Tag Archives: Educational Leadership

8 Things To Look For in Today’s Classroom (Visual)

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post on “8 Things To Look For in Today’s Classroom”, and it has been something that has helped my own learning, and hopefully others as well.

Sylvia Duckworth, who has been recently putting together a great series of visuals on different articles, made one specifically on the “8 Things” post.  Check it out below.

3 Ideas on Innovation in Education from Vine

I have really started looking at Vine as a social media platform, and have been really interested in how it is being used.  Over the Christmas holidays, I could easily get lost in going through the posts of others and seeing what they have shared, and an hour could disappear in seemingly seconds.

If you don’t know what Vine is, here is the summary from Wikipedia:

Vine is a short-form video sharing service. Founded in June 2012, it was acquired by microblogging website Twitter in October 2012, just before its official launch. The service allows users to record and edit five- to six-second-long looping video clips, and to “revine”, or share others’ posts with followers. Some Vines are revined automatically based on what is popular. The videos can then be published through Vine’s social network and shared on other services such as Facebook and Twitter. Vine’s app can also be used to browse through videos posted by other users, along with groups of videos by theme, and trending, or popular, videos.

When I first heard of the platform, I didn’t think it would ever catch on.  I mean really, what could you do with only 6 seconds in a video?  But quickly, it has become one of the largest platforms for sharing videos, and there are many people (many of them in their teens), who have acquired millions of followers from their highly entertaining videos that they have shared.  Like any social media platform, not all content shared is something that I would be interested in, or even appropriate, but there is a lot of really interesting things being shared through the service.

This one made me really laugh, combining a “viral video” from the past to today’s popular music:

As I look deeper into the idea of “innovation”, especially as it relates to schools, there are some lessons I have noticed from the use of Vine.

1. Innovation can still happen with constraints.  As mentioned earlier, there was not much I thought that could be done with a 6 second video, but people are making some pretty amazing videos. Check out the following time lapse of the Northern Lights:

Or this one of a simple leaf:

Instead of focusing on what people “don’t” have in the use of Vine, they focus on what they do have, and many, try to create something amazing within the system.  There are many people that would love to totally start school from scratch, and sometimes I agree, but the reality of our world is that this is not likely to happen, and we are going to look at what he have to not always think “outside of the box”, but figure out how to be innovative inside of it.

2.  Multiple ideas can often lead to multiple great ones.  Some of the most followed “viners” post something new daily, and although many of the things they share are great, some of them are duds.  Instead of quitting, they continue to share different videos and make something new consistently.  In education, we might try something new and it doesn’t work the way we expected, but we need to continue on pushing new ideas and focusing on what works best for kids.  Even in my own blog, some of my posts are better than others, but I focus on continuing to write instead of focusing on something that I feel did not turn out the way I wanted it to.  Many teachers self-identify as “perfectionists” but here is the reality; if you are waiting for “perfect”, you will be waiting forever.  Being “perfect” and “learning” do not go hand-in-hand, so we have to keep trying and taking the good with the bad in our pursuit of growth.

3.  You are more likely to grow if you support others, as opposed to only focusing on yourself.  One of the things that I noticed about some of the most followed “Viners” is that they don’t just share their content, but the content of others.  It is their way of pushing the community and helping everyone to get better, not just trying to be the best.  In education, the people that are often the most successful are usually the ones that connect and support others.  People are drawn to those that give themselves to others, and that often comes back to the individual when those come back to support them.  In leadership and education, the people that are the most successful, are the ones that support and make those that surround them better.  A teacher’s and leader’s  legacy is not in what they do, but what is made by those they support.

As I wrote this post, I realized that these ideas for innovation that I connected from watching Vine, are universal in so many other areas.  How will you apply them in your work?

A Roadblock as an Opportunity #DigitalPortfolios

Digital Portfolios are becoming a “big thing” in education (as they should be), and people are starting to think about how this can change assessment practices.  Although it is a great idea, there are still a lot of districts and schools struggling with implementation at the student level.

