Category Archives: Understanding and Responding to the Larger Societal Context

Similar but different?

As I was walking through several schools today, I noticed objectives and goals that could have been the same when I went to school. How we get there today and what they mean, may be different, especially as we learn more about pedagogy, but also connect learning and opportunities to the changes that have happened/are happening in our world.

Here are some questions that I have that are pushing my thinking.

If we promote students learning in a “safe” environment, do we mean only in school or in learning?  Does ignoring technology in a world where we learn so much from “strangers” keep our kids truly safe?

If we want students to be literate, what does that look like today in schools?  How does it go beyond basic “reading and writing”?

If a school has a focus on “citizenship”, how does a world where we are all connected to one another change what that looks like?

If parent participation is beneficial to the learning of a child, how do we use technologies that are easily accessible to both schools and parents to tap into our community?

If you look at the key components of each question, they are the following:

1. Keeping Kids Safe.
2. Promoting Literacy
3. Citizenship and Social Responsibility
4.  Parents as Partners in Education

If I would have shown you those as objectives in a school in 1980, they might not look any different in the wording, but in practice, they look significantly different.  I was taught over and over again how to cross the street so that I could access what was on the other side, but do we teach kids how to keep their information safe while they are connecting to others across the world?  The idea of “safe” has changed.

There is a lot of areas where schools have changed, but some of the objectives are the same.  How do we make sure that we are keeping up with what our students need for today and tomorrow?

What do you think?

 

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

 

 

A Higher Chance of Becoming Great? The “Twitter” Factor

I walked into the room and I could tell right away.

This was a teacher I had never met and knew very little about, but the atmosphere in his classroom was great.  As I walked with my colleague, I asked her the question, “Do you think he is on Twitter?”  I wanted her to make an educated guess, and her thoughts were the same as mine; definitely.

How did we know this?

As I walked in, I saw unique seating spaces, posters all over the wall that focused on “taking risks” and encouraging students to think different.  The walls were also covered in information about “Genius Hour” and their recent “Maker Faire”.  At the time, the students were also learning how to play chess with a master player, who also happened to be a grandparent. Notice that there was no technology mentioned above, but just about a different learning environment.  There were multiple, amazing opportunities for learning in this classroom to reach students where they were at, and tap into their strengths and passions.

So when we asked the teacher if they were on Twitter, he mentioned that he was but he didn’t necessarily share that much online.  But it was his access to information that made things look differently in his classroom.  When I asked if he had seen an impact in his classroom from the use of Twitter, he wasn’t sure, but it was a type of “boiling frog” scenario.  The change could have happened so gradually that he did not notice the small steps that could have been made to where he was now.  Just being a “lurker” in that space though, had made a difference.

Now I am not saying that if you are NOT on Twitter, you are ineffective.  There might be several classrooms that look like the one I have briefly described that were designed by a teacher who may not be on Twitter, that receive their information elsewhere.  What I do know is that looked NOTHING like my classroom when I first started teaching, because honestly, I did not have the access to the same information that teachers do now.  Our opportunities have changed and people have taken advantage to benefit themselves, and more importantly, their students.

Isolation is now a choice educators make.  We have access to not only information, but each other. We need to tap into that.

Being on Twitter doesn’t make you a great teacher any more than not being on Twitter makes you ineffective.  There are a lot of great teachers who do some pretty amazing things that do not connect online.

However, I do believe that having that access 24/7 to great ideas through the medium and the connection to other teachers increases your chances on being great.  If you really think about it,  how could it not?

Innovation has no age barrier.

Recently, I was blown away by this TedX Talk from Kate Simonds, talking about the importance of tapping into student voice.  Her talk was so simple yet so powerful, and as a speaker, I was so impressed by her talk.

