In our world, parents and students now have access to the same information that educators do, and the hope is that this would improve the learning that happens in school. The reality of this is though, that educators have access to information outside of schools and we should be looking towards different organizations and industries, and what they are focusing on and improving their practice. Many educators are doing this now, and you will see things like Google’s “2o% Time” implemented at both the classroom and organizational level with great success. As educators, I really believe we need to look both inside and outside of schools to create the best opportunities for our students.
Here are a few focus areas outside of education, that we should be looking at in schools and make more explicit in our practice.
1. Research and Development
Having a conversation at a recent meeting, the presenter continuously talked about “R & D”, while many sat in the room curious to what the initials stood for. Why is that? Why do we put such little emphasis on “Research and Development” in schools, while others organizations put a much larger emphasis in this area:
“Anthony S. Bryk, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, has estimated that other fields spend 5 percent to 15 percent of their budgets on research and development, while in education, it is around 0.25 percent. Education-school researchers publish for fellow academics; teachers develop practical knowledge but do not evaluate or share it; commercial curriculum designers make what districts and states will buy, with little regard for quality. We most likely will need the creation of new institutions — an educational equivalent of the National Institutes of Health, the main funder of biomedical research in America — if we are to make serious headway.” (From “Teachers: Will We Ever Learn“)
Obviously, research is a component of what we do in our classrooms, but are we creating from that process or are we simply reporting? Teachers should be continuous learners and active research should be a component of this (obviously administrators should be finding time to ensure that this happens), and we are more likely to create this experience for students if we experience this ourselves. Actively researching best, new and innovative practices, would only improve our schools.
We spend a lot of time having our students look back at the past, but how much time do we give them to create the future?
2. Entrepreneurial Spirt
The term “entrepreneurial spirit” is something that has been a focus for Alberta Education:
“Entrepreneurial Spirit: who creates opportunities and achieves goals through hard work, perseverance and discipline; who strives for excellence and earns success; who explores ideas and challenges the status quo; who is competitive, adaptable and resilient; and who has the confidence to take risks and make bold decisions in the face of adversity.”
Or their simple definition for students:
“I create new opportunities.”
I have seen many amazing things that have been created in schools only because I happened to be in the school. If students are able to develop an “app”, should they not also have some understanding of how to market it as well? This just not go for the “business minds” in school, but in any and every aspect. A student can be the most amazing artist, but if no one ever sees their work, could they ever end up doing this for a living? I am a firm believer that we should try to give opportunities for students to follow their passions and hopefully make a living from what they love.
Dan Pink shares his belief that all people are in some capacity need the ability to be able to “sell”:
“Physicians sell patients on a remedy. Lawyers sell juries on a verdict. Teachers sell students on the value of paying attention in class. Entrepreneurs woo funders, writers sweet-talk producers, coaches cajole players.”
If you think back to your own post-secondary experience in becoming an educator, were you ever actually taught on how to get a job? This is more important than ever with “digital footprints” becoming a large factor in how people in all areas are getting jobs.
We want our students to be able to create amazing things; how do we help them share those creations?
(Check out SCH Academy’s “Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership” to see a very innovative program that is really trying to push the envelope in this areas.)
3. Leadership Development
This is probably a no-brainer for many, but still something that schools need to focus on for their entire community. When I talk about “leadership”, I am not thinking of “being the boss”, but the ability to empower others and be a part in creating a positive culture. I also believe that leadership has to do with ownership, and things that we do in isolation also help us in this pursuit (Sir Ken Robinson is considered a “leader” in education but how many of you know of any affiliations that he has with any single organization?).
Developing leaders should be something that we continue to focus on, or the first two areas that I have discussed will end up being moot.
Although there are “electives” in schools in the above areas, should there not be elements of each in the work that we do everyday? As stated before, this is not just about students, but for it to be successful, these are initiatives that should be available to educators as well. Experience is the best way to create new learning, and if our staff does not understand this, how will our students? We should also look at what we do already in these areas and make some of these initiatives more explicit to our public. Changing the terminology from “staff days” to “Research and Development Day” (or whatever the time length), better communicates the work that we are trying to do, and perhaps creates a better focus for ourselves on what we are trying to do with our professional learning time.
