Tag Archives: Blogging

5 Reasons Your Portfolio Should Be A Blog

Earlier this year, I wrote five reasons why your portfolio should be online.  As I do more work and sharing with portfolios, I think it is important to actually going one step further and talk about the benefits of why a “blog” specifically is beneficial as a portfolio.  If you are interested in doing this, I created a video years ago that simply breaks down the process.  If you know how to blog, it is just a matter of reimagining the space, not tearing down something you might have already done.

Blogging for me has been hugely beneficial for my learning, because of the power to not only think of an audience (making me think deeper about what I write), but also about connecting with the audience.  For the past few years, we have been working on this project in Parkland School Division (Our Digital Portfolio Project), and it takes time because it is meant to showcase learning over a long period of time.  If learning is non-linear and takes time to develop, so should the work that aligns with it.  Patience is necessary.

As more areas look to do portfolios at either the school, district, or state/provincial level, it would be easy to look to services that make the portfolio for you, where you just drag and drop your information.  This creates a presence, but not necessarily engagement from either the learner or an audience.  If I am spending time creating a portfolio, it is nice to think that people would actually look at it, and that is not simply becoming a “digital dump” where I put a collection of my work.

With that being said, here are five reasons either your portfolio or a student portfolio should be a blog:

1. A focus on both a “growth portfolio” and a “showcase portfolio.”

When we first started looking at the use of portfolios in our work, the question would be to either do portfolios that focused on “growth”, or ones that showcased our “best work” (more like a resume).  Since there are benefits in both options, it was tough to decide on one, so we ultimately went with the decision to go with both.  The “blog” portion of my digital space allows me to share things that I am learning (like this article I am writing) while also aggregating my best stuff into solitary “pages” (check out my page on “Fostering Effective Relationships” which shares a criteria and how I met it).  Most of the portfolios that I have seen schools use focus more on the “showcase” option which is great in some respects, but doesn’t use this powerful tool as a vehicle for continuous learning.  Blog are a versatile enough that you have so many options in the ways that you can share your ideas.

2. An opportunity to focus on “traditional” literacy.

Many people prefer portfolios to have links to examples of work which is great for the “showcase” aspect.  What I like about a blog is the opportunity to write, which is obviously a huge part in the work that we do in schools.  There is a difference between having great ideas and the ability to communicate great ideas.  In our world, we need the ability to do both.  The other aspect of this is that when many outsiders see that students are doing more work in a “digital format”, they may have questions around the idea that we do not do “the basics”.  With a blog, we are not only focusing on the “basics”, but we are actually doing them better.  The more we write, the better we become at writing.  That being said, I love a quote I heard from Dr. Yong Zhao saying that “reading and writing should be the floor, not the ceiling.”  It is crucial, but there is so much more we can do with a blogging format.

3. The ability to use a wide array of “literacies”.

Although reading and writing is important, it is essential that we give students and ourselves different opportunities to share our voice.  The reason why blogs will always be beneficial is that no matter what “medium” comes around or that we want to use, we will have the opportunity to embed that into our blog.  If I want to write, that is fine, but if I want to make a video, create a prezi, share photos, add a slideshare, do a podcast, etc., I will be able to share it through my blog.  We often evaluate students not on their understanding of a subject, but on their ability to write on a subject.  Although this is important in many cases, we should allow our students and ourselves to tap into our strengths in how we feel best communicating.  Blogs allow so many different options.

4. The ability to develop an audience.

Developing an audience is where blogging becomes very important.  When we create the “digital dumps” we put a bunch of links onto a site, we often use the technology in a 1.0 way, and don’t create a need to look at the site more than once. Every time we share a post in our blog though, it attracts people to come and look at it.  It might not be tens of thousands of people, but if it is ten, that is still meaningful.  Every time we share new content, blogging allows people to receive it through emails subscriptions or RSS feeds. If you are going to take the time to create a portfolio, I think it is important to create content to get people to come look at it.  That audience is not only important for the potential connections it can make (the photographer for our wedding uses a blog which made it easy for her to share all of her work and constantly create an audience; this goes way beyond “education), but is also beneficial (again) for the learning aspect through collaboration.  Through the comments and the ability for others to share ideas, this “audience” is important for true communication and the opportunity to tap into others that are interested in similar topics.

5. Developing a voice.

Having a voice in our world isn’t something that all people want to share through a digital space, but we do all have the opportunity to create our own space.  Whether you are interested in photography, mechanics, cooking, dancing, minecraft, fitness, skydiving, or a million different aspects of education, people are more likely to share their voice on something that they actually care about.  I have written more as an adult in the last five years than I ever did in school (K through post-secondary) because I actually have the freedom to write about what I want.  This voice helped me to not only share my thoughts, but pushed to dive deeper into the thing that I wanted to learn about.  If you are going to start using blogs as portfolios with students, it is important to give them opportunities to share things that they care about.  You will learn so much more about them while helping them developing their voice.  Yes, you can do the “school stuff” in your blog, but it is important to also give kids the freedom to share what they are interested in. If the freedom and opportunity to explore our passions  works for us, why wouldn’t it work for them?