Kate discussed not only celebrating the students that blow you away with incredible projects or inventions, but tapping into all students.  She goes beyond “hearing” their voice, but actually tapping into the wisdom of our students.  She implores the audience to tap into youth who may have a different way of looking into a problem.  She also challenges the audience to really think of what we want from students, and what our system promotes:

“As students we have no say in what we learn, or how we learn it, yet we are expected to absorb it all, take it all in, and be expected to run the world some day.  We are expected to raise our hands to use the restroom, then three months later, be ready to go to college, or have a full time job, support ourselves, and live on our own. It’s not logical.”

Powerful stuff.  Are we listening?  Even if we are, are we doing anything about it?

She also referenced a quote from her teacher that was quite sarcastic, but seemingly true:

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The problems that we currently have in education, were made by the same people now trying to solve them.  She has a very valid point.

Kate’s approach and belief of tapping into students is powerful, and I have seen areas tap into this.  Ontario currently has a “student trustee” on every board in the province, that has a voice in the organization, yet this is one province that I know of, with a minimal percentage of the board represented by a student.  This needs to be expanded.

Way too often, “leadership” taps into a very small amount of people to generate ideas.  The smaller group, the more limited we are in hearing different ideas. Once you decide the group that you listen to, you limit yourself to the ideas from those voices.  This is why it is so important to open up communication and garner those ideas from anywhere.  Innovation best flourishes in a flattened organization.

One of the things that happens in Parkland School Division is that we have a student committee that looks at what is happening in our schools, and encourages them to discuss and share ideas.  Recently, the students were encouraged to take a visual created based on my work to start a conversation with the teachers at their school (shared below).

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If this is their education, it is important that they have the opportunity to discuss it, but also help guide the direction and help come up with new ideas.  I would love to see more schools encourage students to sit on leadership teams, professional learning opportunities, and whatever other opportunities we have so that we can learn from each other.  We often forget to tap into the best resource we have in our schools; our students.

The conference I attended this past week (MACUL in Detroit, Michigan), had a student showcase right outside the main hall.  Students were not only discussing their learning, but were empowered to teach adults as well.  This should be the standard, not the exception.

I am proud to say that in my TedX Talk a couple of years ago, I wanted to tap into “our voice”, which was not limited to educators, but was really about also empowering the voice of our students.  Kate reminds me deeply why this is important.

Whether you are 5, 50, or 100, you can have a great ideas, and we need to recognize that we are lucky enough to have curious and creative minds in education at all ages.

Innovation has no age barrier.

(Please take time to watch the TedX Talk below from Kate Simonds. Share it, discuss it with your staff and watch it with your students.  I would love to hear the thoughts of others on this brilliant talk.)

More Than Just a “Phone”

“When should my child have a mobile device?”

I am asked this all of the time, and the reality is that there is no one right answer.  As long as kids are different from one another, we will have to figure it out as we go along the path.  Like many things in our world today, it is messy, leaving people with more questions than answers.

The one thing I do remind parents of is that this is not just about having a “phone”, but there are social implications that go along with it as well.  If you remember as a kid, going to a summer camp or meeting friends abroad, your excitement was so high at the time, and you would promise one another to stay connected and be friends forever.  Then you go your separate ways, and most people rarely connected after that.  Did you stop connecting because you grew apart or because the access wasn’t there?  We live in a world that kids will never have to stop talking to other kids they met at summer camp.  They will always be connected as long as they choose to be.

But sitting down and talking with a group of people today, we talked about our childhood and how different it was.  I remember growing up in a small town and we had a few students who were “bus kids”.  They lived on farms out of town, and always had to leave a little earlier than we did to catch the bus (everyone else walked or was able to get a ride), and once they left school, you didn’t talk to them until the next day.  All of my closest friends lived in town because honestly, it was easy to access them (and obviously there were great people!).  There were even a few kids that lived on farms that we could not call because their house was in the “long distance” zone.  It cost money to talk to them so it was rare your parents would actually let you call one another.  It wasn’t that these kids were not awesome people, we just didn’t have the same access, which made it hard to develop any strong friendships.  Maybe this was unique to my town or my situation, but I did think a lot about it in our conversation tonight.   I am sure those same kids had a different peer group, but honestly, I didn’t know much about it when I was in school.