So what is the biggest road block towards this initiative being successful?  In my own experience it is our own lack of experience that is holding our students back.  If we have never done this practice ourselves, “digital portfolios” become nothing more than digitized paper portfolios.  It quickly becomes a “digital dump” of our work where we simply add links to what we have done, with not much else added to the process.  A “digital” portfolio should be something more than a replication of what we could simply do offline.

If we are too really move forward with this type of initiative, it is imperative that time and support are given (this is true with everything) to make it happen.  This is not just showing us the possibilities of what a “digital portfolio” could  do (which many tech companies are trying to do right now), but to actually have the time to play and see the opportunities that a different type of platform gives us for areas like assessment, open reflection, developing a digital footprint, literacy, inquiry based learning, and a whole host of other things.  The real power is not in what we can currently do with digital portfolios, but what we can do in the future.  As digital tools tend to develop, so do the opportunities, as well as our thinking.  Digital portfolios are less of an endpoint and more of a beginning of what we can create for learning, but time is needed for support and play.

Many teachers have seen with the development of their own digital portfolios is the power of having their own “thinking” space, while also developing their own digital footprint.  What’s powerful about this process for teachers is that this is their own space.  This is crucial in the planning for student portfolios. So when we are moving forward with this process in our schools, we have to ask think about is this something students are making in school, for school purposes, or is this something that is being created to make an impact both during and after school.  If it is truly “their portfolio”, then shouldn’t students be able to have ownership over the majority of the content and who has the ability to see it?  I know that if someone were to decide for me what I put in my portfolio and who was allowed to see it, I probably wouldn’t put much effort into it  Wouldn’t students be any different?

One of the most important aspects of a digital portfolio is that it is (and should be) a very personal process.  If I am knowingly having other people look at what I am sharing, I should be able to have an enormous say in what I share and why I share it.  But I am not sure I would have come to this conclusion unless I created my own space.  The process has led me to be empathetic of what the learner would want from this process, and I would much rather do a portfolio than have a portfolio done to me.  And that is why I see the roadblock of many educators (although there are seeming more and more doing this themselves which is awesome!) not having done this process as more of an opportunity than a problem.  Doing something from the viewpoint of the learner will dramatically change this process of digital portfolios in schools, and if we put ourselves in the place of our students, I wonder how much different this opportunity will look for our students if we are to jump in first.

Just my thoughts…

Just in case you are looking to go deeper into the topic, here are some articles and resources that I have written on the topic of digital portfolios:

5 Reasons Your Portfolio Should Be Online

5 Reasons Your Portfolio Should Be A Blog

Our Digital Portfolio Project

Blog As Portfolio (Video)

Blog as Portfolio (Workshop)

School vs. Learning

I have been thinking a lot about the “traditional” model of school and how people actually learn. If done the wrong way, school can actually go against what is needed for learning.  There are a lot of schools and classrooms that are doing amazing jobs at really promoting there students become learners as opposed to learning stuff.  

Here are some of the ways where school and learning can become divergent.

School promotes starting by looking for answers.  Learning promotes starting with questions.

School is about consuming.  Learning is about creating.

School is about finding information on something prescribed for you.  Learning is about exploring your passions and interests.

Schools teaches compliance.  Learning is about challenging perceived norms.

School is scheduled at certain times.  Learning can happen any time, all of the time.

School often isolates.  Learning is often social.

School is standardized.  Learning is personal.

School teaches us to obtain information from certain people.  Learning promotes that everyone is a teacher, and everyone is a learner.

School is about giving you information.  Learning is about making your own connections.

School is sequential.  Learning is random and non-linear.

School promotes surface-level thinking. Learning is about deep exploration.

I know that the statements above are not 100% true on either side of the spectrum, but what if you combined the statements to make something new?  Would schools become a place that is truly developing learners that are flexible and agile in a world that is constantly changing?  For example, take the statement:

School promotes starting by looking for answers.  Learning promotes starting with questions.

