Tag Archives: humanize

If no one is looking at your Twitter account, it could be for a couple of reasons.

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 12.26.00 PMMost organizations or schools feel that jumping on the social media bandwagon is something that they should do because it is becoming the norm for others.  If you think that Twitter is just about tweeting, you are missing a huge cultural shift that is happening.

Too many people use Twitter as a “one-way” communication.  They simply use it to deliver messages with no engagement at all.  This might work if you are a huge celebrity, otherwise you are spending time doing something that is really going to do nothing but take up your time.  If you are just sending information out, with no interaction, you are becoming the new “spam”.

Communication is key with organizations, but the huge cultural shift is that people do not want to just hear, they also want to be heard.  You might have a lot of followers on your account, but that does not mean people are engaged in what you are doing.

For example, @AirCanada used to be a horrible Twitter account.  It was used to share deals and tell about how awesome they were.  If anything, their presence and lack of true communication did more harm than good.  People wonder why would organization be in a space that is about back-and-forth communication, but only talk, and not listen?  Now, the account is doing an amazing job to connect with customers when they have concerns or problems.  I would never use email with Air Canada as I know their Twitter account is much more effective and faster.  They have to be, because the whole world can see their reaction (or lack thereof).

What is also important is heart.  Creating an emotional connection through a social media account is an art form and the Edmonton Humane Society does this beautifully.  It is not that hard to make people feel something when you are sharing puppies, but not everyone understands how to do it.  They share amazing stuff on their Facebook page, and often connect with people sharing it.  They have taken an organization and made it “human”.

To sum it up, if you want people to not just “follow” your school or business, you can’t just share.  You need to listen and engage, while also connecting and tapping into the humanness of people.

It is not just about “tweeting”.  There is a major shift that has happened in our world because of these different ways we can communicate.  Are you really paying attention?

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


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.

Cool Moment

One of my favourite books from the last year has been “Humanize” by Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant.  I have quoted it often and like Dan Pink’s “Drive”, it has been one of those books that has really shaped my thinking.  The funny thing is that I would have never read the book unless I wrote a post about my thoughts on “Humanizing Our Organizations“, and received a comment suggesting I should take a look.

Because of my work and my love for this book, I have quoted the book often in my blog and in my keynotes.  Yesterday, I shared the following quote in a keynote to Peel District School Board:

“As the Internet has become more central in our lives, we have begun to witness a revival of the importance of being human.” Notter and Grant

To my surprise, somehow Jammie Notter got wind of what I had shared and when checking my Twitter feed after my talk, I saw the following tweet:


Obviously he is over-exaggerating in his comments, but it was just cool to be acknowledged by an author that I admire greatly publicly that is outside of the education sector. I have no idea how he even knew I mentioned the book, but obviously it showed up somehow on his Twitter stream. I was kind of giddy.  I have seen this happen with our students, but I guess I am still amazed by how quickly and easily we connect with people all over the world.  

As the population continues to grow, I realize the world is smaller than ever.  It is definitely something we have to take advantage of with our students.

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

Connect or Disconnect?

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Alan Bruce

More than machinery we need humanity, more than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood for the unity of us all.” Charlie Chaplin – The Great Dictator

When people talk about the use of technology sucking the humanity out of our lives, many times they are right.  Think about calling a business for help and getting an automated machine?  What is the first thing that many people do? Press zero.  Why is that?  In my experience, it is because I am wanting to talk to a person, and not a machine.  Schools that use this same type of program for tracking “attendance” have to be cognizant that this creates a similar experience for a school community.

Many talk about the past and the experience with banking and how nice it is to talk to a person as opposed to a machine.  My experience lately has been different.  The last time I went to deposit some money, the teller kept asking me if I would be interested in a multitude of products, while I was only there to deposit a cheque. Every time I said no, she came back with another question.  Getting annoyed with the conversation, and noticing she was continuously looking at her computer while she asked me these things, I leaned over, turned the monitor towards my eyes, and noticed a box called “conversation starters”.  Seemingly embarrassed, I asked what it was, and she told me that it was a program that looked at my financial situation, and gave her ideas of things that she could sell me.  She was mortified that I revealed the “Wizard” behind the curtain and that the Wiz was nothing more than a computer.  I would rather go to a machine, then have a fake conversation with a person that was generated by a computer.

This is how technology sucks the humanity out of our world.

There are many ways that technology is bring the humanity back in though.

Being able to interact with “personalities”, whether it be on the news or media, is something that we could not do before and is bring a community closer.  Giving keynotes at different conferences, I pride myself on the ability to connect with people after my talk so that we can learn things together after any conversations at the conference.  Through this experience, I have made friends all over the world that I would consider my closest.