So now when a large group of friends have mobile devices and constant access to one another, I wonder what the implications are for the few that don’t have this same access? Do they lose out on some relationships because they aren’t able to connect?

What I am not saying is that parents should go out and buy their kids mobile devices because they feel guilty that other kids have them. Not in the least.  It’s just that we need to really think about the idea that having a “phone” is more than just having a mobile device.  For many, it is there connection to others and if that is cut off, there could be more of an impact than just losing out on information.

(As I wrote this, I thought of this video that shows what “access” can create amongst kids.)

The World We Can’t Ignore

The world we live in is messy.

Kids don’t necessarily have the same freedom to screw up that we once did, with the default mode of sharing that is innate in so many.  When I ask educators if they ever drank too much when they were in university or high school, the majority of hands always raise.

When I asked them how many posted it online, zero hands are raised.

We were so much smarter and more mature than the youth of today? Not even close.  The Internet and the ease of sharing that happens today,  did not exist.  Some of the same mistakes so many youth make today, we would have probably done the same if the opportunities were there.

Talking to students often, many of them talk about how unfair it is for them that are held to a much higher standard in many ways than we were as kids.  I agree, but I also remind them that they have opportunities and access to people that I could have not imagined when I was young.  I saw this amazing video of Kevin Durant, one of the best basketball players in the world, connecting with people on Twitter and playing flag football.

I have said often, access to all of the information in the world is pretty amazing, but what is more important, is that we have access to one another.

To be honest though, there are sometimes that I feel uncomfortable with the world that we live in now.  You hear a lot of stories of things happening online, such as how Facebook is cited in so many divorce cases, and I sometimes wonder if we are better off now than we were before. Technology can accelerate everything, both good and bad.  Sometimes the bad can be overwhelmingI get that.

What I do know is that no matter how overwhelming it can become, it is important that schools talk about this with our students and become a part of the conversation.  To ignore it is a disservice to our students.

The world, our world, is really messy and rather complicated.  Although there are so many similarities to kids now compared to when I grow up, there are a lot of differences as well.  Love it or hate, we can’t ignore the world we live in.

Questioning the Data

Proven methods of working with students are something that are important when working in schools, but there are a few things that I question when I hear schools talk about solely “data driven”.

First of all, nothing works for everyone. Nothing.  So when we look at “proven methods”, we are often looking at something that is more focused on the “system” than an individual, kids still get left behind.  We might get a better “grade” at the end as a system, but we are still failing kids.  If something worked for 100% of kids, we would all know it, and we would all do it.

Secondly, there are often so many things that are going on in school, how can we really compartmentalize the “one thing” that works?  For example, let’s say your school is focusing on the thoughtful use of technology in classroom, health and wellness, and improved assessment, and you see an increase in grades through the school.  Which initiative led to the increase or how much did anyone single initiative lead to whatever score you are looking for?  Unless you isolate something it is hard to tell what is successful.

This leads to another issue…what is the measure of success?  You may see an increase in test scores but kids might hate coming to school every day, because it is easy to teach to a test, while also killing a love of learning in our students.  You can also see that you can improve a score in anything if you put a massive focus on it. If you have a school or district focusing solely on “literacy scores”, leading to more hours focusing on traditional literacy (reading and writing) in the classroom, other things get lost in the shuffle.  Many organizations are looking for people who are creative, yet you see many programs in arts education that promote this creativity getting cut in search of “better test scores”.  So then what? When we focus on becoming great at one thing, something else usually gives.  So what is important and what isn’t?

