Category Archives: Providing Instructional Leadership

Technology and the Basics

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 10.56.05 PMWe talk a lot in education about the use of technology and giving us the ability to do things that we couldn’t do before.  This “transformative” use of technology is something that many school division aspire to and focus on.  They use things such as the SAMR model or Bernajean Porter’s focus on “Literate, Adaptive, and Transformative”, when measuring their use of technology, but what about the “basic” uses of technology?

For example, as I am sitting at a dinner table with people I don’t know, in a culture that is foreign to me, talking about education, I heard many great insights on the future of learning and the possibilities that are out there for our system.  As I watched others write notes on pen and paper (which is accepted as normal by the majority of educators), I struggled with pulling my phone out of my pocket and writing in a way that I felt comfortable with, as I did not want to seem out of place in this new environment.  When I brought it up, I was encouraged to use my phone because that is what worked best for me.  How many times do we lose out when a kid is not allowed to use their device, not because they don’t want to write “notes”, but because they don’t feel comfortable writing them in a way that makes sense and is easy for them?

What I was doing with this technology was very basic and it was something old done with the new.  I wasn’t creating videos, reaching out across the world, but simply writing notes.  Nothing transformative at all.  Kids need this option as well.  All kids. All learners.

So I guess if we look at what technology can give us now that we couldn’t have before, I would say for some people, it gives them the opportunity to finally learn in a way that works for them, whether it is very basic, or very advanced.  We all need options and if we are to truly empower our learners, we have to ensure we help them figure out what works for them, not us.

Being mindful or…?

There is no doubt that I believe in the importance of technology and it’s impact on relationships and learning in education.  If you asked people twenty years ago how they found information, their answers would be all over the place.  Ask them five years ago, and many would have said, “Google”.  Ask them today, and answers might range from not only search engines like Google and YouTube, but they might also look towards social networks such as Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter.  We are not only connecting to information but more importantly, people.  If this does not make a difference in how we teach and learn, we are denying our kids something that adults use all of the time and sometimes, don’t even really notice.

Yet I often hear about people warning ideas that we need to be “mindful” of the impact of technology, to which I agree.  I believe that if you are going to find meaningful ways for your students to engage using technology, teachers should focus on learning with technology first.  I would consider hiring someone to teach math that had never taught the subject before, but I would have a hard time hiring someone who never learnt math before.  This is the position many schools are in with technology and its impact on our world and the way we learn.

Some would see this lack of knowledge as a hindrance, yet I see it as an opportunity as there has been a huge refocus on the “teacher as learner”.  If you want students to become expert “learners” then we nee to be expert “learners” as well.  Conveying that to a student is what makes someone a great teacher, but if we don’t understand the new opportunities for learning for our students, how can we effectively teach them to thrive in our world today and in the future?

My concern is the “mindful” argument with many is a means to end a conversation as opposed to starting one.  I have heard many make the argument about our lack of “mindfulness” on the use of technology, that do not give suggestions on meaningful ways to use it with our students or even educators.  This is not all, but often pushing to be more “mindful” with no other suggestions of meaningful use really is “anti-technology” just disguised by another name.

Here would be my first question when I hear that argument…What are some meaningful ways that you would suggest students use technology in their learning?  I often get a question on the other side of the spectrum dealing with some of the “pitfalls of technology” and I answer it often from a place of experience as opposed to avoiding the question altogether.

If we can’t offer the negative impacts of technology without sharing the positive, are we truly being mindful or are we simply hiding a negative bias with a more acceptable term?

 

Technology does not equal engagement

A picture is worth a thousand words and I had a good laugh at the picture below:

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 12.44.03 PMIf we do not design learning experiences for our students that help them get into that “flow” state, don’t expect technology to keep them engaged or from being distracted.

It is all about how we think, engage, and interact with our students, not about “stuff”.  The “stuff” gives us opportunities to do things that we couldn’t do before, but if we teach the same way we always have, not much will change.

 

3 Things We Should Stop Doing in Professional Development

Spending the last week in Oslo, Norway, with the visionary Ann Michaelsen and other school leaders here, I have really thought about the way that we deliver professional development, and to be honest, some of the practices that either don’t make sense anymore, or we have to rethink.  Although this is focused mainly on what we do as adults in our time together, many of these lessons have applications to the classroom.

