Category Archives: Providing Instructional Leadership

Personalize, Not Standardize

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.

People like Sylvia Duckworth amaze me with their ability to draw and connect their learning in a way that is so appealing to many.  Her collection of SketchNotes that she creates and shares openly are absolutely amazing and not only appeal to her, but to so many others. She actually helped my learning by sharing a Sketchnote she created on the “8 Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset”.

Image created by @SylviaDuckworth

Image created by @SylviaDuckworth

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?

5 Questions To Drive Personal-Professional Learning

Image created by @GregPearsonEDU using Canva.

Image created by @GPearsonEDU using Canva.

In a world where more and more people realize their voice matters, simply engaging people is not enough.  People need to feel empowered in the process of work and learning.  The shift from compliance to empowerment is essential in organizations today.  With that in mind, how do we help people grow? The question is not, how do we motivate them, which is an entirely different idea.  Motivating others is possible,  but it is not long lasting.  We can only truly motivate ourselves for any sustainable amount of time, this is not something that can be done for us.  Leaders need to look at how we create environments that remove barriers, and support the development of the innovator’s mindset in individuals.  Leadership’s job is not to control people, but to unleash talent.  The environment and processes we create are important in helping people find their own way and strengths.

Yet we too often focus on external “motivators” to be the driver for change or even learning.  One of the biggest shifts in my own thinking in the past few years is how learning is such a personal endeavour, yet we try to package it up and decide the paths and passions for others.  Stephen Downes summarizes this sentiment nicely:

“We have to stop thinking of an education as something that is delivered to us and instead see it as something we create for ourselves.”

With that being said, there is a lot of professional development that is working to “incentivize” learning with the use of external motivators.  Immediately doing this, in many ways says that it is not something that is important to learn without the incentive, or else we haven’t take the time to focus on the “why” of the learning.  If people don’t understand why we are learning something, it will not stick.  They need to make their own internal connection.  I understand though that in some areas, I don’t need to really explain “why”, before we move forward.  For example, if there is a safety plan in school, I would have the expectation that people knew how to do it and spend their time learning any procedures that we have in school.  That being said, I have seen states require “credit hours” for professional learning and have watched people show up so they can check off that they were there.  This is not going to create powerful and deep learning, but is simply a checklist in the “game of school“.  If there is no ownership over our own learning, how deep will we really go?

So what would I do differently?

Daniel Pink talks about the important of autonomy, mastery, purpose in motivation, and with that in mind, we should think about developing long term professional learning with that in mind.  Although growth plans are something that have been prevalent in schools for as long as I have been teaching, I think it is important to ask questions that focus on those three elements, while also helping leadership remove barriers to help learners achieve their goals.  As we develop our own professional growth plans for any period of time, here are some questions that I think are important to include.

1.  What would you like to learn? (Autonomy)

Although this question has driven my own professional learning for years, it is still necessary to set the stage for deep learning.  Ownership over the learning is crucial in this process.

2. What questions will be the driver for your learning? (Autonomy)

Inquiry-based professional learning is a powerful process, which helps you to view yourself not only as a problem solver, but also as a problem finder.  It also helps the learner articulate why this learning is important to them and gives them ownership over the process. Here is an example of how these questions can drive growth.

3.  Why is this important to your? How will it help the school? (Purpose)

This is a crucial element to not only a person’s learning, but also to help them use their strengths to improve learning, while helping leadership understand those strengths to tap into.  The best teams in the world build upon individual strengths to bring people together toward’s a common goal; they do not try to mould people to something that they are not.

4.  How will you know (measures) that you have achieved your goals at the end of this time? (Mastery and Autonomy)

Accountability is crucial in this process but helping the person define their own measures not only helps them to define what “mastery” could look like, but also have autonomy understanding their own point “a” to point “b”.

5.  What barriers will you need removed, or what support will you need to be successful? (Unleash Talent)

This question is crucial and necessary to leadership.  A lot of reasons things don’t happen in schools is because of dumb policies and guidelines that make “innovation” extremely hard and simply “hoop jumping”.  One thing that I used to say to my staff all of the time was, “I cannot solve problems that I don’t know about.” That is true, but perhaps I needed to ask them a lot more what the problems were that I could help with.

 

To have a “culture of innovation”, developing educators as leaners is crucial.  Helping them understand their own passions and interests, and giving them opportunities to use them to further the vision of the school is paramount.  But if we see learning as a truly “personal” endeavour, focusing on the ideas of “autonomy, mastery, and purpose” in developing our professional learning plans is crucial into the development of both individuals as well as our organizations.

4 Ways We Can Share Our Stories to Drive Innovation

There is no more human profession in the world than education.