But maybe I am way off with these thoughts.  I am not saying that data is not necessary, but more importantly, that we question how we got the data in the first place. I recently read a blog post titled, “The Lack of Evidence Based Practice; The Case of Classroom Technology“, where the author talks about how the use of technology has not increased “academic achievement”, and I would not argue this at all.  Adding technology to your schools often only makes your it “school plus computer”.  If you are not looking to change teaching and learning practice because of these technologies, obviously nothing will change.  But there is to more what is happening than any number can tell us, and that is why questioning the data in the first place is extremely important.  I also think there is a great irony that many school district statements “vision and mission statements” say very little about test scores, but when they measure if they are successful, that becomes the biggest driver.

So it is essential to find a balance.  We have to still look at “what works” from other places, and ask questions to dive deeper.  But we also have to still develop the “innovator’s mindset” in educators to encourage them  to develop new ideas that may help the kids in front of them right now.  If we wait for everything to be researched before we use it, we are going to lose a lot of kids.  Before something was researched, somebody tried it first with no data to support if it would be successful or not.  That is why relationships are so important in education.  Understanding who the learner is in front of you will often lead to creating new solutions for that child.  They don’t have the time for you to wait.

Data is important, but so is the ability to be adaptive and flexible.  We have to look at what works, what has worked, ask questions why it worked, but also look to create new and better opportunities for the students in front of us.  If we don’t look to people within the education system to be innovative, why would we expect kids leaving the system to do the same?

Twitter Equals Growth Mindset?

There is a lot of talk in education about Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset”, in which she discusses the idea that beliefs that “abilities, intelligence, and talents can be developed.” It is an idea that educators have latched on to (for good reason) since this is not something we want to only be able to develop in students, but in ourselves as well, in a world that is constantly changing.  I have even tried to even further this conversation talking about the notion of the “innovator’s mindset” in which this growth leads to the creation of new and better ideas.  With new knowledge, it is important to not only be open to it, but to take it and move forward with it.

This could be something to applied the idea of educators using Twitter.  The “growth mindset” is the openness to learning about the medium, but the idea of the “innovator’s mindset” leads to people creating hashtags to share things that are happening in their classroom, or using it to connect with educators that teach the same discipline as they do.  With the Twitter now implementing video in the service, it will be something that people will not only be open to learn, but I am sure will do interesting and new things with.  With new technologies, people not only learn how to use them, but they repurpose them to create new and better ideas.  It is probably one of the reasons why Twitter moved from the idea of “what are you doing”, to “what’s happening” in the update box.  People were not solely focused on sharing their own personal updates, but started sharing news from their viewpoints, and created movements moving forward.  Twitter became what it is today because of people’s willingness to not only use it, but to further it with ideas that I am assuming the developers could have never imagined.  Our openness to learn and to develop new ideas because of this development was crucial in this process, as with so many other technologies.

Recently though, I read a post by Tom Whitby and was intrigued about the following quote:

Without a mindset for continually learning, or a limited view on what one is willing to learn, it will be difficult to change the status quo in education. Connecting with others may be a great idea that we all agree will make a difference in education, but what good does that do us, if a majority of educators are only comfortable doing what it is they have always done. Of course, it should go without saying that if staying within those comfort zones worked, we would not be having a global discussion on needed reforms for education.

In order to create these much-needed Personalized Learning Networks educators will need to learn about social media and its culture. The ins and outs of Twitter would be the most efficient and effective way to share what is needed for educators. This however takes some time to learn, and it also takes a commitment of at least 20 minutes a day interacting with connected colleagues for anyone to benefit from this. The benefits far outweigh the time and work involved, but the fact of the matter is that not every educator has a growth mindset. Not every educator shows a willingness to leave those zones of comfort. For those reasons Twitter will never connect all educators. The shame of it is that Twitter is probably the best way to share and learn available to us now.

What threw me off when reading this is the idea that it somewhat equated the idea that if you are on Twitter you have a “growth mindset”, and if you aren’t, you don’t, and you are not willing to grow.  This could be lumped into the same area of making statements such as “you are a bad teacher if you use worksheets”; it may spark thought but it could also alienate some really great teachers.

