Tag Archives: george couros

5 Questions You Should Ask Your Principal

 

I was recently asked by a superintendent if I had some questions to ask his principals to start off the year.  The questions I gave him were based on the following areas:

  • Fostering Effective Relationships
  • Instructional Leadership
  • Embodying Visionary Leadership
  • Developing Leadership Capacity
  • Creating Sustainable Change

In my opinion, the principal is probably the most important job in an educational organization.  There are many studies that reiterate this, but I think it is that they have the most authority closest to kids.  It is not to say that teachers aren’t important; they are absolutely vital.  But a great principal will help to develop great teachers, and a weak principal will do the opposite. They also tend to push great teachers out of schools, although most of the time unintentionally.  Bad leaders tend to drive away great talent.  A great teacher can become even better with a great principal.  As the very wise Todd Whitaker says “when the principal sneezes, the whole school gets a cold.”

Even though the questions were developed for superintendents to ask principals, I think that they should be questions any educator, parent, and even student should be able to openly ask their principal.

1.  What are some ways that you connect with your school community? (Fostering Effective Relationships) - When asking a principal this question, it is important to look for answers that go beyond the basic answers like staff meetings, emails, etc.  I would look for answers that go above and beyond what is expected.  For example, one of the best principals that I knew spent every morning welcoming staff and students to the school at the main doorway.  He would ask questions about their family, talk to them about their lives, and get to know them in a much deeper way than what was expected.  Although this principal has been retired for a few years, many of his staff refer to him as legendary because of the way that he would go above and beyond connecting with kids and community, before and after school.

2. What are some areas of teaching and learning that you can lead in the school? (Instructional Leadership) Covey talks about two important areas for leaders; character and credibility.  Many principals are great with people, yet really do not understand the art and science of teaching, or have lost touch with what it is like to be in the classroom.  Although a leaders does not need to be the master of all, they should be able to still be able to walk into a classroom and teach kids.  They should also definitely be able to lead the staff in workshops that focus directly on teaching and learning.  If teachers understand that a principal understands teaching and learning, any initiatives are more likely to be seen as credible in their eyes.

3.  What are you hoping teaching and learning looks like in your school and how do you communicate that vision? (Embodying Visionary Leadership) – There are many leaders in schools that often communicate a BIG PICTURE of what schools should look like, but can’t clearly communicate what it looks like for teachers and students. It is important to be able to discuss elements of learning that you are looking for in the classroom.  Not only is important to hold this vision, but to help develop it with staff and be able to communicate it clearly.  Many new educators walk into schools thinking that “quiet and order” are the expectations for classrooms, so even though they are doing some powerful work in their classrooms that looks quite messy, they are worried that it does not fit in with the vision of their boss. Due to this, many will often try to tailor their work to look like what they think the principal wants because they really don’t know what is expected.  Having a vision is important but clearly communicating and developing that with staff is also essential.

4. How do you build leadership in your school? (Developing Leadership Capacity) - Many principals are great at developing followers, but fewer are great at developing more leaders.  There has been this notion for years that you do everything to keep your best talent at all costs, but in reality, it is important to figure out ways to develop people, even if that means they will eventually leave. Great schools have become “leadership” hubs that they are continually losing great people, but they often get a reputation of being places where leadership in all areas is developed, which actually tends to attract some great people.  Wouldn’t you want to work with someone who is going to try to get the best out of you? There is a great quote that I’ve shared before (paraphrased) on this exact topic.

Many leaders are scared about developing people and then having them leave.  They should be more worried about not developing people and having them stay.

Again, great leaders develop more leaders.  What is your plan to make this happen?

5. What will be your “fingerprints” on this building after you leave? (Creating Sustainable Change) This has been a question that was asked of me years ago by my former superintendent, and has been one that has always resonated.  What she had shared with me is that she should be able to walk into my school and see the impact that I have had as the leader of the building.  This is not to say we throw out what the former leader has done, in fact, quite the opposite.  Great leaders will not come into maintain the status quo, but will bring their unique abilities to a school that will help them get to the next level.  They will build upon what has been left, but they will work with a community to ensure that their impact on a school lasts long after their time serving the community.  This where all of the other questions above truly come together, but it takes time and dedication to make it happen.