Although a lot of these terms are related to “business”, I see them as valuable opportunities for learning and to create opportunities for our students, not only in their future, but also their present.
I look forward to your thoughts.
One of the magical “C’s” that is emphasized over and over again is collaboration. I am a big believer in the power of teams coming together to build something greater than what is possible creating alone, but I sometimes wonder if this (as other things) is sometimes overemphasized. Collaboration is important, but what about isolation? Do we teach the ability to work on our own?
With the massive amounts of information that surround us at all times, we need time alone to be able to collect our thoughts. As I continue to do workshops and connect with people, I have come to appreciate the opportunity to sit in an airport and be anonymous at some points. This gives me a break from all of the things that we do in our world, catch up on my own thoughts, reflect, and clarify. Is the ability to be alone something all people possess or are comfortable with?
Lately, leading workshops, I have really focused on the implementation of time for people to simply have time to reflect and give them a space to share their thoughts, whether they choose to or not. Sometimes working within the group is implemented in full force that we do not have an opportunity to be with our own thoughts, and people start to check out anyway. From what I have seen, people are at first thrown off by the time I give for them to think about some big questions, but are later thankful for the chance to be within their own head. Admittedly, a full day of group talk can be overwhelming for myself.
In the article, “The Power of Lonely“, being alone, the author believes, is extremely beneficial for our spirit and mind:
But an emerging body of research is suggesting that spending time alone, if done right, can be good for us — that certain tasks and thought processes are best carried out without anyone else around, and that even the most socially motivated among us should regularly be taking time to ourselves if we want to have fully developed personalities, and be capable of focus and creative thinking. There is even research to suggest that blocking off enough alone time is an important component of a well-functioning social life — that if we want to get the most out of the time we spend with people, we should make sure we’re spending enough of it away from them. Just as regular exercise and healthy eating make our minds and bodies work better, solitude experts say, so can being alone.
If we are truly to become “creative and innovative”, we have to be able to individually bring something to the table. The ability to connect with one another is no more important than the ability to connect with ourselves. Many of my ideas come from sitting in Starbucks by myself, or going for a run on my own. Is being in isolation not a skill we should be modelling and teaching our students?
“The role of parents in the education of their children cannot be overestimated.” ~Unknown
When you ask parents from any country in the world, what they ask their children at the end of the day about school, their question is very similar:
“What did you learn today?”
The disconcerting thing is that the answer is almost always exactly the same.
With some of the work that we are doing in Parkland School Division, we are really trying to engage parents in the learning of their child by opening the door into the classroom. Through the use of blogs, twitter, and other social media outlets, the question can change to something similar to, “I saw that you were learning about (blank) today; can you tell me more about it?”
Different questions usually get different responses. Improve the question and you are more likely to get a better answer.
Parent Participation vs Parent Engagement
Although the more parents can have a positive presence in our schools, the more they will build relationships within the school community, engagement is something different. Children are shown to have a much better chance at success if their parent is actively engaged and reinforces the learning that is happening in the school. Case in point; if you want to improve your child’s reading, read to them at a young age and model what you want to see.
Yet as students get older, many parents are uncertain about the learning that is happening and feel uncomfortable with the content. The benefit of a lot of learning in our schools today is that it is not solely focused on learning content, but skills and process which are important aspects in a learner’s development. Being able to engage in the process with your child, like reading, will help improve their learning. That type of engagement brings learning to a different level in the home.
Are we becoming illiterate?
One of the most influential articles that I have read was by Will Richardson on the notion of expanding literacy. In it, Will discusses The National Council of Teachers of English definition of “21st Century Literacies”, and how many adults, not just kids, are becoming or illiterate. For many, the notion of literacy boils down to reading and writing, yet it is much more.
“Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies—from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms—are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities and social trajectories of individuals and groups.” NCTE
So with that in mind, what are parents doing at home? Are they creating websites with their children, assessing what is good and bad information, creating videos and podcasts, and so on? The majority of our students see the Internet as a place of consumption, not creation. We need to shift that focus.
