation Week”, or “Identity Day” provide opportunities for students to really shine and share what they are interested in.  Although these activities should not be simply an “event”, it is important that we do implement them at some level with our students as a starting point in schools to show how powerful these opportunities are in the first place.

Both of these elements of “individualized” and “personalized” learning should be evident in the environments in our school, and our crucial to student success both during and after their time in school.

When a student leaves school, they should not only have a comprehension of what they have learned, but more importantly, how they learn.  Isn’t that what we are striving for?

 

Questions to Challenge Practice

Recently in a workshop, I told participants that I was about to ask a question that might bother some of them. Then I asked the question, “in school today, what do you think is more important to teach today; how to write an essay or how to write a blog?” I told them that this was meant to challenge them a bit, and that, if you really think about it, is it more likely that a student writes a blog after school or an essay?  Some people were visibly bothered by the question.  That was kind of the point.

One teacher started to challenge the question, and said, “part of my job, is to prepare kids for their next step, and many of them will have to write an essay in post-secondary.” She then told me that the majority of her students were probably going to go to university and writing a proper essay is crucial.

I then asked, “what if you were teaching students that weren’t likely to go to university; would the answer change?” You could see that she was thinking about if the answer would change. We then talked about the idea of writing an essay and sharing it through a blog. Would a student writing for more than a teacher, but for an audience, improve the quality of work?

Ultimately, I don’t have a position on the question. I never did. Different students will need different things, and writing a blog post and an essay could be helpful with different aspects of learning, and a combination of both could also be powerful. The more a student writes, the better they will become at writing.

The point of the question was not to get an answer. The point of the question was to think about why we do what we do. If you have students write essays because students have always written essays, that is not a good answer. It has to go deeper than that.

The more questions we ask to really think about what we do in education, the better off we are. What would your question be?