In fact, as content has become abundant, education has become more human.  Fifty years ago, and fifty years from now, relationships will be the most important thing we do in schools.  In fact, with information becoming plentiful, I would actually argue that relationships will become more important than ever.  If I do not feel valued to the place that I come every day, why would I continue to show up?

Yet in some cases, we take this human profession, and reduce our most precious resource, our students, to letters and numbers.  We have done this to teachers as well.  Instead of hearing their stories, we rank and sort so many involved in education, and lose the faces and humanity in our practice.  So many people, whether in government or administrator positions, say that standardized tests are not valued, yet so much is still measured by these numbers, both students and teachers.  The emphasis should be on the people, not numbers.

letter and numbers

This is not to say that accountability isn’t important in education.  Nobody wants bad teachers in the profession, including teachers, yet there is so much more to a story to a person than a letter or grade.  We have to think of different ways that our stories can be shared though and put more of an emphasis on the qualitative data, not the quantitative.  Both have a place in education, but the stories and observations that are shared need to be put in the forefront.

Here are some ways that we can really start to share these stories in a continuous and ongoing basis.

1. Tapping into the power of visuals. – The most powerful camera in the world, is the one that you have with you. Fortunately, most of us have one with us all of the time.  People like Tim Lauer, sharing pictures of his school on Instagram, or Tony Sinanis using YouTube to highlight his students in school newsletters, actually elicits emotional responses when I see what they share.  The old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”, is totally true.  So then what is a video worth?  These accounts are something that not only tell a lot about the happenings in the school, but they also encourage growth in their own school communities, as well as others around the world.  I know many have started Instagram accounts based on Tim’s work, while others have started school YouTube newsletters based on seeing Tony’s account.  I am not even sure where they got the idea, but I know that their sharing has probably made am impact both locally and globally, while sharing their story.

2.  A Year in Photos/Videos – As many schools in North America are either done or winding down their school year, I love the “montage” idea of sharing what has happened in school.  I have seen this happen at end of the year assemblies, but they are not often shared publicly.  Dean Shareski does a “year in review” video every year, that shows so much of what has happened in his year and tells a powerful story. I would love to see more schools doing this.

3.  Telling Your Own Story Through Digital Portfolios –  I am a big believer in the power of digital portfolios.  Not only do they give students the opportunity to reflect, but they give them an opportunity to share their voice and story in a plethora of unique ways. Many schools have focused on “engagement”, yet I believe that we need to empower those that we serve by not only asking them to share assignments, but tell their unique stories through these platforms.  In a world where anyone can have a voice, are we working with our students to help them share their voice with people around the world, or just contain them within the walls of our school, either physically or digitally.  One of my favourite quotes is from Shelley Wright, when she stated, “Kids often defy expectations when you give them the opportunity.” Do we encourage them to share their stories with the world in meaningful ways, or are we simply focusing on “doing school”. (Here are some resources on blogs as digital portfolios.)

4. The Simplicity and Power of a Hashtag – Simply having a hashtag for your school or class, not only taps into the power of sharing, but also helps drive innovation.  A hashtag is not just about communication, but it can be about culture.  You may not have your community all on Twitter, so we have used things like Storify to curate and share our learning and ideas with our community.  Having a Twitter account for your school empowers one voice, but having a hashtag, can empower all.  There is a lot you can tell to a community in 140 characters.

The human side of education is something that is extremely important to me.  Sharing those powerful stories not only paints a different narrative, but it can actually drive innovation. Seeing faces, and hearing voices, elicits a human connection to the work that we are doing.  In a profession that is extremely human, we have to remember the power we have to tap into one another, when we share these stories that tell more than any letter or number ever could.

Just because it deals with technology, doesn’t mean we don’t use common sense.

It is interesting that when it comes to technology, many people are nervous about not knowing what to do when something goes wrong. One conversation I had recently, an educator asked me, “What would you do if you found a student was doing something inappropriate on their computer?” I answered a question with a question and asked, “What would you do if they were doing something inappropriate that wasn’t on their computer?”

She nodded her head and understood what I was saying immediately. Far too often, we are worried about the possibility of the unknown online, and think that the punishment should be spelled out ahead of time for students. We are often scared of what we don’t know, but the need for control is something that we are going to have to let go. The best leaders and educators don’t micromanage; they build trust.

Tons of schools have all of the consequences planned out for inappropriate use of technology, but I have never seen a single school do the same thing with a pencil.  Once we see the technology as crucial to learning, as many do with any writing utensil, our views obviously change on how we handle situations.

One of the approaches I have used with students, knowing that there are a lot of bad things that one could find online, is just having an open and honest conversation with them. I remember talking with students and simply saying, “If you find anything inappropriate online, either intentionally or unintentionally, I I want you to talk to me about it. I want to hear it from you as opposed to someone else because then you will have lost my trust. Obviously we all make mistakes and I trust you, so if you make one, I hope you will talk to me about it.”