1.  Creating a detailed agenda – As much as I understand that people want to have an idea of where a day is going, too often we focus too much on when we are having lunch, as opposed to getting to know participants and understanding where they are at in their learning.  If we are truly to honour the learners in front of us, how can I know where they are going to be at 1pm if I haven’t even met them yet?  Listing objectives for the day is one thing, but saying when they will be achieved throughout the day is another.  If we are going to differentiate our workshops, let’s quit focusing on a time, and focus more on a person.

2.  Scheduling back-to-back-to-back-to-back learning – How many times have you been really interested in two sessions at a conference and found yourself running across a large convention hall to make it from one session to another?  With so many people connecting through social media now, the hallway is becoming as valuable a learning space as any large room; some would say more so.  The opportunity to connect and talk face-to-face is invaluable, and I believe that this has to be embedded into our days.  I was shocked a few years ago when I delivered a workshop to a group of Australians and they wanted a full 30 minutes for a break, as we were used to usually having a quick coffee and jumping right back into the learning.  They had it right, and if anything, that time could be a little longer.  A conversation with a colleague about the information presented helps to bring any knowledge shared into context within an organization.  Let’s make sure we build time in for that.

3. Thinking that “collaboration” with others is the only way we learn – It is great when we are in a room with so many colleagues that bring a lot of learning to the table.  Often the drill seems to go, someone shares information, talk with others, rinse, and repeat.  Why do we not create a time for people to sit and reflect.  Not necessarily create something, but actually write a reflection.  I have been doing this in workshops for awhile, and to be honest, a lot of educators seem to feel uncomfortable with that process, yet feel fine writing notes of everything a presenter says.  How much do we learn when we “copy and paste” our learning like that.  My belief is that until we get a chance to process and make connections, we don’t really learn that much. In one ear and out the other.  If we start building reflection time into our professional development, don’t you think that we would start doing this in our classrooms.  We have to move away from the “mass dump” process in our learning.

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”
― John Dewey

We constantly talk about changing practices in the classroom, but until we rethink and redo the way that we learn, nothing will change in the classrooms.

What would you do different?

P.S. If you want to talk to someone who is, in my estimation, an expert on the topic of professional learning, connect with Cale Birk.  He knows this area inside-out.

4 (Digital) Habits That Will Make You More Creative


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Eric E Castro

Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on the notion that “schools kill creativity”, is the most viewed Ted Talk ever. The views and clicks do not only come from educators, but from people all over the world as we all have a vested interest in our students. More organizations are looking for students that have “creative” skills, and although schools will always churn out students that have great grades through the mastery of the system, it does not necessarily mean that students are learning the skills to become any more creative. Although there is a lot of food for thought in the Robinson talk, from my memory, yet there are few ideas on how to actually become more creative.

Reading many quotes on creativity and innovation, the one that has always stuck out with me is from Rosabeth Moss Kanter:

“Mindless habitual behavior is the enemy of innovation.”

Doing the same thing that we have always done is not going to make any us any more creative or innovative, but according to the “Creativity Research Journal” (as referenced in Red Thread Thinking), there are some things that we could do daily that will actually make us more creative. The four “habits” listed are the following:

1. Capturing New Ideas
2. Engaging in Challenging Tasks
3. Broadening Knowledge
4. Interacting with Stimulating People

I am proud to say that those “habits” are something that I actually do almost daily and I have seen a shift in the way that I think and do things in my own work. Digital technologies make it easy for these habits to take place with ourselves and our students. Here are some of the things that I do to makes these habits a daily reality.

  1. Capturing New Ideas – With a computer in my pocket at all times, capturing ideas has become much simpler. Some of my best thinking happens while running, and when an idea used to pop into my head, I would have nowhere to put it. Now it is simple. But with all of the ideas that may pop into your head, it can sometimes be hard to organize.One of the tools that I use that helps me find my own information is Evernote. It is simple and I can access anything that I share on my phone, on any device that is connected to the Internet.

    Using hashtags on Twitter are also a way to capture my own ideas. I have used Twitter to write some of my ideas down so that I can look at my own tweets later to build on ideas. Sometimes my own tweet is meant to help spark an idea later. Interestingly enough, when it is shared openly, others jump in and share their thoughts and help me to build upon those ideas. Sharing these new ideas and getting different perspectives helps me to learn a lot more as opposed to simply sharing it a closed journal.