The more schools are looking at portfolios, it is important we consider several options and make it more than just a space to share “stuff” but to develop voice.  Currently we are using Edublogs, and one of the best opportunities for using this space is that after students leave our school, they can simply “export” their blog and “import” it into their own space.  We are hoping that we are helping our students create something meaningful enough that they want to use after their time in our school.  If we don’t create portfolios that kids would care about after their time in school, why would they want to do them in school?

4 Reasons People Don’t Blog and Ideas to Help Change Their Mind

A lot of work that I do is not only showing people how to do “stuff”, but more importantly, trying to help them embrace change. One of the most powerful ways to not only change the teaching profession as a whole, but also as individuals, is through the act of blogging.  One of my favourite articles on the topic of blogging is from Dean Shareski, which he shares how he believes blogging makes better teachers.

Thousands of other blogging educators could echo similar words. In fact, I’ve yet to hear anyone who has stuck with blogging suggest it’s been anything less than essential to their growth and improvement. I’ve no “data” to prove this but I’m willing to bet my golf clubs that teachers who blog are our best teachers. If you look at the promise ofProfessional Learning Communities that our schools have invested thousands, more likely millions to achieve, blogs accomplish much of the same things. The basic idea of the PLC is to have teachers share practice/data and work in teams to make improvements. A good blog does this and more. While the data may not be school specific, great bloggers know how to share data and experience that is both relevant and universal so any reader can contribute and create discussion.

Yet fear of the unknown is a powerful thing.  I have learned how hard it is to move people from a “known average” to an “unknown amazing” because of fear.  So for some of the arguments I have heard against the idea of blogging, I wanted to provide some of my counter-arguments on the topic.

 

1. Blogging is useless. – The thing with this argument is that I have rarely (if ever) heard this from someone who has consistently blogged on their teaching and learning for any amount of time.  As I was talking with a student the other day in a school who was about to start his own blog in class, he argued with me on the merits of the activity.  I asked him, “have you ever blogged?”, to which he replied “no”.  I challenged him to give it one month, and a legitimate try and then offer me his thoughts, to which he said, “I will.”  Even in Dean’s article, he uses the same argument:

So here’s my plan. Hire a teacher, give them a blog. Get them to subscribe to at least five other teachers in the district as well as five other great teachers from around the globe. Have their principal and a few central office people to subscribe to the blog and five other teachers as well. Require them to write at least once a week on their practice. Get conversations going right from the get go. Watch teachers get better.

Try that. If it doesn’t work after a year, you get my golf clubs.

PS. The only people allowed to criticize or challenge this idea are people who have blogged for at least one year and written at least 50 posts. The rest of you can ask questions but you can’t dismiss it.

It is easy to criticize something you have never done (all of us our guilty of this, including myself), but to me, a viewpoint is not truly valid unless you have experience.

2. I have no time. – We all have the same amount of time and it is not like those who blog have 26 hour days, compared to the rest of the population.  It is not about time, but more about priority.  If people see it as important, they will make time.

So one of the things that I try to focus on is the importance of blogging for not only reflection, but open reflection.  The art and practice of reflection can help make ourselves better educators and learners.  For us to truly help students, we need to be masters of learning before we can become master teachers.  Reflection helps in that process. But “open reflection” helps others and not only pushes our profession forward in a communications aspect, but also in making each other better.  Clive Thompson wrote a quote on how blogging makes us all smarter:

Having an audience can clarify thinking. It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.

This “audience” helps us to really think about what we write and go deeper in our learning.

But that being said, it is hard to find time in your day to start the practice.  What I focus on is helping educators not focus on doing everything that they are already doing plus blogging, but looking at doing something different.  For examples, many teachers use what is called DEAR Time (Drop Everything And Read), where students take a certain amount of time to read. Many teachers model the importance of reading during this time and take part in the practice.  Could you not change the “R” to represent the word “Reflect”?  If we had “Drop Everything And Reflect” time embedded in our week, could you not find the time to model the importance of reflection for your students by sharing what you have learned?

There are things that you are already doing (writing emails to others, putting things in word documents) that can be easily thrown onto a blog instead. Again, it is not about more as much as it is about different. Find what you are already doing in your practice, and think about how you can add that into a blog.

3. I’m a private person. – Blogging does not mean giving up privacy.  There are things in my life that I keep totally private in my life and don’t share on my blog and I choose what I am comfortable with.  You do not have to share your most personal secrets just because you have started a blog. Your level of comfort with sharing will change over time, whether you share less or more.  Every person is unique in what they are comfortable with sharing.

But it always freaks me out when teachers close their doors and don’t want anyone to see what is happening in their classrooms.  This does not mean that bad things are happening in the classroom, but sometimes the perception because of this practice paints a different picture then what is actually happening.  When we are taking care of other people’s kid throughout the day, I think that we have to try and find some comfort level in what we share.  I understand that this is a tough one for so many people (and understandably so) because it is easy to be criticized and have our words morphed online, but that being said, working with a generation of students where public is the “default” mode of practice, should we not put some of ourselves online to understand the importance of developing our own digital footprint?  Many teachers think that not sharing anything online will ensure they never have a footprint, but the only thing that is a certain as that they will never have a footprint that they create.  These are some of the realities of our world that we do have to help kids navigate as educators, and we should try to find a way to put some of ourselves online.