Most recently, starting the “School Administrator Virtual Mentor Program” (#SAVMP), technology (again) is going to be used to forge relationships in an area of education that is quite isolated.  Instead of using technology to create a “mass” connection, we are using it to make smaller, deeper connections with people, while also openly sharing what we learn with others.

As you look at your own practice, and the practice of your school, what use of technology either “connects” or “disconnects” your kids?  I have seen some teachers that use the “dehumanizing” argument put their students in a lab and let them use games or apps.  More often then not, I believe this is not because they want to build these connections, they just genuinely do not understand it themselves.  I recently heard that there was a study done saying that teachers are less likely to have students create virtual “networks” with people, if they do not do it themselves.


That is in every facet of what we do.  If we do not understand or experience it ourselves, it is a lot harder to teach.

How do you use technology to connect or disconnect either personally, or organizationally Sometimes I want the convenience of a bank machine, but I don’t want a machine driving my experience at a bank when I am trying to talk to a person.  Schools should take a good look at these practices themselves.

The Bigger You Are, The More You Should Connect

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by jurvetson

“The challenge here is not to do social media better. The challenge is to do our organizations better.” Notter and Grant

I had a meeting with a very talented teacher named Jennifer Hollman the other day at a very small school named Keephills.  The total population of students at the school is 47; the student population for the entire school division is almost 10,000.

I recognized her but had to ask myself if I had ever met her in person.  We have talked a lot online and I have read and shared a lot of work, knew what she had taught (Science – she loves Bill Nye), and had connected with her a lot, but I could not for the life of me remember if I had met her face-to-face.  Although I was quite embarrassed that I wasn’t sure about meeting her in person, what was pretty amazing was how much I knew about her teaching and what she had done with her students.  This is something that wasn’t possible in my world a few years ago, and now I am learning a ton about teachers that I may have never met.  Yes, they do need to be sharing their work through social media, but I am glad that I am able to connect and learn with them, and get to know more about many of our teachers who are willing to share their great work.

Would I prefer to get to know each teacher and student in our division in a deep way in a face-t0-face setting?  Absolutely.  Is it possible? Not really.

What I love about the work that is happening in Parkland School Division, is that I am getting to know so many teachers through the connection of social media.  I watched today as two teachers who had never met in person, were elated to finally connect in a session that was delivered at our central office that they both happened to be attending.  Social media isn’t the only way to build relationships, but it sure can help if used effectively.

Yet I see some organizations and leaders continuously tweet in one direction. Sharing articles from the “big thinkers” and “learning from Finland”, yet not connecting with their own staff.  Are we missing a huge opportunity to connect?  It sometimes seems that you tweet your stuff only, that you can quickly become “spam” to your own organization? Is it not imperative that we share and connect with the people that are at least using our school or division hashtag?

Larger school districts and their ability to “change” and be “innovative” have come into question lately.  I get that the bigger you are, the tougher it is to connect with many educators, yet those relationships are just as important in a giant school/district as they would be in a smaller school?  Doesn’t social media give us a new way to learn more about those people on the “front lines” than ever before?  Yes, smaller schools and districts can maybe spend more time with the face-to-face conversations, but I would doubt that educators in larger districts would value the relationships with central office any less.  Dean Shareski talks about larger districts and what could be taken as a “lack of trust” due to the size of the “machine:

“If you’re reading this and you’re from a large school or district and yet you’re happy with the freedom teachers have to make change and innovation, feel free to comment and help others see that it’s possible. For the most part, I’m stumped as to how the red tape can be removed. To me it comes down to trust, autonomy and leadership. There are some great leaders in larger jurisdictions that are humble enough to recognize they don’t have all the answers. That’s what often leads to trust and autonomy. However, leaders need other leaders and too often it just doesn’t trickle down.”

You cannot build trust with your community if you have never had any type of conversation with them.

Take a look at Elisa Carlson’s twitter feed.  She is a central office administrator in the largest school district in British Columbia, yet often shares the work of her own teachers, and connects with them often.  I have seen in person with Elisa, how her connection online has enhanced her relationships offline.  She is taking advantage of this opportunity as she should.  Chris Kennedy, Superintendent of West Vancouver schools constantly supports and shares the work of his school district.  I remember a point in my career that I couldn’t haven’t even imagined a superintendent talking to me, let alone sharing my work openly with others.