  2. Engaging in Challenging TasksBlogging has become one of the most challenging endeavours that I have done in the last few years, and I feel that it has led to a lot of growth personally and professionally. Tweeting at first was a bit of challenge because I was always worried about what I should say, or what to share. Once I became more comfortable in that practice, blogging seemed like a logical step. Although I do not blog every day, I do think about ideas to share in my blog daily as I want to think deeper about the things that I am learning. Even in this blog post, taking four strategies to become more creative, has helped me to openly reflect on my learning and try to go deeper into ideas.I actually heard one educator say, “I don’t have the time to reflect.” Although this was a joke, many actually do not make the time to do this. If it improves our learning to engage in something, even (especially) if it is challenging, how will we ever grow?
  3. Broadening Knowledge – Although I have mentioned Twitter before, and it is one of the best ways to learn from others, there are other things that I do daily to ensure that I am learning in the areas that I am passionate about. With the death of Google Reader, I had to find an RSS reader replacement. InoReader became my main place to house blogs that I have read, and ensure that information could easily find me, instead of constantly looking to see if people have updated information. I try to balance between the RSS reader that InoReader provides and the blogs that I have read for years, to finding new information. Zite is a great app that I have on my phone that brings some of the most popular and viewed learning right to my phone. On any day, you will find articles that push your thinking and bring new ideas. Between these two programs, I learn a ton from different people, whether I know them or not, every single day.
  4. Interacting With Stimulating People – For me, this is an easy one. Although I am blessed to work with some of the smartest people I know, there is brilliance in every single school in the world. I want to connect with that. Through social media, I have been able to connect with other administrators on sites like Connected Principals and the School Admin Virtual Mentor Program (full disclosure…these are both sites that I created), and to be able to go to a place where people can come together to share ideas has been invaluable to my practice.My suggestion to anyone wanting to learn from smart people in their field is to start with a hashtag instead of following specific people. I learn a lot more from following the #cpchat hashtag then I simply would trying to filter through the tweets of administrators that may be either personal or professional. If you are a kindergarten teacher, check out #kinderchat. If you are a math teacher, check out #mathchat. Where is your tribe? Although those tweets are centred around a topic, they are delivered by people that are usually passionate about what they are sharing. When you surround yourself with passionate people, you become more passionate yourself. That is much easier to do.

These are just some of the ways that I have tried to become more creative in my everyday thinking and I have seen a huge impact on not only what I know, but how I learn. I would love for you to share some of your suggestions on the things that you do to make creativity a daily practice.

The Mind of an Innovator


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by photosteve101

I often have the honour of working with teachers on a 1-to-1 basis, doing professional development starting with the learner, as opposed to the teacher.  I love it only because of the immediate effectiveness I feel it has on the teacher you work with. It also gives me a chance to build some powerful relationships with our staff, while also learning a great deal from them.

One of the people that I have the opportunity to work with Simone Bauer.  As a music teacher in Parkland School Division, I have seen her put on amazing concerts with our students, and love it as I have always a strong love for music.  What I love about Simone is that she is continuously looking for new ways to engage her students in ways that are relevant to them in music.  She is always pushing the boundaries.

In a recent 184 post, I was blown away by what she shared.  Using Noteflight (I had never heard of this software until Simone brought it up), she learned how to create musical compositions and post them online.  Here is the sample:

Although it is obvious Simone is great with music, she used her talent and found  software that helps meet kids where they are, while also being able to share with a mass audience.  Her biography in the post is awesome:

Simone Bauer with a Master of Arts in piano performance, B Ed in music teaching, is an innovative music specialist at Blueberry School. She finds great fulfillment in developing aspiring musicians in choral work and instrumentation, as she seeks out new program applications to combine “hands on musicality” with technology. Her former students have gone on to become leaders in the high school musical programs in Parkland, as well as acceptance into professional musical groups in Alberta.

What if all educators saw themselves as “innovators” as Simone does?  That thinking is so powerful in teaching and learning.

Now it is pretty impressive that Simone is figuring these things out herself, but the real power is when she transfers that learning to her students.  As Simone learned it, she now is giving her students the opportunity to create and share their work with a large audience.  This is one of the compositions that one of her students created.