Here is a couple of things on the idea that you have a “growth mindset” if you use Twitter.  First of all, I don’t really believe that the idea people have a “growth mindset” in all areas at all times.  If you took my own viewpoints, with many things in education, I am very open to learning about them and applying them to my own work, but if you took the idea of skiing, my mindset is very fixed.  I have no interest in learning or having the growth mindset towards flying down a hill in snow in freezing Canadian temperatures, all the while so many people tell me how amazing it is. You do not have either a “fixed” or “growth” mindset; you have either a “fixed” or “growth” mindset on certain things, and for most educators.

This is not just outside the idea of education as well, but well within in.  I have challenged people on the ideas of awards for students, and from some of my conversations, some educators have no interest in thinking differently about the process no matter what is presented to them.  It is not about a right and wrong in the process, but more the idea of  “I am good with what we are doing at this present time”.  I used to feel the same way about Edcamp; I did not really understand the appeal of the process and thought it seemingly was a waste of time, even though so many people said the exact opposite.  Having gone to it at one point, I saw how powerful it could be and my mindset towards it moved from a very “fixed” one to an “open”.  On Google Plus I have a pretty “fixed” mindset at this point.  Do I know it can be powerful? Absolutely.  Do I care about learning more about it at this point? Nope. I spend enough time using the social networks that I am currently on that I do not have time to add something that is probably great, but in many ways similar to what I am using.

It is not an “either/or” process, but something that can develop over time.  Some educators were totally “fixed” on the idea of using Twitter at one point, but at some point they had a “growth” mindset that was sparked to try the service.  To get people to that point, it rarely is achieved with a hard push, but often more of an understanding of where they are, and putting them in a place where they can make their own connections.  I think that people are sometimes reluctant to change, but I also think that we can be equally terrible of helping move people to change.

The other notion from the article is the idea that if you are an educators that is on Twitter you have a growth mindset.  There are many educators that actively use Twitter, went through the process of learning it, yet aren’t necessarily open to new ideas, or ideas out of their usual circle that they may connect with.

Not being on Twitter doesn’t mean that you have a fixed mindset, any more than being active on Twitter means that you have a growth mindset.

Learning is a very personal thing, and sometimes we aren’t open to things not because we aren’t open to them, but because we just aren’t ready to take that leap at this certain point.  I would say the majority of educators that are actively using Twitter to share ideas on education, were at one point against the idea of using it.  Learning can be very circumstantial, and sometimes we just aren’t ready for new ideas, no matter how good they might seem.  If we are never open to new ideas, that is a problem, but some of the best educators that I know display a “growth mindset” in so many areas, yet do not use or care to use Twitter.  They still make a major difference for kids and we have to recognize it.

There are many great reasons why we should try new things, but if we (educators) are not open to one thing, it is not about simply lumping people into one category or another, but understanding there is always more to the picture than we might be able to see.  If we really want people to be open to change, I think it is essential that we focus on what they are great at first, as opposed to where they are deficient.  Showing someone that they are valued for what they already do, is important in the process of learning as it builds both confidence and competence, and if we are going to really embrace a “growth mindset” where we are willing to take risks, that feeling of safety with our peers is essential.

3 Things Students Should Have Before They Leave High School

There is a great commercial on TV right now, where a candidate for a position goes in for an interview to become an engineer, and as the interviewer is asking him “what makes you qualified for this position?”, which then follows him sitting down and breaking the chair.   The person applying then comments about the design of the chair and how it is not made to hold someone with “all that weight”.  Obviously, the interview is over immediately after that, with the point of the commercial being that it is not enough to just “have the skills” to do the job, but there are so many other skills for any position.  You can understand all of the elements of being a “great teacher”, but knowledge is not only important, but also the skills to do the job, and the ability to even obtain a position in the first place.