The “big guy”, should always try act like the little one.  Connect with people. Take advantage of the free tools that you can utilize to hear voice in real time, not when you plan a stakeholder session that once or twice a year. A simple acknowledgement here and there can go a LONG way in building a stronger and more trusting community.

As I think about how big schools and districts can be, we have to less “automation” and more “personalization”.  Technology can either dehumanize or humanize; it depends how we use it.  The “social” is really the most important part of “social media” and we need to take advantage to not only share what we are learning, but to build connections in new ways.

As I think about the constant development of technology in our society, I am reminded of this quote:

“We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.” Charlie Chaplin

If used correctly, that “machinery” can bring us more “humanity” than ever.

Another Reason to Blog; Proactive Through Reflection

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by radical_vamsi

Before I started blogging, I now look back and realize how all over the place I was with some of the initiatives that I was hoping to implement within our schools early on in my school administration career.  I felt that with all of the great things that I read through on Twitter or other social sites, that I wanted to implement all of these in my own school.  I have learned and understood that this is something that is (and can be) extremely frustrating to a staff.  Although I am sure my staff knew I meant well, if we were to jump on every “great” initiative, I know we would never become a “great” school.  Too much energy is expended on implementing too many things, as opposed to narrowing our focus and getting to that transformative stage in our learning.

Then I started blogging and it actually helped me to slow down and FOCUS.  I started to be more thoughtful, critical, and reflective of what I was learning and was not so quick to jump on things like flipped classrooms and BYOD.  As I continue to read the book “Humanize“, one of the quotes that stuck out to me regards what great leaders do:

“There are, actually, plenty of books that can inspire self-reflection, buy nothing beats taking the time to write in a journal. The best leaders we’ve ever met all keep journals, so we think it is a good habit to develop.” Notter and Grant (2011)

So I look back at my own “journal”(my blog)  and see some continuous themes that seem to come up in my writing (“What is best for kids? Narrow our focus. Start with your why. Transformative learning) and how they have led me to actually be more proactive in the work that we do, as opposed to being more reactive to everything we see.  Before I started blogging, I would tend to be much more reactive than proactive.  By looking back, it was much easier to look forward.

But here is the thing when your “blog” is your journal.  I can google what I have learned.  This may not seem like a big deal (and didn’t) when I first started but over 500 posts into blogging, it makes a huge difference.  I have no idea how I would have done this if I would have wrote all of my learning in a book.  Often when moving forward, I literally google search my own work and by effectively using “tags” and “categories”, it has been much easier to find what I have learned before.  (It would also be easy to talk about how I have also developed my digital footprint as a learner but that is for another blog post.)

As I continue to work with groups, I focus on the importance of reflection and how it is crucial to moving forward.  The challenge I have received (as with many initiatives) is that there is no time.  My response has been that reflection is part of your work. It is important that you make it part of your day, as it should be a part of your student’s day.  We cannot just continue to dump information into our (and our student’s) brains without giving or making time to reflect.  It is essential that there is creation and connection along with consumption.

If we do not take time to look back, how will we ever be able to move forward?

The Need for Innovative Leadership

I asked the following question today on Twitter:

If the mandate is for innovation, how much should “best practice” drive that?

This question has been stuck in my head from while I have been reading the book, “Humanize“, which has really challenged and pushed my own thinking on “innovation” and how the culture of social media should be a culture that is embedded into our organizations.  Here is one of the quotes from the book that started to create that connection:

“Almost overnight, it seems, the world has become social, and the work world, too. Markets are conversations. Social media has enabled us to connect with individual people inside organizations and brands. We’re leaping over corporate hurdles imposed by PR and marketing departments and the chain of command; customers are being heard in ways that ignore traditional channels. Content is being created that blurs the line between the “professionals” and the “amateurs.” Rules are defied. People are demanding truth, honesty, transparency, and openness from the brands and organizations they deal with every day. The companies that are winning are those that are listening—and social media makes it easy to listen (though maybe not so easy to manage the work of listening and responding), so the rest have no excuse anymore. And why is all this so disruptive? Because we like it. A lot.”

So if we “like it” so much, why are many organizations struggling to import so many of these ideas into their everyday operations?  Many talk of the notion of transparency, yet is the process transparent or simply the products that we share?  As Clay Shirky discusses, we live in a “publish, then filter” world, yet are we comfortable sharing our ideas as they progress?  There is so much that are able to learn from tapping into the wisdom of the community but as Notter and Grant share, many of our old mindsets are obviously stopping us from moving forward:

Organizations and businesses have mechanisms in place to stop progress, to stop themselves from evolving. Mainly because of an inherent fear of change and fear of losing control, they have an interest in maintaining the status quo. We feel strongly that such an approach is becoming increasingly less viable. Mark our words: If you think your organization is behind now, just spend a year or two treading water, and you’ll see how much ground there is to make up. There’s no time to waste. It’s up to you, if you care about your organization, to help it not only survive this transition but to also flourish.