The old notion is that teachers and students are accountable to a principal is one that is dying (thankfully).  Great principals know that to be truly successful, it is the principal that is accountable and serves the community.  They will help create a powerful vision but will also ensure that they do whatever work is needed to be done to help teachers and students become successful.  I encourage you to talk to your principal, no matter what your role, and ask her/him their thoughts on some of these questions provided.

The Myths of Technology Series: “Technology Makes Us Dumb”

For ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, I will be presenting on the “Myths of Technology and Learning”. As I am really thinking about what I will be sharing at the conference, I wanted to write a series of blog posts that will help myself and others “rethink” some of these statements or arguments that you hear in relation to technology in school.  I will be writing a series of blog posts on different myths, and will be posting them on this page.  I hope to generate discussion on these topics to further my own learning in this area and appreciate any comments you have on each idea shared.

The Myths of Technology Series: “Technology Makes Us Dumb”

“In short, people who are able to keep up with technology will outsmart those who don’t (even more than they do now). Therefore, educators, parents and employers should try to foster an appetite for complexity, a curious and hungry mind…” From Is Technology Making Us Stupid (and Smarter)?, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Ph.D.

When I was a kid, I had this ability to memorize every single phone number of seemingly hundreds of people in my life.  Now I can safely say that I know four.  My mom, my work, my own phone number, and 911.  There are hundreds of numbers that are stored in my phone, more than I could have ever possibly memorized.  Did I lose the ability to memorize or did I lose the need to memorize?  Am I “dumber” than I was before because of this lack of “rolodex-like” memory, or, is someone “dumber” because they don’t know how to put the information in their phone in the first place?  Who loses out more?

The argument that I have heard often is that “technology makes us dumb”, and I will admit, things have changed a lot in a short amount of time.  In a hilarious bit by Pete Holmes, he talks about how Google is “ruining our lives”, and he states that, “the time between ‘knowing’ and ‘not knowing’ is so brief that ‘knowing’ feels exactly like ‘not knowing’.”  We don’t “wonder” as much anymore and we have to make sure that we allow our kids, “to be curious, to imagine deeply and to think creatively”, that we were afforded as children (and adults).

A shift in thinking?

In one of the many articles I found when researching this topic, entitled, “Education in the information age: is technology making us stupid?”, they author posts a powerful statement on a possible shift in the world of education:

“So perhaps what is more important is not whether technology is making us stupid but if educational systems need to shift from teaching us what to think, to showing us how to think.” Jason Lodge

Is the idea that “technology makes us dumb” so readily shared by many because it actually has lessened our “knowledge”, or because it is throwing what we have done in the past, and what we are comfortable with, out the window?

Dan Brown, a former university student, posted an “Open Letter to Educators” talked about the shift that has happened in our world with the democratization of information and how knowledge becoming “free” to the masses has made many aspects of traditional education irrelevant.  He makes an ominous statement to educators in a video that has been viewed over 276 000 times:

“Educators of the world…you don’t need to change anything.  You simply need to understand, that the world is changing, and if you don’t change with it, the world will decide that it doesn’t need you anymore.”

Perhaps we need to view the idea of “knowledge” and “intelligence” in a different light.

Creating opportunities 

One of the biggest opportunities technology has afforded us as an individuals, and more importantly our students, is opportunities to learn that work for us as the individual.  Assistive technologies have been used for years in classrooms, but with a push towards “Universal Design for Learning” (Ira Socol is one blogger that has really taught me a lot in this area), there is a focus on what works for every individual learner.  I think back to my days in school and how tired my hand would become quickly from “cursive writing”, and how that physical fatigue, even small in nature, would quickly lead to mental fatigue.  Now, instead of writing notes in a book which was the standard practice when I was a student, I now have the opportunity to write on my phone, tablet, computer, or even record my own voice using Evernote to come back and revisit ideas.  This opportunity to use a myriad of tools has allowed me to learn in a way that works best for me, not what someone else might be comfortable using.