Pretty powerful learning.

I am honoured to work in a division where we have so many teachers who see themselves as innovators, and create learning opportunities for themselves to enhance the learning opportunities for their students. Students will need to continuously change and adapt to keep up in a world that always changes. By having teachers model these skills, we are on a great path.

Individual Learning and Mass Sharing

In my leadership role, I have started to do “1-on-1″ days with staff where they could ask questions on initiatives that they wanted to learn about.  This has been the most effective way to do PD (in my opinion) and I learn a lot from their questions as well.

Although I have done this several times, I decided to try something different and summarize what I did with each teacher in a tweet.  Why did I do this?  Well, I wanted people to know in the school who was working on what, and to also make great learning viral.  People probably would not ask about what others learned in their individual session unless they were exposed to it.  This goes back to what I discussed in the post on the different roads to innovation.  Both 1-on-1 time and mass sharing will get you places quicker if combined.

Below is a Storify that I put together to share what was learned by each staff member,

 

Here are some questions…

How do you share the work that you do during individual staff PD to ensure that great learning goes viral? I would love to see some other examples of how people are sharing.

Learning From Eric Sheninger

It has been almost one week since I spoke at #Edscape in New Jersey, and it was a tremendous honour to have that opportunity.  Not only because I was able to connect with amazing educators in the area, but because I was asked by my friend Eric Sheninger.  Eric speaks around the world, inspiring people all over, has written books, and is one of the most known educators in social media.  For him to ask me, was a great honour.

But what was fantastic about the experience for me was, as it is always, the opportunity to learn from so many other educators, and to be able to spend time with Eric.  There is so much that we learn from informal conversations, and to be able to have three days with Eric, both professionally and personally, I learned that he is the real deal.

Here are some of the things that I was most impressed with.

The first night I connected with Eric, he took me to a restaurant in the community near to the school and it was fantastic to see how close he was with people in his community.  The owner of the restaurant came over and talked about how Eric always brought them opportunities to the school, and in return, the restaurant put money back into the events that were happening.  It isn’t one taking from the other, but mutual support.  

The focus on community continued as Eric took me to his school’s football game late on a Friday night.  This had nothing to do with me being in the area.  In fact, Eric gave me one choice about what to do that night; go to the school’s football game.  This is vital to his work.

As you go into Eric’s school, you see a VERY old facility (I think he told me it opened in 1929), that has a lot of desks and looks nothing like some of the innovative spaces that I have seen in my time.  In fact, some of the spaces seem so old that it was criticized by someone on Twitter about the 20th century space.  The thing is, while so many administrators focus their funds and efforts on redesigning classrooms spaces and bringing in all of these other amazing elements in the classroom, Eric has put money and time into people.  

Unfortunately in education, we sometimes have to make some tough choices, but the best answer is always put time and money into people.  The other things we can get later, but if people do not understand why or how to use these things, it doesn’t matter.  We need to create such a deep understanding of the opportunities that technology and innovative school design create for students that we create a need for these things in the classroom.  This is what Eric focuses on.

What I loved about #Edscape was that it was exactly what the people there needed.  It was not necessarily the same types of conversations that happen at Educon (which is another amazing conference), but it is what the people are interested in that are at the conference.  Many people that attended are just jumping into using technology in their classroom and are shifting their thinking about what they are doing as teachers and learners, and the feedback from their experience was fantastic.  

The vision of the conference, created by Eric and his staff, was to start with where people are, but to push them to their next level.  The best leaders have a larger vision, but they break it down into smaller steps so people develop confidence and understanding along the way. That is what happened in the sessions at Edscape.

As all leaders, Eric focuses on relationships first, and builds from there.  Seeing the growth and development of his school, you see how vital this is to growth.  But what I also loved about Eric is that he knows there is still a lot of work to be done, and that the best organizations continuously grow and learn.  The best leaders celebrate their accomplishments, but build off of them.  As soon as you spend too much time patting yourself on the back, you find that you become Blockbuster.  Eric was proud of where his staff and students have come, but also has a vision of where they can still go.

I learned a lot from my time with Eric and I hope I have been able to share a few of those “nuggets” with others.