4. No one cares what I have to say. - Out of all of the arguments listed, this one bothers me the most.  First of all, if I was to ask the same teacher who uses this argument to not blog an interview question along the lines of, “what learning can you share with the rest of our staff that will help us become better as a school?”, I highly doubt their response would be “nothing”, and if it was that, I would struggle to hire them.  Yet too many educators, sharing feels like bragging, and modesty often trumps their comfort level in posting their teaching and learning online.

I get it.

But if we are really here to help kids, does it matter if they are in our grade, our school, our class, our world, or anywhere?  Whatever we share can help someone else, maybe not everyone else, but someone.  They may not take what we share exactly the way it is written, but if they turn it into something to help their kids, is that not worth it.  Just remember, if you impact only one teacher, you often impact at least 20 kids, if not a whole lot more.

One of my favourite videos on this topic is, “Obvious to You, Amazing to Others”, which has a great message on the impact we can have on one another:

Our impact on one another as teachers should never be underestimated.

 

I am not in the camp that says, “Everyone should __________”, with any tool or platform. People have different lives and situations, and I have learned to honour that.  Blogging may not be for you.  But for some, they are right on the cusp, and giving them an alternate viewpoint to the one thing holding them back might just change their mind.  I have learned a ton not only from my own blog, but from benefitting from others that have been willing to share their teaching and learning with me, and because of that, as Dean Shareski stated, I am better off for the willingness of others to share.

5 Ideas to Help You Blog

I sent out the following tweet regarding some “simplified” steps for blog that are crucial to the process:

Although blogging comes easy, putting your thoughts out there and writing isn’t so easy for others. I often get writer’s block and have trouble sharing my thoughts but I push through as a personal challenge to myself.  I try to average one post every three to four days.  For others, it is tough to start:

The nice thing about someone asking about tips on how to get started blogging is that it gave me a topic to blog about.  In reality, Twitter has been great for pushing me to blog more because sometimes (most times) 140 characters is not enough to go deep into anything, but it can definitely be a spark for going deeper into our learning.

So based on Andrew’s tweet (thanks!), here are some suggestions that have worked for me to help me to blog.

1. Read other blogs.  Seems like a common sense idea but it took me to really start reading other blogs before I felt comfortable to share my own voice.   It helped me to some examples of what was being shared and either build upon or challenge ideas.  A lot of people use things like Feedly to help aggregate blogs, but my two favourite “apps” for reading the work of others is Zite on my iPhone or iPad, any InoReader on my computer.  I have also really enjoyed reading books on my Kindle app, not only because of the ability to carry a ton of books on one device, but more importantly, the opportunity to highlight and write notes and have them shared in one place.  Those passages that I have highlighted often give me ideas to write about and build upon.  When organizing reading became easier for me, so did the writing.

2.  Always have some place to write down your thoughts.  A lot of great writers suggest that you always have a notepad and so I tried to learn from them to do the same.  The problem is that I never have a pen or notebook, but my phone has notes on it from years ago.  Observation is also important and although I will write ideas down from professional development to write about, I often get my inspiration from situations that are outside of the realm of education. I also love running with my iPhone because my best ideas often come from a clear head, yet by the time I got home, I would lose those ideas.  Those little ideas that you write down, can often turn into something bigger, but you have to write those initial thoughts down somewhere.

3.  Write for you and for what you need.  When I first started blogging, I tried to write the university essay style.  Then I was reminded that I hated writing that in university, so why would I do it on my free time?  Sometimes I write numbered lists, sometimes I write down reflections, and sometimes I share videos and have two sentence reflections.  My biggest thing is that if you met me and I talked to you, I would sound a lot like my blog.  I write how I talk (I end a lot of sentences in prepositional phrases in real life as well).  People often suggest that you should “think about your audience”, but I really think that if we are trying to do this to learn, we have to think about what we need to write at that time.  The idea that anyone can read this post makes me think a lot more about what I share, but it also doesn’t determine my writing styles at any time.  This blog is mostly to clarify my own thinking which makes me want to write, as opposed to some external motivation.  When writing becomes an internal need, you are more likely to do it more often.

4. Start with questions instead of answers.  When I start to blog, many times I do not have an endpoint.  It is sometimes to work my way through ideas.  I love this quote:

I write to understand as much as to be understood.” – Elie Wiesel 

Going back to how Twitter facilitates blogging, I often will tweet a statement or question that I am thinking about, and read the responses.  That does a great deal for my thinking, but I don’t really learn until I make the connections for myself.  It is great to have ideas and answers for others, but it is also great to work your way through something you don’t know.  It shows a definite vulnerable side, but it is also a humbling experience.  Both good things.  If we are going to ask our students to “start with questions”, blogging is a great way to model and go through that same process.