Mitch Resnick challenged this notion of consumption when he stated:
“We wouldn’t consider someone literate if they could read but couldn’t write. Are we literate if we consume content online, but don’t produce?”
Based on this ever-changing definition, we have to ask, “Are we literate?”
Keeping Kids Safe
People are quick to jump on using these new types of technologies as either “dumbing down” education (David Crystal’s research shows that reading and writing improve through the use of mobile devices as opposed to the other way around) or that kids will be unsafe. The reality is that schools in partnership with parents, need to guide children to not only be safe, but to leverage these technologies so that children will have opportunities that we did not.
Carlene Oleksyn, a parent and pharmacist, has immersed herself in the use of social media, not only for the benefit of her own learning, but to ensure that she safely guides her children. In a recent post on her blog titled, “The Talk”, she shares a conversation that she has with her children:
It started like this:
“Boys, when I need to hire someone do you know what one of the first things is I do?”
Nope, they had no idea.
“I google them,” I said. “I see what they post on Facebook, Twitter, blogs. If they have posted anything that is calling someone else down, is sexually inappropriate, or if they’ve made blatantly disrespectful comments on other people’s postings, I would tend not to hire that person.”
The difference between Carlene and many is not this talk, but it is the credibility that Carlene has from immersing herself in using these technologies herself. By having a Twitter account, blog, amongst other things, she has learned how to keep safe by stepping out and looking around first, as opposed to simply letting her kids run wild when they reach the age they are allowed to use social media based on a company’s terms of service.
From her experience, she is able to give some very relevant advice:
I think as parents we need to do three things for our kids:
Be aware of what our children are doing on the internet
Be on sites with them and teach as they go.
Be examples with our own digital identity.
Carlene understands that the world is changing, so she is taking advantage of the learning that can be done while helping her children navigate some murky waters to find a much more positive place. She is setting a high standard for her kids not only through her words, but through her actions.
Kids existing online is not enough. Many schools talk about the notion of “digital citizenship” but simply being a “citizen” is not the heights we should be aiming for offline, so why is it online?
Through my work, I have tried to focus on the idea of “Digital Leadership”; the notion of using the technologies that we have to make a positive difference in the lives of others. I try to model this simply by writing this post and trying to build more awareness of the opportunities that technology affords parents and children in learning. Some kids are doing amazing things.
Millgrove School was recently highlighted on Global TV for their work on trying to use social media for learning, but by doing good for their community and hoping to inspire others around the globe. Isn’t that the standard we should be aiming for as school communities?
To be successful, educators do not only need the support of parents, we need their engagement. The door is opening more every day to your child’s classroom. Are you ready to step through?
I asked a group of teachers, “When you need information, what do you do?”
Think about the question yourself…what do you do? Do you ask colleagues? Look at encyclopedia? Throw in your “Encyclopedia Britannica” CD Rom into your computer?
What they ALL said (all of them) was that they “google it”.
The ability to google something is important, but assessing that information is imperative. Many have advocated that students should have the ability to have a device during exams. Wouldn’t that create a better test? Finding the information is important, but what you do with the information is where the rubber really hits the road. If I can google the answer to the test, is the assessment any good?
If you think about it, how many adults go to a textbook to find information? Honestly, why do we even teach with textbooks anymore? Because they are engaging and mirror what we see in the real world or because they are the easiest way to deliver a packaged curriculum? Nowhere outside of schools is “science” that packaged.
Now, when I think about how I look for information, “googling” something is not on the top of my list. Often I ask the question on Twitter and get fewer results which are always better, because they are researched and used by teachers that I have connected with. Can anyone do that at this moment? Probably not, but I have taken the time to develop a network of educators that has actually saved me time in the long run. The time spent following and learning from other educators has been invaluable to my work and is actually a “21st Century Literacy“:
Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought.
I also have learned where to get information on specific things such as hotels. Searching google might lead me to the hotel’s website and let me know what the people who own the place think of it but Trip Advisor tells me what people who have stayed at the establishment think of the place. How many hotel websites say that their establishment is just “ok”. Sites like Trip Advisor keep many organizations “honest” and actually forces them to produce a better product. Having a “name” as a hotel is no longer enough; you have to back it with quality. If you aren’t using sites like this already, what information are you losing out on?