… and change it to this:

School promotes developing your own questions and finding answers.

What would school look like if we really focused on developing our own statements that focus on the power of developing learners?  I would love your thoughts on this.

Update:

Here is an image that Sylvia Duckworth created to correspond with the post.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 4.44.10 PM

Change Is Happening

I was recently sitting with the awesome Nancy Kawaja Kalil (make sure you follow her on Twitter because she is awesome) at a conference in Ontario, and she shared the following picture with me:

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 5.52.56 PM

What I loved about this picture, is that it is the opposite of the narrative we have heard from many schools that believe shutting down is crucial to learning, where this picture says the opposite.  My assumption is that this school doesn’t use technology all of the time, nor does it have zero problems with technology use in school.  I am sure that, like in any school, things are not perfect.  But this picture shows to me a shift in mindset of an organization more than anything, which ultimately leads to growth and the creation of new ideas.

I sat and listened to Lisa Jones this year, talk about taking three years off for a maternity leave, and come back to school and see significant changes.  Wanting to push her own growth as not only a teacher, and a learner, she really shifted her focus on student learning, as opposed to her teaching.  It was a great story because it reminded me that every teacher wants to be better for kids, but there is always a lot on their plate.  Support is necessary to growth.

But the one thing that really stuck out to me from what she shared was her perspective on how much has changed in three years from someone who was out of the system, who has now returned.  If you really think about even the last three years in education, have you not seen a major shift with many organizations?  It is really hard to be around the same people or in the same building every day, and not realize how much education has grown, but if we were to take a step back, would we realize that a major shift is happening?

Although I think it is imperative that we continue to push, I also think it is important that we see that many educators and schools are not only wanting a better way for their students, but are creating it.  This is especially important to remember and recognize at a time when many teachers are either going into break or finishing school (depending on where you live) and they, like the students, are exhausted.

All great learning organizations see the need for growth, and realize that, like learning, it is a messy and non-linear process.  But they also recognize and acknowledge steps made by individuals and the group as a whole, that they have made towards something better.  This builds confidence and competence along the way.

No organization in our world is exempt from dealing with the constant of change, but if we all take a step back, there are many areas where we are getting better.  I think it is important to stop and acknowledge that along the way.

3 Ways Social Media Can Improve School Culture

I was having a great conversation the other day with a good friend, and she was sharing how many boards aren’t really worried about “social media” because they are needing to actually focus on improving their culture first.  I thought a lot about what she said, and to be honest, if you cannot have conversations with people in your own organization, Twitter is going to be the last thing in your mind.  That being said, I have seen a lot of school organizations use social media to actually improve their culture significantly.  It is not the only way, but if used in powerful ways, it definitely can have an overall impact on your school or district.

Here are three ways that I have seen an impact (although I encourage you to look at some of the responses on this tweet when I asked the question).

1.  Increased Visibility

In large boards (especially), it is tough for directors, superintendents, principals, etc., to actually physically be in all places at all times.  Visibility is an important part of leadership, and I love when I see leaders in schools or in classrooms, but social media actually allows you to not only see leaders in a different light, but also see their thought process.  Through tweets, blog posts, and more(Superintendent Chris Smeaton is a great example of this, although I could have chosen from a large lists of administrators), you get to see visible thinking of leaders, but also other aspects of their lives that make them more “human”.  If you are a superintendent, and you walked into one of your schools, and many of your teachers had no idea who you are, isn’t that kind of a problem?  Social media, used effectively, can help increase this visibility.

2.  Increased Accessibility

Now being more connected can have both a positive and negative impact on a person.  If you are connected to your device 24/7, that might be great for your school, but bad for your personal life (and health).  We have to be able to shut off.  That being said, when teachers can tap into one another and learn from each other,it not only improves learning, but it also builds relationships.  I have watched in my own school division, the difference in the past few years with the increased use of social media, a greater connection between staff from different schools when seeing each other in person, because the accessibility to one another online doesn’t replace face-to-face interactions, but can enhance them.  Teachers that connected online, have ended up meeting face-to-face to plan EdCamps, Innovation Week, and talk about a whole host of other things to help improve learning.  The accessibility to not only ideas, but one another, improves learning and relationships.  They are not mutually exclusive.