5.  Decide how many times you are going to write in a period of time, and stick with it.  Forcing yourself to write is tough but it also helps facilitate the process.  I try for twice a week as a minimum, although I used to try once a day, which was pretty impossible.  I do know that the longer I go without writing, the harder it is to come back.  It could be once a week, once a month, or something else.  Whatever it is, try to stick with it (if you miss here and there though, I promise you will be fine).  I have found that having this “schedule” in my head, helps me to look around the world more, and I try to find inspiration for blogging.  Like anything you want to get better at, practice is important.  You want to become a better writer? Write more :)

As teachers, we often have DEAR time (Drop Everything And Read), but do we promote the same amount of time for kids to just write about what they want?   That is what I love about blogging.  I can write about sports, family, my dogs, or anything that I find relevant.  I love trying to make the connection between the “real world” and education when I write, and I think that is a great practice to promote with our students as well.  Perfection is not the goal; learning is.  Paraphrasing Dean Shareski, “if we want to become better teachers, we need to blog”.  I took that advice to heart, and ultimately, if it makes us better learners, we will definitely become better teachers.

More Than A “Blog”

Sometimes I write to just process my thoughts but have no idea where I am going…this is one of those posts…

“And not for nothing, but if teachers using blogs to connect  their kids to global others is ‘best practice’ in 2013, then what was it some 12 years ago when we were doing that in my lit and journalism classrooms? Mercy.” Will Richardson

I read those words from Will Richardson, an educator and thinker that has really pushed my own thinking, and they stuck with me last night.  To be honest, one of the biggest initiatives that I am behind in my district is a “Digital Portfolio Project” that is pushing blogging as a platform that we want to use in our district for students to share their ideas and learning throughout their entire time in our schools and beyond.  If you break it down to the core though, if it is simply a blog and blogging, in my opinion, is a technical skill that can be taught to some level, within minutes.

So is blogging the epitome of what we are trying to do?  I don’t think so, but on some level it could look like a very trivial task.

On a much bigger level, there can be so much more to a blog than writing, but the literacy component is an important and fundamental start.  As I heard Yong Zhao say once, “reading and writing should be the floor, not the ceiling”, and I am a big believer that if you can get kids to not only read, but to write, learning opportunities will open up in all areas.

That being said, my belief is that a blog will give kids opportunities to share in so many ways other than writing, while developing a strong digital footprint.  Videos, sound, images, and basically anything that you can see and hear can be put into a blog, which gives students options in the ways that they can share their voice and their passions.  The way the world used to be is that you needed permission to share your voice.  Not anymore and we need to work with kids to share theirs in differing and meaningful ways.

Once they start doing this, in my opinion, is where “entrepreneurial spirit” comes into play.  As much as people hate someone like Justin Bieber, the reality of his world is that he would probably not exist and have the opportunities he has had in his world if YouTube didn’t exist (yup…I brought Bieber into this).  Although he has gone a little nuts lately, if you break down what he has done, he shared what he loved doing through social media, and now makes a living out of his passion.  Wouldn’t you want that for your students/kids?  We need to teach kids to empower their voice, but also give them opportunities to have different ways to share it.

For example, there are so many educators that believe in the importance of teaching the “arts” (myself included), yet it has been something that people have traditionally gone away from because they don’t necessarily see opportunities for their future in the area.  The difference now is that student who has made some amazing pieces of work, that no one might have seen before, can easily post them onto their own space, and if they are great, the opportunities will come their way.  My ideal is that we don’t teach kids to work for other people, but that they can learn to leverage their own voice and create opportunities for themselves.  If you could go back to a K-12 system as a student yourself, knowing what you do now, wouldn’t you want that same guidance?

If you look past what a blog is, I see something much more than writing on the web.  I see great learning, but I also see opportunity and possibility, and yes, sharing that with the world. Does a kid need a blog to share and create opportunities?  Not really since things like Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo, etc., still create a great opportunity to share many different things, but blogging can incorporate all of these things.    We have to give students the freedom to write about their passions and not use that space as a place to simply post “school work” but look at how they can use this space after their time in school.

One of the hurdles to overcome is that if you are going to really any leverage any of these things and make this type of initiative powerful, they take time and longer than a year in any one person’s class.  It takes a shared vision at the school and district level to get to a point where a “blog” is much more than a blog.   It also takes commitment, dedication, and patience to stick with something that takes perseverance to do well.  Many educators talk about kids having short attention spans, yet we too often move on to the “next” thing before we knocked out of the park in any of our prior initiatives.

Should we in education brag that our students can write a blog?  Absolutely not. Maybe though, we need to start to look at the opportunity to share in open spaces as more of a beginning than an end.

Something Old is Something New


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Brian Moore

From several conversations, one of the biggest reasons that many people say that they have nothing “new” to share with an audience. This fear is often confirmed when you hear people say things such as, “Reading blogs is like reading the same thing over and over again.” Pretty tough to jump in when you hear comments like this and the fear of lacking originality is a big deal.

The reality is though, the more connected someone is, the less likely they are to see many new ideas. It is rare that I see any speaker and I haven’t already read their material, looked up their work, and know their message before they deliver it. As a speaker myself, if you read my blog, you probably have a good idea of what I am going to talk about. What I do know is that the majority of people that watch me speak have never read my blog. Whatever I am sharing to the majority of the audience is something that they may not have heard before, or maybe, I am presenting in my own unique way.

One of my biggest struggles with being connected is seeing something that is “amazing” one day, that dominates the sharing online, yet a week later, that same piece is just lost in the shuffle. There are a lot of articles that I bookmark and refer to often and have shared several times, sometimes including my own.