David Crystal, a professor who has researched the the impact of texting on literacy, discusses the idea that the use of mobile technology has actually improved our ability to write.  His research led him to find that the earlier you have a mobile device, the better your literacy scores while also improving spelling.  If you summarized his research, it would be that people are becoming more literate because of the use of mobile devices because they are reading and writing more.  People often argue the opposite, not because it is wrong, but because reading and writing on a device looks different than how we did it as children.  If you think about it, how many times as a kid were you reading, writing, and walking at the exact same time?

The simplest things with technology can make a huge difference with students.  Inspired by the movie, “The King’s Speech”, a teacher gave a student with a stammer, the opportunity to speak while using headphones and listening to music:

This technology gave a student a voice that they might not have been comfortable using before.  This does not feel like “dumber” to me.

The world at your fingertips

So when you can Google everything and all of the information in the world now resides in your pocket, we have to start thinking differently about school.  If I asked a teacher a question, and they used Google, or tweeted out the question and found the information through a social network, many people would consider that adult “resourceful”.  Yet if a student does the same thing, they are considered a cheater.  Ewan McIntosh has talked about the idea of “Google vs. Non-Googleable Questions” that leads to higher level thinking.  It is not that content has become unimportant, but as Thomas Friedman states in his article on how to get a job at Google, “the world only cares about what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it)”.

Information to a library was never seen as a detriment to knowledge, in fact, it was often seen as an advantage.  If you actually look deeper into that process, many students would take what was found in the library as “fact” as someone had went through that information for you as someone had most likely went through that information for us.  When we now carry the information (way more information than could ever be stored in books in a library) in our pocket, we have to teach our students to discern what is credible information, while also giving them opportunities to do something with that information.  A library in a school would never be seen as a detriment to knowledge; neither should the vast library on our phone.

As many have pushed back on the idea of allowing students to bring in devices to exams, we have to think that if you can simply google the answer to a question on a test, is the question really that strong?  The shift in schools should not be away from content; the shift should be what do we do and create with the content.

A focus on creation

“If it were clear in my mind, I should have no incentive or need to write about it. . . We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.” Cecil Day-Lewis

Clive Thompson, author of “Smarter Than You Think“, is a strong believer that technology has given us opportunities to learn in ways that we have not been afforded to us in the past.  In his article, “Why Even The Worst Bloggers Are Making Us Smarter“, he discusses how having an audience can actually help us to think deeper about what we are sharing:

 

Literacy in North America has historically been focused mainly on reading, not writing; consumption, not production. While many parents worked hard to ensure their children were regular readers, they rarely pushed them to become regular writers. But according to Deborah Brandt, a scholar who has researched American literacy in the 20th and 21st centuries, the advent of digital communications has helped change that notion.

We are now a global culture of avid writers, one almost always writing for an audience. When you write something online—whether it’s a one-sentence status update, a comment on someone’s photo, or a thousand-word post—you’re doing it with the expectation that someone might read it, even if you’re doing it anonymously.

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.

Social scientists have identified something called the audience effect—the shift in our performance when we know people are watching. It isn’t always positive. In live, face-to-face situations, like sports or concerts, the audience effect can make athletes or musicians perform better—but it can sometimes psych them out and make them choke, too.

Yet studies have found that the effort of communicating to someone else forces you to pay more attention and learn more.

Thompson also discusses that before the Internet, people rarely wrote after high school or college, but more and more, people are writing because they have the opportunity to connect easily with others.  Although school has had a strong emphasis on “reading”, writing seems to get much less attention.  With the ability to write about what you are interested in to an audience that cares, it can be the difference between someone being literate or fluent.

Writing makes us smarter.  We often focus so much in education about the notion of our students “googling” but we should think more about the content they can create so they can be “googled”.  The biggest shift on the Internet is not necessarily the knowledge we can access, but more the knowledge that we can easily create and share.