3. A Flattened Organization

I really believe in the idea in schools that everyone’s a teacher and everyone’s a learner, and that these roles are interchangeable throughout any and all days.  Watching great schools, I have seen superintendents learn from teachers, teachers learn from parents, principals learn from students, and any other combination you can think of within a school community.  As Chris Anderson would call this “crowd-accelerated innovation”, and it is so important to embrace this notion of learning from anyone and everyone, if we are going to improve the culture of our school’s.  When you work for an organization and you know that no matter what role you play, that your voice is valued, don’t you think that would have a significant impact on culture?

Concluding Thoughts

If you are looking at improve school culture, open learning is essential to our environments.  I don’t want to only know what the decisions are that are made, but about the people who are making them, and their thoughts behind these decisions.  That openness is crucial.  Only in an organization where voices are not only heard, but also valued, will you ever see significant improvements in school culture, and with the tools that we are provided in our world today, that pace of culture change can be significantly faster than it was without this same technology.

“Their Needs” vs. “Our Wants”

Moderating a student panel, I asked the audience to tweet some questions for the students, and one of them had some interesting responses. The audience asked, “Do you see pencil and paper being in schools 10 or 20 years from now?” When I asked the question, the adults in the room and had no idea where the students were going to go with the question.

One of the responses from the students was basically, “how could you predict what devices, pencils or otherwise, that will be in schools 10 years from now when it is hard to tell what will be using in a couple of years?” I thought this was a great perspective and a great counter argument to the boards that spend significant amounts of time discussing what school will look like in 2030. Tools and access to information changes a lot because it is so interconnected to learning. It reminded me that we often spend so much time planning for a future that we cannot predict, that we often forget the kids in our school presently. I don’t think too many grade ten students are worried about school in 2030; they are thinking about what school looks like now.

Another response to the question from a student was basically that as long as kids need them and have different learning styles, they should be in the classroom. I thought it was such a great point and it was a student focused answer, which ours should be as well. On one hand, you have a lot of people saying that we should not have technology in school for a myriad of reasons, but on the other hand, there is a lot of people that would rather see every kid have a device. The student reminded me that both approaches are wrong. Our approach should be focused on what (individual) students need, not what we want them to have.

There is so much we can learn about the direction of our schools now if we are not only willing to listen to our students, but act on what they tell us.

3 Assumptions We Shouldn’t Make About Educators

I haven’t had my own classroom of students for a few years, but I always try to remember what it was like to be a teacher, and always try to start from that viewpoint.  It bothers me when I see posts or videos talking about how so many teachers are not willing to do something better for their kids, when every single person that has “embraced change” was at some point doing things previously that they would question now.

I talk a lot about the importance of using technology to enhance learning and relationships, but I didn’t always believe it was important.  It took a lot of suggestions and support from others before I started doing things differently in my practice; it did not happen overnight.  That being said, just like so many other educators, I still have a lot of room to grow in so many areas.  There are so many aspects of education that are important to the development of our kids, and teachers are juggling so many things that they have to do, many of which have little to do with teaching in a classroom, but are admin tasks.  Instead of wondering “why aren’t people moving faster?”, we have to take a step back and get rid of some of the assumptions that people make about educators.  Below are a few that stick out in my mind.

1. Educators are not willing to embrace change.

I think for many educational leaders, this is an easy way out.  It puts the blame others instead of looking at something internal.  Simply telling someone that they should change their practice, and it reminds me of how sometimes people are just bad at selling change in the first place.  I have seen a lot of people talk about the importance of change, but by the end of listening to them, you feel terrible about what you haven’t done as opposed to inspired to do something better.