My rationale? What is old to you might be new to someone else.

For example, I just met someone the other day that talked about doing “Identity Day” and how they fell upon this idea only recently. This is something that I had shared almost four years ago but they are only seeing for the first time. The other component that I found interesting? Although I shared this work from our school where it was an “original” idea (I think…I mean it is REALLY hard to have an original idea) from my assistant principal, yet they referenced being inspired by Chris Wejr sharing the idea from the work that he has done at his school.

Now some people would be bothered by this, but I honestly could care less. Chris has always referenced that he got the idea from my former school in his posts but not everyone remembers that in reading his post. Ultimately, if your school is doing this day and it helps your kids, why wouldn’t I want it to be shared? Identity Day was one of, if not the most powerful day I have ever seen with students. I am glad that others are sharing it.

So a couple of things to think about it…

The chance of your work being “original” to everyone, in many cases, is “slim to nil”. But the chance that your work is original to someone is extremely high. There are more people connecting everyday which means there is always a new audience. I am not encouraging that you steal other people’s ideas and use them as your own, but rather crediting where you got the idea from, and sharing it with others. This is part of the “remix” culture that we live in and have to embrace as educators. Sometimes the best ideas at one school, need some tweaking for another. Each iteration of an idea opens opportunities for others.

The other thing is that writing should always start with your own reflection in mind. I use blogging as a way to work through my ideas and knowing that I am reflecting openly pushes me to really clarify. I rarely, if ever, write the exact idea that I started with. The process of writing helps me to connect my ideas and bring them to life.

To all of the people that complain that there are new original ideas out there on Twitter or in the blogosphere, just remember that once those ideas were once totally new to you while old to someone else. And those same “old ideas” probably sparked you to action then, as they might spark someone to action now.

Share away!

The Math of Educational Technology


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by James Lee

Technology can be transformative in learning.  I have moved away from the notion of technology being “just a tool” and know the power of it in doing something that we were not able to do before.  Kids can learn without technology, but the ones that use it, will have opportunities that others wont.

These are things that I know.

I also know that many educators still see technology as an add-on to the work that they already do.  When many talk about technology, they will say something like, “Well this is great, but when do I find the time to do this?”  Fair question.

We have to really think about the idea of technology as an addition to the work that we do, and start thinking about technology making the work we do so much more powerful.  I often use the example of blogging v. journals.  I can have a student write once in a journal, and then multiply that by 25 students, followed up by the teacher writing back to each student to ensure that they each have a comment and that they model writing.  Let’s do the writing tally.

Student – 1
Teacher – 25

Who is becoming more literate in this example?

I could, however, use a blog to have a student write once in their own space and then ask them to comment on five other blogs.  Perhaps though, they are really excited about comments they have received and decide to respond to each one.  The teacher can then choose five blogs that they comment on this round.  Let’s do the new tally.

Student – 6 (minimum)
Teacher – 5

Much better.

The problem that we often run into, though, is we talk about “educational technology,” and many have that in their titles.  I am not saying that anyone that has this in their title isn’t doing great work, but the name say something to others.

Education + Technology = More Work

This sends the message to many people that you have to do everything that you have always done PLUS find a way to add technology. This automatically equates to more time.

My suggestion?  If technology doesn’t make the learning better, you shouldn’t be using it.  The other aspect is that we have to rethink how we do a lot of the learning that we do now and how technology can make it better or transform the opportunity, not simply add technology into the mix.

An important distinction.

Isolation is now a choice educators make.

blogging

I was reading some blog posts from a course that used my blog to push some thinking.  The post that they discussed talks about being proactive through blogging used for reflection.  It was interesting to read some of the posts which were mostly in agreement with my stance on the importance of open reflection, but one came off as critical of the notion.  Of course, this is for a university course where blogging is part of the requirement, and the motivator is obviously more extrinsic than anything.  That being said, when I started a blog, I thought it was kind of a useless activity, but when I immersed myself in it, I found it to be the best thing that I have ever done for my own professional development.

Teachers in my own district have started blogging, and I distinctly remember a first-year teacher blogging and sharing what she learned with her parents, students and community.  I was blown away by her transparency for learning, and how she brought along her own community by sharing her learning,  We often complain about the isolation that is evident in education, but it is no longer a foregone conclusion.  Isolation is now a choice educators make.  If we believe that we are better together, blogging is an opportunity to open the doors to our classroom.

Don’t just take my word for it though.  Below are some articles that have resonated with me on the power of blogging for our own development, and the development of our profession.

1. 5 Reasons Educators Should Have Blogs – A very clear and concise argument on the power of blogging in our professional practice.  The focus on developing understanding, collaboration, digital footprint and modelling stick out in this post.

Will Richardson argues that students aren’t really digital natives. In reality, while they may have little fear in using digital technology, they don’t really know how to appropriately utilize those tools. We can model blogging for our students so they can write for a purpose and for an audience.

2.  How To Make Better TeachersDean Shareski writes a compelling argument on how blogging improves teaching, and this has been a post I have redistributed often.  Dean focuses mostly on the transparency that blogging creates, and that this is part of the important work that we are NOT doing in our schools.