I have thought a lot about this topic when I saw the following quote:
“When we teach a child to deal with a changing world, she will never become obsolete.” Seth Godin
The technology will always change, but the skill to find information, make sense of it, and then do something meaningful with what we have learned, is essential.
Joe Bower is a good friend of mine and someone that I really look up to in the field of education. Although we don’t always agree with each other, I know that we both respect each other’s point of views. I am an avid reader of his blog (you should be too) and was particularly interested in his latest post titled, “Who should control teachers’ professional learning?”
Although there is somewhat of a political nature that is involved in his post, two statements that Joe made really stick out to me:
- I summarize my worse learning experiences as top-down, externally mandated, out-of-context, irrelevant to me and little to no purpose events that I am expected to play a passive role. I own my learning. Who owns yours?
- Who owns a teacher’s professional development? And under what circumstances would the answer to the above question ever be someone other than the teacher? To avoid cultures of compliance, teachers need autonomy.
So do I disagree with Joe on what he has said and questioned here? Yes AND no.
As a teacher, I would agree with the statement made about some of his worst learning experiences being top down. As an administrator, I also see the need of having a vision and purpose that a team works together. My job is to work with my staff to develop some school objectives, not simply dictate them to staff. I also believe that teachers should be able to further their own learning in many different areas.
Although we are often isolated in our classrooms as educators, teachers should not work in isolation. They should be a part of a team that works together to build the best environments for students, and looks at kids as part of a school, not simply part of a classroom. Many people refer to Dan Pink’s work in “Drive” regarding motivation, on the notion of autonomy, yet they often leave out the element he writes about purpose.
Sorry for using a sports analogy, but Michael Jordan was the best player in the NBA yet won no championships until Phil Jackson took over the team (6 championships with the Bulls, and 5 with the Lakers; the guy is pretty good). As the coach, he had the team work towards a common goal, while each defining their role in serving the larger purpose. Autonomy and purpose. That is how individuals work together to serve a higher purpose. Does his quote below have any relation to the work that we do in schools?
“Basketball is a sport that involves the subtle interweaving of players at full speed to the point where they are thinking and moving as one.” Phil Jackson
We talk about change a lot, and it starts with one person, yet there needs to be a team working together to make it sustainable. Often a great teacher in a weak school either becomes a weak teacher or leaves. The opposite is often true. What are we aiming for? A few great individual teachers in schools, or great schools with a culture of great teaching?
Now I am not saying that teachers do not need autonomy over their learning; they absolutely do (kids too right?). I am just saying that it is not an “either/or” proposition. We tend to watch the pendulum swing from one side to the other, often missing the ideal middle with a lot of our initiatives.
Group work serves some, where others excel working in isolation.
Lecture isn’t bad; lecture all of the time is bad. Reflection time is essential.
Skills do not develop if you do not have the knowledge to build upon.
I won’t take away your pencil, if you don’t take away my computer. Both work for the person that has chosen to use them.
I guess my point is that shifting from extremes on either end is rarely beneficial. I believe, as Sir Ken Robinson says, that education needs transformation more than reformation, but does that mean we throw out everything that we have done? If education is to be truly personalized, we need to find out what works for different people while also working together to find what our current strengths are and build upon them as well.
If we always stand on opposite sides, will we ever truly move forward?
I had the question yesterday from an IT Director (one that I have been asked several times) about the “issues” that happen when you open up social media in schools. He told me about a principal that said that they continuously deal with issues because of Facebook, Twitter, etc. (remember…the sites are not the issue but the behaviour) and the principal said that it would be easier if they shut it down. He then asked me how I would deal with it.
The first thing that popped into my head was this video of kids that aren’t any good at playing hide and seek:
This video really made me think that many believe if we close our eyes, nothing bad is happening.