As Thompson states, “The members of ‘dumbest generation’ aren’t just passively consuming media any more. They’re talking back to it.”

More than just information

“The smartest person in the room, is the room.” David Weinberger

I have used this quote in every single presentation I have given in the last four years, and have encouraged participants to share their knowledge through social media outlets such as Twitter through the use of a hashtag. It is my way, as the presenter, even sometimes considered to be the “expert in the room”, to continuously learn from others, whether they are in the room or not.   No matter my abundance of knowledge in any topic, I am never smarter than everyone combined in front of me., nor out there on the Internet.  The knowledge that is out there online now is similar to an abundance of a natural resource found in any area.  It is not about understanding the benefit of this resource; we know knowledge is power.  It is simply learning how to tap into it, access it, and using it in meaningful ways.

My question to the Weinberger quote is, “How big is your room?”  Are you limited to the five people in the meeting, the 50 person on your staff, or to anyone willing to connect?

Yet sometimes the audience just needs to be one person.

When one of our students blogged about a booked named “The Dot”, she was surprised that approximately five hours after it was posted, the author commented back to her.  This impact from one person and the connection facilitated brings a different type of motivation to students that was non-existent when I went to school.  As Steven Johnson states, “Chance favours the connected mind”, and we need to take advantage of this new opportunity that is afforded to both ourselves and our students.  Someone once told me that after years of school, when students hand in assignments to their teacher, they just want it to be “good enough” but when they are writing for an authentic audience, they want it to be “good”.

Conclusion

The jump in our knowledge and understanding can be monumental because of technology. Educators just need to learn to tap into the opportunities that are afforded to us in an increasingly networked world and utilize to its fullest potential.   It is not only about “knowing”.  There is so much more we can do with and for our students because of technology.  Let’s take advantage not only of the information, but the access to one another.

Myths of Technology Series: “Technology Will Replace Face-to-Face Interaction”

For ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, I will be presenting on the “Myths of Technology and Learning”. As I am really thinking about what I will be sharing at the conference, I wanted to write a series of blog posts that will help myself and others “rethink” some of these statements or arguments that you hear in relation to technology in school.  I will be writing a series of blog posts on different myths, and will be posting them on this page.  I hope to generate discussion on these topics to further my own learning in this area and appreciate any comments you have on each idea shared.

A fear for many is that the continuous interactions that we have with one another through technology will replace face-to-face interaction.

Sometimes it seems that we forget our own childhood and that we had many peers that had trouble with interactions before mobile devices were the norm.  Technology did not inhibit them from speaking to others, nor do we need to necessarily think less of someone who may be an introvert.  People have different strengths and some actually thrive in isolation.  Their issue or our issue?

What some teachers have done is use technology to actually give students a voice and options that they didn’t have before.  I thought it was brilliant to see one teacher use Google Forms to do a simple “check-in” with students to give them the opportunity to share what is going on in their lives to ensure that she could help them in any way possible.

What this actually facilitated was the opportunity for the teacher to get to know her students better through the use of technology and she saw it as a way of actually enhancing their face-to-face interactions.  Some students are fine going up to a teacher and sharing some of the struggles that they have in their lives, but from my experience, those students would actually be in the minority.

Instead of accepting that some people are more open than others, we have often tried to force students talk to a point which would be our ideal.  Many educators, including myself, used to give marks for “participation” in class discussions to push our students to talk.  What this would often do would force some kids to speak when they are totally uncomfortable, and not facilitate anything that would be beneficial outside of the classroom.  With others that continued to not talk, tying marks to their “lack” of participation, only makes them feel worse and punishes them for sometimes being shy.  Is this really helping the problem?

We have to see that for some students, technology actually can provide them the voice that they have never had before.  I spoke to one student that said the use of social media actually inspired them to start speaking publicly because they developed confidence through a medium that worked for them.  I think of how many students would benefit and feel more comfortable talking in public when they would be allowed to use a medium that works for them first.