There’s a natural transparency that emerges. The teachers who blog as professionals in this reflective manner in my district invite anyone to look into their classrooms and you can get a picture of what happens on a daily basis. This goes a long way in addressing accountability concerns.

Teachers have for years had to fill in a plethora of reports and forms which in essence are accountability papers. For the most part they are of no use to teachers and in most cases aren’t very valuable for administration either. Busy work.

If we really took the time to think about what we do in our learning, which blogging often forces us to do, how could educators not get better?

3.  How Successful Networks Nurture Good Ideas – This blog is not focused on educators, but in my opinion, and more importantly, learning.  The author argues that even though much of what is out there is “crap,” blogging still brings a very powerful element to our learning.

But focusing on the individual writers and thinkers misses the point. The fact that so many of us are writing — sharing our ideas, good and bad, for the world to see — has changed the way we think. Just as we now live in public, so do we think in public. And that is accelerating the creation of new ideas and the advancement of global knowledge.

Kind of powerful stuff, isn’t it?

With all of the great ideas shared in the post, a few sentences stood out to me and I felt a figurative “slap in the face” when I read them:

Having an audience can clarify thinking. It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.

Personally, blogging has made me really think about what I do in my role as an administrator, and I would say that the process has really clarified a lot of my thinking.  The other aspect of writing for an audience and getting their feedback has made a huge difference on my learning as being challenged has made me really think about my work.  In fact, I am writing this because someone read my blog post, challenged it, and I came back to revisit my thinking.  That wouldn’t have happened if I wrote it in a journal that I tuck away at home.

Questions…

Do you have a blog?  If you do, how has it improved your learning and made you a better teacher?

If you don’t, what is holding you back?

“Time” will always be an answer that jumps into the mix, but if it has the impact on learning that so many say, wouldn’t priority trump that argument?

Leading Innovative Change Series: Embrace an Open Culture

I wanted to try my hand at writing a series of blog posts on “Leading Innovative Change.” As I am looking at writing a book on the same topic, I thought I would put some ideas out there and hopefully learn from others on these topics. I also want to give these ideas away for free. These posts are for anyone in education, but are mostly focused on school administrators. In all of these, the idea that administrators openly model their learning will only accelerate a culture of innovation and risk-taking.  This is the final post in this series, but you can read the first four posts in the series:

1. Learning First, Technology Second
2. A New Staff Experience
3. Excellence Lies Within
4. Narrow Your Focus


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Alec Couros

Within the previous posts in this series, Embracing an open culture is vital to the success of them all.  Think of this process–one we often do in different areas of school: we have a coordinator or leader in some specific area that works one-on-one with individual teachers and they see things that others don’t.  

If your job is to create a culture that embraces any type of learning, how much impact does it have when we only see one person at a time and share it with no one?  Sitting down and taking the time to write a blog, tweet some ideas, or use any other online community is not only beneficial in the reflection process, but also brings ideas to a larger community.

Sharing is also vital in creating connections.  If you see something amazing with one teacher, and see potential for growth in another teacher, instead of being the sole bearer of knowledge and skill, why not look at ways of connecting the two?

Creating a “Spike”

If you wanted to work in the film industry, where would you most likely go?  If you wanted to be a country singer, what places are the most likely to give you opportunity?  If your answers were “Hollywood” and “Nashville,” respectively, you just identified what Richard Florida calls “spikes.”

A “spike” is a place where there is a large amount of people with one main area of interest that come together to create some of the best work in their field.  It is not the only place, but these specific areas are usually known for excellence.  So if I asked you where the “spike” is for educators, where would that be?  Well, because most places on Earth have a school, if we think of a “spike” being in a physical place, it would be hard to identify where that one place would be.  This is where social media comes in.  Passionate educators are using things like Twitter and hashtags, such as #edchat to come together, ask questions, share ideas and create innovative ideas.

“It isn’t how much you know that matters. What matters is how much access you have to what other people know. It isn’t just how intelligent your team members are; it is how much of that intelligence you can draw out and put to use.” Wiseman, McKeown from Multipliers

Many schools are creating “mini-spikes” of innovation where geography is not a factor, and sharing and learning can happen 24/7.  Parkland School Division, a school district that is spread over a large geographic area spanning over 100 miles, uses the hashtag #psd70 to connect educators, students, parents, community, as well as to invite in educators from around the world to share their learning.  This is a huge opportunity for a school district that has a school with less than 50 students, as well as places that are far from a major city.

Surrey School District in British Columbia has also done something similar by using the hashtag #sd36learn.  As one of the largest districts in the province, it is dispelling the myth that large usually equals a lack of innovation.  By creating a place, as Stephen Johnson says, where “hunches” can come together, they are more likely to bring new and better ideas to the forefront.