No list of rules and/or consequences, just open and honest conversations.

Here is the one thing that I can guarantee, without a doubt, 100 per cent; something will go wrong. That being said, it is important to create a culture where students feel comfortable coming to you with the mistakes they have made.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t expectations or consequences for negative actions, it is just about treating people the way we would want to be treated. Sometimes we have to give trust to others before we can earn it ourselves.

5 Teaching Practices I Would Never Do Again

As an educator for almost fifteen years, I think about what I used to do and shake my head at some of my thinking. Many of the practices that I had adopted were things that I had learned as a teacher and few had challenged at the time, or at least I did not have access to a different kind of thinking.  When we ask others to try and move forward in their practice, it is important to not only share our stories of success, but also our stories of growth. Vulnerability is crucial to leadership and building trust.

Here are five things that I used to do that I would never to do today.

1. The rule is the rule is the rule.

I remember walking into a teacher’s classroom and early in the morning, students were eating in her class while they were working. I became irate at her because the rule in the school was, no food in class, and it was hard when different teachers had different expectations for students. The problem was that the kids were hungry, and I know that I have trouble concentrating when I am hungry; kids would be no different.

What I know now is that when a rule is detrimental to kids, it’s often a stupid rule. In fact, the less rules we have in our schools, the more often we are able to treat kids as individuals. If the expectation is to do whatever you need to in the pursuit of helping kids, it is important to use wisdom and common sense to achieve this, as opposed to having a rule for every possible situation. This is not only respectful to students, but also to staff. I know that I am frustrated when employees in an organization are bound by a “rule” when common sense should prevail; schools should be no different.

I am frustrated when employees in an

2. “The bell doesn’t dismiss you. I dismiss you.”

I have been guilty of saying this far too often early on my career, and to be honest, I would love to see schools have no bells at all. It creates a Pavlov’s dog scenario where we are conditioned by a bell to get up and go to the next space. This is not conducive to learning. One student I saw on Vine said, “That’s such a stupid saying since the whole point of the bell is to signify the end of the class.” They are right.

So if you do work in a school that still has bells, how do you create learning where the bell rings that students are so deep in their learning, they don’t think to move? If a kid is engaged or empowered in their learning, the bell should be disappointing, not a relief.

3. “If you don’t get this done, you will not be able to go to phys. ed.”

With health and obesity rates on the rise all over the world, this is a terrible thing to hold over a student’s head. It says that healthy living and physical activity are not as important as other subjects in the school.

Here are a couple of issues I have with this looking back. If a kid loved going to physical education, I used that against them. Instead of building on their strengths, I used that against them. The other problem that it created was the student that hated doing physical activity, learned quickly that if they didn’t get their work done, I would hold them back. They used this to their advantage. Some of my best thinking has come during a workout or a run, and I am disappointed that I didn’t realize that movement was crucial to clearing our minds and growth not only physically, but also intellectually.

4. Asking students for feedback only at the end of the school year.

Feedback is crucial to growth, but if you use that growth only for the next group of students, it doesn’t seem to make much sense. There has been a lot of evidence that immediate and constant feedback is crucial for learning, so as a teacher, it is crucial to do this often throughout the year, to help the kids and staff that you are serving right now, not only next year. If this type of assessment is beneficial to kids, it would also be beneficial to our own professional growth.

5. Think my grading system was perfect.

If I look back at my own gradebooks, they make no sense to me now. Why is something worth 25% and something else worth 15%? Where do these magical numbers come from? Why would a test on one day be worth 50% of a grade, and a project done over weeks be worth 10%? Ugh. No sense at all.

What I am glad to see now is that more and more people are moving away from “grading” and moving towards competencies and written feedback. I am sure that in the world, people are still rated and numbered, but I doubt it is a powerful practice. Kids that are ranked and reduced to a number, often become adults who do the same thing.

Meaningful feedback takes time, but as teachers, it is essential for learning and growth. Believing that a number system for grades is somehow “scientific” and not actually totally subjective, was naive. It is also not effective if the conversation is led by the evaluator, as opposed to the learner. If we started the conversation by simply asking, where are you strong and where do you need to grow, the ownership of learning actually goes to the learner, not the teacher. Having students on the outside-looking-in on assessments, does not promote learning, only ranking and sorting.

When I look back at these practices, most of them are not things that I learned at university, but were things I experienced. As an adult, many of these things that I used to do to kids, I would hate being done to me. That is why I believe experience is crucial to growth in our organizations.

What things would you take back in your teaching career?

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:

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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