Then you have the other argument that the constant use of technology actually takes away the ability for some students that are already social.  The reality with many people are social, means they will actually connect both online and offline.  Social media has not made me any less social when in an “offline” environment.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  I now feel that I am always comfortable going to any conference on my own as I will know people there that I have connected with through Twitter.  Instead of simply going to workshops and being by myself, I now can easily find a group of friends and connect with them in person.  This only started happening for me when I started using social media and if anything, it has actually made me more social in face-to-face settings.  Before I would have never gone to a conference on my own, and now, I don’t even think twice about it.

What I have also seen is that technology and social media has actually given people the opportunity to connect with others that have similar interests or experiences.  I was moved, as many were, by the video of two girls that were both born with one arm, connecting continuously through Skype.  Although they had never met, they considered each other “best friends”, and talked constantly, even though they were on opposite sides of the world.  The moment they finally met was inspiring, and to say that this relationship is lesser because it started and grew online, would most likely be an insult to these two, as it would be to others who have met some of their best friends and partners online.

It is pretty amazing to see the opportunities we have to connect, see, and learn about one another because of technology, but sometimes the ease of use leads us to take it for granted.  As I see my nephews and nieces grow up through my brother’s sharing of their lives, our conversations are much richer and deeper each time I see them.  I know more about their lives and feel that even though I am living far away, I am still able to watch them grow up.  I would take opportunities to see them in person over online interactions, but since I do not always have that option, I will continue to enjoy connecting with them through technology in-between visits.

Technology can give us the opportunity to enhance face-to-face interactions, not replace them.  We just have to take advantage.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 11.42.29 AM

Learning and Life

My dad passed away almost a year ago and I have been forever changed.

I have written this before, but I feel that everything has just slowed down a bit.  Life doesn’t seem as fast paced as what it once was and his passing has made me refocus.  It is often said that great athletes see the game they play at a slower pace and can recognize things coming at them differently.  I feel that since my dad has passed, the game has slowed down for me.  Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad.

In the last year, I have taken the time to focus more on myself and the people closest to me.  I have enjoyed having some of those people experiencing great things with me. I have tweeted less, blogged less, and feel like I have lived and experienced more.  I learned quickly that life is short and although I want to make a difference in the world, I also want to appreciate those closest to me and make a difference with them.  I have not been as successful with those relationships in many ways, but I have tried harder.  I have spent better time with fewer people.

Although I started this site to be an “educational blog”, it was weird for me at first to write about personal things in this space.  I have written about times that I have struggled personally, and events such as when I lost my first dog, and the opportunity for reflection in an open space, I feel, has made me more cognizant of my own life.  Many people get turned off by this type of writing in what is an “educational space”, but what I realized is that this space was never meant to be focused solely on education, but always on learning.  If you don’t think that you learn something when your dad dies that applies to the kids you deal with every day in a school, you are wrong.  How much will a kid care about math when they lose someone close to them?   The human connection that we have in schools will be the reason that schools will always be relevant and these life lessons, and how we deal with them, bring a lot to our students.  If you only teach the curriculum to a child, you have come up short.

In a weird way, I feel closer to my dad now more than ever.  I make it a focus to talk about him when I speak to honour his impact on me as an educator, but more importantly, as a person.  When you lose someone, you always have regrets on what you didn’t do or say, but I am trying to focus on what my dad gave me and what I can give others.

Am I where I want to be?  When I ask this question, I am not talking about my career but my development as a person.  I know that I have a long way to go but these moments in life teach you a lot about yourself, where you have been, and where you want to go.

I miss my dad every day, but I know that even though he is gone, my continuous reflection on his life and what I learned from him, ensure that he will impact me and help me grow as a person and teacher.

Amazed, Inspired and Happy

In a week where I have spent the majority of the time working with students, I have been really trying to promote the notion of “Digital Leadership,” and hoping the students look at some of the opportunities that are out there now to make a difference in the lives of others.  I have told the students that they do not have to wait for “the future” to make a difference, because they have the ability to do something now.  Some of them took me up on it, and one student started a blog trying to promote “acts of kindness”, while others started a Twitter page to compliment others in their school.  If you give them the chance, students can inspire you to become better.