“When the world is flat, you can innovate without having to emigrate.” Thomas Friedman

A Flat Organization

When these spikes are created, leaders have to be comfortable that great ideas can come from anyone, anywhere and at any time.  The focus for leadership should not be on their ideas, but the best ideas.  This process also often creates strong influencers, that may not have any formal leadership position, yet have tremendous pull with others through their sharing of ideas.  Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant identify these people and their impact in the business world:

“Social media has created influencers among people traditionally outside an organization’s database of members or donors or customers. These are people whose activities and opinions can have tangible, measurable financial effects (good or bad); people on the periphery but who have social capital (i.e., trust) among their own networks.” Notter and Grant

In education, the focus has to move from distinct roles, to the idea that everyone can be both a teacher and a learner.  Organizations, as a whole, should model what they expect from students on a micro level; that they are willing to learn and grow.  With a focus on sharing on a mass scale, ideas often come to the forefront, and not necessarily people (although people that either have or share the best ideas will stick out).  As we tell our students the day they walk into kindergarten, “You need to share,”  this should also be the focus for organizations that are looking to move forward and create innovation.

Sharing should then not be the exception, but the default.

The Outsider View

Many large organizations have the belief that leadership should always be developed within–which it should be to an extent–but there has to be a balance of bringing in an outside view.  When you have people that have been trained within a system, by the system, you are more likely to repeat the same patterns that have always existed.  As Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant share, “Innovation has an inherent distaste for best practices because it is about new solutions, not copying existing solutions.”  

By opening what you do to outsiders, what people within an organization know as “best practic,” often can show opportunities for growth in the way we do our work. This is often why so many leaders are afraid of this very thing.  In that case, the ego of leadership seems to be more important than doing what is best for kids.  If your practices are amazing, sharing them with other educators gives them the opportunity to help more kids. If practices are weak, it often brings in new ideas to help your kids.  There is no loss in this situation for students, yet ego sometimes (often) gets in the way.

Opportunities like the “School Admin Virtual Mentor Program” which brings mentorship to current and future administrators, gives the much needed outsider view to what we do in our organization (for free).  If we want thinking outside of the box, we have to look outside of it by tapping into what social media can deliver.  We often bring out the innovators within our organization, while also bringing innovators into our work.  To create innovative practice within schools, we must go past an inward-only focus.

Many great ideas are out there.  We just need to find them, and more importantly, get  people connected to them.

“We can think more creatively if we open our minds to the many connected environments that make creativity possible.” Stephen Johnson

Forward

These solutions may be fairly new to education, but other organizations have tapped into this opportunity.  The entertainment industry, for example, which was staunchly against the notion of open and free sharing, sees the opportunity of tapping into passionate people to create something better.  

Instead of paying a ton of money to one person to create a new theme for Hockey Night in Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corportation (CBC) decided they would “crowdsource” the opportunity, and give people that are passionate about music the ability to participate in creating something powerful.  The focus is on creating the “best,” and with the myriad of options that this process (crowdsourcing) would create, you are more likely to find that.

Social media, and the open culture it has created, has made our culture and mindset “participatory.”

“One of the reasons social media has grown so fast is that it taps into what we, as human beings, naturally love and need and want to do—create, share, connect, relate.” Notter and Grant

If our culture is shifting to this, wouldn’t this become the expected norm that many new educators (and current students) would expect to live within our schools?  While we live in a world where people are used to creating, sharing and connecting, schools can no longer ignore this cultural shift. They must embrace the idea that we are lucky to live in a time of such technological advance and openness that will make the opportunity to be innovative that much easier.

The Prophets In Your Land


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Brisbane City Council

Interviewing teacher candidates for new positions in a school, I will always ask the question, “What areas do you believe that you can share with the staff to help them improve in their own practice?”

This question is imperative in the hiring process because I am looking for “school teachers” versus “classroom teachers.” School teachers do all of the things that a classroom teacher does, but they believe that within the school, all of the kids are their kids. They enjoy doing things like supervision because this is an opportunity to connect with students that they do not usually teach. They also look at what they can share with other staff (both giving and receiving) because in a school, it is not about egos and competition, but about collaboration. They believe that what they share with other staff members will help them become better teachers, ultimately helping students. Sharing does not make someone narcissistic. If it does, we should stop telling our kindergarten kids to do the same.

Losing belief

Talking to teachers that are now in school and talking to them about sharing through social media, a response that I often hear is, “I don’t really have anything of value to share.” My first thought is, “Why did someone hire you?” In reality, if someone believes that they have nothing of value to share, is school a place for them to be? Now take that same teacher, throw them in a job interview (where they need that job), and ask them if they have anything of value to share with staff. Do you think that they are really going to say the same thing?

So why the difference in the answer? A few reasons could be that they really don’t have anything to share (doubt it), they underestimate their own value (watch this Derek Sivers video to help get them over that notion), but more importantly, they are in a culture that frowns (either directly or indirectly) on sharing. The view is that the people that “share” are all about themselves (which, if you think about it, goes against the whole notion of sharing), or that anything of value would only come from an outside context.

Bloggers anonymous

Think about it … there are tons of teachers out there sharing awesome things on their blogs, great ideas to improve teaching, learning, and leading, yet how often does their OWN staff use their work as a basis for anything? Have we ever started with, “One of our staff wrote this fantastic post on __________, let’s all take a look at it and have a discussion.” A teacher’s blog often becomes their “dirty little secret” and something that is for the outside world only, not for their own staff.

Sorry to put it bluntly, but that is just stupid.

“My name is George, and I am a blogger. Please don’t tell my boss!”