\Making people feel like crap is not the key to getting them to do something different and will not lead to sustainable change.  What is important is that people experience something different themselves, but also that they are valued for what they do.  If an educator knows that the change is something that will be better for kids, they are more likely to start doing something different.

There are so many things that an educator has to do, so I think it is actually good that many of them are critical about what they put their efforts into.  Have you ever had an initiative in your school that has come and gone and shown no impact on students?  Not all change is good, but I believe if an educator can see the value in it for their students, they are more likely to embrace it.

2. Educators don’t want what is best for kids.

Educators know that they are going into a very giving profession, where the pay is traditionally not that great.  The majority of them want to make a difference.  It is cool when some students get opportunities like Innovation Week, but sometimes kids show up with no food in their stomachs, and making it through their day is a huge accomplishment.  Doing the “innovative ideas” might not be possible for that kid.  There are so many variables to our day as educators, and teachers are rarely ever just teachers.  They take care of kids in so many different ways because of they didn’t, there is no way some kids would be successful in any aspect of their lives.  If every classroom and group of students looked exactly the same, teaching would be easy, although in my opinion, not very rewarding.  The diversity is what makes education so great.  That being said, most educators are doing what they believe is best for their kids.  No one wakes up in the morning wanting to be terrible at their job.  We need to always remember that.

3. That all educators do is teach.

It disheartened me to see an educator friend, who is brilliant and I would want teaching my own children, talk about how they had to get another job to make ends meet.  I have heard this from several people.  To think that a person who would have to work two jobs (one of them serving children all day) would not only have the time or the energy to learn new things, is pretty presumptuous.  Just being a teacher, takes a lot out of you.  We can’t assume that all of our efforts go simply into teaching.  There are so many other aspects of our lives.

It is not only the cases where teachers are juggling another job, but also other aspects of their life.  Many people have so many things going on in their lives, yet we assume that so many should put all of their time and energy into becoming the greatest teacher of all time.  Some people are lucky if they can make it through the day because of whatever is going on in their lives.  This is not only in education, but in all professions.  We want to be great friends, partners, parents, siblings, or whatever, and sometimes teaching needs to take a little bit of a backseat to the other things in life.  Does this mean a teacher doesn’t care about what they do? Not at all.  But I am firm believer that I would rather have a teacher that is focused on being a whole person, than simply focusing on being a teacher.  Personally, some days it is/was hard for me to get up and do my job because of other things going on in my life.  We always have to remember that there is more to a teacher than being a teacher.

Do some teachers not fall in line with what I have shared? Absolutely.  There are bad people in every profession.  I guess my point is that when we make generalized assumptions about others in our profession we are already starting in a deficit.  Trusting someone is doing the best they can before they prove it to you, is an important part of leadership. We have to give trust before we earn trust in many cases.  Assuming the worst of others will not get us to grow as a profession.

Relationships plus technology equals…?

Here comes a ramble with no direction…just writing as a way to figure things out.  I would love your thoughts.

I saw a conversation online that I have either heard or been a part of several times.  The question that started the conversation was (and it is a relevant one), “Can you be a great teacher in our world today and not use technology?”

The reality of this question is that there is no simple “yes” or “no”.  There are teachers that are not great with technology that are amazing teachers, and there are teachers that are great with technology who are not the best teachers.  One of the important elements in this question that is missing is, “what is the purpose of school?”  If it is to prepare kids for the future, do we miss a lot when we are not even using the tools of the present?

Or on the other hand, if you are spending inordinate amounts of time with your students using Twitter, when we know eventually this will go to the “MySpace graveyard”, are we helping kids with their future by focusing so much time on tools that may not be used in the future?  Is this “just in case learning” (in case we need this in the future” or is it “just in time learning” (important to what we do today)?

After relationships, technology would not be my first trait, but more likely that a person is always willing to learn, and do something with that learning.  That is what I would call the “sponge factor”; willing to absorb new learning and then share it out with others.