So how are schools helping students create opportunities for themselves both during their time in school, and after as well?  In my time in school, I remember going over how to make a resume, and looking at how to create a paper portfolio.  Both were relevant to me at the time, but not necessarily helpful to our students today.  Mashable has an interesting article on “The 10 Reasons Why I Ignored Your Resume”, and a lot of the tips deal directly with a person’s digital footprint and networking:

Job hunting is hard, so don’t make it harder that it has to be. Do yourself a favor and don’t give a company a reason not to hire you before you even get to the interview. Marketing has changed, adapt your job search strategy accordingly!

Although this article is geared towards marketing, there are many elements that would be applicable to a wide range of careers.

I recently saw educator Joti Jando share an article about her business students taking part in a “Dragon’s Den” activity, which went way beyond “creating something” and becoming engaged in the classroom, but giving them real world skills and understanding of the opportunities that exist:

Students presented their business ideas – including a breakdown on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, competition, management and operations, related government regulations and financial analysis – for assessment by the panelists.

This type of real-world exercise raises the level of student engagement, Jando has found.

Textbook and theoretical lessons don’t generate the same kind of enthusiasm or practical experience, she (Jando) suggested. Furthermore, an opportunity to meet and network with successful business people and entrepreneurs may hold as much value as this project-based learning.

So although the examples I have shared seem to be specific to “business”, there are a lot of takeaways for all of our students in helping them to not only learns content and skills in school, but actually helping them to create opportunities for themselves in our world.

Here are three things that I would like to see all students have by the time they graduate from our schools to help create opportunities for themselves.

1.  Students should be connected through a social network with other people in their field of choice.

Teachers love Twitter, and although there is great learning that happens there, many educators have created opportunities for themselves simply being connected and networking with other people.  I know several teachers that have obtained positions in new schools because they had someone interested in their work that they shared through Twitter.  There are a lot of possibilities for anyone.  For our students though, Twitter may or may not be the place.  YouTube, Instagram, Vine, LinkedIn, Google Plus, or probably ones that I don’t even know about, have a plethora of communities in any given profession.  Students should not only be able to learn from people in the field, but also network and create connections with others.  I am sure we have all heard the saying, “it is not what you know, but who you know.”  The adage hasn’t changed, but the opportunities and ease of access to one another has.  We need to help students connect.

2.  Students should have a digital portfolio. 

There have been a lot of articles shared that the “resume is dead“,  and that our social networks are more crucial than ever.  Although a resume has a place in many institutions, a digital portfolio definitely can be seen as giving someone an advantage as it gives a deeper look into someone’s skill sets, and is accessible 24/7.  Recently having my own wedding, if you were a photographer that did not have a digital portfolio of your work, we were not even going to consider hiring them.  They didn’t even exist in our considerations.  Being able to find someone online is one thing, but having the opportunity to look deeper into their actual work is crucial.  Whatever the format, or the medium (written, images, video, podcasts, and so on), it is necessary for an employer to go beyond the resume. A resume can be a part of this, but it only tells a small part of the story.

3.  Students should have an “about.me” page.

About.me is a great way to share a “digital business card”, and I have likened it to your Internet cover letter.  It is not overwhelming with information, but it has links to much more.  (Here is an example of a student’s page that was actually featured on the about.me homepage!) Having your about.me link as your email signature is a great way to not overwhelm future employees with some LONG quote at the end of each email, but also gives them the opportunity to connect with more information if they are interested.  The other reason I really like the thought of students creating their own about.me pages is that it actually links to their other social networks, which if they are thoughtful about it, probably be a lot more appropriate if they know potential employers or post-secondary institutions are looking at what they are sharing. In a recent article from US Today, Marymount University coach Brandon Chambers was quoted as saying, “Never let a 140 character tweet cost you a $140,000 scholarship.” Having an about.me page is sending a different message.  It is saying, “here are my social networks and I encourage you to look at them.”  What impact would this have on student’s not only on their future, but their digital footprint today?  I think having the ability to bring everything together could be very powerful for our students.