In fact, if we shut down social media in schools, we are less likely to teach our kids how to use that sites safely and effectively, and students are more likely to make mistakes. Isn’t education the main way we solve problems in our society or are we adopting “ignoring stuff” as the new solution?
Recently, I did an interview on this very topic and the host said that my logic on this topic was similar to getting kids to drink with parents at home.
When the adults in the room say things like this, it first of all terrifies me, and then makes me realize they have not seen the positive impact that social media can make on their lives and the lives of others. I was so glad to see that Global Television recently wrote an article and shared a video on the work we are doing in PSD70, and more specifically, the classroom of Kelli Holden and her grade 4 students, to inform the public that there are a lot of positives that can come from the effective use of social media.
With anything, there is good and bad. Ignoring teaching our kids about this medium is not going to help them in any way to see the positives and we can’t just say, “not our problem” anymore. If we only teach the curriculum to our kids, we have failed. It is imperative that we work with our students to be people that follow their passions, be positive citizens, and make a difference in their world now, not the world we lived in as kids.
Recently, I tweeted an article entitle, “The Obsolete Tech Director“, which had some ideas on how to ensure that an IT department stays relevant in the way they serve schools. With that being said, there was a really strong message being sent regarding IT departments and how many are seeing their work by the author:
“The role of the typical school district technology director has become obsolete. Speak with your average teacher in many school districts in America, and you’ll find the technology department is better known for getting in the way than for serving the educational needs of both staff and students. Many technology departments, led by obsolete tech directors, are inadvertently inhibiting learning. The mantra of ‘lock it and block it’ no longer works in a 21st century digital learning environment.”
The author of the article is a technology director so I feel more comfortable where the message is coming from, yet my concern would be simply shooting the link off in an email to an IT department without any type of discussion. Having worked with both teachers and an IT department, it is important that we have conversations to work together and understand how we can work together to serve our schools. Daniel Pink sums it up nicely in his new book:
“Perspective-taking is at the heart of our first essential quality in moving others today.”
So to create a culture where we are supportive and serving of one another, I really believe that it starts by asking questions as opposed to simply making statements. Here are some ideas of questions that can start the conversation:
1. What is best for kids? – This is a question that should not just be asked of our IT departments but should be the question that guides all of our work. For example, the mindset about blocking many social media sites is that we keep the kids safe from doing this work, but in the long term, what seems to be best for kids is to educate them to navigate a really confusing and fast-paced world, as opposed to leaving them to do this at home. If you decide to open these sites, we have to ask what work is happening in the classrooms to ensure that students have an understanding of digital citizenship and their footprint. It is easy to say, “open the site”, but it is more important that if sites are open, that we work with kids to ensure that they are safe online. This question helps us to understand what we can do to help each other.
2. How does this improve learning? In the past, I have seen software programs that have been pushed out that have a business focus and then pushed as a great thing for schools. Companies can get very pushy with software and it makes good business sense to take a software and show how it can have multiple purposes. At any point though, if either educators or the IT department cannot articulate how any new program or software will improve student learning, why is it being pushed to all computers? IT departments should be able to ask this of educators as well. If a teacher just went to a conference and saw some cool software that they now think should be pushed to all computers, they should be able to articulate why it is essential for learing to their IT department. I believe that there is an opportunity to test some programs out in small cases, but when you think it is something that all students should have, we will need to articulate how it serves learning. If neither side can answer this question, we are wasting time and resources.
(See “Our Digital Portfolio Project” to see how it was articulated that we would be using WordPress for student portfolios and how it would give opportunities for learning. This was needed before we even went ahead with the project.)
3. If we were to do _________, what is the balance of risk vs. reward? Many IT departments look at risk assessment and they want the risk to be either low or preferably zero. But with that being said, how often do we look at the possible reward that is associated with doing something? For example, many schools block Twitter for all in a school as there seemingly is a risk of opening social media sites, but when you open up sites and you say to your community,
“we trust you”, there is a HUGE reward that can come out of this. If you also looked at the learning opportunities for opening up sites like YouTube, we have to look at not only the learning opportunities that are available with the second most used search engine, but also what we may lose. In my opinion there is a much higher reward with opening the site if you are to work with your students, but we should have to articulate what that reward could be instead of just saying, “Why isn’t YouTube open?”