Many of the conversations that I have with adults go directly to the “negative” online.  Although I understand the concerns, it is sometimes an “out” to not teach students about it, and sometimes comes from a lack of awareness.  Although I do talk a lot about all of the opportunities to do something great online, I do promote an awareness of the bad things that exist out there as well.  That is vital.  In reality, online is not the only place that bad things can happen, yet it is often the message that we share with our youth.  If we keep telling kids that the Internet is bad, they might just make that true.

Whatever you are looking for online, you will find it.  There is so much information out there, that there is going to be a lot in the negative.  So why not steer our kids to some of the amazing?  If I make the assumption that the majority of people in the world are good, and the majority of people are on the Internet, what does that tell me?  Where are we directing our students to go?

Awareness is vital and I will always teach that, but I am also going to continue to promote some of the great things that exist online.  In the last 12 hours, I have been amazed, inspired and “happy” with some of the things that I have seen shared.  Hopefully some of these will show some of the awesome that exists in our world that you can find online.

Be Amazed

This video is a compilation of 852 Instagram images from 852 different users to make one remarkable video.

 

Be Inspired

This is an amazing video that shows struggle, happiness, and perseverance from not only a mom and dad, but this amazing little guy.  (Grab tissues)

 

Be Happy

Pharrell Williams put together a 24 hour video for his new single “happy” and it is simply people dancing and smiling.  Simple, but I love it.

All of these videos I have seen in the last 12 hours, but it is probably because I was looking for them.  What are you trying to find and share with your students?

Little Things…

Tomorrow I am speaking at Marin County, which is the same place that I found out my dad died.  Because I had turned off my phone that day, I had found out through my brother via google chat.  I remember looking at my computer, seeing the message, then closing it and walking away.  I had no idea what to do.  I went to Mary Jane Burke, a person I had met only once, but knew that had the biggest heart ever, and told her.  She dropped everything, took me to a room, and made sure that I was able to call my mom.  Obviously I was not going to finish my day, and I remember Mary Jane saying, “we really want you to come back some day and speak to us”, so here I am.

It has been a week that I have been needing to happen.  That week, I was in the middle of a “vacation”, and had to cut it short (obviously) because of the passing of my father.  I decided to come here early, and just be.  I don’t want to term it that I needed “closure”, but I guess I just kind of wanted to be here with the thoughts of my dad.

I remember specifically being driven to my hotel (they would not allow me to drive) after the news, and going over the Golden Gate Bridge.  As we drove over, I could feel my dad there and not there at the same time.  I have no idea how to explain it, but that bridge will always remind me of him. I can see it in a movie and be brought to tears.  I took yesterday to spend some time on my own, and on the advice of a good friend, grabbed a bike, and headed out to the bridge.  I wanted some time with my dad.  As I biked up those steep hills, I got to this point at the top, and no one else was around.  Then I saw the sun shine in a way that I had never seen it before.  I snapped this picture.


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

I could feel my dad there, and for some reason, I felt not only the presence of my dad, but that he was proud of me. I am not one for stopping and admiring things, but that moment I was frozen and I took it all in. Again, these are things that I can’t explain, but it was just my feeling at the time.  I needed to feel that.

There was one other thing that I distinctly remember that day.

Mary Jane came into the office where I was talking to my mom, visibly upset, and she placed a rock on the table that was in the shape of the heart.  Honestly, at the time, I thought it was just weird and made no sense, and to this day, it still doesn’t make sense.  To not come off as being rude, I took the rock and kept it with me on the ride home.  To say I am fidgety would be an understatement, and while driving home, that rock was in my hands and I constantly rubbed it between my thumb and fingers in my right hand.   When I saw my dad for the first time after he passed, I did the same thing, and again during his funeral.  I had amazing support from family and friends during that time, but that little rock, that made no sense to me, calmed me and made me feel at ease.  I took a picture of it and the sight of it can put me into tears, but in a good way.  It will always remind me of my dad and that little thing, that made no sense, has helped me more than I could have ever imagined.