Of course, there are no absolutes in what a student should walk away with, but if schools focused on these three areas as part of what a student would leave a school with, would it not also help tremendously with many of the “digital footprint” issues that we are seemingly having in schools?  By placing an emphasis on using these tools that are at our students’ fingertips, we hopefully can not only help them share their abilities, but help them make the connections to utilize those same abilities to their fullest.

In a world that is extremely digital, we need humanity more than ever.

This is just going to be all over the place so I apologize in advance but this is writing to learn more than writing to share my learning.

Our world is awesome.

Technology allows us to do things that we could never do before.  We can video chat with people around the world simply, for a much cheaper rate than we could have called them years ago.  I have memories of my dad that I can relive over and over again, even after his passing. Every time we press “tweet” or “publish” it gets around the world instantly.  There is a power in our hands and in our pockets that we could not have imagined.  But with every step forward, we sometimes lose things along the way.

I can now call pretty much any services I have and I can get to anything I want through an automated machine that is often much quicker than any person I could talk to, yet when I get on the line, every single time, I press “0” immediately.  For all that technology gives us, I still want to talk to a person.

I love that I can do online banking, but I also love the interactions that I can still have in the bank.  That choice matters to me.  One time though, I distinctly remember going into the bank to make a deposit and being asked if I was interested in a tax-free savings account, followed by RRSP’s, and so on.  I saw the teller was not looking at mean and reading off their computer a list of questions that were suggested based on my financial situation. In my conversation with a person, I had been reduced to an algorithm.  When I actually called them out on this, they were embarrassed not only because of me saying something, but because their company put them in the situation in the first place. This example is crucial to the work that we do in education.

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, relationships will be the most important thing we do in schools.

I am guessing that some parents feel this same way when they call schools to report of the absence of their child.  Yes, the technology makes it convenient, but sometimes a person needs to talk, and sometimes they need to be heard.  The “tech” sometimes leaves them lacking the piece of mind that they needed from that phone call.  It is not simply about what is convenient, but sometimes what is needed.

Although I think technology is so crucial to our roles today, I think the more digital we are the more “human” our schools and leadership needs to become.  Sharing our stories and connecting through social media brings a lot in creating a human connection, but I still love the teacher that welcomes kids to their classroom every morning and has a conversation with them, or the principal who stands in the middle of the hallway to have conversations with kids about almost everything except for school.  Although things like supervision might seem like an “add-on” to our day, I started to look at it as an investment into people.  Talk to someone for ten minutes and take a sincere interest in their lives, and that ten minutes will come back to you exponentially.

There is something that we lose sometimes in our interactions on social media.  Many people (and rightfully so) do not share many aspects of their lives through what they share online.  For me, I share with people that the safest “guideline” to follow on social media is that you would not say anything online that you would not say to a group of kids.  Yet that doesn’t mean that people share their lives openly online, but what they are comfortable with other people that they may consider “strangers”.  You might not see the whole picture and there is so much more to a person than what they share online.

With a world that is increasingly digital, our “humanness” is more crucial than ever.  I am reminded of Charlie Chaplin’s speech in the “Great Dictator” in 1940, and how some elements of that speech from that movie made years ago are as relevant as ever.

We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind.

We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery ,we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.

So with all the talk of technology, we just need to remember that there is so much more to schools and some of the best things in “20th Century Education” are just as relevant today.  If you are a school that does not focus on building relationships, you are on a faster road to irrelevance than one that doesn’t use technology.  In a world where information is easy to access and I can always find better content online than I can in school, the refocus on relationships is more crucial now than ever.

Embrace technology; it will provide people opportunities that we could have dreamed of when we were kids.  But just remember that people will always be the most important part of the education system.  As soon as we reduce everyone to a number or an avatar, we will have lost more than we could have ever gained.