What if a teacher that is not strong with technology sparks a child to constantly want to learn more that the child goes on and explores on their own?  To me, a teacher that teaches a student to learn is more important than one that focuses on content only.  A teacher should also be measured on what their student does after their time with them, not only on their time in a classroom.

There are so many nuances and important questions in this conversation but I think it is one that we need to ask our staff. This goes deeper than just using technology, but more to what we want to achieve now and in the future.

That being said, I had a great conversation with a teacher the other day and we talked about hiring new teachers and I told her that I am looking for ones that use technology and incorporate into meaningful ways into learning.  Hiring practices should change along with our focus in our schools and we can not ask the same interview questions we did ten years ago. (Take a look at some of the questions people would ask now compared to ten years ago that they shared on this tweet).  Her argument (which is a valid one) was that years ago, she did not have the same skills that she does today and what would I have lost out on if I had not hired her and worked on developing her as a teacher.  (From everything I have seen of her work, she is an amazing teacher.)  What I told her was that if I had to choose between someone who is great with relationships and terrible with technology, over someone who is terrible with relationships but great with technology, I would take the former over the latter every time.  But we are seeing now is we don’t have to pick one or the other, because so many educators have both.

There is much more to teaching than being good with technology and being good with relationships.  So much more.  But in a world where you can learn so much just by having the ability to not only comprehend how to use technology, but understand how to actually leverage it, do we lose out on teaching kids about the opportunities for learning beyond the walls of our schools which is so important in both the  present and future?  Teaching kids to learn, be flexible while also resilient, is so important in our world where technology surrounds us.   In a world that is increasingly more complicated, we need to help our students be able to navigate what is coming their way and embrace change and see it as an opportunity.  Teachers need to model this.

Help me unmuddy this in my head.  Thoughts?

 

Questioning Forward

I had the honour of addressing the Trillium Lakes District School Board in Ontario recently, and I was amazed by the culture of learning they have created.  They were an enthusiastic group and seemed to just want to keep pushing themselves to get better and better.  These days are awesome for me as an educator because I feel I really grow through the process even though I am the one “delivering” the workshop.

I was inspired in listening to Andrea Gillespie, one of their superintendents, the night before, and the board’s vision of constantly moving forward and growing as a learning organization.  You could tell by her stories that this was not just something they said, but something they lived.  The feeling I got was that they were not a board that felt they had “arrived” because they know that great organizations never stagnate.  Education will always have a target just out of reach because of the consistency of of change, and instead of being frustrated by this notion, they build upon it.  It is not that they aren’t a great organization, if anything, quite the opposite.  Growth is continuous as is learning and this is something that they are aware of and embrace.  It was refreshing.

One of the ways they keep this momentum moving forward is by starting their professional learning opportunities by stating the following:

“We are a board questioning our way forward.”

EEK!  I love this!

This sets quite the tone and embraces the notion of the innovator’s mindset of constantly learning and creating better opportunities for students.  This phrase really struck me and is something that we need to embrace in our work.

When I thought about it deeply., there is a difference between saying, “we need to ask questions” and “questioning our way forward.”  Often, when I hear questions, they are more like statements about how this won’t work disguised as questions.  For example, I will hear things like this:

“This is great, but what about standardized tests?”

or…

“You showed me some really great stuff, but when we are going to find time for this?”

Both of the above are questions, but seemingly leading to a dead end.  What if we tweaked these questions to ask the same thing but to find solutions instead of looking for problems?

“How do we move forward with these initiatives while still ensuring that our students are doing well on standardized tests?”

or

“What are some suggestions you have to create time to make this happen?”

Again, both questions but they are not dwelling on problems but instead looking for solutions. Simple tweaks that make a world of difference.

Questions are so crucial to our growth, but I think we need to focus on phrasing them in a way to find ways to move forward, not to stand still.  In education, stagnation is the equivalent of moving backwards and in a world where change is the only constant, asking questions to move forward is something we need to not only teach our kids, but embrace ourselves.