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

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 – Learning First, Technology Second

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.


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Brenda

Learning First, Technology Second

“Freedom is actually a bigger game than power. Power is about what you can control. Freedom is about what you can unleash.” Harriet Rubin

A few years ago, our school district was strictly a “BlackBerry” environment for mobile devices. This was what was used for our school district for years prior and since it “worked”, there was no need to change. The thing with BlackBerry as that it is known as an amazing “business” phone, as it was “safe and secure” and easy to manage. The BlackBerry was not the phone for us anymore as it was limited in the way that it could connect and share, so we started to move towards iPhone and Android devices. People chose what worked for them in their learning, and people had different needs and comfort levels with the devices, but they were now able to see the power these mobile devices on their own learning, which started to open up opportunities for teachers and students.

The thing was that this was not easy for our Information Technology Department to manage as moving away from a “standard” and moving to a much more open environment it is tough to control. It was the right thing to do though. “Managing” is for “things,” not people. Once we started looking at what was better for learning, a lot of doors started to open, and lightbulbs went off. It was no longer, “here is your device, make it work for learning.” The shift was to put the learning first, and the technology second.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

You will see a lot of schools buy devices for every student, and essentially, if the pedagogy doesn’t change, they only look like a “21st Century School”. It is like the famous scene from Blazing Saddles (I am totally dating myself now), where the bad guys come in and the citizens have just set up a fake town as a diversion, yet with one gust of wind, the whole thing falls down. That change is simply cosmetic with no depth. Throwing a bunch of devices with no shift in mindset on teaching and learning, it no different than the scene from this movie.

What we have tried to do in our work, is put the plan for learning in place first, and the professional development behind it. In our Digital Portfolio Project, we outlined the objectives for learning and what the technology would do to transform it. The problem was, that we did not have the technology when this project started, but it is now creating a need for the technology that is coming from the educators and students. “If you want us to make this happen, we are going to need more technology in the hands of students.” This is a good problem to have as it is signifying a growth in mindset towards transformational teaching and learning. We need the technology to do something with the learning that we were not able to do before.

Four Questions

So now that there is this problem, how do we bring our IT departments along? I recently read this article on the “Obsolete Tech Director” and it talked about the need for a different viewpoint in our organizations:

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.

So how do we get this culture to change? What we have looked at is by asking different questions of not only our IT Departments, but in any area of innovative learning. They are:

1. What is best for kids?
2. How does this improve learning?
3. If we were to do _________, what is the balance of risk vs. reward?
4. Is this serving the few or the majority?

Even if you just asked the first question, and started from there, how much would that change your environment? We often have looked at what is easiest for us (the adults), as opposed to what is better for them (the kids). The conversation has to shift.

Language

As technology is becoming more a part of our learning environment, you are seeing an influx of “Educational Technology” consultants, coordinators, etc. Again, this is signifying that the technology is the most important thing, where the teaching and learning is secondary. As we created my current position in Parkland School Division, the title of “Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning” was created (I know…pretty long). With the notion of innovation being about “new and better”, we wanted to make “teaching and learning” better in the classroom.

Now although my position does largely involve using technology, it is not the focus of what we are trying to improve. I have been in many classes watching a teacher discuss with their students proper ways to hold a pencil so that they can improve their writing, yet we have no “pencil integration coordinators”. Technology is part of what we do in the classroom and it should just be assumed.

As we continue to develop positions to support the learning that happens in classrooms, is it not important that we include learning in the title?

Forward

In many schools/organizations, we have the tail wagging the dog and our technology departments are often dictating the type of learning that can happen in the classrooms. I am not saying that this is an issue with the departments, but often with leadership that has seen technology as an “extra”, as opposed to an essential. Focusing on learning and relationships first, often helps us to make much better decisions about what we are doing with technology. It shouldn’t be the other way around.

Innovation will come from our ideas for teaching and learning, not from a technology.