4. Is this serving the few or the majority? This question is something that is essential when we make any policies on anything, but for some reason, we seem to go overboard when it comes to technology. If a kid stabs someone with a pencil, they might be writing with it by the end of the school day, yet if we have a cyberbullying issue with one student, some schools block social media altogether. It seems like quite the overreaction.
So anytime a new policy or procedure happens for an entire school, we have to ensure that we are not punishing everyone for the mistakes of a few. Innovative environments should be built on trust, not the lack of it.
(This is a great video talking about this exact idea and it is a great view for all staff.)
Empathy is something that is essential to the work that we do, and I realized when I went to central office is that there is a ton of work that our IT Departments do that I do not have the ability or skill set to do. They do amazing work. What I would suggest though is that you invite your IT team to observe in your classroom (not necessarily help) what you do on an everyday basis. If your Internet is slow, computers do not work, and students are having trouble logging into things, they want to know that but it is important that they see this, not just hear about it after the fact. On the other hand, invite IT teams to conferences on education (not only educational technology) and have conversations on how to get to the next level for student learning.
The success of the school is more likely to happen if your IT team and educators are working together, not apart. What are you doing to facilitate this?
This past week, I worked with a small group of educators on becoming a “Networked Educator“, and we had some great conversations about how social media is changing a lot of what we do in schools. Within the group, there were about four teachers from one high school, who came to learn together and asked questions about how they could move their school to the “next level” in how they are sharing and learning with not only each other, but students as well. They told me that felt that they were in some ways behind as a school, but they were making progress.
One of the ways that they felt they were making progress was by having a school Twitter account to share what is happening at with their community. This is new to them and they are learning along the way, but the teachers admittedly felt that the school needed to do more to help their students. As I checked out their Twitter account, I saw the “Follower Suggestions” and noticed two accounts that looked to be student Twitter accounts. I asked the teachers if they were their students, they said yes, and asked permission to look at their tweets (which are totally public to the world) in front of the group, and they said yes, knowing that they probably weren’t going to like what they were about to see.
They didn’t like it at all. They were actually mortified.
We looked at both students and many of the tweets were sexist, derogatory, and just outright offensive. It made the group cringe and the teachers were embarrassed because we found it by simply looking up the school Twitter account. There was no searching for students; it was just automatically linked because they followed the account.
When I asked the teachers if they knew the student personally, they said yes, and said that both of them were great kids. I actually had no doubt about that. When I was a kid and was with my closest friends, I might have said similar things. To many kids now, they think that being on Twitter is, in some ways, being with their closest friends. I remember one student in our school was blown away that I even knew what Twitter was and that we saw their account (they used a hashtag that all educators were following).
Do I ever swear? Yup.
Do I ever swear on Twitter? Nope.
We have to talk with our kids and be honest with them that we are not perfect as individuals either, but we have to understand what is meant to be public and what is private.
Do we work with kids and really talk about the implications of what this can lead to? I don’t want to think that either student’s life will be ruined by their tweets, but I know that if they continue to go on this way, I would hate to think that they end up like Alexandra Wallace, who did a very dumb thing on YouTube which then quickly went viral. The question that I have with her scenario is, “did a teacher ever work with this student to talk about the possible consequences of her actions?” I kind of doubt it.
So as we talked about next steps for their school, they had a concern that the view would be, “Let’s just shut down our school account so this won’t happen again.”
I was quickly reminded of this Dan Hasler post on social media and driving and his three main thoughts on how we do social media wrong in schools:
1. Driving lessons would be taught by adults (teachers or parents) with little or no experience of driving.
2. Driving lessons would only focus on what not to do.
3. Driving lessons would NEVER take place in an actual car.
So building on Dan’s thoughts and reflecting on this experience, I thought about a “rubric” of what schools could be doing in working with students to help them navigate these murky digital waters:
I do believe that we need to work with our students to get them to the point of “Digital Leadership” and the “Sincere Compliments” video should be a standard we guide our students toward. Nothing works 100% but we need to really be proactive as educators in our work with students, not simply worry about covering our butts. If we are really wanting to do what is best for kids, shouldn’t we be at the top (or at least working towards) the top?