Promoting within

In my role as division principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning in a school district of 10,000 students, I open my Google Reader every morning and look first at what our teachers are doing and share their work with the world. I know that it is only a small gesture, and I probably miss a lot of ways that I can share, but I want others to see their expertise. I am proud of what our district does, as other leaders should be as well, which I am sure they are, but how do they share that. How do they go about moving away that the “sharers” are the narcissistic ones, but in most instances, the ones that just want to help others do what is best for kids. We have always been good at looking outside for experts; time to start doing a better job looking and promoting within.

Change the focus

So the next time I talk to a teacher and ask them, “What do you have to share,” I am going to perhaps ask, “What does your school do to promote the sharing of your expertise?”

The onus for sharing should not only be on the individual, but the culture of the school as well.

6 Reasons Why You Should Do a “Blog Study”


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by carlos.a.martinez

Talking with good friends Tom and Leah Whitford, we were discussing moving staff forward and some of the conversations that drive our thinking.  As I started to think about how many leaders do “book studies”, and have been moving those conversation back and forth from and online and offline setting, I thought about the notion of having a “blog study”.  I know that administrators like Kathy A. Melton have done this before, but I just wanted to write what this could look like.

For example, look at an educator blog (Bill FerriterWill Richardson or Dean Shareski could be good options) and have teachers subscribe through email to their posts.  As they write, perhaps have a discussion time once a week or month, on things that were stated in the blog, and whether they agree or disagree, and how those ideas apply to your school.  You can host a chat online through something like twitter, or keep them offline if that is what works best for your community.  Ensure that if you do pick a blog, make sure that it is someone that updates consistently and perhaps connect with the blog author and let them know that you are doing a “blog study” on their work.  This is something that you do not have to do with necessarily an educator blog (Seth Godin would be an interesting one), but I think that it would be more applicable to use a blog on education for schools.

Here are some of the reasons this would be beneficial:

  1. Powerful conversations can start from short time commitments.  Books can be very daunting in any profession where time is always at a minimum.  Reading an entire chapter from a book can take a large amount of time yet a post can take you 30 seconds and still spark a powerful idea. It can be a video that is shared, a quote, a podcast, or whatever medium that the author decides to use.  For some, video is a much more powerful medium to receive a message and resonate in an entirely different way than a written post.  The blog format can give educators an opportunity to have some powerful learning in small amounts of time.
  2. Anywhere, anytime, any place learning.  The nice thing about a blog is that I can access it from any device that I have connected to the Internet.  I can literally be sitting at the doctor’s office and read while I am waiting, or at halftime of a basketball game.  As long as I have my device with me, I can connect to that blog.  Although many people enjoy reading paper books, if you are not carrying that book, you don’t have access.  The Kindle app is a great opportunity to have that anywhere, any time, any place learning, but the blog guarantees that access.
  3. You are truly learning as you go with your staff.  There is a reason that administrators choose the books that they do.  They convey a message that the administrator is in total agreement with and they want to share that message with their staff in some manner.  With a blog, you might not necessarily agree with what the author has said on any day, but the discussion that can ensue is where the real learning can occur.  Yes, you will have an idea of how the author writes, but you have no idea what they are going to say.  The learning that can happen there can be truly authentic and real with your staff which could lead to some interesting conversations.
  4. Interactions with the actual author.  One of the biggest benefits of doing a “blog study” over a traditional book study is that you are more likely to be able to interact with the actual author of the blog.  Through the process of commenting, you can ask for clarifications on ideas, push back, challenge, or even thank the author for the idea.  After you read a chapter you disagree with, there is no opportunity for clarification from that author.  What is written is what you are left with.  More authors see the value in connecting through social media with people that read their books, but you are more likely to get a response from someone who is already sharing openly in that space.
  5. Learning can lead to more learning.  Bloggers rarely only share their own ideas, but often the ideas of others.  I have connected with many great blogs, twitter accounts, and articles by reading specific blogger material.  Learning (again) doesn’t stop at what is written on the page, and you can’t click a physical page in a book.  Many authors reference in books some other books that they have read, yet you have to put down the book, grab your computer, do a search, etc.  With a blog, you click and go.  Who knows that this will lead your staff towards.
  6. Teachers can see the power of blogging to start conversations.  The potential of a teacher of every teacher in a study writing a book is slim to nil.  The opportunity of them deciding that they write a blog is considerably higher.  Seeing the power of sharing ideas in different mediums might inspire them to do the same.  It may also encourage them to explore using this same idea with their students.  I was not comfortable starting my own blog until I was able to see what other blogs looked like and how they shared.  This might be the inspiration that others need to start sharing some of their own ideas and inspiration.

There are ways that you can do this online as well as offline.  Creating your own hashtag or blog space to ask questions can help archive your work, and using sites like Storify can help you share your ideas in a single space in an organized manner.  It can also open the study to others outside of your school.

As I go through these points myself, I think there would be a lot of benefits of trying something like this.  Any other thoughts?  Suggestions for blogs to follow that would be good for this kind of learning?  I think that there could be some real power in this type of learning.

Thanks to Kathy A. Melton for the face-to-face conversation that helped me flesh out these ideas.