The big take-aways from spending time with Eric:

1. Focus on relationships and building community.
2.  Change can happen in “old” environments if you focus on changing mindsets and developing educators as learners first.
3. Start with people where they are at, but help them get to their next level, wherever that may be.

Thanks to Eric and his school community for putting on a great conference and leading by example!

4 Assumptions We Shouldn’t Make in Education


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Moyan Brenn

We have all been a victim of it. Saying something and making a very generalized statement about education and the people involved in it.  Sometimes these assumptions can do more harm than good and we have to be cognizant that painting everything with the same brush is not a good way to do what is best for kids.

Here are some assumptions that we too often make and have to really rethink.

1.  Kids just get technology.  You will often hear Marc Prensky’s “Digital Native, Digital Immigrant” argument being discussed when we talk about what our kids should be able to do in school, but I think that it is being used in the wrong way. Simply, many kids were born in a world with iPads, YouTube, Facebook, and other things, but that does not mean they have any idea how to use them, and it especially does not mean they understand the power these different sites have for learning.

I have actually asked students if they see their mobile device as a learning tool and they look at me stunned to even think that it is something that could be used in school.  In fact, some students would argue that it is more of a hindrance than anything as it distracts them from things that many of them are used to in class, such as reading their textbook, paying attention to lectures, etc.  Just because I was born in world with tools such as hammers, screwdrivers and saws, does not mean I have any idea how to use them to their full potential.  Kids still need guidance in this area.

2.  All parents don’t want their kids using technology in school.  A couple of years ago in a parent meeting for Parkland School Division, which is a district that I consider really pushing the boundaries of technology, I was doing a small workshop with parents.  As I opened up the floor to questions, I was waiting for all of the pushback that I was going to receive about some of the things that we were doing.  To my surprise, one of the parents started off by challenging me and saying that we were not moving fast enough!  I was stunned!  With parents having the same information that we do, you are going to find more parents pushing for a new way of learning in school as they hear about it from others.

When we started blogging with my school years ago, and all of the blogs were private, one parent called and asked me, “If my daughter is doing all of this great work in her blog, shouldn’t other people be able to see it?”  Many have made the assumption that parents are going to be the most resistant to the work that is done with technology, yet there are more and more that are pushing for change every single day.

3.  New teachers are innovative and experienced teachers are holding onto the past.  This statement, for me, couldn’t be further from the truth.  First of all, some of the biggest resistors to changing the classroom environment in schools are often new teachers. This really surprised me at first, but then I heard Bruce Dixon speak and he said something that resonated.  He said, “In no other profession do you watch someone do your job for 16 years before you do it yourself.”  Wow.  It is easy to understand how our experience for learning in school really shapes the way we teach and that is why I am big advocate for creating a new experience in the way that we do professional learning.

On the other side of the spectrum, the assumption that more experienced teachers don’t get “tech” or don’t want to change the way that they teach is often grossly misrepresented.  I have connected with so many educators that want to continuously get better and they are open to trying new opportunities for themselves, creating better learning for their students.  Greg Gorman, a superintendent that is either close to or past retirement age, told me once that he wished “all of this stuff existed when he first started teaching,” because he was so excited about the possibilities.  Coming from a place where he did very little with technology, he is now teaching sessions at conferences, as well as to his own staff.

To me, this is all about mindset as opposed to skill set. Once you are done learning as a teacher, you are done.  That does not matter if you are 24 or 64.  Many people at all ends of the spectrum are focused on learning and becoming better for their students.  You couldn’t ask for more.

4.  Disagreement is a bad thing.  I have started to really believe that we need to really listen to the “naysayer” in our work as opposed to simply believing that they are wrong.  Ultimately, most teachers are there to do what is best for kids, and as long as that leads our conversations, we have to find value when we disagree and promote the opportunity to have those conversations.  Many of us, including myself, have been guilty of being too far on one side of the spectrum.  Often it is the “middle space” that promotes balance in the way that we do our work.  All we have to do is focus on what is best for student learning as opposed to what is easiest for our teaching.  If we start with that end in mind, these conversations can create something very powerful for our students.

Assumptions about others in a negative light can often deter the work that we are doing with students.  If we try to get rid of many of these assumptions and start to think in a positive way, we are more likely to bring people along as opposed to lose them in the work that we are doing for kids.