Where is your school on this continuum? Would you swap 2 and 3?
“The challenge here is not to do social media better. The challenge is to do our organizations better.” Notter and Grant
I had a meeting with a very talented teacher named Jennifer Hollman the other day at a very small school named Keephills. The total population of students at the school is 47; the student population for the entire school division is almost 10,000.
I recognized her but had to ask myself if I had ever met her in person. We have talked a lot online and I have read and shared a lot of work, knew what she had taught (Science – she loves Bill Nye), and had connected with her a lot, but I could not for the life of me remember if I had met her face-to-face. Although I was quite embarrassed that I wasn’t sure about meeting her in person, what was pretty amazing was how much I knew about her teaching and what she had done with her students. This is something that wasn’t possible in my world a few years ago, and now I am learning a ton about teachers that I may have never met. Yes, they do need to be sharing their work through social media, but I am glad that I am able to connect and learn with them, and get to know more about many of our teachers who are willing to share their great work.
Would I prefer to get to know each teacher and student in our division in a deep way in a face-t0-face setting? Absolutely. Is it possible? Not really.
What I love about the work that is happening in Parkland School Division, is that I am getting to know so many teachers through the connection of social media. I watched today as two teachers who had never met in person, were elated to finally connect in a session that was delivered at our central office that they both happened to be attending. Social media isn’t the only way to build relationships, but it sure can help if used effectively.
Yet I see some organizations and leaders continuously tweet in one direction. Sharing articles from the “big thinkers” and “learning from Finland”, yet not connecting with their own staff. Are we missing a huge opportunity to connect? It sometimes seems that you tweet your stuff only, that you can quickly become “spam” to your own organization? Is it not imperative that we share and connect with the people that are at least using our school or division hashtag?
Larger school districts and their ability to “change” and be “innovative” have come into question lately. I get that the bigger you are, the tougher it is to connect with many educators, yet those relationships are just as important in a giant school/district as they would be in a smaller school? Doesn’t social media give us a new way to learn more about those people on the “front lines” than ever before? Yes, smaller schools and districts can maybe spend more time with the face-to-face conversations, but I would doubt that educators in larger districts would value the relationships with central office any less. Dean Shareski talks about larger districts and what could be taken as a “lack of trust” due to the size of the “machine:
“If you’re reading this and you’re from a large school or district and yet you’re happy with the freedom teachers have to make change and innovation, feel free to comment and help others see that it’s possible. For the most part, I’m stumped as to how the red tape can be removed. To me it comes down to trust, autonomy and leadership. There are some great leaders in larger jurisdictions that are humble enough to recognize they don’t have all the answers. That’s what often leads to trust and autonomy. However, leaders need other leaders and too often it just doesn’t trickle down.”
You cannot build trust with your community if you have never had any type of conversation with them.
Take a look at Elisa Carlson’s twitter feed. She is a central office administrator in the largest school district in British Columbia, yet often shares the work of her own teachers, and connects with them often. I have seen in person with Elisa, how her connection online has enhanced her relationships offline. She is taking advantage of this opportunity as she should. Chris Kennedy, Superintendent of West Vancouver schools constantly supports and shares the work of his school district. I remember a point in my career that I couldn’t haven’t even imagined a superintendent talking to me, let alone sharing my work openly with others.
The “big guy”, should always try act like the little one. Connect with people. Take advantage of the free tools that you can utilize to hear voice in real time, not when you plan a stakeholder session that once or twice a year. A simple acknowledgement here and there can go a LONG way in building a stronger and more trusting community.
As I think about how big schools and districts can be, we have to less “automation” and more “personalization”. Technology can either dehumanize or humanize; it depends how we use it. The “social” is really the most important part of “social media” and we need to take advantage to not only share what we are learning, but to build connections in new ways.
As I think about the constant development of technology in our society, I am reminded of this quote:
“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. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.” Charlie Chaplin
If used correctly, that “machinery” can bring us more “humanity” than ever.