As a result of an open world, more people are starting to question the “principal” position not only how it is done, but even if the position is need at all.  My guess and gut feeling comes that some very innovative and forward thinking teachers that are coming into contact with principals and organizations that are not ready to truly move forward, although the terms “21st Century Learning” and “risk taking” often come into the narrative that administrators are sharing about their school.

While I have worked with many organizations that are keen to push “innovation” (or that is the word that is being used), through my travels, I have noticed again and again, that it starts and stops with leadership.  As I have heard this quote attributed to Todd Whitaker, “If the principal sneezes, the school gets a cold.”, it is shown continuously that the principal or leader of an organization always has a huge impact on the culture, whether it is positive or negative.

So what now?  First of all, if we are truly open to a world of innovation we have to be able to take risks not only in our learning but in our practice.  Focusing on “best practice” is a way to look backwards, but is it an effective way to move forward? We can always learn from what we have done in the past, as there are many things that we have learned from our journey that we know we must maintain (the focus on the “whole child”, building relationships with the community). We can also learn from other schools such as SCIL and watch how they are embedding teacher research and innovation into practice. Still we know that something with many schools and education is just not working.  Watching a student speak last night on a Ted Talk, discussing how school is not working for her, she said something that really stuck out to me:

“There is a direct correlation between our old fashioned system, and our scarcity for a love of learning.”


So as we move forward we have to truly be open in our practice, share the process, and be comfortable with the mistakes that we will make along the journey.  We have to not only give permission for things to not work perfectly, we have to push and encourage our teachers to go out of their comfort zones to improve student learning based on the needs of today’s learner.

Currently in Parkland School Division, we have started an project called the “Mobile Learning Initiative“, where we give educators the opportunity to have an iPad for each student in their class, in hopes of transforming the classroom and seeing what can be created that you could not before without the device.  Is the iPad the best device in this instance?  To be honest, I don’t know.  Through the process, we are more focused on project based learning yet we are seeing what the device can do through the eyes of the educators that will use them.  Within our schools, we will be sharing this “cart” amongst our schools to give different opportunities to different teachers, while they actively share their learning, both the negatives and positives, with the rest of the school division and the world.

As I worked on this initiative with Jesse McLean and our Learning Services team, we explicitly told the first group to not worry if things “didn’t work” they wanted it to, but to see what the kids would be able to do with the device in their hand.  Similar to SCIL, we want that active research while pushing the boundaries of innovation.  I was extremely excited to read the initial installment of their research, I was thrilled to see what educators Jenna Wilkins and Brad Arndt wrote about the beginning of this project:

Understanding that this pilot project is about exploring opportunities the iPads offer to help further our learning, both inside and beyond the walls of our school, we are going to have to take some risks. We are not going to have all of the answers or a foundation of knowledge and experience to guide us, which is somewhat daunting when we think about handing the students their iPads first thing Tuesday morning. What we do know is that we are open and committed to the learning that we, alongside our students, are going to experience during this process. And it is just that, a process.

First and foremost we hope to inspire our students to reach beyond the boundaries of our school to access, use, create and share their learning in ways that they may not otherwise be able to accomplish without the constant accessibility of an iPad. Second, we as learners hope to gain knowledge and skills that will help us incorporate mobile learning resources for the benefit of our students through consistent reflection and sharing of the successes, challenges and further learning opportunities of the project.

The notion of continuous learning, growth, and taking risks is not only going to be experienced by our students in this project, but our teachers as well.  As we continue to strive and grow in all levels of our organization, we are seeing that enthusiasm to take risks in learning happening with educators, which in turn will trickle down to our students.

As I read their statement regarding their commitment to learning and this “process”, I could not help to think that even if things don’t work out and the project “fails”, is there truly a lack of success when students, teachers, and organizations take risks to further their own learning?  To have this happen though, it has to be modeled continuously and consistently by leaders to create an “innovative culture”.

“It is high time we start applying the principles of innovation to the way we run our organizations. Innovation is not just about creating new products (or new social networks, for that matter). It is about change, creation, and new pathways, so it is just as applicable to management and the way we run our organizations as it is to products or social media. Management, after all, is really just a tool—a technology we use to help run our organizations.” Notter and Grant